Whitman sampler: How to dress like Walt Whitman

The hair apparent: Whitman in 1887 (about age 68), now sporting his signature hat and facial hair.
George C. Cox

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so if you’re going to a marathon reading of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” you may as well look the part. The annual gathering, which takes place at Brooklyn Bridge Park on June 8, attracts a lot of so-called “Whitmaniacs” — some of whom dress up like the Bard of Brooklyn before incanting his epic poem. And The Brooklyn Paper is here to help you do just that. Examples abound for how to imitate the ink-slinger’s look — he is the most photographed early American poet, according to reading organizer Karen Kubiener — and we have combed through the beard and barley to bring you the definitive Walt Whitman mien from three eras of his life.

Walt the newspaperman

The early Whitman was a dapper young firebrand with a liberal bent and bylines in more than one metro-area newspaper. You’ll want a crop of medium-length hair combed over to one side and a beard cut close by the cheeks and left longer at the chin. Wear a dress shirt with a Milton collar and a cravat, as well as some slacks, polished black shoes, and a topcoat. Complete the look with a copy of The Brooklyn Paper (he never worked here, but we strongly believe he would have had we existed back then).

Grass roots: Whitman at age 37, as illustrated on the frontispiece to his collection “Leaves of Grass.”
Samuel Hollyer

‘Leaves of Grass’-era Walt

This is Whitman at his most casual — when he spent much of his time leaning, lounging, loafing, and writing the definitive American poem. Keep your hair short with even shorter bangs, and aim for the “but I just shaved two weeks ago” look. At this stage the hat is optional but encouraged. Wear a puffy linen shirt with a big collar, but ignore the top couple buttons — you won’t need them where you’re going. Throw in a pair of roomy trousers and you’re done. Shoes are anathema.

Civil War and beyond

Not for the faint of heart, the elder Whitman is the most intense look to pull off. First-timers are recommended to start with an earlier Walt and ease their way into this sagely style. At this point, the hat and beard are indispensable, so just let your coif and whiskers grow until you achieve a level of shag that puts Santa Claus to shame — then top it off with a Stetson or similarly broad-brimmed hat. Revisit the “Leaves of Grass”-era shirt, but throw in a stately waistcoat, because now you’re an elder statesman of American verse. Then slip on some slacks and boots and finish with an overcoat. Bonus points for a cane or walking stick.

A song of himself: Walt Whitman’s face wasn’t always engulfed in a huge beard—at age 28, it was nary a goatee.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

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