Factory Visit: Oxxford Clothes

At 1220 West Van Buren Street in Chicago’s West Loop, there stands a seven storey brick and glass factory building which has been home to America’s masters of tailoring, Oxxford Clothes since 1948.

Their elevators are lined with a soft, houndstooth wool fabric.

I was fortunate to get a first look at a suit Oxxford is building for Andre 3000’s line Benjamin Bixby.

The company’s website boasts “Jacob and Louis Weinberg founded Oxxford Clothes in 1916 with a mission to create the standard for comparison in the field of men’s tailored clothing. The Weinberg’s determination was that no possible fineness in craftsmanship or material shall be overlooked in the achievement of their purpose.” Fully devoted to the motto “Always Be Faithful to Quality” (the sign hangs from the ceiling of virtually every floor of the factory), the men and women who hand make every item that passes through the factory piece together some of the finest garments in the world, garments regularly regarded as the best in America.

Just a few swatches of the thousands offered in their showroom. These come from storied English cloth maker,  Holland & Sherry.

This antique swatch book was as tall as my torso, and about 6 inches thick. The fabric inside, including some beautiful vicuña, was unlike anything I’ve ever felt, soft to the hand, but it had a firmness like it wasn’t going anywhere. “Solidity” was the word used to describe it.

This book of clippings and letters from clients is virtually all that remains of Oxxford’s archive. Companies like Oxxford are sitting on their archives, virtual goldmines in my eyes, not able to realize the true financial potentials of sharing their history and its importance to their future in this, the Digital Age.

The green jacket was calling my name.

I’m no Phil Mickelson.

As we entered the Trouser Shop, I recall one of the tailors muttering, “Let’s get you out of those jeans.”

Their trousers feature a patented one-piece waistband/pocketing construction. They have a hidden coin pocket. One piece of cloth makes up the entire waistband and pocket. This allows for the weight of the object to spread itself across the entire waistband rather than to drag directly on the pocket.

Steam Presses in different forms.

Basically just a heavy card stock, customer’s patterns hang in a large library.

Prince’s pattern hangs clearly displayed at the end of one rack of patterns. It goes without saying, the pattern was very small.

Patterns go to a large table where fabric is chalked and cut.

The trademark lining from their youthful 1220 line.

Their website’s section on construction, entitled “The Anatomy of a Suit,” does a far better job than I could manage of explaining the process. I will say one thing about construction. While walking around the floors of the factory, I recall thinking, “It’s so quiet.” Unlike other factories which I’ve visited, the trip to Oxxford was remarkably silent. “Why so quiet?” I asked. The garments are, in large part, made by hand, and very little heavy duty machinery outside your grandmother’s Singer sewing machine and some industrial strength ironing equipment is required to put together an Oxxford suit. The only noise I recall, in fact, was some sad elevator music which played in their break room.

“The dedication, commitment and determination that Oxxford brings to our tailoring intensifies the unique character that Oxxford owners experience. The unmistakable feel of the clothing is what has our loyal clientele reciting, ‘Nothing quite feels like an Oxxford.'”

Since the company’s beginnings, America’s most successful men have worn Oxxford Clothes. Early on gentlemen such as Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Walt Disney and Joe DiMaggio had suits made by Oxxford. While there, I was able to flip through many of the custom-cut patterns. From Elvis Presley to Prince, from professional golfers to politicians, from Fortune 500 CEOs to Al Capone, the world’s most powerful men have their suits made by Oxxford.

Rocco Giovannangelo, Oxxford’s master tailor, examines the lining of a garment.
Mr. Giovannangelo can rock the Pumas.

My first visit to a suit factory was an educational one. That it’s generally regarded as one of the best in America, if not the world, makes me feel incredibly fortunate at the opportunity. Seeing these men and women wrap their hands around jackets and pants with such skill, such precision, watching as they “knocked out” a fine suit like they were tying their shoe, it reminded me how often I take it for granted. People — real, capital “P” People — White Sox fans and Cubs fans, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters make these clothes we wear. In America, Oxxford is an extension of the ideal to support local businesses. At the moment, for me, it’s an extremely unaffordable one, but it’s my hope that one day, I’m able to support this company with more than just my words. With the motto “Always be Faithful to Quality,” Oxxford is steadfast in its mission to remain America’s last great clothing company. If you have the means, buy an Oxxford suit. You’ll never need another.