To commemorate, we have compiled some of the most memorable stories from the past five decades. From Sally Quinn's piercing political profile of Steve Martindale in 1974 to Robin Givhan's Pulitzer-winning take on Dick Cheney's outerwear in 2005, these are the stories that best represent the legacy of the section.
Steve Martindale, all of 28 years old, was a quintessential D.C. social climber, and this account, published on June 24, 1974, set a Style standard for profile-writing and cultural anthropology. The article moves with the tendons of New Journalism and the joints of Balzac. “Sally Quinn’s piece,” Washingtonian magazine declared the following year, “ended the romanticism of social reporting.”
Over his 39 years in Style, Henry Allen became a high priest of prose and poetry, celebrated (and often imitated) for his oomph, elegance and versatility. Here, in a story originally published on Feb. 11, 1988, he topples a national myth with trademark zeal, while also teaching the reader a thing or two about American history, identity and lunacy.
This one knocked Washington off its axis. Marjorie Williams, an immortal Style byline, trained her near-clairvoyant mind on a paragon of respectability, and found instead a mere mortal betrayed by his own reputation. Originally published in two parts on May 8 and 9, 1991, but presented here in full, the piece quietly builds over its 10,000 words until at last we see a man for what he really is, and a writer-reporter for what she really can do.
Bill Clinton did not know he had a half-brother — nor was the half-brother aware of his relationship to a U.S. president — until the Style section came calling. Gene Weingarten’s pursuit of Clinton’s long-dead father, published on June 20, 1993, broke news, and ennobled a classic Style maxim: Every story, big or small, is somehow about the meaning of life (and life’s “might-could’ves”).
With Martha Sherrill, the reader rides shotgun. Here she puts us next to JFK Jr. in September of 1995 and you can almost smell him. But a Style profile, however dishy and vivid, is never just a profile. It is a portal into a psyche and a biopsy of a moment. It shows us where we’ve been, and where we are, and where we’re going.
Rarely does a Style reporter train her eye squarely on herself, but in August of 1999 Lonnae O’Neal Parker offered up her heart and soul at the altar of feature writing, with the goal of putting something into words that resists blunt articulation. What results is a kind of magic, or prayer, or exorcism, in the guise of brave storytelling.
Life in Washington may be organized by presidential administrations, but it is experienced like anywhere else, like in Hank Stuever’s piece, published on Feb. 23, 2000: in quotidian actions, in wistful moments, in looking upward and underneath, and wondering what, and how, and why. Bold names and big events are the skin and bones of the Style section, but stories like this are the valves in its heart.
Style’s stable of critics are renowned, and their paeans and brickbats are legendary. Robin Givhan’s dressing down of a vice president, from Jan. 28, 2005, is not just a world-class scolding; it is a deadly serious and blisteringly funny argument for treating fashion as one would treat art, architecture and, yes, leadership on the world stage.
It’s tempting to call this a fanfare for the common man, but Wil Haygood knows that timpani is not nearly as effective as harmony between horns. With quietness and clarity, amid the hum of political climax on Nov. 7, 2008, he slipped a humble man into the official record, beside an American president.