Gorey Story

The name Edward Gorey (1925 – 2000) is almost as elusive as the man himself, conjuring either immediate recognition or hesitant diffidence. Even for the former, the breadth of his work is generational. From designing the Tony Award-winning set and costumes for a 1977 Broadway revival of Dracula, to the opening sequence of WGBH’s Mystery! to his many small books featuring disastrously unfortunate children, each age group has a different association. For the uninitiated, his marked influence appears in Tim Burton’s gothic fantasies and can even be found amongst the heavily curated, contained worlds of Wes Anderson, present in each character’s deadpan delivery.

Less examined than his prolific corpus is Gorey’s personal style, which is starkly incongruous with his dark Victorian and Edwardian imaginings. His wardrobe was consistent with the timespan of his career, beginning at Harvard College (‘50). Here Gorey adopted the raccoon coat by which he could be easily spotted in his six foot plus frame, popular on campus thirty years before and briefly following his departure. In later books, Gorey would cloak his self-portrait as The Author in beehive-like furs, showing very little of the outfit underneath. It was also during this time that Gorey began to wear multiple rings on his long, tapered fingers, and grew the beard that would stay with him long after the rest of his hair was gone.

These often caricatured attributes are only part of the eccentric whole. Beneath the raccoon, Gorey wore what has become the trad trousseau post 2000, the year of his demise. His father Edward Sr., a journalist who divorced Gorey’s mother to marry Casablanca cabaret singer Corinna Mura, could never quite understand why his son would pair Brooks Brothers suits with battered Keds sneakers. A fair question then, yet not an uncommon sight for contemporary times. As seen in the 1963, Gorey’s love for fastidious patterning on the page also extended into madras jackets. Although we regretfully can’t see the colors, it’s apparent that Gorey was no goth in hot weather.

As an author, illustrator, and designer living in New York, Gorey was an early adoptee of jeans. Not the most traditional progression, it was nonetheless an indicator of his status as an artist that he coordinated workwear in ways that today prompt thousands of #ootd likes. Photographed by Jack Mitchell on the set of Dracula, he wears them with CVO sneakers, a striped rugby and a denim jacket. Underneath one of his fur coat collection, Gorey was also seen at his frequent viewings of the New York City Ballet pairing the jeans and CVOs with a thick, cable-knit fisherman’s sweater. Large pendant necklaces of his own design prevented any imitation or possibility that he may look too normal.

His chunky sweaters no doubt came in handy when Gorey later left New York, using his Dracula earnings to purchase an eighteenth-century sea captain’s house in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. When the ballet wasn’t in season, Gorey had routinely summered with relatives in nearby Barnstable. Photos of what he called Elephant House prior to its light-handed renovation are the stuff of dreams (or nightmares). Even today, the town is part of a small Cape Cod enclave that has preserved its character amongst McMansion developments and manicured hydrangea displays. After transporting his massive library and manifold multimedia collections, Gorey eschewed the more decorative trappings of his daywear. Normally pictured at home near the end of his life, he donned chambray shirts, roll neck cotton sweaters, and even army green bermuda shorts. True to nonconformist form, he nonetheless wore small gold hoop earrings from late middle age until his death.  

Having lived through what many consider to be the Golden Age of American menswear, Gorey was not a stalwart trad dresser. However, considering the many sartorial sins of the late 1960s onward, his core style was constant and uncomplicated. Photos of him are anything but fussy despite often being surrounded by cats, and even his most extravagant outerwear or jewelry does not wear him. As the concept of Ivy and preppy style evolves, finding one’s own interpretation of the basic principles is highly encouraged. And, as Gorey would no doubt appreciate, skulls continue to be a treasured motif. Along with a sterling silver fox ring, F.E. Castleberry’s collaboration with Witness & Co. will bring the colorfully-named Brainpain Knuckledusters. Although FEC was not familiar with Gorey at the time of this article, his recommendation to wear one skull on each finger is another example of the author and artist’s influence beyond the grave, wherever it is. — ZG BURNETT

10 Comments on "Gorey Story"

  1. Brava, ZG. I shall now go put “Haunted Summer” in my DVD queue.

  2. Kind of a Liberace of Cape Cod.

    Speaking of Cape Cod, his house there is now a museum showcasing his illustrations and jewelry collection:


  3. A man of many influences and allusions. The illustrations to Fred Burnaby’s A Ride to Khiva (1876), jumped out as a Gorey influence, the moment I saw them, to pick one obscure example. As unique, in the strict sense, and as odd, and macabre, as Poe. A great talent who made his own niche, and who cut a figure unlike anyone before, since, or ever again.

  4. Vern Trotter | June 8, 2020 at 10:40 pm |

    I thought Corrina Mura sang “Love for sale,” in Casablana. Evidently not. Just played the guitar for a couple others.

    He has to be in the Yarmouth Port-Barnstable hall of fame.

  5. Tom Connolly | June 9, 2020 at 6:23 am |

    This is quite a nuanced portrait of Gorey as well as a meditation on the evolution of trad style. Thought-provoking as well as an inspiration to get a new pair of CVOs!

  6. I picture tyrone as a forty year old, pale video game player with a patchy goatee, little girl arms and few prospects. Maybe a Beastie Boys t-shirt and jean shorts.



  7. For a unique take on the standard alphabet primer, check out Gorey’s “Gashlycrumb Tinies”. Prose and illustrations from a gifted mind indeed.

  8. Charlottesville | June 9, 2020 at 12:53 pm |

    I am also a big fan of Gorey’s works. Many are collected in two volumes (Amphigorey and Amphigorey Too), both available on Amazon.

  9. Thank you, everyone! Mitchell mentioned the Gorey House, the online gift shop of which stocks his entire bibliography. Going on a pilgrimage there this weekend to view their newest exhibition.

  10. Lovely piece – remarkable subject and very well written. Many thanks.

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