A month or so back, I was talking with a friend and I let it slip out that my ultimate goal when it comes to my personal style was to simply dress like John Updike. Considering how much slack I already get for dressing like a fifty year old trapped in a twenty-one year olds body, I’m always skeptical to admit that one of my icons is an author from the late twentieth-century, as the obvious connotations regarding literature, and bygone decades make Updike seem, for lack of a better term, unprovocative. And yet to me, that’s the entire point of iconizing Updike, as he proves that you don’t have to look glossy, or flashy, or trendy, as long as you look like you know what the hell you’re doing.
As a man that wrote an exorbitant amount of material in his day, Updike always looked like he had just stood up from his desk, leaving a story behind, but not his thoughts. Of course, I mean this in the best of ways, for even with his wrinkled shirts and rolled up sleeves, Updike always an air of confidence about him that could only come from his infallible dexterity over the written word. Persistently preoccupied by whatever story he was working on, he stepped into the public eye dressed like he had just stepped off the pages of one of his own works. Which brings me to my present infatuation with Updike, because in all facets of his life, he was true to his work and himself.
Updike’s characters, aging and behaving like real people, are so beloved because he wrote them as he saw his world, and as he saw himself. Updike’s ability to effortlessly spin his tales is both a reflection and a reinforcement of who he was. Like a character from his stories, Updike grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, graduated co-valedictorian of his high school, went to Harvard, became a crucial member of the Harvard Lampoon, and then traveled abroad to become a cartoonist, before arriving back in New York with a family in tow to write for the New Yorker. During this time, as Updike gained notoriety, he could be seen wearing thick rimmed black glasses, charcoal peak lapel suits, and dark, subtly patterned neckties. When he stepped out of the public eye, Updike could be found at home, in his element, wearing shetland sweaters, worn-in button-downs and the occasional university stripe oxford.
As he got on in his career, Updike began to settle into the odd. He used to say that he portrayed “the middle,” shedding light on the oft-overlooked drama of daily life, and I see his choice to wear odd jackets (of every pattern from tweeds, to glen-checks, to pinstripes) and matching or contrasting odd trousers as a manifestation of this. It’s not extreme, it’s not starved for attention, but it still has character. Some people might consider the look boring, but I would say (and I’m sure Updike would agree) that men who dress in this manner have far more to say than men that lean towards either extreme.
In the twilight of his career Updike favored wearing a turtleneck under a jacket, an appropriately comfortable outfit for a man who had filled as many pages as he had. While I will most certainly never even hold a candle to any of Updike’s works, there’s certainly something to be learned from his style. There was an earnest quality to his work that can be seen in his attire throughout his lifetime, proving that style at it’s best simply works as a mirror for who we are as individuals.