Saturday, 7 November 2009

Plus fours - why?

plus-fours and plus-eights
plus fours and plus eights, originally uploaded by Trevira.

Having failed to find any photographs of outrageously wide Oxford bags (see a previous post) among my own fairly extensive collection of old snapshots, I realised I had a few good examples of another baffling men's fashion favourite of the interwar years - plus fours.

Originating as comfortable golfing trousers or breeches generously cut so that they billowed below the knee by four inches - hence the name - these garments became popular as leisure wear appropriate for all kinds of locations, not just the golf course.

That famous men's fashion leader, the then Prince of Wales (you know, the one who made cosy social calls on Hitler and abdicated to marry Mrs Simpson) helped popularise the trend worldwide. And despite their Bertie Woosterish associations these days, it wasn't just upper class twits sporting them, but men of all classes.

The two gentlemen at the top were from the North Shields, and because I have quite a bundle of photographs from the same family I know that they and their friends lived in semi-detached or terraced houses, and fixed their bicycles by the shed in the back garden. They are evidently not members of the landed gentry. The precise location has yet to be identified, but the date is somewhere in the mid 1930s, and I implied with my caption that the chap on the right's plus fours look particularly capacious. Note the Argyle patterned socks that seem obligatory with plus fours.

mob of lads, North Bay, Scarborough

This cheery crowd of youths from around the same date, or possibly a year or two earlier, display quite a range of men's leisure wear, with one brave pioneer in the middle in plus fours. Other photographs from this set show that these boys were camping in tents somewhere in Scarborough, and I'd be prepared to bet that this was probably their first holiday without their parents. Let's hope they behaved themselves.

plus fours, 1920s/30s
plus fours, 1920s/30s, originally uploaded by Trevira.

These gentlemen are old enough to know better. The circumstances around this photograph are lost to history, but its fair to assume that alcohol might have been involved given the array of glasses at their feet. This does not explain the teapot, however, or the chap kneeling behind and holding something like a bicycle inner tube over his friend's head. Clearly none of this would have occurred had they been wearing sensible, double breasted suits.

From this limited selection of photographic evidence, it seems that plus fours brought out the light-hearted, jovial, devil-may-care aspect in a man's character. Something that may explain their virtual disappearance once the Second World War started spoiling everyone's fun.

But the fun can't end just yet:

plus fours?
plus fours?, originally uploaded by Trevira.

This joker from South Wales has either gone completely potty and had some plus tens made (imagine the trouble in store), or he's actually tucked his trousers into his socks for a laugh. I'll leave you to decide which.

By the way: can you picture wearing a pair of trousers (please refer to the Oxford bags post earlier) over these plus fours? Hmmm.


fauxbrit13 said...

Sassy Sarah! You have got me laughing my head off! Thanks for the wonderful & weird info on vintage men's clothing! The pics of the family on Flickr are so intriguing!! Thanks for enlightening me (again!)...Have really enjoyed your articles!!! Wonder if these PLUS FOUR's were worn in the USA? Don't remember seeing them in any of my old family pics!!!!!


Sarah said...

Cheers bb!

I'm not sure that plus fours were as common in the US, outside of places such as Harvard and Yale where the undergraduates were keen followers of English fashions.

Most Americans were probably far too sensible!

JohnBottoms said...

Apparently Ian Fleming and his Eton cohort wore plus-fours when they were out carousing according to biographer Andrew Lycett.