Tom Wolfe, the New Journalist, the quintessential American socio-scribe, master of neologism, father confessor of the Me Decade, hater of two-door cars and funky chic, ultimate Southern Boy, dandy of danies, is looking for a custom sock maker.
Socks are terrifically important to Wolfe. He unearthed the final case of Mary's of Holland hand-knit socks last summer in Southampton. "Mary's made the best socks," says Wolfe. Now there are no more to be found. Where are standards?
Tom Wolfe's electric-blue-and-mustard-plaid socks have style. His powder blue custom-made suit, crepe de chine tie (in "Halloween card gold"), striped custom-made shirt with white collar and cuffs and monogrammed cuff links do, too. His blue 6-inch-crown felt hats have style, too, although he did not wear one to Washington this week on his visit ot talk about his new book on the '70s, "In Our Time," and about American sytle.
"You can always create style if you're consistent," says Wolfe. "Poverty is not the dividing line -- taste is, what with assistant bobbin cleaners making $19,300 a year."
Wolfe was partial to white suits until the advent of "The Great Gatsby" and "Staurday Night Fever." Now he's into the blue family. "Someone who dresses like I do is always in danger of being asked, 'Which way is the men's room?' or 'Are there any seats available?' But these days, if you wear a suit and a stiff collar you're either a restaurant manager or the employe of a burglar alarm company."
Wolfe is the ultimate fashion snob. He spews pronouncements on dress as quickly as the Down-filled People of his book can buy more down coats, Gucci loafers, Louis Vuitton bags, cowl-neck sweaters and High-Tech furniture. Yet Wolfe's own pretentious, predictable Beau Brummel wardrobe separates him from his Wofe World cast of characters into a sartorial Twilight Zone, from which he makes his own particular brand of social commentary.
In his new book, he introduces and reintroduces, in words as well as drawings, characters from his cockeyed view of the '70s:
The New Cookie -- "The girl in her late 20s for whom the American male now customarily shucks his wife of two-four decades when the electrolysis gullies appear above her upper lip."
The Anchorman -- who camouflages his thinning hair by "shampoos at 3:30 p.m. with Pantene ultra-body and blows it dry with a Continental Pro-style dryer on the hot setting."
The Modern Churchman -- The "socially acceptable but obscure minister to the Tassel Loafer & Tennis Lesson Set" who holds Holy Roller Disco Nights.
The Bohemian Against Age -- with "pyramid panels in his bells and a spray-can fit in the seat."
The Seven Graces of New York -- The Cabdriver, The Dock Porter, The Parking Lot Attendant, The Maitre d', The Hat Check Girl, The Tour Guide, The Traffic Patrolman.
Wolfe spares no one. There is a grotesquely obese Ted Kennedy sprawled in a pair of boxer shorts wearing a crucifix and a coke spoon around his neck that Wolfe drew in 1972 called "President Kennedy running for Re-Election in 1980." "He combs his hair back more, but he's still the same sort of blob that you see there," says Wolfe.
And then there's Jimmy Carter cuddlung like a security-starved child in Miss Lillian's lap. "This was based loosely on a painting by Raphael called 'Madonna and Child,'" says Wolfe. "I think Carter is actually personally afraid of the Russians and other foreign powers. I get the impression they terrify him."
More on Carter: "Carter wore the picnic clothes from Atlanta for three years -- that was quite calculated by his media advisers or him to be the total man of the people. But after Iran, Cater started wearing only suits."
"This election has the candidates doing nothing but projecting an image. . . . Your opponent is a mental basket case and is about to push the button. . . .
"Reagan has his dude ranch clothes. Plus after we saw he could ride a horse, he didn't look so old anymore. Kind of like John Wayne in 'True Grit'. . . ."
"Note, also, that presidents' collars tend to get higher and higher as their term of office goes on. This territory is ruled by media advisers. Notice Jimmy Carter wearing collar pins now to raise the collar. By the time LBJ left office, his collar was so high his head was popping out like the blob on the end of a tube of Ipana."
Wolfe, 49, took drawing lessons in his native Richmond courtesy of the WPA at age 7 and 8. "After that, I never took formal instruction," he says. "But I did learn anatomy by drawing boxers from Ring magazine in my teens." Then while working for a newspaper in Springfield, Mass., in 1957, Wolfe was assigned to cover a murder trail where no photographs were allowed, so he started illustrating his own stories. He went on to illustrate some of his own books, including "The Pump House Gang" and "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamlined Baby."
His ideas often come from a real life situation, which of course he elaborates on a bit. Like his Down-filled People standing on line for a movie came to him when he saw a line of New Yorkers waiting to see "Being There" last winter. Not all of them were wearing down coats and Gucci loafers, but enough were for Wolfe to create a whole Lower-Class category -- the Down-filled People with their audio systems, two-door cars, hiking trips and laughter at Steve Martin, and who, when at a loss for words, talk about real-estate prices.
What Wolfe can't stomach is funky chic. "We're still in the funky chic period of the '70s," he says. "Most of the clothing experimentation is still in the casual realm. That's why the only fun is to go pretentious. I'm getting my collars stiffer and higher. Women's clothes are getting looser because it's for men to produce them and it looks youthful. Funky chic turns me off because it's so confusing. It gets people confused as to who is in what position. I know people who put on old clothes when workmen are coming over to work in their homes."
As for Wolfe, he no doubts greets them in a hand-tailored suit, silk pocket square, freshly starched shirt. And his favorite pair of fuschiacolored socks.