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Jonathan Ames: Rumpled Finery

The Brooklyn-based writer and creator of the recently canceled HBO series Bored to Death talks personal style.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Menswear issue 03/19/2012

Jonathan Ames isn’t dressed yet. The Brooklyn-based writer and creator of the recently canceled HBO series Bored to Death is fresh out of the shower. In 20 minutes a car is coming to drive him from the Sunset Tower Hotel to the undisclosed location of his photo shoot.

Ames is in Los Angeles for meetings and to record a commentary track for the DVD of Bored to Death’s last season. He squelches any discussion of Death’s demise like he’s stomping out a bug: “It’s boring,” he says.

Though best known for his TV work, Ames has long been an agent provocateur on the New York scene. His spoken-word performances at The Moth are legendary. And he boxes — literally — under the nom de guerre “The Herring Wonder,” stepping into the ring to duke it out with fellow writers.

The outfit Ames has picked is not atypical of him. The trim twill pants are perfect for a warm L.A. morning. He’s paired them with what he describes as a “picnic tablecloth” shirt of sky-blue gingham. Over that, he wears a V-neck sweater of “maybe it’s cashmere” purchased at Cotton Club in Paris. The jacket is Brooks Brothers (a favorite label) in a shrewdly coordinated plaid. The shoes are smart brown ankle boots from Johnston & Murphy.

And then there’s the hat. Ames has worn hats since his mid-30s, when the balding started. “I’ve relied on hats for warmth,” he says. But there’s also an existential reason: “To give a sense of containment to my physical self. If I don’t wear a hat, I sort of become invisible above the eyebrows.” Ames favors tweed newsboys but says they’re hard to find. “Right now I’m dependent on a cap from L.L. Bean.”

Two writers whose fashion he most admires are the impeccable F. Scott Fitzgerald and beat icon Jack Kerouac. “Sometimes I dress like him,” Ames says. “For rambling about.”

Ames describes his look — cobbled together from choice hand-me-downs, vintage finds and gifts from the women in his life — as expressing “distorted notions of Anglophiliac sensibilities.” It’s also informed by his obsession with the young gentleman of English novels, which he explored in his own novel The Extra Man. “I still, you know, kind of imagine myself taking a train through Europe in 1928,” says Ames. “I rely on the sport coat, which I think of as the male purse.”

When asked to weigh in on the most boring men’s look out there, Ames doesn’t hesitate: “The affected sloppiness of comedians. I went to a comedy club last night,” he says. “I know the clothes weren’t dirty, but they looked dirty.”

Now that Bored to Death is history, Ames is on to other projects. “I’m going to be adapting my novel Wake Up, Sir! into a film,” he says. “I’m busy.”

Our conversation ends abruptly. “I gotta get dressed,” says Ames. “They’re here to pick me up.”