With the recent publication of The Last Love Song, a 752-page biography of Joan Didion, the esteemed writer’s legacy has come up again. Widely regarded as an immensely talented critic, thinker, and packer, Didion is also a “master of the author photo,” as The New Yorker recently pointed out. There’s the one of her standing in a foot of Hawaiian water with one hand on her hip and the other holding the straps to her sandals. There’s Didion with a cigarette and Didion with a husband, a daughter, and a good balcony. Then there are the iconic shots of her looking young and glamorous in Hollywood that were taken by Julian Wasser for a Time profile. (Asked about the photos in 2012, Didion suggested that posing with the Corvette “must have been some whim of Julian’s.” Wasser, meanwhile, said, “You don’t tell a woman like that what to do.”)
While We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live™, we also look at photos in order to learn how to live like others. Two people recently paid $2,500 for the pleasure of owning a pair of sunglasses from Didion’s own personal collection, but one needn’t look further than the corner drugstore for an unsung Didion signature. Ever since she began sporting shorter hair, Didion is rarely without a plastic hair clip.
She wore it when she received the 2005 National Book Award in Nonfiction and she wore it to speak at Norman Mailer’s memorial. Didion wore it to sign books at Borders (R.I.P.) and Barnes & Noble; she wears it with sunglasses and a scarf or a cable-knit sweater (in chartreuse or off-white). Hanging out with the late Nora Ephron? Hair clip. Chatting with Toni Morrison? Hair clip. Getting a formal portrait taken? Lemme just grab my clip.
In 1971, Didion wrote, “A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image.” Sure, she was talking about Kilimanjaro, Hawaii, and California, but the same could be said for a signature piece. And that piece is a hair clip.