John Waters Amends His Most Famous Rule

The filmmaker shares his thoughts on the worst kinds of gifts and the outfit he hopes to wear for his resurrection.

Written by Steph Eckardt
Photographs by Jeff Henrikson

John Waters
Photographed by Jeff Henrikson; Styled by Jenna Wojciechowski. Grooming by Jamal Scott using KKW Beauty; Photography assistant: Austin Perrotta.

What’s the most prized possession in your closet?

In New York, it’s all the floor art that I put away so people don’t step on it, and so the cleaning people don’t throw it out: Fischli and Weiss rubble, Carl Andre tiles. The rubble is all hand-carved but it looks like construction rubble, so it would be normal to throw it away. It hasn’t happened, but I’ve heard stories. I hang art in my closets too—weird art, like this kind of hideous portrait of Judy Garland that a fan sent me. I put that behind the coats in the front hall, so only I see it.

What about clothing-wise?

I always say that my clothes never go out of style because they’re never in style. I have this one suit by Martin Margiela that looks like it has fake cat hair all over it. Every time I wear it, people go, “Oh, John!” It really looks real.

What was your first major fashion purchase?

Four handkerchiefs from Comme des Garçons. I think they were four for $100; I got them when they opened their first shop in Soho [1983]. They have holes in them, so when you blow your nose, the snot goes on your hands. And they looked like dish rags. They were ill-shaped and had holes in them and were frayed. I still have them in my drawer, but I just touch them. Every once in a while, I wear them, but I never carry them as handkerchiefs. I just like them as items.

Have you ever blown your nose with them?

No. I guess they’re cotton, so you could wash them, but I don’t think I have.

What was your style like as a teen?

My parents wanted me to be preppy, but I hated it. I would say it was early beatnik—dirty sweatshirts and Levis and lace-up gladiator sandals that went up to your knees. I can’t believe I wore them. And then in the hippie years, I dressed like a pimp. I got everything from thrift shops—shirts with guitars on them, and this dog trainer jacket with a German Shepherd on it. But my look was kind of like hippie pimp. I had long stringy hair that looked like bacon. I could have dried it on paper towels. At the time, every time I’d leave the house my father would say “It’s not Halloween.” That’s why I could never wear a Halloween costume today. If I had to, I would die. I hate costume parties. I always have to decline.

Is there anything you’ve worn that you really regret?

I had one jacket once where you kept the collars up and rolled the sleeves up that looked very Miami Vice, and I never was into that look. And those Ben Hur sandals, the ones that laced up to your knees. They kept falling down, too. You had to stop and lace them up all the time. My father was right. I looked like a fool.

Have you ever followed a trend?

By the time it’s a trend, it’s over, isn’t it? The advice I always give kids is, the final thing at the thrift shop in the bottom of the free bin that no one took from the Value Village that just had a sale? Wear that.

What’s your fashion advice for adults?

I think there are some things you should be in prison for wearing, like pleated khakis. Skinny jeans on people over 30 are really stupid. I don’t think you should wear a T-shirt out of your house if you’re 40 or over. Bruce Springsteen can get away with it. Most cannot.

Do you have any wardrobe staples?

I’m always for a turtleneck, in or out of style. I have hundreds of them. That’s a beatnik look; I never left that behind. And I wear Gap boxers. I don’t want the Gap to ever go out of business because I like their boxer shorts. Happiness is three sets of underpants. Four.

What’s your dream fashion purchase?

Maybe that Rei Kawakubo would design whatever I was going to be buried in. Something very comfortable. It would already have the wormholes in it.

Isn’t comfort not really an issue here?

Well, it’s because I’m coming back. I need something to wear for the resurrection.

What does originality mean to you?

Originality means that you thought it up first without trying to start anything new. You just had to wear something because you had the nerve to do it, and other people were so surprised that they copied you.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

I take a bath. I love a bath; I’m an old lady. And then I look at my emails, drink three cups of tea, and then every morning, Monday to Friday, I write at 8 a.m. I think up something till about 11, then I have a meeting with the people who work for me and then we run my business in the afternoon. And I read six papers every morning. Real papers—I get them delivered. Then I read three of them online that I can’t get delivered. I mean, I don’t read every word of them. I read what I need to read.

You did another live Valentine’s Day show this year. What did you talk about?

I gave advice. I always share how you can tell someone you love them without emotional risk. And I also tell the best kind of presents you should give, and what not to give.

What should people not give?

Not ever a gift card—that just makes you think the person is stupid. Imagine if you were in love with somebody and they gave you a gift card. Wouldn’t that be the most insulting thing?

I heard that you used to give people chicken hearts.

I’d go to the butcher and get some animal heart and gift wrap it in a pretty box. It was influenced by the wicked queen in Snow White. The kind of boys I always gave them to were punk boys, you know. They liked it. They had a sense of humor. Now, I wouldn’t do it. I’d give them a nice present.

You have that famous quote: “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!”

I said it, but now I have a couple of things that would go after that. If they have books in their bathroom, not only don’t fuck ’em…run. It’s really disgusting to go into someone’s bathroom and see a basket of old Us magazines lying there. But if they’re cute enough and they don’t have books, eh. I guess I’m a hypocrite.

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