"Try For Elegance" 1959 LOOVIS, David


[254] pp.

Charles Scribner's Sons


8 1/2 x 5 3/4"

The bars and bistros, the pads and penthouses of New York - a novel of young unmarrieds who try anything for a place in the Manhattan sun.
The characters were described as “white-collar Beats” and included Teena, “a commuter between Park Avenue and Greenwich Village,” and Paul, “a bohemian in a Brooks Brothers suit.”

The author was an Ivy Leaguer who worked at Brooks Brothers’ Madison Avenue flagship, and “Try For Elegance” was largely based on his experience there.

Try For Elegance” is a fascinating document for its dramatization of what it was like at Brooks Brothers (which is never mentioned by name) during its heyday.

Like his creator, Paul Dunar is the graduate of “a small Ivy League college.” He is a 29-year-old aspiring painter who’s been working at the store for a year, and who falls for a 19-year-old spoiled rich girl from the Midwest. Paul has a taste for good clothes, is conscious of being well dressed, and delights in the pleasure of being well turned out.

New York-set novel about "a salesman in a large and venerable Madison Avenue men's store" -- unnamed in the book, but known at the time to have been modeled after Brooks Brothers, for the pretty obvious reason that the author was employed there (as, yes, a salesman) -- he was even interviewed "on the job" for a New Yorker profile around the time the book was published. (And the New York Times review of the book noted that it would have "a special attraction, beyond its literary appeal, for readers curious about the muted but substantial world of quality clothing for men, odd insights into the fashions of the clientele rather than fashions, per se, and the human routine within a store having that unquestioned imprimatur.") Loovis (1926-2008) clearly moved in post-World War II gay intellectual circles -- his alumni information page on the Colgate University website states that in his travels as a young man he "establish[ed] lasting relationships with Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal," both of whom encouraged his writing. (The book, in fact, is dedicated to Vidal, who provided an admiring quote for the jacket blurb.) Although Loovis's career as a novelist sputtered out after just one more book ("The Last of the Southern Winds," 1961), he became an increasingly outspoken supporter of gay rights, and in the 1970s published two important and influential books, "Gay Spirit" and "Straight Answers About Homosexuality for Straight Readers." (But what we really want to know is: did Vidal get his suits at Brooks Brothers?)

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