The Literary Chic : 5 Most Stylish Writers in History

Although most of us know better than to judge a book by its cover, it is fascinating to observe the way people dress and ponder what influences their fashion decisions. For a writer, there are numerous factors that come into play. Some writers are concerned with comfort rather than trend, however, there are others whose style of dress is just as influential and spectacular as their literary talents.

I have compiled a list of five writers and their contributions to not only the literary world, but the world of fashion.

Oscar Wilde

“One’s style is one’s signature,” Wilde once said. Wilde believed clothes were not gender biased and that people should be able to wear whatever they like. He wore lots of silk, velvet, hats, and capes.

Wilde’s writings in fashion, including his essay The Philosophy of Dress have been collected in Oscar Wilde on Dress, which was published in 1885. He was also editor of Woman’s Fashion World. In his work, Wilde states that fashion is a feminist art. In a time where women’s fashion was dominated by frills and corsets, he was a fashion activist who believed that fashion should liberate women, not restrict them.

He predicted that women’s fashion would adopt many male styles – pants, sewing pockets onto skirts, and sporty jackets. And he was right. Many of these styles were later introduced by designer Coco Chanel, who like Wilde, also believed in the liberation of women. In fact, one of Chanel’s most famous quotes is an allusion to Wilde. “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”  Wilde wrote “Fashion is ephemeral. Art is eternal.” Great minds think alike.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway took the literary world by storm with works such as Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and The Old Man and the Sea. But writing wasn’t always his main focus. He once said, “My boxing is everything, my writing is nothing.”

As much as Hemingway was a writer, he was an adventure-seeker. When he wasn’t busy writing, he was participating in a fishing tournament in the Gulf Stream, hunting on an African safari, bullfighting in Spain, and of course – boxing in the Key West.

His wardrobe consisted of classic brown, gray, and black hues. For formal attire, he wore loose-fitted, less structured suits. During the summer, he often wore a simple button-down linen shirt with shorts.

Hemingway wore a lot of denif3362fd282af7ae59b8dc2eca9707981.jpgm and khakis and was even featured in one of Gap’s Who Wore Khaki’s Campaign.

So although he may be known for his iconic style of writing, one can also note his timeless style of dress – one that embraced quality and durability; essential for the true sportsman he was.

Ernest Hemingway has left a lasting impact on both the literary world and fashion. The Ernest Hemingway Collection produces apparel and home furnishings that capture the spirit of Hemingway, his enthusiasm for adventure, and the essence of his lifestyle. Check it out here.


Mary McCarthy

Novelist, critic, and political activisit Mary McCarthy is often characterized by her wit. She wrote as a critic for The New Republic, the Nation, and the Partisan Review and made satiric and often controversial commentaries on politics, marriage, sexual expression, empowerment and more.


She had a voice that could not be ignored. Her book, The Group was set in the 1930’s and tells the story of eight women who have just graduated college. With descriptions of sex, contraception, and breast-feeding, the novel created a huge scandal at its time of publication in 1963.

hbz-literary-babes-mary-mccarthy-gettyNot only did McCarthy want to be heard, she wanted to be seen. In her autobiography, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, McCarthy wrote: “It was the idea of being noticed that consumed all my attention. The rest, it seemed to me, would come of itself.”

McCarthy’s style is influenced by Parisian culture, as she spent much of her time there. She was a wearer of the iconic Chanel suit.  This piece, designed by Coco Chanel, consisted of a tweed jacket with matching pants or skirt, and symbolized taste, elegance, and luxury.

McCarthy loved clothes – so much so that she brought eight suitcases with her when travelling to Vietnam. But no matter what she was doing – whether it be writing, critiquing, or travelling – she was tailored, stylish, and perfectly put-together.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is characterized by her somber writing reflective of her own struggles. Her only published novel, The Bell Jar, has been noted for the parallels between the life of the self-destructive protagonist, Esther, and the author herself.

She is also known as one of the greatest contributors to confessional poetry – this style of groundbreaking poetry emerged in the 1950’s and dealt with personal subject matters and experiences such as death, trauma, and depression. In her poem, Apprehension, Plath writes “Is there no way out of the mind?”

Much like the honest style of her writing, Sylvia Plath signature look was simple and free of frills. She incorporates both feminine and masculine pieces into every-day looks – clean-lined blazers, collared blouses, and pleated skirts.

She accessorized with wide belts, pearls, patterned headbands, and flats. She steers away from ornate clothing, and instead uses fashion-forward colors and prints.

Years later, Sylvia Plath continues to shine for the beautiful poet she is, and readers today continue to resonate with her work.

Maya Angelou

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

Maya Angelou’s legacy began with her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as the first nonfiction bestseller by an African-American woman. But she didn’t stop there. This book was only the first in a series of six autobiographies.

As much as she was a writer, she was an activist, working closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. In 1993, she recited her poem, On the Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton’s inaugural speech, calling for peace and unity of all people.

627fcc9d6849f4834c0c1ed6c262937a Even before her days as an award-winning writer and influential civil rights activist, Maya Angelou was an icon. Studying dance and singing in night clubs in New York City, she was seen sporting sultry yet sophisticated attire. She was vibrant in a  strapless floor-length dress and daring in her one-piece jumpsuit. Throughout the years, her style continued to flourish. She was always well accessorized with a statement necklace, hoop earrings, or a patterned head wrap.

Maya Angelou had a free-spirited attitude that translated into nearly every aspect of her life, even her wardrobe. What she wore said it all – her confidence, her determination, and most importantly, her ability to inspire the world.

As writers, we possess the ability to use written words to craft a story. But our clothing can also tell an interesting story. What story will you tell?

Published by lisa

I write about books, fashion and all things beauty on my blog, Lipstick and Literature.

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