Sep 26, 2013

Can The Sack Suit Survive?

Here are the results from Brooks’ website when you search...


Here are the results from Brooks’ website when you search for the term “sack.” As you can see, nearly all of them are the updated, shrunken Cambridge model. On the other hand, the jacket pictured above is from Brooks’ Japanese website. It may not be a platonic ideal, but it brings up a number of points that are both fascinating and frightening.

The first thing you’ll notice is the unironic, non-fashion-styled presentation. The jacket follows classic proportions, isn’t shown on a 22-year-old model, and isn’t paired with weird items. Blogger and comment-leaver “oxford cloth button down” recently delved more deeply into Brooks’ Japanese website, where he found a significant number of undarted jackets with a traditional, non-fashion presentation.

What does this mean? Well, you know how children, when explained that the world is round and not flat, can’t understand how the people on the other side of the world aren’t upside-down? Japan is on the other side of the world, but apparently over there things are rightside-up, and it’s here in the US where everything’s upside-down. To wit, the classic American cut offered by the quintessential American clothier is apparently easier to find in Japan (and manufactured in China) than it is right here in America. I can really see how you older guys who grew up on Brooks would be moved to tears.

The next idea comes from our post on Brooks’ new Own Make collection, and the recounting by my friend that a salesman told him it was “fashion forward,” an entirely apt description.

Yes, as if the world weren’t already upside-down, now it’s inside-out. The Brooks Brothers sack suit, epitome of conservative dress for a hundred years, has gone so far to the right that it’s wrapped around to the left. By changing the proportions, the reactionary has become avant-garde.

I’m reminded of the famous timeline graphic by fashion historian James Laver:


You can see how the basic concept applies to the Cambridge, Black Fleece and Own Make sack jackets. Forgetting the years in the right column (which refer to fast-changing women’s fashion), the sack jacket has basically gone from “dowdy” to “shameless” in the eyes of the traditional Brooks customer (or at least the eyes of Ivy Style comment-leavers) simply by changing the proportions.

The final point that’s bobbed around in my head this past week has been the insightful comment that the Own Make blazer recently pictured looks like a woman’s blazer. Ever since Thom Browne came along with his shrunken suit, everyone’s been quipping about Pee Wee Herman and Little Lord Fauntelroy. In fact, the suits may not make you look like a little boy, but rather a grown woman. The nipped waist, tapering trousers, and pocket angles make this guy almost look like he has child-bearing hips:

BF LOOK_FK00051-FJ00109

The more you look at him, the more androgynous he becomes. It’s almost like the costume from some “Gattaca”-like science fiction movie in which men have become sterile and human reproduction is taken care of in government laboratories. Compared to male costume from other cultures and eras, the sack suit disguised secondary sexual characteristics. It did not not seek to broaden shoulders and slenderize the waist, recalling the marble male torsos of antiquity. The new fashion-forward sack suit, however, does emphasize secondary sexual characteristics — but for the wrong sex!

Here’s a sack jacket on manly poster-boy Steve McQueen. Yes it’s not a full-body shot, but you get the point:


In this upside-down, inside-out world we live in, it’s hard to believe that clothiers think men would be better off looking like the gray-suited ephebe pictured above, rather than like McQueen, with the quiet masculine understatement of his natural shoulders and unpretentious waist line.

In closing, another recent comment mentioned wing and detachable collars, which I pointed out had been selected for sartorial extinction. Brooks Brothers appears to see the legacy of its iconic sack suit as something best used to serve fashion ends via distortion and irony, while offering the straight, non-ironic version to conservative businessmen in Japan. Both are signs that the sack suit is one step closer to extinction. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

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tagged 1990-present, clothes, brooks brothers, suit