Young people attempted to set themselves apart from their elders and establish their own fashion styles in the 1920s, a trend that continues into the twenty-first century. In 1924 at Oxford University in Great Britain, a small group of male students began wearing trousers that never would have been worn by their fathers. These pants were loosely fitted and featured extremely wide legs; at their knees and cuffs they measured between twenty-two and forty inches wide. They came to be known as Oxford Bags, named for their excessively baggy appearance and the institution of higher learning from which they originated.
Oxford Bags first were worn to get around the university's ban on wearing knickers, baggy trousers whose legs are gathered at the knees, in the classroom. Because of their size, Oxford Bags could be slid on effortlessly over the taboo knickers. The style allegedly was inspired by the type of pants that student oarsmen, or rowers, wore over their shorts.
Oxford Bags usually were worn with pullover turtleneck sweaters or short jackets. They were made of flannel and came in a range of colors. Some colors were more traditional: black, navy, beige, and gray; others, including pale green and lavender, were unique and attention-getting. A combination of their unusual style and color made Oxford Bags a fashion extreme of the decade, and they came to symbolize the recklessness of youth.
The Oxford Bag style soon grabbed the attention of American college students, particularly those attending the northeastern Ivy League schools, the American universities with the highest academic and social prestige. Undergraduates who were studying abroad and happened to be visiting Oxford began wearing them. Their popularity among more adventuresome American college students was solidified when, in January 1925, United States president Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) declared that he "wouldn't be caught dead" wearing Oxford Bags. That spring the John Wanamaker department store began marketing the trousers in the United States where they enjoyed some popularity among the young.
Because of the excessive nature of Oxford Bags, they never became a mainstream fashion trend and lost their appeal by the end of the 1920s. Pants that were excessively baggy, however, have come back in style at various points in time and have been trendy among the young. The trouser part of the zoot suit, which was popular among young, sporty African American males during the late 1930s and 1940s, the bell-bottoms that were favored by young men and women during the late 1960s, and the wide-legged jeans worn by male adolescents in the 1990s and into the twenty-first century all featured extremely baggy pants.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Keers, Paul. A Gentleman's Wardrobe: Classic Clothes and the Modern Man. New York: Harmony Books, 1987.
[See also Volume 4, 1930–45: Zoot Suit ; Volume 5, 1961–79: Bell-Bottoms ]