Ivy Trendwatch: GQ Endorses The Sack Suit

In what probably hasn’t been done in half a century, GQ has endorsed the sack suit — sort of.

The March issue features a one-page primer on the Ivy League Look (more or less), though it avoids the term “Ivy” and instead opts for “sack suit.” The Ralph Lauren suit pictured appears to be dartless, but certainly doesn’t fit like a sack, which is good or bad depending on your point of view.

First off, let’s give three cheers for our traditional homegrown style, especially in a magazine whose first 20 pages are devoted to glossy ads by European luxury brands. And remember that the trendier this stuff gets, the more variety we can expect to see, however temporarily. The best thing about the piece is the endorsement of natural shoulders, something we’d all like to see more of.

Now for the nitpicks.

First off, considering the piece points out what differentiates American suits from English, you’d think they’d feature a rep tie with the stripes going in the American direction, not British.

The piece also extols the virtues of the 3/2 roll button stance, with an arrow pointing to the “hidden third button.” Yeah, so hidden it’s not there: The suit sure looks to be a two-button. Of course, two-button is what JFK preferred, not a 3/2 sack suit, which is what they’re talking about. Things are all a bit muddled.

It also credits tailors — and now designers — with the practice of rolling over the top button, whereas the practice more likely derived naturally from regular guys wearing clothes. Marc Chevalier, a vintage clothing collector and amateur historian who wrote a piece for us on one of his Langrock jackets, theorizes that students in the ’20s, probably at Princeton, first began rolling back the lapels on their three-button jackets in order to show off more of their neckties. It was only later that tailors and manufacturers began making jackets that way.

Another curiosity is the encouraging of trouser cuffs at two-and-a-half inches. Clothing is all about proportion, and evidently your cuffs should be the same width as your necktie.

Which leads us to the final observation, that the piece seems to equate narrowness of tie, lapel and collar with all-American style. Then again, the headline is “Wear It Like a Kennedy,” not “Wear It Like Carter.” — CC

33 Comments on "Ivy Trendwatch: GQ Endorses The Sack Suit"

  1. ScoobyDubious | February 21, 2011 at 6:45 pm |

    I don’t know CC,…do you think GQ has the “moral authority” here? One hopes that sack suit obsessives won’t launch a nutty troll campaign against the magazine.

    But I guess if the “I-word” is avoided it might not rile up the nutjobs.


  2. Yeah, good points.

    By the way, you can go ahead and invoice me for February. Well done.

  3. ScoobyDubious | February 21, 2011 at 6:54 pm |

    Don’t forget all the overtime too. It was in the contract.

  4. Did the model forget to put on his socks?

  5. Turton Walmer | February 21, 2011 at 9:55 pm |

    The jacket is too short.
    The tie is too narrow.
    The crotch is too high.
    The pants are too short, as are the jacket sleeves.
    The guy needs a shave.
    He also needs to comb his hair

  6. Is the 2 1/2 inches perhaps a typo or is the author a zoot-suiter?

  7. Nice find!

    Would not say the italian shoulder includes ‘big square pads’. Tell a napolitanean tailor this and he will spill his espresso!

    Also, no mention of the ever-so-important ‘roll’ to the shirt collars.

    Would’ve defenitly included these in the nitpicks.

  8. This is funny. Is it just me, or is that jacket crazy short like everything else “trendy” right now. Am I mistaken or didn’t JFK wear a button stance other than the 3/2 roll? Something about his posture and covering up the back brace better. Like everything, the hipsters have it all wrong.

    Great website though. Keep up the good work.

  9. Nevermind, I missed your comment about 2 button in JFK. I misread it. Wasn’t there something else about it being located or spaced oddly to work better with his back brace?

  10. OldSchool: The no socks thing is just temporary insanity that will obviously be followed by a cool-socks counter trend. Just ignore it for now.

    Claudio: It wasn’t hard to find, but thanks. As for the nitpicks, I chose to point out only what was included, not what wasn’t, which is infinite.

    Josh, according to my research for the JFK piece for The Rake, button stance wouldn’t have mattered re: his back brace. It’s tempting to search for a practical reason, but it’s not there. Or rather it is, it just has nothing to do with his back brace. Kennedy evidently chose to distance himself from the Ivy League Look for broader appeal:


  11. While JFK preferred the 2 button, RFK was more of a proponent of the button-down collar and 3/2 suit (as I’m sure you know). So it seems like while it wasn’t GQs intention they were kind of accidentally right. Great article.

  12. Did JFK cuff his trousers? When I wrote the Rake piece I was so focused on jacket cuts, shirts, ties and the “Hatless Jack” eschewing of headwear I don’t think I paid attention. Who was the last president to wear trouser cuffs? I have a feeling it’s seen as an affectation to middle America.

    For example, French cuffs = presidential. Suspenders = ridicule.

  13. G. Bruce Boyer | February 22, 2011 at 9:16 am |

    I wouldn’t call any of this criticism nit-picking. I find it’s healthy to hold these fashion editors feet to the fire, hopefully makes them all a bit more careful about getting the details right. And I agree with Mr. Chensvold that I suppose we must simply be grateful that GQ has spent a page extolling American style. After all, the Japanese devote whole magazines to our clothes, surely GQ can afford a few columns once every five years or so.

    — G. Bruce Boyer

  14. Yes, as I was writing the blog post I felt “nitpicking” wasn’t quite the right word. But it’s softer and less self-aggrandizing than “corrections,” “allow me to fix the errors,” etc.

  15. Christian, you noted that the suit on the GQ page “certainly doesn’t fit like a sack” — which makes me wonder: Can trim, athletic guys like GQ’s model look good in a true sack?

    By the way, check out http://www.madametussauds.com/washington/ to answer your JFK cuff question

  16. Charles, I’ve pointed out a few times that I think it’s imprecise to use the term “sack” as synonymous with any jacket with a 3/2 button stance. Even darts don’t make a difference, as you can have dartless jackets that are fitted and darted jackets with full-cut chests and minimal waist suppression. I think the term sack should be used to describe a certain kind of silhouette, not button stance:


    That said, yes, I certainly believe that a trim and youthful guy looks great in a full-cut sack jacket. Click the Historic Images button in the right menu column, or check out Paul Newman in “The Philadelphia Story,” Matt Damon in “Ripley,” etc.

    A sack cut on a youthful guy, of course, is what the Ivy League Look was during its heyday. It’s only after the fall of the heyday, when the original wearers aged but continued to wear the style, that we began to associate the cut with older and more portly men.

  17. And of course, the modern man must NEVER wear socks, no matter the oufit, the shoes, the weather, etc.!

  18. Indeed, if you’re going to “wear it like a Kennedy,” keep socklessness where it belongs: in Hyannis Port.

  19. Long live the full-cut sack jacket!

  20. ScoobyDubious | February 22, 2011 at 12:43 pm |

    Lively today….

  21. I point out that a regularly wear a 1976 Carter for President button. >_>

  22. Great. Every dozen years or so I’m back in style. Like a broken clock.

  23. As a eurpean myself, I find the comment regarding “the big square pads sewn into british and italian suit jackets” more than a little amusing. Come again?

  24. Kennedy wore ventless suits. He also wore ties that didn’t match the width of his lapels. He didn’t do either of these exclusively, so one could presume that he wore some trousers cuffed, some trousers plain hem. http://www.esquire.com/cm/esquire/images/1962-JFK-lg-92294589.jpg cuffs shown here.

  25. Also incongruous in a piece alleging to school you in Kennedy style: yes, it was 2 buttons for him, but he also buttoned them both. He also rejected the button-down collar as out of date. Sort of like an ad for urban cowboy apparel – oxymoronic.

  26. Great look. Tapered trousers sans socks and fitted blazers is the look today, gentlemen.


  27. ScoobyDubious | February 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm |

    Adding “gentlemen” at the end of your comment doesn’t add any gravitas to your statement.

    Platform boots and hot pants were also, at one time, the look of their day, gentlemen.

    A sockless man in a suit will always look like an *ss.

  28. He also had many suits made on Savile Row, and most if not all of his suits had darts. So, darts+point-collar+ English 2-button suit+ventless jacket=American Style Icon. I always preferred Bobby’s slightly more nerdy look.

    I am pretty sure the 2.5inch cuff is a modern style affectation with no real historical basis, although an affectation that I like.

  29. I was interested in your saying tha the practice of rolling the lapels of the sack suit jacket to hide the third button, In my un-expert opinion your probably right, it most likely did spring up among normal men, But I was “thrown for a loop” the other day while reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “the Beautiful and the Damned” when I encountered this line from the first chapter of the book.
    “His recollections of the gallant Ulysses, the first man in America to
    roll the lapels of his coat, were much more vivid”
    This line was what the main character speaking about his deceased father, in the story the father died young sometime in the very early 1900’s. Is this line in reference to the 3/2 roll? or to some other variation on button variations?

  30. The specific style of bespoke jacket that JFK favored from the time he was a young man is called “paddock.” In this style, both buttons of the two-button front are buttoned. It must be bespoken because the buttons are placed about 2″ above and below the waist, which is not their usual position.

    More here: http://asuitablewardrobe.dynend.com/2007/06/jfks-paddock-model-jackets.html

    N.B.: This is not an endorsement of JFK’s politics.

  31. Having lived in the US and the UK, and done some investigating, I’m pretty confident in saying that the “American direction” and “British direction” of repp ties is a myth. I have ties from Harrods and Land’s End going in the same direction, and ties from Brooks Bros and Pulitzer going in the other direction. But then I have ties from Land’s End going both directions. And I have two nearly identical ties, one Pride of England, and one from Harrods going in opposite direction.

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