literary quotation

Carolyn decided.

"Carolyn decided, again with her relentless logic, that if we won the football game against Stranahan, she'd do it with Larry. We creamed them. Carolyn's face walking off the field of honor was not the usual bright cherry red from screaming her lungs out but an ashen and drawn white. Connie and I went over to her to bolster her.

From  Take Ivy  by  Teruyoshi Hayashida et al.

From Take Ivy by Teruyoshi Hayashida et al.

Then the three of us went back to the locker room to wait for our dates--all Princeton haircuts, Weejun shoes, and Gold Cup socks." (99)

Brown, Rita Mae. Rubyfruit Jungle. New York: Bantam Books, 1973.

You know exactly who these boys are.

My Ability To Turn Off Whatever It Is That Causes Human Bodies To Reflect Visible Light

"I'm a quirky dresser. I'm absolutely fearless about what it is that I believe in. My shirts are incognizant and my socks: you must be completely unaware of my socks. That's, like, my approach to socks. 

Chris Farley in a film still from Tommy Boy, 1995. From IMDB.

Chris Farley in a film still from Tommy Boy, 1995. From IMDB.

My pants can be wily or even dishonest on some days* if I just get up and feel that, but I have to feel it. When I wear a tie--and believe me, sometimes I really wear a tie, it can be porcine, straight-laced, odious. I have a certain little boy quality. But there's also that big, fat, sweaty guy thing in there, too."


Gannon, Frank. "I Know What I'm Doing About All The Attention I'm Getting" read on Selected Shorts by David Sedaris, 2013. First published in Yo, Poe (New York: Viking, 1987) and was reprinted in Sedaris' collection of short stories, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005).


The least cliched ways of talking about one's clothing choices, and a commentary on personality building through dress, the narcissism that ironically comes from being a bad dresser. I think something about the syntax of these sentences is perfect, semi-colloquial and just a bit off:

"It will be me putting on the pants, it will be me pulling up the socks. I know how to do this, I've been at it for quite a while. I dressed myself for a long time before anyone was paying attention, and I'll dress myself a long time after everyone's paying attention to the way someone else dresses themself. I know how these things go."

You must, must listen to the whole story, it's a "short short."


*or Sundays? I can't tell from Sedaris' reading. I like Sundays better.

Above All, Foreign.

"Meanwhile, he stands there. Slowly, deliberately, like a magician, he takes a single book out of his briefcase and places it on the reading-desk. As he does this, his eyes move over the faces of the class. His lips curve in a faint but bold smile. Some of them smile back at him. George finds this frank confrontation extraordinarily exhilarating. He draws strength from these smiles, these bright young eyes. For him, this is one of the peak moments of the day. he feels brilliant, vital, challenging, slightly mysterious and, above all, foreign. 

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From  Harvard Psych Dept. website .

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From Harvard Psych Dept. website.

His neat dark clothes, his white dress shirt and tie (the only tie in the room) are uncompromisingly alien from the aggressively virile informality of the young male students. Most of these wear sneakers and garterless white wool socks; jeans in cold weather and in warm weather shorts (the thigh-clinging Bermuda type; the more becoming short ones aren't considered quite decent). If it is really warm, they'll roll up their sleeves and sometimes leave their shirts provocatively unbuttoned to show curly chest-hair and a Christopher medal. They look as if they were ready at any minute to switch from studying to ditch-digging or gang-fighting. They seem like mere clumsy kids in contrast with the girls; for these have all outgrown their teenage phase of Capri pants, sloppy shirts and giant heads of teased-up hair. They are mature women, and they come to class as if dressed for a highly respectable party." (46)


Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man. London: Meuthen & Co., Ltd, 1964.


Kids these days! A thoughtful and scornful observation of early '60s students. Made me think of Take Ivy, the highly idealized style book by Teruyoshi Hayashida. The distinction between professor and student is the pearl in the oyster here, reinforcing our nostalgic ideas about Berkeley, the American '60s, etc. Also: the word "garterless."

The Whole George

"Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face--the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young man--all present still, preserved like fossils on superimposed layers, and, like fossils, dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us--we have died--what is there to be afraid of?

Isherwood portrait, 1950s (?). Photographer unknown. Lifted from the  Book Drunk  blog.

Isherwood portrait, 1950s (?). Photographer unknown. Lifted from the Book Drunk blog.


It stares and stares. Its lips part. It starts to breathe through its mouth. Until the cortex orders it impatiently to wash, to shave, to brush its hair. Its nakedness has to be covered. It must be dressed up in clothes because it is going outside, into the world of the other people; and these others must be able to identify it. Its behavior must be acceptable to them.


By the time it has gotten dressed: it has become he; has become already more or less George--though still not the whole George they demanded and are prepared to recognize. Those who call him on the phone at this hour of the morning would be bewildered, maybe even scared, if they could realize what this three-quarters-human thing is that they are talking to. But, of course, they never could--its voice's mimicry of their George is nearly perfect." (8)


Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man. London: Meuthen & Co., Ltd, 1964.


Writers on fashion theory: dress as identity, identifier.

With the Stuffing Out

"She was a giant of a woman, her face was set not only to meet opposition, but to seek it out. The downward tilt of her large lower lip was like a warning sign: "don't tamper with me." Her bulging figure was encased in a green crape dress and her feet overflowed in red shoes. She had on a hideous hat. A purple velvet flap came down on one side of it, and stood up on the other. The rest of it was green and looked like a cushion with the stuffing out. She carried a mammoth red pocketbook that bulged throughout as if it were stuffed with rocks.

Vintage photo with attitude (and hats) from the wonderful  Wildfell Hall .

Vintage photo with attitude (and hats) from the wonderful Wildfell Hall.

To Julian's disappointment the little boy climbed up on the empty seat beside his mother. His mother lumped all children, black and white, into the common category "cute," and she thought little Negroes were on the whole cuter than little white children. She smiled at the little boy as he climbed on the seat. Meanwhile, the woman was bearing down on the empty seat beside Julian. To his annoyance, she squeezed herself into it. He saw his mother's face change as the woman settled herself next to him, and he realized with satisfaction that this was more objectionable to her than it was to him. Her face seemed almost grey, and there was a look of dull recognition in her eyes, as if she suddenly had sickened at some awful confrontation. Julian saw it was because she and the woman had, in a sense, swapped sons, though his mother would not recognize the symbolic significance of this. She would feel it. His amusement showed plainly on his face.

The woman next to him muttered something unintelligible to herself. He was conscious of a kind of bristling next to him, a muted growling, like that of an angry cat. He could not see anything but the red pocketbook upright on the bulging green thighs. He visualized the woman as she had stood waiting for her tokens, the ponderous figure rising from the red shoes upward over the solid hips, the mammoth bosom, the haughty face, to the green-and-purple hat. His eyes widened. The vision of the two hats, identical, broke upon him with the radiance of brilliant sunrise."


O'Connor, Flannery. "Everything That Rises Must Converge" from Everything that Rises Must Converge. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1965.


Read the story or listen to it on Selected Shorts to get in on the joke! Beautiful use of clothing in fiction, underlining the plot and punctuating the moral, that exclamation point of a hat.

Bengal Lancer

"Wilson stood gloomily by his bed in the Bedford Hotel and contemplated his cummerbund, which lay uncoiled and ruffled like an angry snake; the small hotel room was hot with the conflict between them. Through the wall he could hear Harris cleaning his teeth for the fifth time that day. Harris believed in dental hygiene. 'It's cleaning my teeth before and after every meal that's kept me so well in this bloody climate,' he would say, raising his pale exhausted face over an orange squash. Now he was gargling; it sounded like a noise in the pipes.

Wilson sat down on the edge of his bed and rested. He had left his door open for coolness, and across the passage he could see into the bathroom. The Indian with the turban was sitting on the side of the bath fully dressed; he stared inscrutably back at Wilson and bowed. 'Just a moment sir,' he called, 'If you would care to step in here...' Wilson angrily shut the door. Then he had another try with the cummerbund.

Film still from   The Lives of a Bengal Lancer  , 1935.

Film still from The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1935.

He had once seen a film--was it Bengal Lancer?--in which the cummerbund was superbly disciplined. A turbaned native held the coil and an immaculate officer spun like a top, so that the cummerbund encircled him smoothly, tightly. Another servant stood by with iced drinks, and a punkah swayed in the background. Apparently these things were better managed in India. However, with one more effort Wilson did get the wretched thing wrapped around him. It was too tight and it was badly creased, and the tuck-in came too near the front, so that it was not hidden by the jacket. He contemplated his image with melancholy in what was left of the mirror." (61)


Greene, GrahamThe Heart of the Matter. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1962 [1948].


I like thinking of Wilson having watched many movies about Brits abroad in the great Empire and imagining how lovely and well-put-together and not-at-all-sweaty his life would be. The cummerbund, a British trope of Indian origin, is here representative of all of the struggles coiling around him, unavoidable but completely unmanageable.


"Bertrand came out on to the step, glancing from one of them to the other. He was wearing a blue beret, which had much the same effect on Dixon as Welch senior's fishing-hat. If such headgear was a protection, what was it a protection against? If it wasn't a protection, what was it? What was it for? What was it for?" (188)

Blue beret (and so much more) at  Agi & Sam  A/W2013

Blue beret (and so much more) at Agi & Sam A/W2013

Amis, KingsleyLucky Jim. London: Penguin, 1972 [1954].


What was it for? Why do we wear hats with character? At the time Amis was writing, hats on men were still common--even socially necessary. To not wear a hat would have been significant; what does wearing a funny hat mean?


"'Don't be alarmed, Tantripp,' said Dorothea, smiling. 'I have slept; I am not ill. I shall be glad of a cup of coffee as soon as possible. And I want you to bring me my new dress; and most likely I shall want my new bonnet to-day.'

Half-mourning dress, 1872-74. From the Brooklyn Collection at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art .

Half-mourning dress, 1872-74. From the Brooklyn Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

'They've lain there a month and more ready for you, madam, and most thankful I shall be to see you with a couple o' pounds' worth less of crape,' said Tantripp, stooping to light the fire. 'There's a reason in mourning, as I've always said; and three folds at the bottom of your skirt and a plain quilling in your bonnet—and if ever anybody looked like an angel, it's you in a net quilling—is what's consistent for a second year. At least, that's my thinking,' ended Tantripp, looking anxiously at the fire; 'and if anybody was to marry me flattering himself I should wear those hijeous weepers two years for him, he'd be deceived by his own vanity, that's all.'" (874)


Eliot, George. Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. Ed. A.S. Byatt. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

Undying love and devotion doesn't mean you have to be undesirable and unfashionable for two whole years. Plus when one looks so especially good in net quilling...

Thanks Katie for the tip!


"'Oh, I see all right, James. I see perfectly.' This time her voice was flat. She wore a sort of arty get-up of multi-coloured shirt, skirt with fringed hem and pocket, low-heeled shoes, and wooden beads. The smoke from her cigarette curled up, blue and ashy in a sunbeam, round her bare forearm.

Elaine de Kooning, 1950s. Detail from a portrait of the de Koonings by Rudy Burckhardt. In the  permanent collection  at the Guild Hall.

Elaine de Kooning, 1950s. Detail from a portrait of the de Koonings by Rudy Burckhardt. In the permanent collection at the Guild Hall.


'...What the hell do you take me for? It isn't as if you didn't know what I've had to put up with, all these last weeks. It's intolerable, absolutely intolerable. I won't stand for it. You must have known how I've been feeling.'

She went on like this while Dixon looked her in the eyes. His panic mounted in sincerity and volume. Her body moved jerkily about; her head bobbed from side to side on its rather long neck, shaking the wooden beads about on the multi-coloured shirt. He found himself thinking that the whole arty get-up seemed oddly at variance with the way she was acting. People who wore clothes of that sort oughtn't to mind things of this sort, certainly not as much as Margaret clearly minded this thing. It was surely wrong to dress, and to behave most of the time, in a way that was so un-prim when you were really so proper all of the time." (76-77)


Amis, Kingsley. Lucky Jim. London: Penguin, 1972 [1954].


You are how you dress! Or should be, anyway, right?

Emotional Couturiers

"SOCRATES:  ... Good evening, Sandra. You look stunning, as always. Who are you wearing?

SANDRA: Valentino.


Essential, holistic, from  New York Daily News . Photo: Jason Merritt, 2010.

Essential, holistic, from New York Daily News. Photo: Jason Merritt, 2010.

SANDRA: And? There’s no “and.” I’m wearing Valentino.

SOCRATES: Yes, obviously, your trainer-hewn physical form is draped in tangible designer fashions but, in a more essential, holistic sense, are you not also wearing, or, to be less metaphorical, bearing, the values, the views, the emotional residue of all—father, mother, siblings, peers, teachers, The Ex Who Must Not Be Named, et cetera—who have figured significantly in your life? Shouldn’t one’s emotional couturiers receive equal acknowledgement on this night?"


Woodiwiss, Bob. "Socrates on the Red Carpet" from McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

There's an academic article's worth of sartorial word-play in this piece: read more of it here!

Public Exhibition

"Wilson liked poetry, but he absorbed it secretly, like a drug. ... His taste was romantic. For public exhibition he had his Wallace. He wanted passionately to be indistinguishable on the surface from other men: he wore his moustache like a club tie--it was his highest common factor, but his eyes betrayed him--brown dog's eyes, a setter's eyes, pointing mournfully towards Bond Street." (12)

Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, certainly no shrinking violet. But what a mustache! From  here .

Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, certainly no shrinking violet. But what a mustache! From here.

Greene, Graham. The Heart of the Matter. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1962 [1948].

That passionate interest is so far from what I am interested in personally that I can't understand it, but it's such a wonderful description of this character. What kind of mustache does he have, what "club" does he belong to? What is a nondescript mustache in British West Africa in the 1940s?

September 3

"(September 3)

Having just turned 40 have resolved to embark on grand project of writing every day in this new black book just got at OfficeMax. Exciting to think how in one year, at rate of one page/day, will have written 365 pages, and what a picture of life and times then available for kids & grandkids, even greatgrandkids, whoever, all are welcome (!) to see how life really was/is now. Because what do we know of other times really? How clothes smelled and carriages sounded?" (109)


Saunders, George. From "Semplica Girl Diaries" in Tenth of December. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.


How does Saunders do it? It's so delicately apropos: this guy is sitting there, thinking that writing about these things will really give future peoples the sense of "other times." What do you think about diaries (even fictional) as material culture, as a source for "history" (or the past)? No picture today--pretend like you're reading.


"The book-review editors were like kings (or queens), she always fancied, holding levees, surrounded by their courtiers, while petitioners waited eagerly in the anteroom and footmen (that is, office boys) trotted back and forth. And, like kings, they had the power of life and death in their hands.

1930s woman.jpeg

She had got to know the other reviewers or 'clients,' as the Romans would have called them, quite well by sight--middle-aged bohemian women with glasses or too much rouge and dangly earrings and worn briefcases or satchels; pimply young men in suits that looked as if they were made of paper. And their shoes! Half-soled and with broken laces tied in frayed knots; it broke Libby's heart to study their shoes and the red, raw ankles emerging from cheap imitation-lisle socks." (246-247)

McCarthy, Mary. The Company She Keeps. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002 [1942].

Can you imagine--imitation lisle! The nerve. Think of the products that were available in the 1930s and their social implications that may not mean anything today.

How would these down-at-the-heels reviewers be dressed today? Interesting in light of the previous post on ACM citing the New Yorker's conversation about officewear.

**PS: speaking of reviewing books, check out my newest review on Worn Through here!

Yellow Laces

"Jag virade halsduken om halsen och knäppte den blå lotsjackan som jag köpte på rea förra våren på Paul Smith i Stockholm, drog på mig mössan från samma ställe, böjde mig ner över högen av skodon i hörnet, hittade mina, ett par svarta Wranglerskor med gula snören som jag hade köpt i Köpenhamn när jag var på bokmässan där, och aldrig hade gillat, inte ens när jag köpte dem, och som nu dessutom hade fått en missfärgning av tanken på hur katastrofalt dåligt det hade gått för mig där, helt oförmögen att svara intelligent på en enda av all frågor som den entusiastiska och insiktsfulla intervjuaren ställde till mig på scenen. Att jag inte för länge sedan hade slängt dem berodde uteslutande på att vi hade så ont om pengar. Och så gula snören!" (92)

I wrapped the scarf around my neck and buttoned the blue peacoat I bought on sale last spring at Paul Smith in Stockholm, pulled on the hat from the same, bent over the pile of shoes in the corner, found mine, a pair of black Wrangler shoes with yellow laces that I had bought in Copenhagen when I was at the book fair there, and had never liked, not even when I bought them, and which furthermore had been colored by the thought of how catastrophically badly it went for me there, totally unprepared to answer intelligently even one of the questions the enthusiastic and insightful interviewers asked on stage. That I hadn't thrown them away ages ago depended completely on how short we were on money. And those yellow laces!°


Knausgaard, Karl Ove. Min kamp 2. Stockholm: Pocketförlag/excess*, 2009.


A shoelace is never just a shoelace. Or is it?


°my translation of the Swedish translation from the Norwegian. See another here.

Socks are his Vice

"'This is the only thing my son is into,' she said. 'If socks are his vice, I can live with that.'

Nike Elite Socks. Photo copyright Nike.

Nike Elite Socks. Photo copyright Nike.

...Added Jake Lefferts, 13, a basketball player from Maplewood, NJ, whose team won its suburban-league championship two years ago: 'All the good basketball teams have the cool socks. It's like we know who's good, but the socks reinforce that they are.'" (14-15)


Rubin, Courtney. "Athletic Socks that Give a Foot Bragging Rights" New York Times, Sunday, September 29, 2013.


A forgotten gem, noted that day on a hidden page. The lowly sock! Creating meaning beyond Hanes' grandest expectations...

Fashion suffers.

"Fashion suffers by being very much more interesting than those who follow it." (ix)


McDowell, Colin. The Literary Companion to Fashion. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995.


I knew this exists, but I never picked it up--this is the 1995/analog version of this website! But better organized. So maybe this is, instead, an extension? If I may be so bold? Really looking forward to reviewing his new book on Worn Through in two weeks...

The Peoples of the World

The sculptures of the tympanum were equally beautiful but not so disturbing as those of the newer church. Here again, the tympanum was dominated by an enthroned Christ; but at his sides, in various poses and with various objects in their hands, were the twelve apostles, who had received from him the mission to go forth and preach among all peoples. Over Christ's head, in an arc divided into twelve panels, and under Christ's feet, in an unbroken procession of figures, the peoples of the world were portrayed, destined to receive the Word.

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, a Cappadocian father. From a fresco at Kariye Camii, Istanbul.

From their dress I could recognize the Hebrews, the Cappadocians, the Arabs, the Indians, the Phrygians, the Byzantines, the Armenians, the Scythians, the Romans. But, along with them, in thirty round frames that made an arc above the arc of twelve panels, were the inhabitants of the unknown worlds, of whom only the Physiologus and the vague reports of travelers speak slightly. (336)


Eco, UmbertoThe Name of the Rose. London: Picador, 1984 [Italy, 1980].


Peoples of the world recognizable from their outfits. What screams Scythian, or is so Cappadocian? Are we so distinct now? Or, on the other hand, how accurate was the dress reported, if travelers' accounts of fantastical creatures was so off the mark?

Gazing Everywhere

"Find a little yellow side street house. Put an older woman in it. Dress her in that tatty favorite robe, pull her slippers up before the sink, have her doing dishes, gazing nowhere--at her own backyard. Gazing everywhere.

From Life Magazine.

From Life Magazine.

Something falls outside, and loud. One damp thwunk into new grass. A meteor? She herself (retired from selling formal clothes at Wanamaker's, she herself a widow and the mother of three scattered sons, she herself alone at home a lot these days), goes onto tiptoe, leans across a sinkful of suds, sees out near her picnic table--something nude, white, overly long. It keeps shivering. Both wings seem damaged." (36)

Gurganus, Allan. "It Had Wings" Harper's Magazine, February 1986. Originally published in the Paris Review, Winter 1985. Also found here.


Her current self: a robe, former self: formal clothes. Contrast! Also, parentheses.

Handsome and Great

"In the pages to follow I shall not indulge in descriptions of persons--except when a facial expression, or a gesture, appears as a sign of a mute but eloquent language--because, as Boethius says, nothing is more fleeting than external form, which withers and alters like the flowers of the field at the appearance of autumn; and what would be the point of saying today that the abbot Abo had a stern eye and pale cheeks, when by now he and those around him are dust and their bodies have the mortal grayness of dust (only their souls, God grant, shining with a light that will never be extinguished)?

St. Andrew      , c. 1326. Simone Martini.  In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York .

St. Andrew   , c. 1326. Simone Martini. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

But I would like to describe WIlliam at least once, because his singular features struck me, and it is characteristic of the young to become bound to an older and wiser man not only by the spell of his words and the sharpness of his mind, but also by the superficial form of his body, which proves very dear, like the figure of a father, whose gestures we study and whose frowns, whose smile we observe--without a shadow of lust to pollute this form (perhaps the only that is truly pure) of corporal love.

In the past, men were handsome and great (now they are children and dwarfs), but this is merely one of the many facts that demonstrate the disaster of an aging world." (14-15) 


Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. London: Picador, 1984 [Italy, 1980].


Why not describe people in words when it is so common to capture them in paintings, photographs, etc? Even if the nature is fleeting, the author/artist's subjective perspective will only be one of many understandings of the physical person. I like here how he spells it out for the reader...and then makes an immediate exception. 

The Early Days of Dude

"'For some reason,' Metcalf says, 'early in 1883, this inspired someone to call foppish young men of New York City "doods," with the alternate spelling "dudes" soon becoming the norm.'

 "What, is this my Son Tom" from 1774. Kids these days! From  here .

 "What, is this my Son Tom" from 1774. Kids these days! From here.

 Some of the early mocking descriptions of these dudes seem awfully familiar today: 'A weak mustache, a cigarette, a thirteen button vest/A curled rim hat — a minaret — two watch chains cross the breast.'"


Okrent, Arika. "Mystery Solved: The Etymology of Dude" on Slate .


Writers online can't seem to avoid the h-word, and Okrent won't let this just be interesting on its own. But I love that it would be thirteen  buttons. What did everyone else have, three? Ten? Where do we draw the line at excess, how weak was his mustache? These are the small distinctions that make fashion history so interesting!

Now you know, dude.