Putting The “Con” In Conservative Attire

Being a con man doesn’t necessarily preclude having conservative tastes. In fact, since the devil uses the guise of virtue to spread evil in the world, it makes perfect sense for a grifter to don the vestments of the establishment.

Men’s Journal recently ran a fascinating piece about a writer’s father who had passed away at the age of 95, having never had a bank account or credit card. Somewhere along the way he picked up the taste for Ivy attire, which was distinctive enough among his peers to earn him a nickname:

My father’s life was devoted to the pursuit of money, which is an odd thing to say about a man who was so disdainful of it that when he actually had it he couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. He never spent it on himself, though, except every 20 years or so to buy a new navy blazer with brass buttons from J. Press Clothiers in New Haven. My father always dressed shabby Ivy League, like an absentminded professor, which was part of his con. His cronies even called him “Ivy League.”

Check out the piece here. After reading it, I have newfound appreciation for my own father’s dullness.

Our next post will look at a man whose business was catching con men. — CC

13 Comments on "Putting The “Con” In Conservative Attire"

  1. Cuff Shooter | October 23, 2018 at 9:04 pm |

    Think of all the poor style decisions I could have avoided if I had only looked up “J. Press Clothiers” years ago. I feel like I’ve conned myself.

  2. The real “con men” are the iGent “Trads” who dress to pretend that they were educated at Ivy League universities. Ralph Lauren has made a huge fortune by exploiting their (and others’) insecurities and need for mutual affirmation. It’s takes real genius to sell foreign-made garments at huge mark-ups to millions of gullible customers who want to “live” his Ivy League myth.

  3. Mitchell S. | October 24, 2018 at 7:52 am |

    The truth is that we have all been conned. Since there are no more original styles left in menswear, all clothing is derivative, culturally-appropriated simulacra. The stripes on repp ties represent British schools, clubs, and regiments, and wearing one does not make the wearer an imposter.

    Ralph Lauren’s genius was to democratize upper class tastes and make it more accessible to all classes. Shopping at Ralph Lauren doesn’t make one ignorant or gullible, an argument you used in the past, Kenny.

  4. The real (and lasting to the point of tragic) con is the not-so-subtle hint–the suggestion–that appearance doesn’t matter much, after all–that by “trying to look good (or great),” you’re wasting your time. The people who gobble up Ralph Lauren’s preppy offerings aren’t lying to themselves. Rather, the most devilish con is the one the masses have (knowingly?) pulled on themselves: that it’s okay to look like you don’t give a damn about yourself. We know better. If it’s true that people will remember how they felt in your presence long after the specifics of what you said, then appearance, which speaks volumes, matters a ton.

    The 95-year old claimed victory and mastery over himself if, all along, he was thoroughly mindful of what he was doing–did what he wanted to do, aware of what he was doing. Nobody who makes decisions, invests time and energy in them, and actually follows through on them is to be pitied, and anybody who produces faux pity of them is, amusingly, most to be pitied. The world belongs to those who seize the day. Most people will be forgotten because they asserted so little influence upon anything or anybody. Create a business. Write a book. Lead a group or a cause. Start a family and guide them. Be charming. Smile. Resist boring.

    And if you choose “shabby professorial Ivy League” as the complimentary style along the way, more power to you.

  5. I have bumped into some number of con artists over time. It always amazed me how hard and intelligently they work to scam one-third of total money they could make with less effort in an ordinary job. The pool shark con–man in the article listed who made $300 in an all night scam, if he scammed successfully five days a week makes less money than a USP driver. I knew a guy who claimed he was “well ahead of the game”, yet his step-son said he had been in prison twice, hospitalized several times from beatings, once with gunshot wounds, and often went hungry. A “walker” — a paid companion for rich society ladies of a certain age, ladies who may be difficult to get along with — needs to spend several months wages on clothing just to get started. “Find what they want, and give it to them,” the man was quoted as saying. Another man, who also did at least two prison terms, said “Look for a greedy mark who NEEDS.” “Need and greed,” he said many times, was the ticket. My experience is scam artists wear better than average clothing tailored a little too tight, of colors not quite right.

  6. Terry O’Reilly | October 24, 2018 at 11:22 am |

    @S.E. Excellent comment, sir. You hit it on the head as usual.
    The term “cultural appropriation” sickens me in the sense that it is looked at as a “crime” with “victims”. People have been using others’ ideas since someone copied another who was building a fire countless millenia ago.
    Plus, there’s nothing wrong with dressing aspirationally— I, for instance, hold a very leisurely job with plenty of down-time, without the need for dressing up; I could wear t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers(or worse) every day if I wanted. However, I choose to wear sack jackets, nice trousers, longwings, and buttondown shirts(with the occasional ancient madder or regimental tie), because I like the look, feel, and provenance of these clothes. It’s also interesting when people ask this autodidact what school I graduated from!
    Basically, I think it gives people a sense of comfort when they’re being conned if the fellow is wearing a blazer and worsted wool trousers! ;D

  7. Very few of the men who come to this blog were around during the heyday. We didn’t create or establish the style. We were drawn to Ivy/Trad/Preppy. It was a short trip for those who grew up with an Ivy-dressing dad or in well-to-do neighborhoods in the Northeast. It’s a longer trip for someone, such as myself, who grew up first on Air Force bases and then a small town on the Texas coast. Regardless of how we got here, we adopted the style because we simply like it.

    I also think we choose a clothing style because we want to project a particular image. It’s why Texans who’ve never ridden a horse might wear cowboy boots or Californians who’ve never ridden a wave might wear board shorts. It’s about how we want others to perceive us. Sure, it can be a con game or self-delusional, but I think it’s more often just an act of self-expression.

  8. Vern Trotter | October 25, 2018 at 12:22 am |

    It is only the shallow people who do not judge by appearances.
    —Oscar Wilde, “The Picture Of Dorian Gray.”

    Of course it is we ourselves who first judge our appearance.

  9. I’m not trying to fool anyone with my clothing choices. They are simply the result of looking at various styles, eliminating most, and then taking what I liked. Now, if I dressed like an old surfer or cowboy or rock musician, that would be a “con”.

  10. Ralph Lauren built a successful brand by offering people a decent look that is appropriate for nearly any occasion, at a variety of price points. However, his fortune is a result of the khakis and polos sold at department and outlet stores, not the more aspirational clothing found on Madison, Michigan and Rodeo Avenues.

  11. Michael Brady | October 25, 2018 at 12:40 pm |

    @Kenny
    I have heard these criticisms of Ralph Lauren ad nauseam. Noone wears the clothing the way it is displayed on those mannequins. The idea is simply that RL represents a source for well-styled clothing that can be purchased in stores coast-to-coast. The remaining handful of Ivy League-influenced stores serve an extremely small market that seems satisfied to dress in a fashion that was embraced by people of their father’s generation. Is there a happy middle ground for those of us who don’t want the options offered by a J.Press or a Polo/Ralph Lauren? There is, but it requires research. There has never been a worse time for plate-glass store-fronts. A presence such as Ivy Style’s makes the task a bit easier.

  12. MacMcConnell | October 26, 2018 at 1:19 am |

    The Heyday was dead and RL save it in the 1970s.

  13. MacMcConnell | October 26, 2018 at 1:22 am |

    You want to meet some really articulate, personable con men visit a prison.

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