Oxford bags make a comeback

The wide-legged languor of 1920s Oxford bags is striding back into style, says Tom Stubbs

Dashing Tweeds merino wool suit, £1,100
Dashing Tweeds merino wool suit, £1,100

I love the way Oxford bags give you an effortlessly languorous look,” says Dashing Tweeds director Guy Hills, a man who is often seen channelling Gene Kelly in An American in Paris when out and about in Mayfair. “They are easy‑to‑wear tailoring, but still make a statement.” Hills recently lured me away from Savile Row to his Sackville Street shop to show me his versions of this extra-wide-legged trouser – first popularised by Oxford students in the 1920s – many of them in his own custom cloths. Less wide than those from a century ago, which could measure up to a radical 44in in width, Dashing Tweeds’ made-to-order Oxford bags (£450, above right; suit, £1,100) are an exemplary fusion of heritage and modernity. I ordered a pair of 22in bags in brown fine tweed with a slight glint. Personally, I find anything more than 22in-24in verges on parody, but these are very wearable. “You must wear bags on your natural waist,” Hills adds. This is much higher than where waistbands have sat for some time – and part of what gives these trousers their distinct and very right-now look. Their voluminous proportions call for a fitted top; I wear mine with round-neck knits, tucked in – and braces, which help them hang perfectly. Blouson or bomber-style jackets also work well. 

From left: Anderson & Sheppard merino wool No 2 Oxford bags, £435. Dashing Tweeds merino wool Oxford bags, £450. Vivienne Westwood cotton canvas Oxford bags, £400
From left: Anderson & Sheppard merino wool No 2 Oxford bags, £435. Dashing Tweeds merino wool Oxford bags, £450. Vivienne Westwood cotton canvas Oxford bags, £400

The 1920s were a big influence on 1970s style and Nutters of Savile Row were the trendsetting tailors of that later freewheeling decade. Tommy Nutter famously worked the Oxford bag look on men and women alike; the first pair he made was for Bianca Jagger, cut by Edward Sexton, and other clients included Andy Warhol’s longtime manager Fred Hughes, and Elton John (who pulled off the proportions with the help of some platform shoes). Today, Sexton makes bespoke bags in various widths (£1,275). “Oxford bags should be fitted on the body, elegantly filling out to their full width through the leg,” Sexton explains. At Gucci’s menswear show, an homage to an Elton John white suit saw a top with purple satin star collar and red stripe trim paired with turn-up Oxford bags (£660). But there were genuinely covetable lines too, including beautifully tailored bone gabardine Genova Oxford bags (£435).

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At Etro, a 1970s-influenced Indian theme comes through. Kean Etro’s father was a fabric merchant in India and strong subcontinental references stretch from the shores of Goa to the Himalayan foothills. One deep-pleat trouser (£530) in earthy Madras checks or deep burgundy wool mélange looks superb with a long, open jacket and paisley-patterned, floaty shirt. Another, in ivory silk (£630), is effortlessly cool worn with a loose, print jacket. A faint paisley-pattern wool trouser (£560) also makes for a special-occasion piece.

Louis Vuitton wool Oxford bags, £640
Louis Vuitton wool Oxford bags, £640

E Tautz has long been an arbiter of wide-pant style and this season’s Terry trousers (£300) in navy or charcoal wool flannel from Bower Roebuck are truly elegant. Anderson & Sheppard’s two-pleated No 2 design (£435) comes in a choice of cloth; I favour a light tonal 8.5oz flannel from Vitale Barberis Canonico, but a Prince of Wales 10oz check or even a puppy-tooth flannel also hang beautifully. Louis Vuitton’s wool trousers (£640) in striped chocolate or grey sit a bit higher on the waist than usual and have substantial turn-ups, the extra weight of which helps the fabric hang nicely. Vivienne Westwood’s white cotton canvas Oxfords (£400) with a broad stripe are beautifully proportioned. Look out too for Edward Crutchley’s flowing mohair tailored trousers (£595) from Browns, and Yohji Yamamoto’s (£425) with their open pleat, fitted waist and unexpected drawstring bottoms.

From left: E Tautz wool Terry Oxford bags, £300. Etro wool Oxford bags, £530. Gucci gabardine Genova Oxford bags, £435
From left: E Tautz wool Terry Oxford bags, £300. Etro wool Oxford bags, £530. Gucci gabardine Genova Oxford bags, £435

A hundred years ago, Oxford bags broadened trouser options – quite literally – and they are doing so again. I can’t help feeling it’s high – and wide – time.

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