Obstinately Stuck In Ivy: WFB On Clothes, 1982

A reader sent in this 1982 Playboy interview with William F. Buckley, in which WFB confesses to being an unimaginative dresser stuck in Ivy League mode. He also notes that his political foes tend to be tweedier and drive Volvos. 

31 Comments on "Obstinately Stuck In Ivy: WFB On Clothes, 1982"

  1. His foes definitely were tweedier and drove Volvos. Case in point: Noam Chomsky: https://youtu.be/9DvmLMUfGss

  2. Robert Staehling | July 1, 2019 at 3:02 pm |

    Slightly dishevelled and slouchy, I love that niche of Trad. While I don’t always agree with him politically, Buckley will always be a style icon for me.

  3. Charlottesville | July 1, 2019 at 3:09 pm |

    Very interesting, Christian. Thanks to you you and your contributor for the post. That $1,000 suit would be about $2,600 today. I recall that the top-end, off-the-rack suit at Brooks in 1987 ran (I think) $650, which was a fortune for me as a recently minted lawyer, but I splurged anyway. $1,000 in 1982 would indeed have been a lot, but of course Mr. Buckley could well afford it if he had wanted to.

    I had always assumed that WFB cared nothing much about clothes and simply wore what he had grown up with. Nevertheless, he appeared to have a few strong preferences and some awareness of what looked good, as on JFK and Cary Grant, and what seemed an unnatural affectation, as with Nixon’s sports clothes. And paying for custom-made ties to get the proper width is not the mark of someone who does not care about clothes.

    I thought the most interesting thing about the interview, however, was the closing vignette recalling his respectful and peaceful reception at the University of California in the Vietnam era. What a contrast to today’s political cat-fights, shouting matches and worse, both on-campus and off.

    Mr. Staehling, I am developing an appreciation for the slouchy look myself, but mostly in self defense as I tend to be a bit more rumpled these days than in my youth.

  4. Jonathan Sanders | July 1, 2019 at 4:21 pm |

    The most striking thing WFB says is that when he gave a speech at Cal Berkeley during the Vietnam war (ostensibly being for it) he wasn’t booed off the stage. And Berkeley was considered radical then! My how times have changed.

  5. Pierre Cardin advertisement dead center of article!

  6. Most striking of all: that’s he’s conscious (indeed, self conscious) about matters of dress, manners–yes, even class. Note the observations about cars.

    I agree about Democrats, but I’d go even further. Beyond merely “tweedy,” the snobby, New England versions of the breed are super preppy. A good case can be made that Dukakis was (and still is) the preppiest presidential candidate we’ve seen in decades.


    The references to Reagan’s style (lack thereof?) prompted a chuckle. What exactly was his style? Seemed to me a fusion of Lawrence Welk and 70s California. Find the pictures of Reagan standing next to Bush–the contrast is startling.

    The Timberland shoe to which Buckley refers is most likely this:

    I recall seeing a picture of Buckley wearing this shoe. Comfy.

  7. His brother, James (Jim) Buckley, senator and judge and all-around superb human being, was far preppier. He stuck with the short haircut and J. Press clothes until–well, until now.

  8. Uncle Noam looks pretty sharp in that debate despite the tweediness. Nowadays he wears jeans and cardigans, but I guess we have to cut him some slack given that he’s a thousand years old and accomplished enough not to care what other people think of his clothes.

    Speaking of Chomsky’s fashion sense, here is a funny anecdote from journalist Glenn Greenwald:

    I arrived last night at the University of Arizona for my event with Edward Snowden and Noam Chomsky. Chomsky arrived shortly after I did and, after I greeted him, the following dialogue ensued:

    Chomsky: You know, there’s this interesting essay by Albert Camus, written during his first visit to the United States, in which he described his surprise at what he regarded as the poor clothing taste of Americans, particularly men’s choices of ties.

    Me (slightly confused): Are you sharing that anecdote because you dislike my tie?

    Chomsky: Yes.

    That’s how you receive a fashion critique from the world’s greatest public intellectual.

  9. @Jesse: thanks for sharing the funny Noam Chomsky anecdote.

    Albert Camus visited Philadelphia, Boston, and NYC on his first visit to the US. Regarding men’s neckties he wrote: “You have to see it to believe it. So much bad taste hardly seems imaginable.”

  10. Obstinately Trad | July 2, 2019 at 2:12 am |

    What a great read!

  11. Carmelo Pugliatti | July 2, 2019 at 10:13 am |

    1982 was before that the late 60s and 70s generations entered in the control room and fucking everything.

  12. Charlottesville | July 2, 2019 at 11:18 am |

    S.E. – Thanks for the link to the Buckley Boys. I had the honor to represent a client in an appeal before then Judge Buckley in the late 1980s when he was on the D.C. Circuit. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was also on the panel. He is now 96, and I assume as traditionally Ivy as ever.

  13. whiskeydent | July 2, 2019 at 12:25 pm |

    I was struck by the differences between the brothers. Jim’s speaking is far less theatrical than Bill’s. Jim’s hair is sharply styled and his posture is upright and energetic. As usual, Bill’s hair is a bit unkempt and he is lazily slumped over.

    The other thing that caught my attention was that they discussed the federal budget at length without mentioning tax rates. Cutting taxes was certainly the mantra about a decade later.

    That led me to wonder what Bill thought about the Laffer Curve and I stumbled into a story about a debate that included John Kenneth Galbraith and him. The two hurled elegant, witty insults at each other without mentioning they were, oddly enough, the best of friends.


  14. Boop McSnoot | July 2, 2019 at 9:28 pm |

    James Buckley’s voice demonstrates as fact what anyone with half a brain suspected – Bill Buckley’s accent was completely made up. At least George Plimpton’s was real – you can hear it in Francis Plimpton’s voice, ironically on an episode of Firing Line!

    I disagree with WFB on pretty much every issue under the sun, and take pleasure in noting he was wrong about almost all of his positions (especially Vietnam and McCarthyism, the latter of which he never evolved on, though he did slightly evolve on civil rights).I also think he was a terrible debater – he would much rather play rhetorical tricks and shift the subject at hand and win than be pinned down honestly on any of his positions and lose (note how quickly he loses interest in so many conversations when they don’t go his way). That said, when he could maintain respect for an opponent, like Allard Lowenstein, the conversations can be very insightful, and when the subject wasn’t political, like with Mortimer Adler, they are often wonderful to hear. I am subscribed to Firing Line on YouTube, and they are uploading quite a few new episodes this month.

    He rarely wore 3/2 suits, and abandoned them completely after the 1960s. He often wore quite wide lapels, darts, and padded shoulders, and his hair was atrocious. But his OCBD collars were truly magnificent.

  15. Boop McSnoot | July 2, 2019 at 9:32 pm |

    To quickly plug my favorite episode of Firing Line – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGvcHIWIK6E

    William Sloane Coffin doesn’t give an inch, and he really holds Buckley to account in a way that improves the quality of debate immeasurably.

  16. Boop,

    Yeah, you’re right. WFB was a horrible debater.

    Have a great day.


  17. whiskeydent | July 3, 2019 at 3:21 pm |

    I never thought of Buckley’s shows as debates. For one thing, he asked the questions, not a moderator. And Boop is right in saying he was an artful dodger if the guest tried to pin him down.

    Buckley had a finely honed technique. In the preamble to a question, he would land a few rhetorical jabs to rattle the guest’s cage. Then the actual question would be about a different subject from the jabs to keep the guest off-balance. Then he would follow it up with the classic “…but don’t you agree” technique.

    One semester, I edited his columns for my campus newspaper. They were extraordinarily windy and always too long (some were 20 column inches). So I had to cut them, but I always tried to preserve all of his arguments and attack only the verbosity. It was a good exercise in sharpening text.

    I especially tried to preserve his entire argument for tattooing ID numbers on to AIDS patients just like the Nazis did to the Jews. Every single bit of it.

  18. Boop McSnoot | July 3, 2019 at 5:58 pm |

    @whiskeydent Wait, what? He wanted numbers tattooed on AIDS patients? That’s insane.

    The problem I have with Buckley as a thinker is simply that his positions have aged so badly, it’s hard to carry anything over to the modern day. He’s a great style icon, but like the Duke of Windsor, that style should be separated from the man, in my opinion. He barely evolved on civil rights, never evolved on Vietnam or McCarthy. And the worst part, for me, is that he looks smugly down his nose at those who disagree with him, even when they might be right – he was contemptuous of Bobby Kennedy even as Bobby (former legal aide to McCarthy) evolved on the same issues Buckley refused to do so on. I remember when Trump was first elected, a lot of people wrote articles about how Buckley never would have countenanced such a man in the White House. But then you break down the issues and realize that he would have supported Trump in the end just as formerly principled Republicans have done, because of the importance of the Supreme Court, because of abortion and marriage rights, states’ rights, etc., and because Buckley himself helped popularize a kind of conservative paranoid politics – the idea that conservatives are an endangered species, on the brink of being wiped out by liberal attitudes, and that the loss of a conservative majority equals the death of the nation. Buckley’s shows, debates or not, seem (with some exceptions) to be characterized by a steadfast refusal to give way, listen, and compromise. That’s what we need most in this country. Alas, no one listened when George Washington warned us away from a two-party system.

    EDIT: Looked up Buckley on AIDS tattoos. “It is as though anyone who found a use for barbed wire was secretly a concentration-camp fetishist. Never mind: I quickly withdrew the proposal for the simple reasoning that it proved socially intolerable. I have ever since been waiting for a socially tolerable alternative to be proposed.” 20 years later, he disingenuously said, “Someone” – someone! – “20 years ago, suggested a discreet tattoo the site of which would alert the prospective partner to the danger of proceeding as had been planned. But the author of the idea was treated as though he had been schooled in Buchenwald, and the idea was not widely considered, but maybe it is up now for reconsideration.”

  19. Boop and Whiskey,

    If a tattoo would save the life of one person, wouldn’t it have been worth it?

    Was McCarthy really wrong? I give you today’s Democrat party.



  20. Boop McSnoot | July 3, 2019 at 7:09 pm |

    Was McCarthy wrong? Yes, he was. Would tattoos have been worth it? No, they wouldn’t. And I won’t dignify either topic with any further words. Unreal.

  21. whiskeydent | July 5, 2019 at 9:54 am |


    You’ve moved into Deep Irony. Your Republican President has dozens of Russian contacts and connections.

    Putin backed him because the DemocratIC Party strongly opposes his policies.

    Those are facts, not a list in a lying, blowhard’s pocket.

    If McCarthy was right your President is wrong.

  22. MacMcConnell | July 5, 2019 at 10:09 am |

    Only a couple questions remain:

    1) Why does Putin want a stronger and more vigorous US military?

    2) Why does Putin want a stronger NATO?

    3) Why does Putin want the US to be the worlds largest energy producer AND oppose the Russian Nord Stream pipeline?

    4) Why did Putin want Trump and US forces to kill a battalion of Russian mercenaries in Syria

    You know, if I didn’t know better I might swear that Putin isn’t controlling Trump at all!


  23. Whiskey

    Grape or cherry Koolaid?

    Happy Independence Day


  24. whiskeydent | July 5, 2019 at 1:21 pm |


    1. TRUE
    Well you got me there. There were 1,292,519 military personnel in January 2017 and there are 1,360,602 as of May 31. So that’s a whopping increase of 68,096 personnel.
    2. FALSE
    NATO is weaker today because of Trump. He created division among the members and wondered why it was needed in the first place.
    Except Russia’s production has not dropped. They’re making as much money now as they did before Trump took office. So really, it doesn’t matter.
    4. WHAT?
    The Russian mercs attacked our troops. Not the other way around.
    Ukrain. It was largely about the Russia invading the Ukraine to regain a warm water port. The Democrats strenuously denounced the invasion. Trump has said little about it. Pro-Russian Ukranians even hired one Paul Manafort to help them.

    Your koolaide should be orange — to match your President’s hair.

  25. Boop McSnoot | July 5, 2019 at 4:04 pm |

    @whiskeydent – Don’t bother. As today’s post here says, the world is changing in ways they don’t like and don’t understand. Their reaction is to bury their head in the sand and live in a fantasy world. Better to save your arguments for people who could actually be convinced. If you’re saying that compulsory tattoos and sterilization of AIDS sufferers would have been “worth it,” and saying that the Democratic Party is proof that McCarthy was right all along, you’re too far gone to hear reason.

  26. MacMcConnell | July 6, 2019 at 2:10 pm |

    1. While numbers of personnel are important, training, equipment and maintenance is a force multiplier.
    2. See above. Most of the major NATO military forces don’t have equipment or planes that work. They have made spending promises and continually reneged. They have sucked off our tit long enough and have now increased budgets.
    3. Nord Stream pipeline doesn’t matter? NATO’s dependence of Russian supplies?
    4. We annihilated a battalion!
    5. I remember when Ukraine was invaded under the Trump regime and he sent them blankets to defend themselves. WTF! You did Manafort, now do the Podesta Brothers.

  27. MacMcConnell | July 6, 2019 at 2:30 pm |

    Yes the world is changing, it always has.

  28. whiskeydent | July 6, 2019 at 3:35 pm |

    1. Trump’s military buildup has barely begun: https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2017/12/27/trumps-promised-military-buildup-set-to-begin-in-2018-budget-fights/
    2. There are numerous stories that refute your argument. Here’s two:
    3. As any other Texan will tell you, pipelines do not increase production; they distribute it. Moreover, Nord Stream transfers natural gas from Russia to Europe. Putin could turn off the spigot at any time and NATO wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. More broadly, natural gas is very difficult to transfer by anything other than a pipeline and it would be damn near impossible for the US to send significant amounts of gas to Europe with current technology. Believe me, they’re working hard to come up with the technology, as there are huge amounts of natural gas in Texas and elsewhere that is being burned off at the well site instead of getting sold and distributed.
    4. Our aircraft killed 200-300 of the 500 Russian “mercenaries” and Assad loyalists who attacked our special forces unit in 2018. Again, that has nothing to do with Putin’s help for Trump in 2016.
    5. You’re right, John Podesta worked for Obama and his brother, Tony, was implicated by the same Mueller report that fried Manafort and Trump. Whatever advice John might have given Obama was obviously ignored. The Podestas are better known for being close to the Clintons and it’s also obvious Hillary ignored them too. Putin opposed her because of her vigorous criticism of his actions in Ukraine.

    At this point, you should add some vodka — perhaps a great Austin brand like Tito’s or Deep Eddy — to your orange koolade.

  29. I prefer Tang.


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