Tuesday 27 June 2023

Barbara Cooke, "Evelyn Waugh's Oxford"


Dr Barbara Cooke is a senior lecturer in English at Loughborough University. She worked in publishing before completing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia. She is Co-executive Editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh and the author of Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford.

About Evelyn Waugh's Oxford, by Barbara Cooke, with illustrations by Amy Dodd

Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford is a site-specific, creative-critical biography focusing on Waugh’s emotional and creative connection to the city. It begins by looking at Waugh’s Oxford through the lenses of invention, memory and imagination before exploring locations in the city that are particularly significant to his life and work. Waugh was a visual thinker, and the book includes reproductions of archival objects alongside specially commissioned images by Amy Dodd to create a dialogue between words and pictures, the imagined and the real.

You can read more about Evelyn Waugh's Oxford on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from one of the book's location vignettes. 

From Evelyn Waugh's Oxford

Hall Brothers

When Waugh was at Oxford, all dapper undergraduates bought their suits from Hall Bros. The tailors were a city institution, and in the 1920s traded from a mock-Tudor building, replete with Elizabeth I’s coat of arms, at 94 Magpie Lane. 

In the 1920s they became the city’s foremost purveyor of ‘Oxford bags,’ very wide trousers first popularized by Waugh’s friend Harold Acton. Oxford bags really took off after Waugh had left, but they belonged firmly to a period when he still thought, talked and dressed like an undergraduate and became one of those – as he put it – ‘who cannot at once sever the cord uniting them to the university and haunt it for years to come.’ Like his student friends, Waugh teamed his bags with a high- or ‘turtle’-neck jumper which, he observed in November 1924, was ‘rather becoming and most convenient for lechery because it dispenses with all unromantic gadgets like studs and ties. It also hides the boils with which most of the young men seem to have encrusted their necks.’  

Waugh’s appreciation of the turtleneck jumper was typical of his pragmatic approach to fashion at the time .… As his financial situation eased, however, Waugh raised his sartorial ambitions. His brother Alec introduced him to Anderson Sheppard of London’s Savile Row,  whose suits made him feel, for the first time, not ‘the worst dressed person in every room.’  Being well turned out satisfied more than just Waugh’s vanity. For a man of his relatively humble origins, the cut of a seam could be the difference between social acceptance and rejection.

Illustration by Amy Dodd

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