Schoolboy Scarves and Sack Suits

Wandering up Madison Avenue last week I popped into J.Press to see what was new and chat with the salesmen. The fall merchandise was out on display and I perused the schoolboy scarves and the knit wool-hats in their full Ivy colored goodness. I really love the cold weather accoutrement that Press sells. I also like the oxford shirts and sack suits. Jay Walter (who we’ve seen on this page before) took some time to show me his nice new autumn suit program.

Mr. Walter, who runs MTM for J.Press, has a group of handmade (in New York) English wool 3/2 sack suits for fall that were tough to resist. I always enjoy talking clothing with Jay and am constantly impressed by his good taste and fine spirits. Press is a curmudgeony place (less so since it moved from 44th Street), but still it is always somewhere I keep coming back to. If only for a scarf or a chat with Jay Walter.

Comments on “Schoolboy Scarves and Sack Suits

    Simon Harrison on September 20, 2010 1:36 AM:

    Like the hats but the scarves are too collegiate. Coming from England they’re associated with Oxbridge. Only OK if you were there in the 60s pot smoking, otherwise too Blair-Cameron.

    Simon Harrison on September 20, 2010 1:37 AM:

    Is that suit wool what they call Worsted?

    Michael Donovan on September 20, 2010 7:26 AM:

    Not to sound totally ignorant, but what is a sack suit exactly? How is it different from other suits?

    Ramalhoni on September 20, 2010 7:41 AM:

    love the Knit wool hats…. they make me want to get to the winter !! ……

    MATT on September 20, 2010 7:54 AM:

    love the idea of press…but aren’t those suit cuts more old than old school and require s- loads of tailoring for a decent modern shape?

    Robert on September 20, 2010 8:42 AM:

    The cable knit hats are awesome. J. Press reminds me of the stores of ‘ole (circa 1970’s). Great Stuff.

    Brook Shepard on September 20, 2010 9:56 AM:

    Sack Suits kinda’ hang like a sack. Waspy. The affectation being, that the wearer doesn’t need to show off. Simple construction (compared to say, a Tom Ford with its layers of chest constructions) and clean appearance. American to the core.

    Aaron M on September 20, 2010 10:18 AM:

    To add to above: The sack suit coat has no front darts, so the only shaping you do (not much) is at the side or back seams. In the Ivy League version, it has a three button front rolling to second button, a soft (‘natural’) shoulder, a notch lapel, two widely spaced cuff buttons (just like Jay’s), welted seams and a J-shaped single rear vent. The pants to match would have a flat front, belt loops,, a straight or slightly tapered leg, and a cuff of 1.5 or 1.75 inches. This style took form in the mid-fifties and held sway in the USA till the late 60s, with revivals in the early 80s and in the last decade.

    Michael Williams on September 20, 2010 10:21 AM:

    Brook & Aaron,

    Well said fellas.

    Matt — If you tailor a Sack to be “modern” then you are missing the point — just keep on walking.

    Pasquale on September 20, 2010 1:53 PM:

    Love the hats and scarves, in fact i wish I could get a hat in my university colors. That is sort of the point right, if you went to Princeton it is cool to wear the Princeton hat, but if you didn’t you’re a chump or at least a pretender. I still wear my university scarf all these years later every winter, and nobody ever makes the connection, probably assuming it is just from Polo, but to me it matters to me and if I were to walk the streets of Dublin or London it would mean something. If I wear a skull and cross bones nobody thinks I’m a pirate, but if I wear a Princeton hat people will think I went to Princeton (which I didn’t). So i either need to hit the internets to find the right hat, or go to grad school chosen strictly on outerwear colors.

    AlanC on September 20, 2010 2:03 PM:

    Internal construction on a sack has nothing to do with what makes it a sack. There are Oxxford made sacks, for example. What makes a sack a sack is the lack of darts and soft shoulder. Traditionally there is also the 3/2 button roll.

    I love my Press schoolboy scarf.

    chandler on September 20, 2010 3:42 PM:

    Question: What’s so wrong about modernizing the sack cut? I’m not suggesting Black Fleece, no bare ankles, no super short jackets. But why couldn’t the jacket and the pants be more fitted, not tight or showy, but more fitted (while keeping the other classic details, natural shoulders, no darts, etc.)? If I asked for this at press made to measure would they say no because they’re so curmudgeonly?

    Pete on September 20, 2010 3:49 PM:

    I like the new space, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of miss the old, more curmudgeonly spot on 44th street. Don’t you? I’d be curious to know how much the cut has changed, if at all. They must have slimmed it down a little, right?

    Halberstram on September 20, 2010 3:56 PM:

    Locations have been well covered here before, partial to the New Haven store.

    The scarves – odd if you didn’t go to one of the schools.

    Halberstram on September 20, 2010 3:58 PM:

    Pasquale – sew your diploma into the seat of your pants.

    Small Town Boy on September 20, 2010 4:29 PM:

    Nice tuques.

    Gordon Ye Ole General Store on September 20, 2010 4:48 PM:

    Thank you, Brook & Aaron.
    Well done, Michael.

    NY NY on September 20, 2010 5:58 PM:

    I don’t think it’s odd to wear one of these if you didn’t go to the school. So many similar designs have been created that are not in actual school color schemes, that I think most people (at least in the U.S.) wouldn’t make the assumption that I was posing as a student or graduate of one of these schools by wearing one of these scarves any more than they would think I’m posing as a member of a particular Scottish clan if I wore a plaid scarf, nor as a doctor if my suit jacket has doctor’s cuffs…you get the idea. I think they would assume I like stripes. Styles that were once particular to a particular occupation or group can go mainstream. Happens all the time. Get over it.

    Halberstram on September 20, 2010 6:18 PM:

    so the village people really weren’t cops, sailors, etc?

    jumpjet on September 20, 2010 8:04 PM:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Walter when my father and I popped into the J. Press store during our trip to New York over Spring Break. He is an amazing fellow.

    Myles Henry on September 21, 2010 9:38 AM:

    Those knit hats are so good.

    Doeman on September 21, 2010 9:38 AM:

    The sack suit was the first RTW suit and it was created by brooks brothers as a quick and affordable way to make any man look acceptable. Until the invention of the sack suit, most men got their clothing uniquely made for them (think tailoring in Chariots of Fire). Its important to remember this when you hear people like Brook talking about its connotations as unpretentious because in actuality, it was the first step towards mass-produced tailored mediocrity.

    Andy on September 21, 2010 10:42 AM:

    What I like about these suits are the fabrics. The suits have weight and drape. They don’t look like come off of a Cambodian assembly line.

    But a sack suit looks saggy, out-of-shape, sexless. I guess that was the point when these suits were at their peak in the early 1960s. Only women were sexy, despite what “Mad Men” teaches us.

    The other items pictured here are perfect for a prep student or for walking around Rhinebeck on an October afternoon.

    matthew hranek on September 21, 2010 12:06 PM:

    tried one… i felt like i was wearing a sack. a sad sack

    R4L on September 21, 2010 12:52 PM:

    Do they have Slim fitting suits and suit separates?

    editor on September 21, 2010 1:51 PM:

    i can personally endorse the cable-knit wool hats. :)

    Raoul Duke on September 21, 2010 3:31 PM:

    Sack suits are for guys who wear overcoats with sleeves down to their knuckles and huge shoulder pads.

    Seinfeld chic.

    Pasquale on September 21, 2010 4:02 PM:


    I think sewing the diploma into my pants is inefficient since I am always changing my pants, so a tattoo on my derriere is the answer.

    But seriously I think it is fine to wear tartans, regiment ties, khakis, all sorts of things that don’t have the same meaning in our culture anymore. I just don’t think the sell by date on wearing university stripes for a school you didn’t go to has passed. I know this mode of thinking is passe and that signifiers morph over time. I realize everyone with a Red Sox hat isn’t from New England or even a baseball fan, but in my mind if I see that “B” I can feel free to say “how bout them Sox?” Same goes for if I was walking through town with an Ivy League scarf on and some tweeded denizen of Cambridge were to ask me about my scarf I would feel weird if i knew what it was for and I didn’t go there.

    Maybe it doesn’t apply anymore, I can say I’ve been wrong before, it certainly doesn’t apply to everything, but maybe still to these scarves?

    TMH on September 21, 2010 6:43 PM:

    Cripes! Now Im thinking Tartans could present a problem too!

    Paul on September 21, 2010 7:12 PM:

    Looking through the comments – it’s sad.

    The nay-sayers have no idea what a gentlemen’s shop is like. Wise men tend the store, and give advice to young men who need the proper start to a lifetime of dressing well. Take advantage of it – learn from these fine people (like Mr. Walter) and dress for success and comfort for the rest of your life! Establishments like J. Press will provide a thread of sartorial knowledge that will assist you for a lifetime – and you’ll learn to enjoy fine clothing and service and post your own comments years later – how you learned to dress properly and comfortably and now savor it.

    JLSLC on September 21, 2010 7:29 PM:

    There have been ‘”free” tartans, including those created by retailers, since the Victorian era. It is exceedingly unlikely that you would come across a tartan pedant while wearing a tartan rare enough to elicit questions about your pedigree.

    Not so sure about school colors for contemporary schools. Then again, perhaps the Abercrombies and American Eagles of the world have sufficiently diluted their meaning.

    Todd on September 21, 2010 8:17 PM:

    Does anyone else other than J. Press and O’Connells sell sack suits or Sport Coats? I love the sack suit. I wish I had a closet full of them.

    JES on September 21, 2010 9:44 PM:

    Tartans are relatively new (18th century) and relatively bogus. See The Invention of Tradition, ed. by Eric Hobsbawm.

    Also, I”m rather sick of slim cut suits on not-so-slim anymore men. Fie. No dignity.

    TMH on September 21, 2010 11:11 PM:

    Joe Strummer wore a Keffiyeh and he wasn’t an Arab.

    Aaron M on September 22, 2010 8:22 AM:

    Doeman <>

    Doeman is inaccurate and unfair.

    Sack coat patterns date back to the mid 19th century. It’s a single breasted coat without a waist seam ( such as a frock coat has). Brooks has been selling sacks in various from since early in the century but patterns were sold for it decades before:

    RTW suits were born in the US due to the need for uniforms in the Civil War. The essential tool, the tape measure also dates from this time. RTW clothing was the mark of sartorial democracy. Your local tailor (i.e., the village guy or your mother) might make crude clothing, but with RTW you could look like a plutocrat. Foreign observers were confused because they could no longer tell the class of a man by the clothes he wore.

    Bertie on September 22, 2010 1:12 PM:

    @Doeman. That remark about the sack being invented by Brooks to be a “ready to wear” suit that was intended to be sort of “one size fits all” in a pre-alpha size world is pure guff! Where did you dig up that shit from? Brooks was at one time a proper maker of menswear both off the peg and bespoke and they were more than capable of making suits off-the-rack that fit a multitude of shapes and sizes. The notion that the sack was straight and shapeless in order to make it more marketable to more men in more sizes is just not true. In fact that is just the sort of apocryphal nonsense that makes learning about menswear so arduous. A fellow could keep a whole blog dedicated just to these menswear myths.

    Halberstram on September 22, 2010 1:28 PM:

    “A fellow could keep a whole blog dedicated just to these menswear myths.”

    Bertie, i see what you did there – sly.

    Glenn on September 22, 2010 1:38 PM:

    Still have my wool Trinity College, Oxford scarf after 20 or so years! brought back from England for me, has been a useful cherished gift! I like what J. Press has done!

    Doeman on September 22, 2010 2:30 PM:

    @Bertie – From Brooks’ own website:

    “1895 The Sack Suit

    Brooks introduces The No. One sack suit. Regarded as the first genuinely American suit, and designed to fit all body types…”

    No one said Brooks couldn’t make bespoke clothing at one time, but they themselves said that they introduced the “read-made suit in 1845” for those who did not have time to wait to get a proper fit.

    Bertie on September 22, 2010 3:14 PM:

    @Doeman Think you may have taken that slightly out of context and run with it. More to the point, I wouldn’t trust Brooks’ website for menswear history any more than I would look to WK Kellogg’s site for a history of the health and wellness movement or the advent of the cornflake. Learn to dig a little deeper, old chap.

    thelast1augh (Brian Buell) on September 22, 2010 3:55 PM:

    I was at the Cambridge shop the other day and made a bet with Charlie that if I could learn how to tie a bow tie in 10 minutes or less using only the diagram, he’d sell me a bow tie at 30% off. I failed. It took longer, but with his help, I got it down. The Andover shop had these amazing two-tone caps… They’re not on the website, but they’re awesome. I love this place (only been to the Cambridge and New Haven stores). Nice post.

    S. McCreery on September 23, 2010 9:45 AM:

    J.Press is outstanding, however, I prefer the Andover Shop. You are correct Press is curmudgeonly, and Andover is just jocular, pleasant, and helpful in comparison. I have to assume it has something to do with institutional memory as Andover outfits the schools and had to deal with the school boys.

    Anonymous on September 26, 2010 1:09 AM:

    I met Mr. Jay Walter. He turned me away from the store because I was a woman.
    I will never bother with J Press again.

    LiljohnWayne on September 26, 2010 4:47 PM:

    I tried one of those suits, the pinstriped one.

    It was far from shapeless and was surprisingly “fitted”. The soft shoulder and waist supresion made it look more modern than a lot of other brand’s suits that are made for a younger crowd.

    The construction was real handmade. No doubt. Those were around 1500 if I remember well.

    David on October 15, 2010 11:37 AM:

    Just to chime on the idea of the ‘more modern, fitted’ sack suit. If you want more modern, fitted versions of classic styles, they’re easy to find. As far as I can tell, all the retailers jumping on the Mad Men trend are offering fitted versions of classic styles. Fitted menswear, whether suits, t-shirts, or something else, is easy to find. Check out the LL Bean styles that ACL wrote about a while back. You might prefer a more tailored look, but a true sack suit is beautiful and very difficult to find. The genius of the Japanese clothing manufacturers is that they recognize the beauty of the unadulterated original styles in khakis, jeans, etc., and I appreciate stores like Press that keep the flag flying. You can buy very bad or very good fitted suits from thousands of tailors, but the good sack suit is a rare species. If you don’t like it, buy elsewhere. But my opinion is that you just don’t get it.

Comments are closed.