At the tender age of 22, I moved to New York with aspirations of becoming a fashion journalist. But I didn’t take my style cues from the city’s editorial elite; I wasn’t trying to come off as a copy of a more famous fashion editor. There were other journalistic influencers in my life—old school broadcasters like Walter Cronkite, Barbara Walters, Dan Rather and, notably, Ed Bradley—whose on-air personas had already planted the seeds of my own professional uniform.
As a child, my grandmother liked to make sure we were informed. Sunday was time for CBS’s 60 Minutes, when Bradley would report on topics ranging from foreign policy to culinary trends. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized he was a true history maker as the first Black White House television correspondent. On a recent day of falling down the rabbit holes that are Google and YouTube, I found myself once again enraptured by his elegant yet humble way of reporting and interviewing. And, viewing Bradley as an older and more fashion-conscious adult, something particularly stood out to me: his style.
The man’s fashion sense was almost as impressive as his tactful, polished reporting. It was part classic tailoring, part dandy, with just the tiniest hint of camp thrown in without bordering on flamboyant. One headshot of Bradley features him in a traditional tailored suit but, rather than opt for the red power tie typical of newscasters, he spices it up a bit with a polka dot tie and red pocket square. Another small detail of Bradley’s style was his left ear piercing, which at the time was rather groundbreaking. He was the first male correspondent to regularly wear an earring on-air, challenging the conventional notions of journalistic propriety.
In my sophomore year of college, I had my ear pierced with a very subtle stud. Subconsciously, it was probably my mind harkening back to Bradley’s inconspicuous yet statement-making accessory. Bradley was adept at such subtle statements, like opting for band-collared shirts or dressing in head-to-toe monochrome—slight shifts that buck the broadcaster norm but are still masculine and elegant. As American men, we are generally taught to fear approaching anything that might be “loud” and avoid taking any real style risks. Yet, here was one of the most major news anchors in America sporting everything from argyle to brocade and even bolder ensembles off-air.
Over the past decade, American men have grown less afraid of color and pattern and adopted the Italian “peacocking” popularized, largely, by street-style photos from Pitti Uomo. I’d like to think if Bradley lived in the era of social media, he would be considered a menswear influencer and designers would be clamoring to dress him today. Bradley’s presence as a Black primetime news anchor, in addition to his irreverent approach to menswear in such a formal profession, was ahead of its time—like much of the best fashion.
While Bradley’s days of reporting ended with his untimely passing from leukemia in 2006, there’s always YouTube for remembering the late journalist’s style and flair (his interviews are a great source of inspiration for your next necktie). Well before today’s more expansive image of what it means to be a man embracing fashion, Bradley set an example for men, especially Black men, to dress outside of the box. It’s a message that’s as inspirational now as it was some three decades ago when he first stepped on the air with that earring.