Tom Wolfe had only one thing about him that was informal and unfussy in his later life, and that was his first name. The co-founder of "New Journalism", who has died at the age of 88, spent the last half-century in an ice-cream white suit and a striped shirt, the dead spit of The New Yorker’s pen-and-ink figurehead, Eustace Tilley. It was an unlikely look for the man who had been most associated with the idea of "saturation journalism" and the break-out from the deadened metropolitan style of mid-century reportage.
Wolfe famously "invented" New Journalism in the early '60s, when he spent weeks covering hot-rod and custom-car rallies in California for New York magazine. Wolfe had taken a then-unusual path to writing, for an establishment kid from Richmond, Virginia, taking a PhD in American Studies, a discipline which emphasised the importance of everyday life. He’d worked in traditional journalism through the 1950s; the custom-car subculture brought him to the crisis moment necessary to innovation. He simply couldn’t shoehorn the wildness of the scene -- a sort of transitional moment between the '50s and '60s -- into the standard form of a "colour" piece. He wrote a long letter to his editor, Clay Felker, describing what he was trying to do, and the editor, as good editors do, simply clipped off the "Dear Clay" salutation, and ran the piece unaltered.