Terry Newman’s Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore is every literature-loving, style maven’s summer bible. Highlighting the key works and wardrobes of 50 writers, from Proust to Patti Smith, the book has been celebrated across the broadsheets – including any writer’s punch-the-air moment when legendary cover star Joan Didion shared the New York Times review on Facebook. Job done. We know what the erudite author of Legendary Authors has read; but as her introduction declares, ‘What you read is as important as what you wear.’ A provocative, elbow-length glove has been tossed onto the desk, and so I think what people want to know now, is what Terry Newman wore.

The biggest clue comes via the prediction (also in the introduction) that ‘the geek chic of librarians is a look that’s set to prevail.’ Terry is a friend and former colleague of mine, we worked together in the fashion journalism department at university, and so I’m familiar with her sensible, studious style and ask if she’s referring to herself here. ‘The first ever photoshoot I did when I was starting out was for Just 17, I shot the models in a library in slightly nerdy, boyish clothes. I feel that the geeky librarian look is staple and it’s one I always come back to.’ A member of the nineties London scene, she reminisces about a memorable newspaper feature analysing the style of the time, ‘When Luella Bartley was working as a journalist at the Evening Standard she contacted me regarding the ‘English look’. It ended up as a double page spread with a photograph and the headline Fashionable Frump. At first I was a bit upset but after a while I thought, “she’s probably right”. I guess I’m slightly frumpy, a bit librarian, a bit utilitarian with a bit of geek chic thrown in.’

Terry wearing Comme des Garcon cardigan, Margaret Howell dress and YMC sandals. Photo: Lucy Fitter

Listing Comme des Garçons, Prada and Margaret Howell as her favourite designers, Terry admits to having something of a geeky uniform. ‘I’ll slip on a Margaret Howell shirtdress or a pinafore – these things are incredibly useful – I went through a phase of collecting old pinafores, one grey, one blue, worn with a t-shirt underneath, often in rotation. But I do like a dirndl skirt and wear one without any caution. I’m never without a cardigan, I wear a pale blue Vivienne Westwood every time I’m on the beach in Cornwall.’ There’s an idiosyncratic, Duchess of Devonshire element to Terry’s signature style, ‘ I once told my husband that I was saving something for best and he said, “We haven’t got time for that at our age.” So I do dress to please myself and can end up wearing something totally inappropriate. I’ve found myself cleaning the floor in one of my top drawer dresses.’

Legendary Authors has a section on glasses, ‘All those gorgeous authors wore them and this is the biggest seller of any design house, people wear them because they think they look cool.’ Terry wears Cutler & Gross frames, ‘I worked for Lulu Guinness after graduating and when I left she very kindly gave me some money as a thank you gift. So I bought the Cutler & Gross glasses and I’ve worn them for the last 25 years. About 10 years down the line I had to buy prescription sunglasses and so I bought exactly the same frames.’

I know it’s true when the Legendary Authors author says that she’s been researching the book forever. ‘It’s such a rich topic, I did enjoy writing it and it didn’t feel onerous – apart from the bibliography, which was almost as big as the book itself! It’s about how people tell stories with their clothes and maybe you just get a bit more information about your favourite authors by scrutinising their wardrobe – and that, to me, is quite exciting.’ And that she hopes her literary work will have an impact at undergraduate level, too, ‘I want the students to look at it and think ” Fran Lebowitz, she looks interesting, let’s read some of her writing.” But her ultimate aim is for more sincerity less superficiality, ‘All these writers live in their own world and have their own style and authenticity. Forget about Instagram, they didn’t have stylists, they just wore what they wore – and I want people to do that.’

Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore is published by Harper Design. Terry Newman will be signing books at Hatchard’s Piccadilly on 17 August, 6-8pm and there’s a Fashion & Fiction Q&A at Waterstones, Gower Street on Friday 15 September.


14 thoughts on “What the author of Legendary Authors wore

  1. Librian look/schoolmarm look: Oh yes! To me it’s a lovely amalgam of boho, Thirties, Diane Keaton and Katherine Hepburn styles. If only I could find such stuff it might be goodbye to the jeans and sweatshirts.

  2. I’ve been looking forward to this, and have just ordered it. Loved reading about Terry’s own style – thanks.

  3. It is amazing how certain professions bring up a stereotype of dress!!
    We don’t always realize how our clothing says so much about us. It’s human nature to look at someone and get an impression by their looks!

  4. Terry’s style is not my style, but it’s HER style, and that’s what matters. I really don’t think we are looking to be “fashionable”, though we may think that’s the quest. It’s all part of trying to be comfortable in our own skins— and what we throw on them.

  5. I agree with Boadicea – it’s a look that brings up strong, sensible, independent women – icons. I’m looking forward to reading this book.
    Please consider sharing more on shirt dresses. I’m intrigued and unfamiliar with Margaret Howell.

  6. Oh the ability to set a style and not just follow one in both fashion and literary fields. I love Terry Newman’s book!

  7. I can’t wait to get the book. I think Terry brings up a valid point, “writers live in their own world and have their own style and authenticity”. I think it’s regrettable that so many, particularly the famous, surrender this form of self expression to stylists or commercial interests. I find red carpet moments as boring as a home decorated top to bottom by a decorator void of any personal imprint of the people inhabiting the space, though collaboration can helpful. Good, bad or indifferent I’ll take personal style over outsourced style. Joan Didian is a perfect example of personal style as an important part of the whole. The cover photo says it all.

  8. I’m interested to read about the author of the book. Recently I’ve seen articles and illustrations from the book. It’s more about personality than clothing per se. And Terry’s look reflects her style and personality well. As Michelle writes its not her style nor mine but that’s irrelevant. My current style is merging with what I wore in the 80s in my prime eg black and white checked clothing, red, conical heels as some of these elements are recycled in today’s fashions. I never wore full skirted dresses because they didn’t suit my figure. Everyone to their own to find clothes they enjoy wearing that suit their lifestyle, figure, budget and the prevailing mood. I used to wear smart trouser suits and court shoes but no longer dress like this. I kept two handsome Prince of Wales checked jackets/longer length blazers which may well have a new innings this Autumn but styled with black polo neck, black jeans, studded bag and clumpy boots this time round. Everyone looks far less dressed up now hence the ubiquity of down jackets. From the more modestly priced but excellent ones at Uniqlo of which I have several to expensive designer duvet jackets. Margaret Howell makes classic clothes for both men and women. On the expensive side due to the quality fabrics and cuts but clothes designed to last. Only shop of hers I have visited was in the designer outlet near York in Yorkshire. Don’t know if that boutique still there. I bought a checked wool silk scarf/shawl I’m still wearing. Hope to check out the book for myself. Thanks Alyson for bringing the extra information on the author to our attention.

  9. Left to my own devices I would easily gravitate to the wonderful ‘nerdy-chic’ style. Style influence directly from Miss Marple! Peter Pan collars, cardis and fisherman sandals get my vote every time. I notice that Terry is wearing colour – the gold sandals, red cardi. I find colours very tricksy now that I am salt and pepper. My ‘autumn’ colouring has faded and now I gravititate to greys, blacks and navies. Oh, to afford Margaret Howell – everything that she does is beyond wonderful but the prices are prohibitive for me. However, similar style can be carefully found – just discovered secondhand St Michael (pre-2000) on ebay – traditional skirts and shirts made in ‘proper’ fabrics and not fashion driven. A pair of (Hudson) fisherman sandals and good to go. Is this nerdy geeky chic-y look aligned to Gentlewoman style?

    On a more cerebral note, the book sounds absolutely up my street and leaving your site now to check out Amazon. As always, thanks for the heads up.

  10. I love this post, Alyson, and I really relate to your friend Terry’s comment about sometimes dressing inappropriately because she’s not going to save the good stuff for best but rather will wear it when it pleases her. I walked a low-tide beach this week in the Penny Black linen-and-silk shift that I wore for my son’s wedding a few years ago, just because it’s lovely in heat, a simple cut that’s easy to move in, and yet I have somehow not been finding occasions for it and time’s not moving backwards. Some might have thought I was over-dressed for a small-town beach, but laundry is really not that big a deal, and I just took the CPW down a notch and let myself be the judge of my own style happiness. Good to know I’ve got some solid back-up, and it looks as if there are a few other solid reasons I should pick up this book. Thanks for the recommendation.

  11. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention. If you are inspired by the sartorial details of the lives of creative people, you might enjoy a book about the 20C Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, “Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: Frida’s Wardrobe. Fashion from The Museo Frida Kahlo” (Chronicle Books, 2007). The book’s foreword says it all: “One’s wardrobe reveals one’s politics; it is the story one lives by; it is one’s symbolic self.” (Honore de Balzac). Her attention to detail in everything she wore was impeccable, her choices of clothing were always loaded with personal and symbolic meaning throughout her interesting and creative lifetime, and she dressed elegantly in spite of the debilitating effects of a terrible accident that left her dependent on cumbersome braces, corsets, various orthopaedic devices and a wheelchair. It’s a charming, fascinating study!

    1. Marcie, another humdinger of a Frida Kahlo book relating to her amazing choices of clothing is from Assouline (sigh……….) titled ‘Fashion as the art of being’ although at £150 I don’t think I will be buying it! (Spent about 30 minutes in Assouline mentally salivating at the amazing photography and artwork ‘though’).

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