I have Gay Talese’s hat

Monday, March 14th 2022
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Gay Talese. In a different hat

By Tom Mastronardi

"The story I’m about to relate is true; it really happened, just a few short years ago, before Covid upended the simple everyday pleasure of running into someone you know on the street and having something marvellous happen.

But let’s not bury the lede; you see, I have Gay Talese’s hat.

It all began on a brisk afternoon in March. I was sauntering, possibly whistling – and, knowing myself, likely swanning down Madison Avenue, when I found myself caught off guard, as I believe was the whole of Manhattan, by a sudden, last-of-the-season snow squall.

I pulled my collar closer to protect myself from the fury of the flurry but I was also charmed by the sheer wonder of the onslaught, a sneaky reprise not unlike those extra choruses in a Cole Porter song when he’s being excessively clever.

But that was before my ignominious fall from grace.

I heard my name being called half a heartbeat before I recognised Gay Talese striding uptown. He was sartorially magnificent (of course) and vigorously hailing me.

Mind now, this is Gay Talese, Illustrious Lion of American Literary Journalism, who, even as he approaches ninety, still sports the most immaculate masculine attire­ rakish, resplendent, arguably the style sage of our time.

And he was calling out to me.

 

Gay outside his New York residence. On a different occasion

Now, I am to no small extent pleased by the fact that I’m seldom intimidated by what anyone else is wearing. I have the confidence and conviction (read: vainglory) that I am the best dressed character in sight. But this was Gay Talese.

“Tom. Tom!” His voice broke through the urban cacophony, and as we met on the sidewalk I extended a well-gloved hand into his even better-gloved one. But Gay was not simply hailing a chance encounter. Rather, you could see vexation in his deep-set eyes.

“Fercrissake, Tom, what are you doing out in this kind of weather without a hat?” There I stood, seriously outgunned, shamefully hatless, snowflakes scattered across what I fancy to be my Werewolf of London hair.

I stammered a feeble excuse (something about not hearing the weather report), vowed to be better prepared, and after a few words of small talk, hied myself hence (hoping that my topcoat, at least, had met with his approval).

It developed, however, that Mr Talese had other plans.

 

Gay in 1972

When I returned home that evening, I discovered that my lovely bride had, in the intervening hours, gotten a call from Gay, in which he ratted out my transgression and requested some more viable reason for my lapse.

Now, permit me a brief sidebar; to keep this story accurate, I should mention that the primary (perhaps only) reason that Gay suffers my company is that he has a good degree of partiality to my wife. A good degree.

And considering that he is after all, Gay Talese, (author of Honor Thy Father, Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold, and much, much more) I find this, if I’m being honest, to be of some concern. I mean, he’s Gay Talese.

“Why wasn't Tom wearing a hat?”

“Doesn't he wear hats?”

“Doesn't he like hats?”

She told Gay that although she really couldn’t explain why I had been foolish enough to venture out without a hat, yes, I did both wear hats and indeed maintained a keen affection for them (notably a lovely trilby purchased while on a recent hop to London).

Beyond that, she went on to say that I had, albeit halfheartedly, been shopping for a new homburg in the waning days of the winter we'd just exited. Or it appeared we were exiting, until this afternoon.

“No.” Gay insisted. “No, no, no.” I wasn't under any circumstances to purchase one; rather I was to be conveyed to his East Side townhouse to be presented with one of his own.

One. Of. His. Own.

Gay and his wife Nan, at home

A few days later, my better-half and I found ourselves visiting the remarkable home where Gay and his wife, the irrefutably erudite Nan, have lived for 50 years. Once the pleasantries were exchanged, Gay decreed that he and I leave the ladies to chat, and I was ushered up five flights to the sanctum sanctorum that is Gay Talese’s Hat Closet.

I drew a deep breath, and as he followed me in, I could swear I heard the flourish of trumpets; or maybe it was a harp’s glissando.

Yes, there were hats. Four full walls of hats. Hats meticulously positioned upon hooks. Hats of every imaginable sort. Fedoras, trilbys, panamas. An anthology of headgear, to be sure, but also the personal ‘his-story’ of one of NY’s legendary men.

I snapped out of my reverie as Gay popped a black number onto my unworthy head. Removed it. Scanned the walls for another candidate and then tried another one. Rejected it as well.

And then, three being the charm and all, his hands lit upon an absolutely perfect dove grey Borsalino homburg. He put it on my head. Adjusted the brim. After regarding me with an unnervingly critical expression for a moment, pronounced his satisfaction.

 

The hat

Gay’s right. It is an undeniably wonderful hat, and I look good in it. But it’s more than something to keep my head warm in a sudden snowfall. For in the simple generosity of gifting me with this homburg, I feel Gay has validated my place in the continuum of Gentlemen Who Dress Like It Matters.

I feel anointed, somehow, to buck the trend of casual-what-the-$%ck, to carry on with neckties and three-piece suits and casually insouciant accessories. I’m incredibly touched, humbled, and more than anything, left with the feeling that this has been an investiture as much as anything.

Then, just as suddenly as we had whooshed up the stairs, we headed back down, collected my wife, bid Nan goodbye, and left. To dinner. A martini. And then on to Birdland for some seriously stylish swing.

Anyway, that’s how I came to have Gay Talese’s hat.

Which, for the past few years, has left me with a question: Should I wear it, or keep it under glass?

Thoughts?"

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StuartR

Great article,
Predictable choice perhaps but Frank Sinatra Has A Cold remains my favourite piece of journalism..

Phil Stirling

It would be great to see a photo of Tom in the said hat

David

Great story.
I love Gay. Not just for his style but for his spirited defence against the unfounded and unproven accusations made against that fine actor, Kevin Spacey.

Ray_Bentos

This is a frankly bizarre statement. This isn’t the forum to get into a debate about Kevin Spacey, but when dozens of accusers come forward to make claims against an individual, there is nothing unfounded about an investigation.

JJ Katz

You. Lucky. B*****d.
🙂

Gary Harrison

This will undoubtedly be the best thing I read online all week. Thank you.

Robin

Surprised you haven’t profiled Gay Talese.
Should readers want there’s some great little Youtube footage of him talking style .

Carl

Yes but you would bring something different to the table

Rogey

Wear it.

Scott

Mr. Talese is a treasure.

Stephen S

Lovely story. Honour it and Gay by wearing the hat and cherish and look after it, but don’t lose it. Perhaps put in one of those Apple tracking devices in the headband! Above all enjoy.

Joel Benford

Wear it, you fool.

Gregoire

The trouble I have with these articles is that its all a bit “boys in the gang”. I don’t know who Guy Talese is. If he matters – give us a style profile relevant to the readers… I know SC and his life is v intertwined in the style / fashion world now (despite him not authoring this piece) but I don’t want a window into the scene – I want recommendations for style and producers. Sorry to be a grump – just my 2 cents

Gary Mitchell

Any information is good information, no such thing as bad information..

Stephen S

I do understand Gregoire’s point. I hadn’t heard of Gay either and now I have. After reading the Village Voice article it’s a bit like finding out about someone in a book and following up. Gay is not someone I would be interested in reading more from or about – somewhat anachronistic, but something learnt. The really positive point is these types of articles offer a change of pace and sometimes they generate something new and some learning; sometimes not.
All the best to you both.

Wade

Indeed! Please honor Mr. Talese! Your reflection and accounting and then narrative were very pleasant reading that was inspired by an unforgettable memory “never to wane.” Wearing the hat invites the inspiration of new and old history, and one might say charm and character. Wonderful story with wonderful pictures of Mr. Talese and his wife and ‘their ‘sanctum sanctorum’.

G. Bruce Boyer

Wear the hat in good health, TM. A wonderful story!

M L Santorsola

I know Gay Talese but I have never heard of the author of this article.
I like his Homburg hat.

Fashion Bear

What a lovely remembrance; thank you to Tom for regaling us with it, and to Simon for providing a venue in which he could do so.

And you should absolutely wear that hat, Tom–I know that’s what Mr. Talese would say, at any rate.

Richard W

Didn’t expect to enjoy this article, but fantastic writing style. Thoroughly enjoyable story.

Adam

Somehow, Gay Talese’s Wikipedia article mentions nothing about his style or being an icon for it.

Kev F

Many years ago in my student days I and a fellow student visited our Dean of Residence who always wore a dark 3 piece suit (he was physics and in a lab but always dressed the same) and in his rooms he excused himself for a few minutes to “change into something more comfortable for the evening”. He came back a few minutes later in a slightly lighter toned two piece suit, tie and slip on shoes. I couldn’t help but remember as I read the story about this splendid gentleman and the way he dresses. Good for him; he may well be in a diminishing class of such dressers and hopefully our writer will continue the tradition especially by wearing that hat.

Joe

Incredible story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Absolutely wear it.

David

I’d wear it proudly.

That said, this is the first I’ve heard of him; where should I start with his works?

CDBP

Great article.
Also, sorry to be a bit grumpy, but I don’t get the people objecting to not knowing who Gay Talese is. God forbid your world be expanded a bit by an article. It’s 2022. Use Google and / or Wikipedia. Learn something new.
Leaving aside that sometimes I found Talese’s taste not my own, he is / was a great stylist and a great defender of style.

NSR

I usually very much like the writing on PS, but this reads vaguely like someone is trying embarrassingly hard to ape PG Wodehouse. Who, as anyone should know, is inimitable.