“You never seem to give yourself away completely, but of course dark-haired people are so mysterious.”
Remark made by Lucien Carr to Jack Kerouac
in Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters
The black shirt with the white polka dots triggered the message that Bob Dylan was well dressed. It was subtle, but it was there in the cut of a tailored jacket, the angle of a hat, and the shape of his shades. This is a quick, informal, and incomplete study using photos from a recently published bio, album covers, and a viewing of No Direction Home (superb Allen Ginsberg moments).
Bob was definitely grooving in hip threads—after the Chaplinesque early Village debut and the plaid shirts and Woody work clothes. On that cold 1963 day with Suze Rotolo walking on Jones Street, garbed in a thin suede jacket with hands thrust in the pockets of his somewhat baggy jeans: casual and freezing, they present the world with an image of happy young love.
The 1965 black leather jacket at Newport signals a high-voltage change.
The 1966 corduroy jacket with the high collar, New Castle, England, so mysterious, like Garbo, and the tousled halo of curls, the aquiline nose, and puffed lips, seal the veiled sophisticated glamour.
Seersucker Bob wearing eyeglasses—the country squire, stay-at-home Daddy in Woodstock —conservative, traditional, but who else could pull that off?
Dylan as Alias in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid looks cowboy chic, bearded and hatted, and a dandy of a hat it is.
Bob in black and Johnny Cash in white in a black-and-white still photo from The Johnny Cash Show 1970, Bob with short hair appears every inch a cowboy angel—by the way, wasn’t JC the man in black? On the television show, both men in black, minus hat, curls, and glasses, is Dylan revealed in all his heartbreakingly handsome glory.
Who could forget that dapper, hand-crafted hat worn on the Rolling Thunder Review in 1975— with a patchwork quilt fur, multicolored fur? (Why not the return of fine haberdashery, Harry S. Truman?)
Robert the Nazarene, in a Palestinian keffiyeh, what a great look for he with the Arctic blue eyes.
Outlaw heroes, the posse of Traveling Wilburys rode nostalgic rails in traditional American uniform: jeans and sneakers, but somehow manage to take on the aura of Whitmanesque Civil War veterans. (America is this the final journey? The end of romance and freedom? Where goest thou soft halcyon years?)
And Dylan accepting awards, dressed like Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter, so chilling and unforgettable an American villain…Dylan the villain?
Everyone’s heard the story of Bob roaming around Long Branch, New Jersey, taking a walk and checking out real estate in a modest working-class neighborhood? This happened in August 2009 when he was on tour with Willie Nelson. On a rainy day he donned a couple of raincoats with the hood up and rubber boots, and he, Bob Dylan of the Hood, was picked up for suspicious behavior by a young police officer. The charge: he a strange man, a stranger, strangely dressed, looked in the window of a house for sale. He startled the residents, so they called the police. The young twenty-something-year-old cop didn’t know or recognize Bob Dylan—both were cited in various news reports—so she politely questioned him, asked for ID that he didn’t have, and brought him in. Everything turned out fine, he seemed amused, but she didn’t know Bob Dylan, ace of disguise.
In the midst of wild decades, he never looked outrageous, he looked self-possessed, dignified, princely. He could fit in anyplace. Who was the inspiration behind much of this fashion image? Perhaps someone even more mysterious than mystery man and that would be the lovely Sara. His best looks years were the years of their marriage.
Illustration by Isaac Bonan