Saturday, May 2, 2009

A look under the hood- Oxxford Clothes

There are only a few factory-produced, hand-made suits available. Oxxford is one of them. Located in Chicago, Illinois, this factory produces one of the most labor-intensive suits available under their own label, Oxxford, and they now produce most, if not all, of Thom Browne’s suits.

I recently put my hands on a not-recent Oxxford jacket. Many garments can be dated, at least to within half a decade, by looking at the shape of the collar and lapel. Not so with Oxxford, which is a good thing. If you were to spend that kind of money on a garment, you don’t want it looking dated in a few years, so I am not able to place an approximate date on this garment. It has been repaired at least once, and the discoloration of the linen stays inside tell me it’s not recent, but two telling details inside may be able to narrow it down if I were to call the factory. More on that later.

The garment is half-lined, with a center vent, flap pockets, and a breast welt, and edges are pic stitched by hand.


The flap pocket is not the typical double-jet and flap configuration but a single-welt and flap which is typical of Oxxford. It is done with a plain machine rather than an automated machine and has little bar tacks at each end, sewn by hand with silk thread.
pocket jet.1

Buttonholes are worked by hand, using three strands of silk twist as gimp


They are also re-worked on the wrong side since hand-made buttonholes are usually pretty ugly from the wrong side. One of these buttonholes has started coming apart on the wrong side. Nothing lasts forever.
bh back.1.jpg

The lapel buttonhole has not been double-worked, and is still lashed shut. There is a flower loop just below it.
flower hole.1.jpg

The back yoke of the lining has been hand-rolled and finished.

The center vent has been lined and the lining is felled to the garment by hand.

The back of the pockets are lined with a bellows lining, which is also completely felled to the garment by hand. The front and side body are cut in one piece, with an underarm dart running just below the pocket, which has been finished with a strip of lining, felled to the garment by hand.
bel pocket.1

Seams are finished with what we call “book seams”-

The edges of the seam are turned and catch-stitched by hand.
book seams.1.jpg

The hems are all felled by hand. Note the absence of interfacing in the hem.

This is the label, hand sewn with silk thread, fixed below a hand-made pocket. I call this hand made, even though it was actually made by a plain machine, because in factories these pockets are almost always made with an automated pocket-making machine which executes the pocket in seconds (see early blog post on pockets). This, on the other hand, was made by sewing a lining facing to a piece of pocketing, laying the pocketing on the garment lining and a linen stay underneath, sewing a rectangle which is then clipped, the pocket turned but keeping the seam allowances as interfacing. This is similar to the hand-made pocket I described in the earlier post, but instead of opening the seam allowance as we would do on the outside of the jacket, they are all contained in the pocket jet. This is a stronger finish; the only thing I don’t like about this kind of pocket is that the corners are never very neat.

This is the undercollar, and it is one sign that this jacket is not very recent. More recent jackets are done with a turn-under (see post on collars). You can see now that the presence or absence of the turn-under is not a clear indication of the level of construction or quality, although the absence of zig-zag stitching is. If I were to call the factory, they would be able to tell me when they changed their method of doing the collars and this would help date the garment, at least tell us when the most recent date it possibly could have been made.
under collar.1

Here we clearly see that the lapel and the collar have been padded by hand. Oxxford is among the very few (only?) RTW makers who do this. The canvas front has been made by machine and padded with a large zig-zag machine (they are now made with a double-needle jumpstitch machine (see post on canvas fronts). The edge and the bridle have been taped with ½” straight-grain cotton tape- note the absence of tae along the lapel edge. The canvas has been cross-stitched to the cloth along this edge.

Here is the collar which has been removed from the garment. The linen is quite soft and the wool undercollar is not felt, but a plainweave.

This is the shoulder seam- it has been clearly done by machine, one of the few seams to have been done by machine.
shoulder seam.1

This is the armhole seam, and another indication of the garment’s age. Oxxford now sets their sleeves by hand, while this sleeve has been set by machine. We could use this information to help date the garment.
armhole seam.1

With the sleeve removed, we can see that instead of taping the armhole, it has been stayed with a large chainstitch, done by hand. The principle is to prevent stretching but maintain elasticity.

Lastly, there is an outlet on the undersleeve, to allow for future alterations, and a good, large wiggan at the hem.



BCN - UNIQUE designer patterns said...

good day and greetings from Barcelona. first, congratulations on your blog. All posts are very interesting and educational, thanks for the description that you do the sewing and other techniques. I enjoy a lot with these things, and of course learn.

Thanks also to add to your list. If you agree, I'll do the same.

best wishes and see you soon,


Pta .- sorry you my English because I have to use the online translator to communicate well.

R. Jeffery Diduch said...

Hello Paco

thank you for your kind words (and you can feel free to write in Spanish- I understand it perfectly though I write it very poorly)

Did you notice that I have linked to your blog? I would be pleased if you added me to your list

be well!

BrianW said...

I'm curious: Is there a reason behind the parallel rows of pad stitching on the collar? In my limited experience, what I've seen is curved rows of stitches that kind of follow the ultimate shape of the collar. Is one more common? Does it affect the shape/wear of the collar?

Based on recent news, Oxxford may be the only Chicago suitmaker in the near future. Sadly Hartmarx is having financial trouble. That would be a shame.


Anonymous said...

Oxxford Clothes has just revised its website. See

Under "Anatomy of a Suit" there are photographs and descriptions of many of Oxxford's hand operations.

R. Jeffery Diduch said...

Thanks, Mark. Some great photos there.

Brian, to answer your question (a little late, sorry)the jury is out on that one- I have heard arguments for both methods, and many who maintain that it is not necessary to do by hand. It looks like there may be hope for HSM after all.... keeping my fingers crossed- every time a shop closes a lot of skilled people become unemployed.

justlinen said...

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