Appearances Are Everything: PJ O’Rourke On Clothes


It’s actually Professor Week here at Ivy Style, instigated by the Wall Street Journal article we posted, which delared that corduroy and elbow patches are in. Members of our Facebook page already submitted photos of a number of tweedy pedagogues in fact and fiction, and you’re welcome to email me any suggestions. We’ll be rolling out the images over the next week.

But today features an interview with author and humorist PJ O’Rourke, who has a new book coming out next month.

For those not familiar with him, here’s a quick summary of O’Rourke’s early days, courtesy of Wikipedia, which summarizes his abrupt change in politics and clothing:

P. J. O’Rourke was born in Toledo, Ohio, the son of Delphine Loy, a housewife, and Clifford Bronson O’Rourke, a car salesman. He attended Toledo’s DeVilbiss High School, graduating in 1965. He did his undergraduate work at Miami University, in Ohio, and earned an M.A. in English at Johns Hopkins University while a brother of the Alpha Delta PhiLiterary Society. He recounts that during his student days he was a left-leaning hippie, but that in the 1970s his political views underwent a volte-face. He emerged as a political observer and humorist with libertarian viewpoints.

The O’Rourke interview is the perfect excuse to finally post something I’ve been sitting on for years, namely, some excerpts on clothing from O’Rourke’s 1983 book “Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book For Rude People.” Here you go.


The most polite thing in the world is to be rich. There is nothing you can do that is more courteous and mannerly. But, as with all points of etiquette, appearances are everything. If you can’t bring yourself to actually be wealthy, the least you can do is look that way. Therefore, any man with good manners always dresses as though he had lots of money.

Rich white Protestant men have held on to some measure of power in America almost solely by getting women, blacks and other disadvantaged groups to wear crippling foot fashions. This keeps them too busy with corns and bunions to compete in the job market. Make sure your shoes are plain and roomy.

Black, brown, and oxblood wing tips, Oxfords, and slip-ons are excellent. White shoes are very rich looking, but they have to be the completely impractical suede kind, not shiny white imitation leather. It’s a general rule of wealth that if something can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, rich people can afford to throw it away.

A current rich shoe favorite is the black tassel loafer. Powerful and important men enjoy the reassuring snap of the little tassel ends. It’s like having their feet report for duty every time they take a step. Don’t be fooled into buying loafers with little things across the instep, however. If you  really were rich you’d know that those are snaffle bits, and they belong in the mouth of your horse, not on top of your feet.

… The really important difference between the shirts of the wealthy and the shirts of the rest of us is not their material or color but how they wear out. An ordinary man’s dress shirt frays at the front of the collar from buttoning and unbuttoning and friction with polyester neckties. A rich man’s shirt frays at the back of the collar because that’s where the head and neck rub when the nose is pointed disdainfully in the air. You can achieve the same effect by running some fine-grit sandpaper along this part of your shirts.

The only suits that ever fit as badly as expensive hand-tailored Ivy League suits were the bottom-of-the-line suits from Robert Hall. It’s a shame they went out of business. Other cheap suits will do, though, as long as they’re the right color and fit like a canvas duffel bag.

… Rich men also wear certain very gaudy types of summer pants. But the code concerning these is even more complex than the suit-stripe code. There is a shade of lime-green, for instance, which indicates you’re a senator from Massachusetts having a weekend affair with a movie actress on Nantucket. And there is another shade of lime-green that means you’re the assistant pro-shop stock boy at a second-rate country club in Ohio. Red pants are the same way. It’s very rich-looking to wear red pants, but they have to be precisely the right tone of Breton red and purchased at a particular store on Block Island that’s only open two months out of the year. Some details of dressing rich are best left to the authentically wealthy.

You can read the whole chapter on Google Books here. — CC

Image via The Daily Beast.

This post originally ran 9/25/2015

19 Comments on "Appearances Are Everything: PJ O’Rourke On Clothes"

  1. A magnificent piece of writing. I first discovered O’Rourke in the pages of National Lampoon, which I subscribed to in my collegiate years. He’s always worth a read.

  2. What I’ve always liked about old PJ is that he wears his politics lightly. None of that life and death stuff for him. But why would our hero have two copies of seven or eight of the books on the shelves to his left? Answer me that, all you armchair sleuths.

  3. O’Rourke/McInnes 2020?

  4. Bags’ Groove –

    Nice observation. This photo was probably taken in a book store.

    Thanks for posting, CC.

  5. Many thanks Glengarry SC. That’s got to be it. Why does one assume that writers want to be photographed in their place of work, invariably in front of their considerable book collections, a la John Updike?

  6. I’ve also always liked O’Rourke – he has a piece on dogs in this month’s Garden & Gun. I find his style (enjoyably) similar to Christopher Buckley’s.

  7. As to Paul’s observation above, I believe that PJ O’Rourke and Christopher Buckley are friends. When Buckley edited Forbes FYI insert, he had O’Rourke write columns. I remember they did a wine tasting article together that was pretty funny – they both got blitzed and made silly observations.

  8. Great find, Christian. Thanks.

    O’Rourke – a real credit to the Boomer generation – is also an accomplished automotive journalist with lots of credits in (formerly?) bad boy automotive magazine Car & Driver.
    One of O’Rourke’s books, “Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-Bending”, pictures him draped over a mid-60s Mustang on the dusk jacket.

  9. I’d love to see McInnes observe the Congress.

    “An ordinary man’s dress shirt frays at the front of the collar from buttoning and unbuttoning and friction with polyester neckties. A rich man’s shirt frays at the back of the collar because that’s where the head and neck rub when the nose is pointed disdainfully in the air.” – my shirts wear at the spot the cleaner scrubs my repeated spilled food stains.

  10. testing comment in safari…..

  11. testing in chrome…..

  12. William Richardson | August 30, 2016 at 4:47 pm |

    How does a sixty nine year old man have such hair?

  13. Ah, Robert Hall. I remember driving past the Robert Hall store in Flint, Michigan with my dad on our way to somewhere else many years ago. They were the Men’s Wearhouse of the 1970s.

  14. I was never in a Robert Hall store, but a friend (decades ago now) firmly believed that they had a special fabric plant that engineered cloth that would bag and sag after a few wearings. His dad was in textiles, and he said you had to work hard to turn out crap like that.

  15. Saigo-kun
    I have the same problem only it’s women’s lipstick. 🙂

  16. Jesse Livermore | September 1, 2016 at 10:24 pm |

    Where the values go up, up ,up
    And the prices go down, down, down
    Robert Hall will show you
    The reason they give you
    High quality, economy!”

  17. Vern Trotter | November 6, 2017 at 10:59 pm |

    Robert Hall suits had two pair of pants.

  18. elder prep | March 5, 2019 at 6:59 pm |

    O’Rourke is hilarious! I noticed a few elements in this piece that may have been inspired by the OPH. Now, on to the important stuff: Robert Hall. My first suit was purchased for me there at the Hempstead, Long Island, NY store for $40, c.1966. It lasted until the suitcase it was in fell off the roof of our car one night and was flattened by an 18 wheeler. On inspection, the next day, enough of it survived for me to sit for my graduation photo, however, the photographer had to position me and change the studio lighting to cover up the missing left sleeve.

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