Yesterday, besuited Nazi Richard Spencer got kicked out of CPAC for his “repugnant” views, which a CPAC spokesman claimed have “nothing to do with conservatism or what we do here.” Shortly prior to this, Spencer called a heckler “a moron who can’t dress.” Can Richard Spencer dress, though? Seems like maybe not?
You might recall that Spencer, along with the racist, misogynist, fascist, ethno-nationalist “alt-right” movement he leads, has been breathlessly noted for his supposedly sophisticated fashion choices; elaborate suiting is kind of his thing. As Anna Silman explained over at The Cut, for Spencer and creatures like him, “putting on a suit is a strategic act of image maintenance”—by not dressing like a stereotypical neo-Nazi, he attempts to ingratiate himself with the mainstream (conveniently, his Hitler haircut is also stubbornly popular with non-fascists). At the same time, the tailored suits and old-timey vests can also be viewed as a sartorial dogwhistle; according to a 2014 blog post on Alternative Right, the website founded by Spencer and fellow white supremacist/Holocaust skeptic Colin Liddell, a fastidious dress code reflects the core values of white supremacy:
The only salient requirements for a radical-traditionalist style of dress are that it should (1) reverse the quintessentially politically-correct style of “studied slovenliness” described by Dalrymple; (2) make a clear demarcation between those who choose to adopt it and the wider, degenerate culture around them; (3) be practical, attainable and acceptable enough not to descend into an exercise in LARPing; (4) project a certain sense of seriousness, archaism and traditionalism.
At Spencer’s “National Policy Institute” conference in November, an attendee explained to The Guardian that there are three “looks” tied to the movement: the suited look (“fascie”), the tweedy “heritage look,” and “retro 1980s.”
But as my colleague Anna astutely pointed out, the clothes Spencer wears seem to highlight his absurdity rather than obscure it. Yesterday, for example, he wore a paisley tie with a three-piece suit. He’s worn this tie a couple of times, in fact; once, he paired it with a khaki suit and a white pocket square. It looked incredibly stupid.
Richard Spencer’s fashion choices may be the least of our problems, but it seems worth examining whether the resident head Nazi is losing at his own game of dress-up. For a deeper look, Jezebel reached out once again to our friend Dominic Sebag-Montefiore, creative director/cutter at London’s legendary Savile Row tailor Edward Sexton.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
JEZEBEL: When we talked about Trump, it didn’t necessarily seem that he was aiming for any particular message with his terrible suits—he’s just terrible at wearing suits. Richard Spencer’s look is clearly much more deliberate. What strikes you about his style?
DOMINIC SEBAG-MONTEFIORE: When I first started looking at him, he looked a bit like a hipster. Wearing interesting colors, this retro haircut—and the haircut obviously does reference a 1930s haircut, but it is quite funny because it also looks like a skinhead with a pile of hair on top. But when you look at what he’s actually wearing, the cracks start to appear. He’s not quite got it right, has he?
He doesn’t really get the ironic references, the balance, the playing with color. His jackets look big and boxy, and full on the chest. When I was looking at the colors and the patterns on what he was wearing, he seems to go a bit too bold in his tie and shirt combination. But he might be smarter than we gave him credit for. These ill-fitting suits, with sort of wacky combinations, they kind of represent an eccentric academic.
The beiges and browns are very academic colors, the cottons and linens—okay, they’re not corduroy, but they’ve got that crumpled academic feel. The sweater vests and the cardigans, it’s all very professionalized, don’t you think? It’s what you’d expect a philosophy professor or a historian at a university to be wearing.
A lot of his shirts seem quite tight around the neck, almost like they’re strangling him. And in some of the images, like in the video from the day he got punched, it looks like [his shirt] is fastened but it doesn’t actually quite fasten, the collar is too far away, and he’s using his tie to hold it in place.
The image of him wearing a beige jacket with an orange striped tie and a button-down collar and a checked shirt—the collar of the checked shirt is not sitting right, because it’s a button-down.
The beige jacket is sort of awful, too, isn’t it? What is the fabric, even?
It looks like a cotton. Again, it just looks like something an academic would wear. An older professor. Which is why I find it so scary, because he’s wearing the uniform of the intelligentsia.
The gray suit isn’t dreadful, the white shirt isn’t dreadful, but the tie pops too much, it’s a bit too punchy. The tie would be great if the suit was a couple of shades darker, but it just misses the mark.
Aside from the professorial vibe, what else do you think he’s trying to evoke? I mean, clearly 1930s Germany is an inspiration for him in general.
Yeah, and if it’s not 1930s Germany, it’s the past, in some respect. It looks old world-y, whether it’s British, or American; the button-down collars are more American, but I’m not sure it’s that thought-through with him. Because with the choice of tie and colors and things like that, it feels like he doesn’t quite get it.
Do you think that the imperfections just help him with this sort of fusty academic thing, or do you think that he’s not fully achieving what he’s going for?
I actually think that while he’s not hitting the nail on the head, he’s doing a scarily good job. I was listening to a podcast with him and another guy called Kevin McDonald, and it’s all sort of pseudo-intellectual eugenics talk and speaking about “white guilt” like it’s a psychological condition—it’s like pseudo-psychology. And you wouldn’t be that surprised to see a middle-aged therapist dressed how he’s dressed.
That said, if you were trying to dress someone who was just a guy in his 30s in 2017 America, would you dress them like this? Is this a normal way to present yourself?
No. Look, the whole referencing the past thing with a cool vintage look has been really popular, particularly in New York—which he’s trying to do, he’s not doing it quite right with the fabrics and colors he’s putting together. They’re not cool, they’re not sophisticated, they’re not the right balance of nostalgia with contemporary. He seems to just go for the bold ties, and not necessarily in a good way; every tie choice I see him in, I’m like, really? There’s a picture of him wearing a stone-colored jacket with a white hanky sticking out, and he’s got this sort of brown-y orange tie, and it’s just, you know, it’s not the right color palette. The pocket square is white, but it’s got a little bit of color just popping out and it’s not quite right.
As a tailor, what’s your take on the fact that white supremacists are starting to pay attention to this stuff?
I think this is a reflection on the fact that even the extremists are starting to realize that if you want to be heard, you need to dress like the other people who are being heard. And dressing smartly does make a difference in the way people look at you, and the way they treat you, and the way they listen to you. When you dress respectably, you afford yourself more of that privilege.