david-sedaris-is-still-having-a-hoot-getting-dressed

David Sedaris Is Still Having a Hoot Getting Dressed

When at home in the quiet English countryside, the writer David Sedaris has made a hobby of picking up trash on the side of the road—a practice that has rewarded him with a garbage truck named in his honor. This would be surprising enough on its own, before you learn that he does so while wearing jeans from Chimala and Kapital, two cult-loved labels that make some of the most coveted denim in the world. Of course, that’s only a surprise if you don’t know that Sedaris, in addition to being a world-famous and best-selling author, is also a bona fide fashion head.

He adores forward-thinking Japanese wares from Comme Des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto. He’s a huge Bode fan. “Isn’t that place the greatest?” Sedaris gushes. “The store is absolutely beautiful.” The humorist very casually mentions that when his sister, the comedian and actress Amy Sedaris, showed up wearing boots from Bottega Veneta, he was so taken by them that he went to the label’s SoHo store and bought himself a pair. If you’ve ever seen him on the late-night shows, you’ll know he is an eccentric dresser—his signature look is culottes and a blazer.

Later this year, Sedaris will publish the latest collection of his diaries, A Carnival of Snackery, which picks up where 2017’s Theft By Finding left off. There are mentions of high-grade fashion sprinkled throughout—like one particularly memorable tale of being mistaken for a “tramp” in Chile while wearing a Casey Casey shirt and Geoffrey B. Small jacket. In a meandering chat, I spoke with Sedaris about everything from his culottes obsession to what catches his eye when he’s out shopping.

You’ve written about buying what you call “at-home clothes” or clothes that you might mostly wear while you’re writing at your desk.

I went to this store in a pair of culottes yesterday because my boyfriend Hugh needed some ketchup. I had on this pair of culottes that really looked so much like a skirt. I had been at my desk that day. When I wake up, the first thing I think is, “What am I going to wear to my desk?” But I really do lay in bed, and I think, “Oh, what am I going to wear? What if I wore those white linen pants? What if I wore them with that … ” So, I give it a lot of thought. But yesterday, I went to the grocery store, and I thought, when you’re 64, it’s a pretty fucking good time to start wearing what you want out of the house because you’re invisible. For the most part. I mean, once you have gray hair, you’re invisible. It’s very liberating.

What is it about culottes that you find so appealing?

Gosh. I think I probably got my first pair or saw them in Tokyo, at the Comme des Garçons store there. I think what appealed to me was that my one feature is my legs, maybe because I never learned to drive a car, so since the beginning of time, I’ve walked everywhere I go. My calves look like upside-down bowling balls. So, I’ve always liked shorts. But I don’t know. I think I like these even more just because they were flouncy. I don’t know that I would ever wear [regular] shorts with a sport coat, but culottes with a sport coat seemed kind of semi-formal.

I go on tour a lot. I mean, I haven’t this past year, but normally I go to about 100 cities a year. I always dressed up. I probably started reading out loud in 1986 in Chicago, and one of the very first things I realized was that it was important to dress up, to make it look like you made an effort. Then when I started going on tour in the late-1980s, I wore a jacket and a tie. When I saw my first pair of culottes, my ideas of dressing up changed. So I got them, and I wore them onstage. This is the perfect place to wear them because I don’t know that I would feel confident enough.

I don’t want to be stared at. Do you know what I mean? I’m too old to be stared at. But onstage, it’s a perfect place to wear something like that because people came to see a show. And people would howl with laughter. My audience has no idea who Rei Kawakubo is. None. They thought it was like I was going into a clown’s closet. But I didn’t care. I thought I looked great.

What do you look for when you are out shopping?

Nothing makes me happier than shopping with my sisters. Nothing. My sister Amy lives in town, so we just went out yesterday. But my sister Gretchen came to town two weeks ago, so we were all together shopping. We have a house on the coast of North Carolina, so there I have “family” clothes.

I got this pair of drawstring jeans in Tokyo, I don’t know, four or five years ago. The back of them, like the ass part, is striped, but the other parts aren’t for some reason. They’re cuffed, and they have a drawstring, and they’re really big. My dad looked amazing in them. Everybody wears them because they’re family jeans. I just bought a family tunic with my sisters a few weeks ago. And then I brought it home, and Hugh said, “David, that’s a dress.” I said, “Really? Well, you know, it’s for everyone. I’m going to bring it to the beach and anyone who wants to wear it can wear it.”

Stephen Colber inspects Sedaris’s fit in 2018.

CBS Photo Archive

Do you feel like you try to follow any trends or current looks within the menswear space, or are you kind of off in your own world?

I feel like I’m off in my own world. I mean, that’s the thing. I guess if someone took a picture of me and I looked at it later, I wouldn’t want to feel like, “Oh, my god,” like I had shoulder pads on, and it was a picture from the ’80s. You know?

I have a coat, like a winter coat that comes almost to the ground, so I was wearing that after midnight one night. And this guy ran across the street, and he said, “Hey, are you homeless, too? Do you know where there’s a soup kitchen?”

Then another time I had on this Elena Dawson coat, which was made out of linen but just cut at the bottom with scissors. It’s raw linen and it’s almost like a lab coat. I was walking through Times Square. I don’t remember what else I had on, but it was like 1:30 in the morning, and this guy said, “Look at the clown. Look at the fucking clown.” Then I looked down at myself, and I thought, “It’s not outrageous for what I’m wearing.” And then I followed his finger, and it was a clown, with the hair and the red nose walking at 1:30 during the pandemic in the middle of Times Square. But, I mean, my first thought was that he was talking about me because when I see a clown, I think, “God, that guy’s well dressed.”

What do you wear when you pick up trash?

Do you know Chimala? It’s a Japanese company that makes denim. Normally, I quit wearing jeans when I turned 40, but when I’m picking up trash and stuff, I have to go into a lot of blackberry bushes and thorn bushes. So, I need the heavy fabric, and I could never wear shorts or anything like that. And then a lot of Kapital.

I can’t imagine too many others are wearing Kapital denim to pick up garbage. I know you are a big fan of that label. What about their clothes do you find so compelling?

A lot of their stuff just looks bad on me. Do you know what I mean? It just looks awful on me. I just can’t resist. Also, they distress things in a way that they don’t look fake. Like a cardigan sweatshirt with big holes in it, but they’re always so well placed. It doesn’t look fake to me.

Or they do a shirt that looks like it belonged to a clown, so the neck hole is really huge, and then there’s a little collar on it, but the collar is where your chest would be. It’s just like you took the clothes off someone who lived under a bridge 60 years ago. That’s what it looks like. Not costumey. And really nice fabric, but just really beat up. So, that’s one corner of my closet.

In terms of footwear, I’m assuming that you’re a sneaker person with all the walking you do.

Yeah, I used to not wear sneakers, though. But my feet are like hobbit’s feet. I mean, they’re shaped like states, like the states you couldn’t name. They’re completely flat, and then I have bunions, and it’s awful. I wear Marsèll shoes; those are really soft, and those are good for you if you have bunions.

But my sister came home one day wearing these Bottega Venetas. Is that how you say it? They were rubber rain boots, and I said, “Oh, my god. They make you look like you’re carved out of wood. Those are great.” And she told me they make them for men, too. So anyway, I got a pair.

Did you get the boot version, or the one that is almost like a gardening clog?

I got the boot version; it’s like an ankle boot. They’re peanut butter-colored. They’re kind of great, and then I wasn’t sure. I said to the doorman, I said to somebody on the elevator, I said, “Please. Is this wrong?” She was mesmerized by them, and the doorman said, “Oh, Mr. Sedaris, those are great.” But you can’t trust anyone who calls you “sir” to give you a straight answer.

I know you mentioned that you’re off in your world, but people with a very high fashion IQ seem to love those boots. You have quite the eye.

I think part of it too is that sometimes you go to a store, and you’re the only person in there, so you tend to think you’re the only customer. Then you go back one day, and there are other customers, and you realize, “Oh, my god. They’re just like me. I’m a type.” You know?

What’s the type?

A person with too much money.

I also know that you’re a fan of bandanas and scarves.

Yeah, I have a lot of them. There is a store in SoHo, BDDW. It’s all designed by this one guy who lives in Oregon, and he makes furniture, and he makes lamps. And he makes clothes, too; M.Crow is the name of the clothing line. Anyways, they make really nice bandanas. But I use them. I have a lot of Kapital bandanas, and from 45rpm. I use them to wipe the sweat from my brow. I have a Kapital one that’s got fruit and a big drawing of people having sex on it. That was just a crazy pattern that attracted me to that.

And they’re a good gift to buy for people, too. You know? The ones at 45rpm are like 100 bucks, so I always leave the price tag on.

What is something you notice when you spot well-dressed people?

It’s just little touches that people have there, and then you’re reminded like, “Gosh, yeah. That’s all you need. You need your little touch, and you’re out the door.” As I get older, I know the little touch is important just to say to the world, “I don’t want to bring you down. I might not bring you up, but I’m not here to bring you down.”

What does Hugh think of some of your more outlandish outfits?

Well, Hugh worked at Comme des Garçons in the late 1980s when the store was in SoHo. Their clothes seemed pretty tame back when he was working there. I remember he got a suit that was camouflage, and now that doesn’t seem like anything. But back in 1989, I didn’t know that anybody was doing things like that.

If you say to him, “Does this shirt go with this jacket?” he’s like, “No.” I mean, he knows what tie to wear with what shirt and what socks to wear with an outfit. I’ve never understood that at all. But I always say to Hugh, “Should I be embarrassed?” Like if I’m going out to dinner or if I’m going out, I say, “Should I be embarrassed?” Because I trust him.

The last question I had for you: Do you remember the first big fashion purchase you made when you “made it” as a writer?

Gosh. I remember I went on my very first book tour, and I went to Barneys, and I bought this tie by Comme des Garçons. And I’d never spent so much. It was like $125. A crazy amount to spend on a tie. It was just one of those knitted ties, but it was like, I don’t know, ice cream colors, and that was the first. It wasn’t a question of having the money. It didn’t occur to me that I could sit at that particular table, you know. But that was, it was the same way I felt when I bought something at Sotheby’s. Like I thought people would be like, “What are you doing here? If we want you here, we’d invite you.” Then I realized, “No, anybody can do this.”

I used to be so intimidated going into stores. I think really smart stores should have plain-looking staff members. Because when you go into a store, and you think, “Well, I’d never look as good as that person,” then chances are you’re not going to buy it. If I had a clothing store, I’d hire hunchbacks. I really would make sure that the customer always looked better than the staff.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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