As deputy editor of GQ, Michael Hainey has one of the coolest day jobs imaginable. He also happens to be a painter, poet, and, now, a published author. To celebrate the publication of his acclaimed new memoir, After Visiting Friends, which chronicles Hainey’s ten-year quest to find out the truth about the night his father died, when Michael was just six, we asked him to curate a sale on Gilt MAN encapsulating the keys to his specific sense of style. I also had the pleasure of sitting down with the author over breakfast at Rosemary’s in the West Village to talk about becoming a man, his specific spin on classic American style, and his quest to get to know his father—not just as a dad, but as a man.
You have this great line in the book, “Necessity is the mother of self-invention,” referring to your own identity, and growing up without a father. When you started working on the book, did you feel like you were fully formed as a man?
No—it’s a good question. I was writing the book as I was reporting it, and in the reporting, and in learning about my family and my father, there was also my own evolution.
How did what you learned shape how you evolved?
At the beginning, I still saw my father through the eyes of a six-year-old boy, and by the end of it I’d come to see him as a man in whole—man to man. There’s a sense of longing in the book: “Gee, I wonder if he can teach me something.” By learning the truth in his story, I learned, and I got his knowledge and his wisdom.
You’ve always struck me as someone who’s admirably self-contained, especially in this era of over-sharing. Did that make it difficult to open up in a memoir?
I’m a big believer that the personal is universal. I felt it was important to be honest, and tell things about myself that I hope will give comfort to someone else. It’s talking intimately, one-on-one, to someone else. In telling you something about myself that’s personal, you say, “That’s amazing. I’ve always felt that too, and I was always afraid to tell someone about that.” I was sharing because it would give someone comfort or solace… To basically say, “Hey guys, we’re not alone in this.”
And inspire us guys to appreciate the women in our lives. Because, let’s face it—they’re the ones who keep it all together.
As I say at the end, I went looking for my father and found my mother.
As a journalist, you’ve got this belief in the power the truth. But was there ever a moment, after you’d tracked down the truth, when you thought, “Gosh, I wish I could put this genie back in the bottle”?
Sure. There was a good year or two years where I just sat there with this knowledge and was afraid to go to my mother. We all say we want the truth, but many of us don’t want to be the truth bearer.
Pivoting a little, you’re a very stylish guy. Having lost your father at the age of six, where you did you learn your sense of gentlemanly dress and manners?
It started for me watching Bob Newhart or Dick Van Dyke on these old reruns, and realizing “Oh, that’s how you become a man in the world. You have to have a sense of humor, and you need to know how to be a little dry and witty with people.” And I read a lot of books, and had literary heroes. So intelligence, wit, sense of humor. And then I had some men in my life and realized, “Oh, you have to have integrity, and be responsible,” and I sort of pieced it together from different people as I moved through my life.
How did you arrive at your signature look?
I think it’s a pretty edited style. As I grew older and got into the work world I always felt it was important to dress as a man. I wear a tie every day. I wear suit or a jacket. That’s comfortable for me.
Were you wearing a jacket and tie every day in your 20s?
Most days, yeah. There was always a power in that for me. After my father died, my mother gave me some of his neckties. I wore ties to high school. I also grew up in the ’80s and that sense of Elvis Costello and that New Wave that was very much about style. I thought that was pretty powerful.
So more Elvis Costello than Alex P. Keaton, despite your affinity for knit ties.
I’ve told the crew at GQ—they ask, “what’d you wear to prom,” and I say, “I wore red Converse high-tops.” They’re like, “No you didn’t!” But, I said, “I did.”
It was the ’80s, man.
It was the ’80s.
One thing that has evolved a little bit: The hair is a little higher and tighter than it used to be.
It hides the gray, Tyler. [Laughs.]
Hey, I’m wondering if there’s homage to Bob Hainey in there somewhere.
The last few years, I’ve been going to this barber and he suggested going a little tighter. And I said, “all right.” But it does look more and more like my father.
Describe your look for the folks back home.
I like great American style—that sort of 1960s NASA engineer meets Robert Lowell and Philip Larkin. That intelligent guy mixed with a little bit of Italian confidence… I didn’t have a father standing there saying, “This is how you tie a tie,” or “This is the kind of shoes you wear.” I’m much more of a magpie—“I like that,” or “I’m going to learn how to do that.”
What are a few of your favorite pieces in the sale?
I really like the Grenson shoes. I like that LBM stuff. I think it’s Italians taking the great American pieces and then bringing some sort of elegance to them.
You also paint, and you’ve got a day job most guys would kill for. And now the book. Is your goal in life to make the rest of us feel like total slackers? It’s really not fair.
[Laughs.] My heroes have always been guys who do more than one thing. Frank O’Hara was a museum curator but he also wrote poetry. Walt Whitman edited a newspaper. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive, but he also wrote poetry. I guess because I came to writing through poetry, I always thought, you have to have a day job. Everyone always jokes, “You paint, and you write, and you have a job—you’re Mr. Renaissance man. How’s that going?” Maybe it’s also not having a father, searching and trying to create something that lives on.
Hey, so far so good.
So far so good.