1880s Sack Suit from a LACMA Exhibit

These images were taken by my wife Sheila at the splendid Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibit titled "Fashioning Fashion: 1700 - 1915" in November of 2010. The exhibit ran through March of 2011.

The sack suit in these images dates from around 1880. While most sack suits of the time tended to be in sober colors like black and dark gray, a general exception seemed to apply for plaid sack suits. While not a dominant style, they were not uncommon and allowed a rare opportunity for exuberance in a period of otherwise restrained male fashions. The suit is, of course, made of fine wool.

While not visible on this mannequin, and perhaps no longer in existence, there would probably have been a matching vest to go with this ensemble. Whether matching or not, a vest of some sort was considered an essential element of a sack suit, even if the coat was worn with all four buttons buttoned. It would be more typical to only button the top button of the coat, and leave the vest and watch chain visible.

What one would almost never have seen however, would be a gaudy patterned vest, which was far more typical of the '40s & '50s. Even if it didn't match, it would almost certainly not have been made of bright red Chinese silk with dragon motifs, or something similar.

The buttons appear to be very plain, and made of wood. This is very typical of sack suits, which tended to have non-metallic, non-fabric covered buttons of simple construction (wood, bone, gutta-percha etc.). The buttons of such suits were very utilitarian and not generally used as a decorative element.

The suit is well fitted, and the trousers, while not tight, are also not baggy. If this were an earlier, 1850s or '60s style sack suit, the cut would probably have been looser and baggier. The trousers are ornamented with black side seam stripes, which are a typical but not universal element.

It is worn with a black bowler hat of a style that persisted well into the 20th Century. While this hat is not historically incorrect, it is a shame that they went with this very conventional hat, and not one of the wonderful variety of styles that were in play in the 1880s but which did not persist into our own era. By this period, almost any style of hat could be worn with a sack suit except a top hat, which had ceased to be generally seen with sack suits after the 1860s.

You can click on these images for a larger view.

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1880's Sack Suit

This suit was formerly in the collection of our mutual friend Mark Wallis.

Michael