Following the First World War, the male wardrobe modernized, and elements of the Ivy League Look fell into place one by one, creating signifiers that would identify in-group from interloper to this day. These included a jacket cut with natural shoulders, three chest buttons, and an undarted front; pleatless trousers with turn-up cuffs; and crewneck sweaters in hearty wool, in lieu of cardigan sweaters in delicate cashmere. Add to the formula argyle socks, white bucks or penny loafers (an instant hit in 1936), knit and regimental ties, and that most princely of topcoats, the polo coat, a double-breasted, patch-pocketed mobile blanket spun from the tan-colored down of cud-chewing dromedaries. The style became so smart that periodicals such as Esquire kept their eye on the college men of Yale and Princeton as closely as they did on the matinee idols of Hollywood.
The Second World War interrupted the growing influence of the look, which didn’t even have a name yet in the popular lexicon. And after nearly a decade of the drapey, inelegant style of the postwar years, the East Coast Establishment look burst into national consciousness in 1954 through a Life magazine photo spread entitled “The Ivy Look Heads across the U.S.” The Ivy League Look reigned for the next 13 years as smart attire for everyone wishing to broadcast conservative good taste, from young actors such as Paul Newman and Anthony Perkins in studio publicity shots to Madison Avenue advertising executives, until the counterculture revolution turned it from hip-to-be-square to straight-up square practically overnight. And there, in this twilight realm wedged between striving middle-class and Old Guard establishment, it has remained.
Which brings us to Buckley. He was certainly no stylist, lacking the natural dash of a blue blood arbiter elegantiarium such as A. J. Drexel Biddle Jr. But, and perhaps more important, he was possessed of that certain je ne sais quoi that philosophers of style have spent centuries seeking to dissect. With his disheveled coiffure, asymmetrical four-in-hand knots (the architecturally balanced Windsor considered an affectation among men of his class), and languid patrician drawl, he looked exactly like he sounded. Not merely a Gstaad-skiing, harpsichord-playing, sesquipedalian-spouting character from the pages of John Cheever or Louis Auchincloss but something with vaster imagistic reach: say, the patriarch in one of those multi-page, narrative ’80s Ralph Lauren photo spreads in the pages of Architectural Digest.
You can find the piece right here. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD