In Defense of Nondescript Halloween Costumes of Beloved Writers

I’ll be honest--this article is more of an excuse for me to gush about one of my favorite writers and one of the most celebrated literary journalists of the 20th century, Joan Didion, than it is about Halloween. In my defense, I have decided to be her for Halloween. I just highly doubt anyone is going to get my costume.

Not only is Ms. Didion not a very well known writer among my peers—or any adult who doesn’t have an interest in literary journalistic essays about the Western frontier, critiques of the Hippie Movement, or analyses of various real moments in history (re: Manson, The Central Park Five, the El Salvadoran Civil War, or early signs of a despotic Dick Cheney)—she dresses like any average person would.

Aside from being one of the greatest writers to ever have lived, Didion was...well...average.

In the 1960s, she donned a slew of outfits which could be described in modern terms as “effortlessly chic”. They were simple, yet elegant, and allowed her to act as background noise to the events which she catalogued.

Her keen eye for seemingly innocuous detail, which was evident in her writing, was all but absent from the ensembles which she wore to interviews with drifters on Haight-Ashbury or while bustling around her Malibu home with daughter, Quintana, and husband, John.

So why dress up as someone when almost nobody will run up to you at a Halloween party and say, “Oh my god! Are you Joan Didion?!”

The answer is simple.

Halloween, aside from being the only time of year your dentist won’t scold you for ingesting hoards of candy and chocolate, is a socially sanctioned holiday and open invitation to pretend to be someone else for an evening. I take this to mean being someone I want to be, recognizing the heroes and heroines in my life. Sure, not everyone interprets it this way; a zombie or a sexy cowgirl are not shining examples of hero worship in action. But there are many who use this holiday to embody something or someone they’re not but definitely aspire to be.

Joan Didion, whose life I will briefly share with you below, is this someone for me.

Having been born and raised in Sacramento, California in the 1930s and ‘40s, Didion developed a great fascination with the Western frontier and the notion of geographical rebirth. She started her career in New York after winning an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine in 1956 as a college senior at UC Berkeley. She wrote her way up the literary ladder, eventually becoming associate features editor for the magazine while simultaneously working on her first novel, Run River (1963).

Growing bored of the hum and drum of NYC after a decade, she returned home to California with her husband and fellow writer-in-arms, John Gregory Dunne, relocating to LA.

Over the course of her life, Didion has (and continues to at 84, btw) experience life through the analytical literary lens. She’s written on topics across various fields of study with highly celebrated pieces in journalism, film, theatre, and prose. Some of her greatest and latest achievements,The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) and Blue Nights (2011), showcased her ability to write with great care and insight about the loss of both her daughter and husband within the span of two years. The writing of these works were accomplished with grace and have benefited many of those in need of a first-hand guide through grief.

If Joan Didion doesn’t fit the description of a hero or someone you aspire to be, then I don’t know who you’re idolizing.

Sure, as you can see, her style is nondescript and color-coordinated at best, but her ordinariness only adds to her appeal. She is proof of how the ordinary can be extraordinary and that Halloween heroes don’t have to be super.

Instead of donning that witch costume or sexy schoolgirl ensemble, try a literary hero on for size.

P.S. If I’ve convinced you of her coolness factor and you’re interested in hopping on this Joan Didion fashion wagon, a fellow fan has compiled a list of look-alike pieces you can buy now to emulate her classic style.

P.P.S. I highly recommend you check out her Netflix Documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold.