I'll Have What She's Having: Joan Didion

"Style is character" Joan Didion told the Paris Review in 1978. 



And what better subject to start the conversation of personal style with than the master of character, Joan Didion. Born in Sacramento, she recalls writing down stories as early as five years old. It's not hard to believe, considering her voice has shaped the very definition of the personal essay. Moving to New York after graduation from Berkeley, Didion wrote Run River and perhaps her most iconic essay Goodbye to All That. When "golden rhythm was broken" she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, moved back to California in 1964. 

Here, her best work was written, her beloved daughter, Quintana adopted, and her life bright and good, if only for a time. Reading about the encompassing grief that came with the loss of her husband and daughter in books like The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights is the closest any reader could hope to get to Didion's untouchable psyche. 

My love for Joan Didion is a recent one, starting really when I met my best friend, Ruby, about three years ago. She had been reading Didion in a cafe we were meeting at. I took note, a habit I've grown accustomed to, and picked up the book as soon as I got home. Images of Didion leaning against her Stingray had been my only prior understanding of her. Aloof, intimidating, probably hard to read, I assumed. Her style was no different. The simplicity of her famous packing list, see below, puzzled me. It was only after I dove into books like Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album that I understood that the simplicity came from her obsession with story and willingness to serve it before anything else. 


I've always thought of Didion's style as the intersection of the ease of a Californian, with the jadedness of a New Yorker. Sure, a patterned kaftan wouldn't be outside the realm of sartorial possibility, but only while hosting and definitely with a cigarette in hand. She would wear a floor length dress for day to day, but in a knit blend, keeping it casual and comfortable. Her looks are always understated, perfectly tailored, and undeniably cool-just like her prose. 

You'd be hard pressed to find a photo of Joan Didion not in massive, dark glasses. For proof watch the excellent documentary, The Center Will Not Hold  or recall this impossibly on brand Céline ad. It's what makes her the ideal observer, a journalistic outsider with the ability to write the world from a place apart. Not only that, the detached air of her glasses became a signature quickly. I'm unwilling to suggest they were simply practical; Joan Didion did nothing on accident. 


Her affinity for silk scarves might be her one indulgence when it comes to accessories. You'll notice that she is never seen piling on bracelets or with an elaborate necklace situation. Subdued, paired back, and very much "take one thing off before you leave the house" a la Coco Chanel approved. The scarves she went for carry the same spirit as the sunglasses in many cases, a sort of casual indifference in the way they're worn. The result is something of an accidental glamour.


It's also hard to miss her draw to skirts. Never one to overdo it, she usually pairs them with a black tee or a simple button up. The look is never schoolgirl or preppy, but gives more of a sense of timelessness. Her outfit could blend into any scene-the deep South (South and West) or her native California (Where I Was From.) Skirts and dresses over pants, solid over patterned, and hair down over an elaborate updo. 


Her ethos, when it comes to fashion, is maybe what I find so inspiring in a world of bloggers dressed in head to toe sponsored looks, letting their clothes dictate personalities, their careers, even. Didion made way for what it means for your clothes to serve your work. That's why her style and books feel so unmistakably similar-they're both honest embodiments of JD herself.