Oxford Bags

Yesterday’s post on fashion cycles reminded me that I have these photos sitting on my computer. These are “oxford bags” - a style of ridiculously baggy trousers that was popular in the early 20th century. They were often made of flannel wool, and originated with undergraduate students at Oxford University (hence the name). At the peak of their popularity in 1925, the bottom hem of men’s pant legs was almost always under 20 inches in circumference. (For reference, most “fashionable” trousers today have a circumference of 16 to 18 inches for suits, and maybe 15 to 17 inches for odd trousers). Oxford bags, in contrast, sometimes measured 40 inches or more. 

You would not be wrong to think of them as the gentleman’s version of Jncos

Consider the Gorge

Trends are a funny thing. Someone takes a good design and exaggerates it a bit, and then someone else exaggerates it further still. This occurs until we have a caricature of the original, thus causing people to denounce the design entirely and swing the other way. This happened in the mid-20th century with drape cut suits. A Dutch tailor named Frederick Scholte found that men could be made to look more robust and athletic if he cut the chest a bit fuller, suppress the waist a little more, and extend the shoulders just a tad. This was eventually copied and exaggerated, and men ignored the need for balance and proportion. Eventually, the drape cut became a gimmick, and after a while, we wound up with the odd thing called the zoot suit.

We have our own trends today. One of them is the height of the gorge. The gorge is the point on a jacket where the collar is attached to lapel, but in common parlance, it’s the lapel’s notch. A slightly higher gorge can make a suit look more rakish and modern. Italians in general, and Neapolitans in particular, tend to make suits with a higher gorge than their American and British counterparts. With the trend favoring modern silhouettes and Italian style, it’s no wonder why high gorges are en vogue.

These days, however, we’re starting to see gorges so high that they almost sit on top of the shoulder. I wonder how long it will be before they disappear behind a man’s neck. When choosing a suit or sport coat for yourself, keep an eye on how high the gorge is. The black and white photograph of Elliot Richardson above shows him in a suit with an average gorge height. Something slightly higher or lower than this is fine, but anything too extreme, such as the one in the last photo, should be avoided.

You should also consider how the gorge sits in proportion to the jacket’s button stance and your physical build.  A higher gorge is typically balanced with a higher buttoning stance, but if you’re a shorter man, you can wear one with a lower buttoning point. This will elongate the lapels, thus making you look slightly taller (all things being equal). Luca Rubinacci, pictured above, is wearing such a jacket. Notice, however, that you’ll need enough material below the buttoning point so that the bottom doesn’t look abnormally truncated. It’s about balance.

On the other hand, if you’re a very tall, thin man, a lower gorge and slightly higher buttoning point will make the lapels look short and the area below the buttoning point long. This will add weight to you frame and widen the look of the coat. Not a flattering look for most men, but potentially advantageous for some.

Of course, body proportions aside, it can also be enjoyable to dabble in trends. Just be careful not to veer into the extremes. I pity men who bought jackets last year with razor thin lapels, only to find that they can no longer wear them today. As always, balance and moderation are key, so beware of the overly high gorge.