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The sack jacket, the great equalizer

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

This article is an extension of two larger Hickory Lane projects: Golf Fashion for Female Golfers and Spectators, 1800–1899 and Golf Fashion for Male Golfers and Spectators, 1800–1899. These are in-depth, illustrated articles created to help featherie and gutty golfers pull together era-appropriate clothing. Each decade has its own write-up, and each write-up offers specifics on everything from hats to shoes and every piece of clothing in between.

This project was inspired by a “what to wear when playing historic golf” vlog created by Christian Williams, aka, The Hickory Hacker. Certainly no one in the world plays more historic golf than Christian, and his recommendations are practical, affordable, and well-informed.

Old and Young Tom, both in sack suits, but each with his own style. (1875)

If you are looking for an on-point outfit basic to wear while playing 19th century golf, you can’t do better than the sack jacket. By 1900, it was almost a default outfit for male golfers.

The sack or sacque coat, invented in France in the 1840s, got its name not from the way it fits—loose, like a sack—but from the way it was cut. Unlike the posh and pricey frock coat of earlier years which had a back made of four curved panels and two darts in front—all designed to produce a garment tailored to the body—the sack jacket back was made with two straight panels in back and no darts in front. It hung straight down.

This style of coat quickly gained popularity as daytime wear for all classes of people, as it easily fit any width or height of man and, with the industrialization of cloth-making in the late 1700s and early 1800s, it was affordable. It especially suited mid- to late-19th century golfers in the British Isles, as the style permitted more freedom of movement in the arms and body. It could also be made from locally sourced wool cloth, which kept the golfer warm and dry, especially when teamed with matching vests and trousers to create a sack suit.

A sack coat generally had three or four buttons and was often buttoned only at the top. Initially, the lapels were small, and the coat was buttoned very close to the neck. As the 20th century approached, the top button moved down and lapels became larger. It is easy to see that the sack suit was the predecessor of the modern business suit.

As the featherie era ended, the gutty ball democratized golf. At about the same time, the sack jacket democratized male fashion: it allowed any man to look respectable affordably. Any laborer, farmer, or indeed golfer could gain the respect of peers with his greater sartorial style.

Today, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to purchase an antique jacket that is in good enough shape to wear. Instead, turn to companies that sell period clothing like Historical Emporium. Etsy is also a great source for beautifully made historic clothing. Or, purchase a modern sack jacket and ask a tailor to make modifications. He or she can press the collars up higher, add a button or two closer to the neck, and remove modern style signals like pocket flaps.

Sack jacket, 1863

Sack suit, 1875 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

1865 sack suit (Met Museum)

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