Real People: Dressing Down a Suit

Open any men’s fashion magazine nowadays and you can read about the 101 ways to dress down a suit. The problem is, the suit is more often than not a sober looking garment, so when you try to “dress it down,” it can be like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. A safer way to dress down a suit is to simply get a more casual suit. Instead of one made from a smooth, worsted wool, try something in cotton, linen, corduroy, or even tweed. That way, your suit is inherently more casual, and you won’t have to awkwardly try to pull back its formality with some unusual accessory.

That does require buying a separate suit for casual occasions, however, which can get expensive (especially once you factor in seasonal fabrics). If you want to try to dress down a standard business suit, try pairing one with a softly colored pastel shirt, perhaps something in pink, lavender, or sea green. Any of those will be more casual than your standard solid whites or light blues, and can help both soften the edge of a suit while also enlivening its look. If need be, you can dress it down further with some casual footwear, such as tassel loafers or something made from suede. Our friend Niyi in New York City shows how well can look above.

You can get pastel colored shirts at any number of places these days. Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers are good starts, so long as you stay away from the ones with embroidered logos. Our advertiser Ledbury has a lime green one in their “short run shirts” section until the end of today. If you want something custom made, I can recommend Ascot Chang. They have offices in New York City and Los Angeles, although they also tour throughout the United States to meet clients (I meet them in San Francisco twice a year). They do great work, but being bespoke, they are a bit pricey. For something more affordable, but custom, there’s Cottonwork and our advertiser Proper Cloth. For something affordable, but ready to wear, there’s TM Lewin and Thin Red Line.

An Affordable Spring Look
Outerwear tends to be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Depending on your budget, you can get relatively affordable coats and jackets nowadays from Club Monaco, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren. At the end of every season, they’ll have nice looking designs for about $150-200 (Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren have really good mid-season sales as well). More affordably, there’s Pointer’s chore coat for $87. It looks pretty good if you like workwear.   
For rainy days, I sometimes wear LL Bean’s Trail Model Rain Jacket with jeans, a Shetland sweater, and some LL Bean boots. The shell is made from a waterproof rip stop nylon and the interior seams are taped. The pocket bags are also made of mesh, so that if you store away any wet things, they’ll dry quicker. The best part? It’s $79. Possibly $71 if you wait for one of LL Bean’s occasional 10% off coupons. Additionally, they have a similar jacket this season under their “Signature” line. Although I haven’t handled it, the jacket looks like it comes without a chest logo (which the mainline does, unfortunately, although it’s tonal). I also assume it fits slimmer all around.
In the photo above, I’ve paired my LL Bean rain jacket with an oxford cloth button down shirt from Ascot Chang, a Shetland sweater from O’Connell’s, and a pair of straight legged jeans from 3sixteen. All of these tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but you can find more affordable alternatives at a number of places. Brooks Brothers will have oxford cloth button downs for about $50 during sale season, while Kamakura sells them for about $79 year round. More affordable Shetlands can be had for about $75-100 at Brooks Brothers and LL Bean when they’re on discount (although they don’t always carry them). Lastly, raw selvedge denim jeans can be had for about $89 from our advertiser Gustin, or $82 from Unbranded. Both get regularly recommended in the denim community.
Together, these pieces make for a reasonably classic look, and more importantly, can be had for not too much money. 

An Affordable Spring Look

Outerwear tends to be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Depending on your budget, you can get relatively affordable coats and jackets nowadays from Club Monaco, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren. At the end of every season, they’ll have nice looking designs for about $150-200 (Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren have really good mid-season sales as well). More affordably, there’s Pointer’s chore coat for $87. It looks pretty good if you like workwear.   

For rainy days, I sometimes wear LL Bean’s Trail Model Rain Jacket with jeans, a Shetland sweater, and some LL Bean boots. The shell is made from a waterproof rip stop nylon and the interior seams are taped. The pocket bags are also made of mesh, so that if you store away any wet things, they’ll dry quicker. The best part? It’s $79. Possibly $71 if you wait for one of LL Bean’s occasional 10% off coupons. Additionally, they have a similar jacket this season under their “Signature” line. Although I haven’t handled it, the jacket looks like it comes without a chest logo (which the mainline does, unfortunately, although it’s tonal). I also assume it fits slimmer all around.

In the photo above, I’ve paired my LL Bean rain jacket with an oxford cloth button down shirt from Ascot Chang, a Shetland sweater from O’Connell’s, and a pair of straight legged jeans from 3sixteen. All of these tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but you can find more affordable alternatives at a number of places. Brooks Brothers will have oxford cloth button downs for about $50 during sale season, while Kamakura sells them for about $79 year round. More affordable Shetlands can be had for about $75-100 at Brooks Brothers and LL Bean when they’re on discount (although they don’t always carry them). Lastly, raw selvedge denim jeans can be had for about $89 from our advertiser Gustin, or $82 from Unbranded. Both get regularly recommended in the denim community.

Together, these pieces make for a reasonably classic look, and more importantly, can be had for not too much money. 

Tartan Shirts for Fall
These old tartan shirts by Brooks Brothers are great examples of the kind of fall shirts that pair well with tweed jackets and corduroy sport coats. They have an autumnal sensibility where a smooth, light blue shirt might be lacking, and their bold patterns can help dress down the look of a tailored jacket. 
When you first delve into the world of tartans, you may come across some unfamiliar terminology that, at first glance, can be a bit misleading. For example, “ancient” and “modern” don’t refer to the age of a pattern. Instead, “modern” just means the pattern was made in its “standard” colors, while “ancient” refers to something made in lighter tones (e.g. this Lindsay tartan in both modern and ancient variations). As you can see, the idea for “ancient” is to create something with an aged or weathered look, not too unlike how denim producers sometimes create pre-distressed jeans. For tartans, that means making the blues and greens a bit more muted, and scaling back the intensity of the yellows and reds. The effect is a plaid that looks like it has been worn for years. 
It’s also common to see tartans described as either “hunting” or “dress,” but again, these don’t mean what you think they mean. Instead, hunting tartans are simply tartans that are based more in greens and blues, while dress tartans make more use of white. Despite the name, dress tartans are just as casual as hunting variations. See, for example, Hunting Stewart versus Dress Stewart.
This is all just background, of course. The most important thing is to find a pattern that you like. The first one you see above, set at the front, is blackwatch shirt, and can be bought this season through O’Connell’s, J. Press, and our advertiser Ledbury. The one behind that looks to be either a MacKenzie or Hunting Stewart, and can be had through Ralph Lauren in modern and ancient variations. The dress tartan furthest back is a bit harder to find, but you get similar designs through Gant (in two varieties), Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers. Lastly, readers who have custom shirts made might want to enquire with their tailors. They should have lots of tartan fabrics to choose from, but if not, you can acquire some through Acorn. I’m having this Hunting Stewart made up for me now through Ascot Chang, and plan to wear it this fall with brown corduroys and suede shoes.  
(Photo via Glengarry Sporting Club)

Tartan Shirts for Fall

These old tartan shirts by Brooks Brothers are great examples of the kind of fall shirts that pair well with tweed jackets and corduroy sport coats. They have an autumnal sensibility where a smooth, light blue shirt might be lacking, and their bold patterns can help dress down the look of a tailored jacket. 

When you first delve into the world of tartans, you may come across some unfamiliar terminology that, at first glance, can be a bit misleading. For example, “ancient” and “modern” don’t refer to the age of a pattern. Instead, “modern” just means the pattern was made in its “standard” colors, while “ancient” refers to something made in lighter tones (e.g. this Lindsay tartan in both modern and ancient variations). As you can see, the idea for “ancient” is to create something with an aged or weathered look, not too unlike how denim producers sometimes create pre-distressed jeans. For tartans, that means making the blues and greens a bit more muted, and scaling back the intensity of the yellows and reds. The effect is a plaid that looks like it has been worn for years. 

It’s also common to see tartans described as either “hunting” or “dress,” but again, these don’t mean what you think they mean. Instead, hunting tartans are simply tartans that are based more in greens and blues, while dress tartans make more use of white. Despite the name, dress tartans are just as casual as hunting variations. See, for example, Hunting Stewart versus Dress Stewart.

This is all just background, of course. The most important thing is to find a pattern that you like. The first one you see above, set at the front, is blackwatch shirt, and can be bought this season through O’Connell’s, J. Press, and our advertiser Ledbury. The one behind that looks to be either a MacKenzie or Hunting Stewart, and can be had through Ralph Lauren in modern and ancient variations. The dress tartan furthest back is a bit harder to find, but you get similar designs through Gant (in two varieties), Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers. Lastly, readers who have custom shirts made might want to enquire with their tailors. They should have lots of tartan fabrics to choose from, but if not, you can acquire some through Acorn. I’m having this Hunting Stewart made up for me now through Ascot Chang, and plan to wear it this fall with brown corduroys and suede shoes.  

(Photo via Glengarry Sporting Club)

The Basic Shirt Wardrobe
I recently accepted that my shirts don’t fit me anymore. Every time I sit down, the placket gapes, which either means my shirts have magically shrunken just at the midsection, or that I’ve gotten fatter. Whatever the reason, I’ve asked my shirtmaker, Ascot Chang, to make me a new set of shirts, which means I’ve had to decide what’s the bare minimum I need, based on what I wore most often before. Of course, what’s basic and essential for you might be totally different, but I thought I’d share my list, in case some readers find it helpful.
Three blue oxford cloth button downs (aka OCBDs): I realize that not everyone likes OCBDs and they can be too American for some. However, I’m unapologetic in my love for them and find they go really well with a range of casual ensembles – from being worn underneath sport coats or sweaters, or just alone with a pair of chinos, corduroys, or wool trousers. If your tastes run even more American than mine, you can add another OCBD in a solid pink or light blue Bengal stripe. White OCBDs can also look pretty good with a pair of jeans. 
Two solid white shirts: These can be worn during the evenings, with suits, or just when you’re feeling fancy. I’ve found that light blue is much more wearable than white, but it’s good to have a couple of these on hand. I recommend getting them in either a basic poplin or twill fabric. You can also get them with French cuffs, if you’d like.
Five solid light blue shirts: It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a solid light blue shirt. The color complements any complexion and can be successfully paired with almost any suit, sport coat, or tie (the exception is maybe a light blue jacket, but who owns those?). You can get these in a plain poplin weave, but I find end-on-end and a dressy chambray to be much more interesting. They have a crisscrossing of blue and white yarns that make them look more appealing, but aren’t so busy that they force the shirt into casualwear. 
Two shirts in a mix of pin and dress stripes (either one of each or two of one): Striped shirts are really useful if most of your tailored jackets are in solid colors. They help add a bit of visual interest and keep your patterned tie from looking too lonely. For what it’s worth, I find the wider-spaced dress stripes to be easier to wear than more densely striped ones, and light blue to be easier to wear than dark blue (reason being that it’s easier to wear things with tonal variation, so dark jackets go well with light blue shirts and dark- or medium-toned ties, rather than a mix of darks in all three). Darker blue dress stripes can be nice, however, if you want a bit more variation in your wardrobe and don’t wear ties often. Brown pinstripes are also a good choice. 
Three shirts in a mix of Bengal and candy stripes: Same logic as the pin and dress stripes, but just in a bolder pattern. Mix your pin and dress stripes with boldly patterned ties, and your Bengal and candy stripes with subtle ones. By varying the scale of the two patterns, you ensure that your shirt and tie will never compete for attention. Light blues are again great, but if you want darker blues, I find they’re easier to wear here, for some reason, than in pin or dress stripes. 
Four casual weekend shirts: Finally, some casual shirts for the weekend. Depending on how hot or cold your climate gets, I recommend getting these in seasonal fabrics. For spring/ summer, you can go with madras, linen, or voile. Those will be very airy and breathable, making them nice for hot, humid days. For fall/ winter, you can swap these out for brushed cottons, wool/ cotton blends, and heavy twills. I find that graph checks and tattersalls also look good underneath tweed sport coats, and can be worn alone with a pair of corduroy trousers and a sweater.
This gives you a total of nineteen shirts for each season. Fifteen for the workweek, and four for the weekend. That should be enough to get you through two weeks before laundry day, with enough extra so that you’re not in danger of being shirtless if you go a few days past or stain something during a particularly good meal.
And that’s my version of a basic shirt wardrobe.

The Basic Shirt Wardrobe

I recently accepted that my shirts don’t fit me anymore. Every time I sit down, the placket gapes, which either means my shirts have magically shrunken just at the midsection, or that I’ve gotten fatter. Whatever the reason, I’ve asked my shirtmaker, Ascot Chang, to make me a new set of shirts, which means I’ve had to decide what’s the bare minimum I need, based on what I wore most often before. Of course, what’s basic and essential for you might be totally different, but I thought I’d share my list, in case some readers find it helpful.

Three blue oxford cloth button downs (aka OCBDs): I realize that not everyone likes OCBDs and they can be too American for some. However, I’m unapologetic in my love for them and find they go really well with a range of casual ensembles – from being worn underneath sport coats or sweaters, or just alone with a pair of chinos, corduroys, or wool trousers. If your tastes run even more American than mine, you can add another OCBD in a solid pink or light blue Bengal stripe. White OCBDs can also look pretty good with a pair of jeans. 

Two solid white shirts: These can be worn during the evenings, with suits, or just when you’re feeling fancy. I’ve found that light blue is much more wearable than white, but it’s good to have a couple of these on hand. I recommend getting them in either a basic poplin or twill fabric. You can also get them with French cuffs, if you’d like.

Five solid light blue shirts: It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a solid light blue shirt. The color complements any complexion and can be successfully paired with almost any suit, sport coat, or tie (the exception is maybe a light blue jacket, but who owns those?). You can get these in a plain poplin weave, but I find end-on-end and a dressy chambray to be much more interesting. They have a crisscrossing of blue and white yarns that make them look more appealing, but aren’t so busy that they force the shirt into casualwear. 

Two shirts in a mix of pin and dress stripes (either one of each or two of one): Striped shirts are really useful if most of your tailored jackets are in solid colors. They help add a bit of visual interest and keep your patterned tie from looking too lonely. For what it’s worth, I find the wider-spaced dress stripes to be easier to wear than more densely striped ones, and light blue to be easier to wear than dark blue (reason being that it’s easier to wear things with tonal variation, so dark jackets go well with light blue shirts and dark- or medium-toned ties, rather than a mix of darks in all three). Darker blue dress stripes can be nice, however, if you want a bit more variation in your wardrobe and don’t wear ties often. Brown pinstripes are also a good choice. 

Three shirts in a mix of Bengal and candy stripes: Same logic as the pin and dress stripes, but just in a bolder pattern. Mix your pin and dress stripes with boldly patterned ties, and your Bengal and candy stripes with subtle ones. By varying the scale of the two patterns, you ensure that your shirt and tie will never compete for attention. Light blues are again great, but if you want darker blues, I find they’re easier to wear here, for some reason, than in pin or dress stripes. 

Four casual weekend shirts: Finally, some casual shirts for the weekend. Depending on how hot or cold your climate gets, I recommend getting these in seasonal fabrics. For spring/ summer, you can go with madras, linen, or voile. Those will be very airy and breathable, making them nice for hot, humid days. For fall/ winter, you can swap these out for brushed cottons, wool/ cotton blends, and heavy twills. I find that graph checks and tattersalls also look good underneath tweed sport coats, and can be worn alone with a pair of corduroy trousers and a sweater.

This gives you a total of nineteen shirts for each season. Fifteen for the workweek, and four for the weekend. That should be enough to get you through two weeks before laundry day, with enough extra so that you’re not in danger of being shirtless if you go a few days past or stain something during a particularly good meal.

And that’s my version of a basic shirt wardrobe.

A Popover for Summer
The spate of hot weather recently had me thinking about what kind of shirts I might like to get this summer. High on the list are popovers. A popover is a woven shirt with a placket that only goes partially down the chest. I suspect they’re a holdover from when sport shirts weren’t all made with coat fronts (an early version of such a design can be seen here). They’re less common now, but I think they can look quite good on men with slim stomachs. They’re more relaxed than a traditional shirt, but more dressed up than a polo shirt, and this in-between-ness makes them just right for when you want to look smart on casual days.
I bought this one from Gant two years ago, but sadly the cut didn’t work out for me, so now I’m on the market for another. The nicest one I’ve seen is by Isaia, which is pictured above. My friend Agyesh, who actually took the image shown, works for Isaia and tells me that the brand still makes these. They should be available at Saks Fifth Avenue (especially the one in New York City), but if not, any store that offers Isaia’s made-to-measure program will be able to custom make one for you. You can get the model above, or one with a button-down collar and mitered placket. 
In addition, Sid Mashburn has some very handsome ones with a deep, long placket. Epaulet, New England Shirt Company, and Wharf also look promising. 
For something a bit more fashion forward, there’s a small selection at Need Supply, and a few designs by Engineered Garments this season at French Garment Cleaners and Oi Polloi. Steven Alan happens to have one of them on sale, which you can knock another 15% off by signing up for their newsletter. For something a bit more workwear-ish, check out Thoroughstitch and Levis Vintage Clothing.
All the aforementioned companies make really nice shirts, but they can be a bit expensive. If you want something more affordable, and don’t mind short-sleeves, J Crew has a bunch on sale right now. You can take 30% off the listed price by punching in the code SUMMER at checkout.
And finally, for people who need a special size, there are a number of options for custom. In addition to the Isaia you see above, Individualized Shirts and Mercer & Sons have made-to-order programs. They’re not exactly made-to-measure, meaning you can’t get things made to your exact measurements, but you can choose from different cuts and patterns to get the shirt you need (for Individualized, you’ll have to go to their factory, however). Luxire also makes them through an online made-to-measure service, and I can recommend my shirtmaker Ascot Chang for bespoke. Ascot Chang is actually running a promotion right now where you can get one shirt free for every six you order. Granted, they’re not cheap – so buying six at a time is pretty expensive – but they do fantastic work and offer tremendous value at their price point. You can visit them at one of their stores, or catch them on their US tour this month. 
(Photo credit: Mad House, Inc)

A Popover for Summer

The spate of hot weather recently had me thinking about what kind of shirts I might like to get this summer. High on the list are popovers. A popover is a woven shirt with a placket that only goes partially down the chest. I suspect they’re a holdover from when sport shirts weren’t all made with coat fronts (an early version of such a design can be seen here). They’re less common now, but I think they can look quite good on men with slim stomachs. They’re more relaxed than a traditional shirt, but more dressed up than a polo shirt, and this in-between-ness makes them just right for when you want to look smart on casual days.

I bought this one from Gant two years ago, but sadly the cut didn’t work out for me, so now I’m on the market for another. The nicest one I’ve seen is by Isaia, which is pictured above. My friend Agyesh, who actually took the image shown, works for Isaia and tells me that the brand still makes these. They should be available at Saks Fifth Avenue (especially the one in New York City), but if not, any store that offers Isaia’s made-to-measure program will be able to custom make one for you. You can get the model above, or one with a button-down collar and mitered placket. 

In addition, Sid Mashburn has some very handsome ones with a deep, long placket. EpauletNew England Shirt Company, and Wharf also look promising. 

For something a bit more fashion forward, there’s a small selection at Need Supply, and a few designs by Engineered Garments this season at French Garment Cleaners and Oi PolloiSteven Alan happens to have one of them on sale, which you can knock another 15% off by signing up for their newsletter. For something a bit more workwear-ish, check out Thoroughstitch and Levis Vintage Clothing.

All the aforementioned companies make really nice shirts, but they can be a bit expensive. If you want something more affordable, and don’t mind short-sleeves, J Crew has a bunch on sale right now. You can take 30% off the listed price by punching in the code SUMMER at checkout.

And finally, for people who need a special size, there are a number of options for custom. In addition to the Isaia you see above, Individualized Shirts and Mercer & Sons have made-to-order programs. They’re not exactly made-to-measure, meaning you can’t get things made to your exact measurements, but you can choose from different cuts and patterns to get the shirt you need (for Individualized, you’ll have to go to their factory, however). Luxire also makes them through an online made-to-measure service, and I can recommend my shirtmaker Ascot Chang for bespoke. Ascot Chang is actually running a promotion right now where you can get one shirt free for every six you order. Granted, they’re not cheap – so buying six at a time is pretty expensive – but they do fantastic work and offer tremendous value at their price point. You can visit them at one of their stores, or catch them on their US tour this month. 

(Photo credit: Mad House, Inc)

A Simple Summer Look
I love this Apparel Arts illustration. I found it last year on an online men’s clothing forum, and put it in my head to try to find similar pieces. Unfortunately, by the time I did, summer had already passed. This year, however, I’ll be wearing this on more than a few occasions once the weather gets hot (though, I’ll probably leave the ascot and pipe to more dashing men).
The great thing about this is how stylish it looks with just a few simple pieces. To get something like this for yourself, consider this long-sleeved polo from Kent Wang. Though not technically the same as what you see above, I think long sleeves rolled up look better than short ones. I also find that long sleeved polos have the advantage of being able to do double duty underneath sport coats. They show the bit of requisite shirt cuff underneath the jacket sleeve, and ensure that no bare wrists will be exposed when you move your arms. If you want something sportier, however, Kent has a number of short sleeve options as well.
The upside to Kent’s polos is that they have a few “button up shirt details” that make them look a bit smarter than your average tennis shirt. The collar band, for example, is reinforced, so the collar doesn’t flop down and lay flat against your shoulder (like you’d see on most polos). The downside, however, is that they fit very slim and the sleeves can be a bit tight. Kent has measurements posted though, and he accepts returns.
For other options, Jesse has recommended Lands’ End. I also really like this new polo at The Armoury, which I believe was made for them by Ascot Chang. To order one, you’ll have to call or email their store (expect the price to be higher than either Kent’s or Lands’ End).
Tan trousers are harder to find. For mine, I bought a pair of flannel ones from Howard Yount, but they’re sold out now and won’t be restocking until fall. Flannel has a bit of richness and mottling that’ll help keep this from looking like a Best Buy employee uniform. You can find something similar at the moment at O’Connell’s and J Press, the second of which is having a sale right now. And though they’re not tan, these Pantas look fantastic. Their prices aren’t cheap, but their pants are some of the highest quality you’ll find in the ready-to-wear market.  
Finally, for the creped-soled shoes, consider some of the options I mentioned a few weeks ago. I think pair of sueded, dark brown chukkas with rubber crepe soles here would look great.

A Simple Summer Look

I love this Apparel Arts illustration. I found it last year on an online men’s clothing forum, and put it in my head to try to find similar pieces. Unfortunately, by the time I did, summer had already passed. This year, however, I’ll be wearing this on more than a few occasions once the weather gets hot (though, I’ll probably leave the ascot and pipe to more dashing men).

The great thing about this is how stylish it looks with just a few simple pieces. To get something like this for yourself, consider this long-sleeved polo from Kent Wang. Though not technically the same as what you see above, I think long sleeves rolled up look better than short ones. I also find that long sleeved polos have the advantage of being able to do double duty underneath sport coats. They show the bit of requisite shirt cuff underneath the jacket sleeve, and ensure that no bare wrists will be exposed when you move your arms. If you want something sportier, however, Kent has a number of short sleeve options as well.

The upside to Kent’s polos is that they have a few “button up shirt details” that make them look a bit smarter than your average tennis shirt. The collar band, for example, is reinforced, so the collar doesn’t flop down and lay flat against your shoulder (like you’d see on most polos). The downside, however, is that they fit very slim and the sleeves can be a bit tight. Kent has measurements posted though, and he accepts returns.

For other options, Jesse has recommended Lands’ End. I also really like this new polo at The Armoury, which I believe was made for them by Ascot Chang. To order one, you’ll have to call or email their store (expect the price to be higher than either Kent’s or Lands’ End).

Tan trousers are harder to find. For mine, I bought a pair of flannel ones from Howard Yount, but they’re sold out now and won’t be restocking until fall. Flannel has a bit of richness and mottling that’ll help keep this from looking like a Best Buy employee uniform. You can find something similar at the moment at O’Connell’s and J Press, the second of which is having a sale right now. And though they’re not tan, these Pantas look fantastic. Their prices aren’t cheap, but their pants are some of the highest quality you’ll find in the ready-to-wear market.  

Finally, for the creped-soled shoes, consider some of the options I mentioned a few weeks ago. I think pair of sueded, dark brown chukkas with rubber crepe soles here would look great.

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part VI: Our Recommendations
After reviewing so many companies, we thought it’d be useful to say which we recommend the most. Obviously much depends on your taste, build, and budget. The great thing about having such a varied market, however, is that there’s almost something for everyone. 
If you want something traditional, I recommend either Mercer & Sons or O’Connell’s. Mercer & Sons has a great oxford cloth that’s a bit more variegated in color and nubby in texture than the standard stuff you’d find at Brooks Brothers or J. Press. They also have a fully sized, unlined collar that gives the kind of wrinkly, carefree roll that enthusiasts find so charming. The only problem is that Mercer & Sons’ shirts fit very, very full, so you if you use them, you may have to turn to their made-to-order service. That’s where you can size the body down two and taper it further by two or four inches. To find out if this might work for you, email Mercer and ask for their shirt measurements.
The other exceptional option is O’Connell’s, who has one of the best button down collars I’ve seen. Ethan there tells me that they’re also working on a new model based on mid-century Brooks Brothers designs. That should be released sometime by the end of this year, and we’ll be certain to announce it when it does.
For something slim fitting, I really like Kamakura. They make two fits – a regular cut and a slim fit. I suspect the slim fit is just the regular cut, but with darts in the back. Admittedly, darts look a bit strange to me on an OCBD, but the body of the shirt still fits fairly well, so long as you have a slim stomach. Either way, both the regular and slim fits have great looking collars. See it worn here at Ivy Style.
You may also want to consider Brooks Brothers’ slim and extra-slim fits once they go on sale. I like Kamakura’s shirts better, but on the downside, they never go on sale. Brooks Brothers’ oxfords, on the other hand, regularly get discounted to about $50 a pop.
Conversely, if money is no object, you can check out Harry Stedman, who makes a pretty nice design from a hodgepodge of classic American details. Just note that they fit pretty slim, so if you’re a regular 36, you may want to opt for a 38 or simply a size small.  
If you want something dressy, try Ledbury. Theirs isn’t a conventional OCBD like the others we’ve covered here. The fabric is a smoother Thomas Mason cloth that’s somewhat reminiscent of Royal Oxford, and the shirt doesn’t have details such as box pleats or chest pockets. All in all, it’s just a dressier looking shirt, which can be good depending on what you’re going for. 
For something affordable, I like Land’s End’s tailored fit oxfords. Their fabric feels better than what Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas offers, and the fit isn’t as trendy. Though, depending on your style, Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas’ slimmer fits and shorter collars might work better for you. Either way, be sure to wait for sales. Lands’ End oxfords can be had for about $30 or $35, while Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas will often be sold for about $20.
Finally, if you want to get something custom made, I can recommend Cottonwork and Ascot Chang from personal experience. Cottonwork, as I’ve noted, does online made to measure, while Ascot Chang does full bespoke. The second tends to have an advantage in terms of executing an ideal fit, but the first will be considerably more affordable. Both do good work, however. You may also want to look into other custom shirtmakers, such as CEGO, Geneva, Anto, Dege & Skinner, and many others. Check StyleForum for recommendations, and perhaps acquaint yourself with the process of buying custom shirts through these posts I wrote last year. 

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part VI: Our Recommendations

After reviewing so many companies, we thought it’d be useful to say which we recommend the most. Obviously much depends on your taste, build, and budget. The great thing about having such a varied market, however, is that there’s almost something for everyone. 

If you want something traditional, I recommend either Mercer & Sons or O’Connell’s. Mercer & Sons has a great oxford cloth that’s a bit more variegated in color and nubby in texture than the standard stuff you’d find at Brooks Brothers or J. Press. They also have a fully sized, unlined collar that gives the kind of wrinkly, carefree roll that enthusiasts find so charming. The only problem is that Mercer & Sons’ shirts fit very, very full, so you if you use them, you may have to turn to their made-to-order service. That’s where you can size the body down two and taper it further by two or four inches. To find out if this might work for you, email Mercer and ask for their shirt measurements.

The other exceptional option is O’Connell’s, who has one of the best button down collars I’ve seen. Ethan there tells me that they’re also working on a new model based on mid-century Brooks Brothers designs. That should be released sometime by the end of this year, and we’ll be certain to announce it when it does.

For something slim fitting, I really like Kamakura. They make two fits – a regular cut and a slim fit. I suspect the slim fit is just the regular cut, but with darts in the back. Admittedly, darts look a bit strange to me on an OCBD, but the body of the shirt still fits fairly well, so long as you have a slim stomach. Either way, both the regular and slim fits have great looking collars. See it worn here at Ivy Style.

You may also want to consider Brooks Brothers’ slim and extra-slim fits once they go on sale. I like Kamakura’s shirts better, but on the downside, they never go on sale. Brooks Brothers’ oxfords, on the other hand, regularly get discounted to about $50 a pop.

Conversely, if money is no object, you can check out Harry Stedman, who makes a pretty nice design from a hodgepodge of classic American details. Just note that they fit pretty slim, so if you’re a regular 36, you may want to opt for a 38 or simply a size small.  

If you want something dressy, try Ledbury. Theirs isn’t a conventional OCBD like the others we’ve covered here. The fabric is a smoother Thomas Mason cloth that’s somewhat reminiscent of Royal Oxford, and the shirt doesn’t have details such as box pleats or chest pockets. All in all, it’s just a dressier looking shirt, which can be good depending on what you’re going for. 

For something affordable, I like Land’s End’s tailored fit oxfords. Their fabric feels better than what Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas offers, and the fit isn’t as trendy. Though, depending on your style, Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas’ slimmer fits and shorter collars might work better for you. Either way, be sure to wait for sales. Lands’ End oxfords can be had for about $30 or $35, while Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas will often be sold for about $20.

Finally, if you want to get something custom made, I can recommend Cottonwork and Ascot Chang from personal experience. Cottonwork, as I’ve noted, does online made to measure, while Ascot Chang does full bespoke. The second tends to have an advantage in terms of executing an ideal fit, but the first will be considerably more affordable. Both do good work, however. You may also want to look into other custom shirtmakers, such as CEGO, Geneva, Anto, Dege & Skinner, and many others. Check StyleForum for recommendations, and perhaps acquaint yourself with the process of buying custom shirts through these posts I wrote last year

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part V: The Reviews

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part VI: Reviews and Conclusion

Our series on oxford cloth button downs started with a short history of America’s most beloved shirt design, and then covered two sets of reviews for contemporary makers. Today, we finish our series with a final set of reviews, which naturally will include the company that invented them: Brooks Brothers.

Brooks Brothers

image

image

Size: Traditional Fit: 15 x 32; Slim Fit: 15.5 x 32

Retail price: $79.50

Features: Curved chest pocket; box pleat, seven-button front; slightly off centered cuff button; no gauntlet button at the sleeve; lightly lined unfused collar

Measurements: Traditional Fit: Chest 23.5”; Waist 22”; Shoulders 17.75”; Length 32”; Collar tip 8.5cm. Slim Fit: Chest 22”; Waist 20.75; Shoulders 18”; Length 31.25”; Collar tip 8.5cm

Impressions: 125 years or so after they invented them, Brooks Brothers still makes some of the better OCBDs around. The fabric they use is nice, hefty, and nubby, and fairly comparable to what you’d find at some of the other traditional clothiers (such as O’Connell’s and J. Press). The collar tips are also long enough to yield a roll, and the body comes in three different cuts: traditional, slim, and extra-slim.

Unfortunately, the Brooks Brothers store near me ran out of extra-slim fit oxfords, and they didn’t have any slim fits in the same size as traditional. So, I picked up a traditional in size 15 and a slim in size 15.5. This doesn’t make comparisons very easy, but even with the half size up, you can see the slim fit is considerably smaller than traditional.

It’s been a long time since I’ve tried on Brooks Brothers’ extra slim fit, but from memory, I thought it was too tight on my thin frame. The problem with clothing this slim is that they can make heavy men look heavier than they are, and thin men look thinner than they are. If you’re considering the extra slim fit for the first time, at least give the regular slim fit cut a shot. It may be more flattering. And if you have more traditional taste, consider the traditional cut, which fits something like this.

 

Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece

image

image

Size: BB1

Retail price: $195

Features: Curved chest pocket; box pleat, seven-button front; split yoke; fabric loop at the top of the yoke; side gussets at the hem; lightly lined unfused collar

Measurements: Chest 20.5”; Waist 19”; Shoulders 18”; Length 30”; Collar tip 8.5cm.

Impressions: A $195 off-the-rack shirt is hard to swallow, especially when you consider that good bespoke shirts can be had for around the same price. Still, Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece collection (which designed by Thom Browne) has a number of really nice oxford cloth button downs. The collar is a bit nicer than Brooks Brothers’ mainline shirts, and the body is slim, but still fairly classic fitting. These might be a good buy if you can find them on discount.

 

Cottonwork and Ascot Chang

image

image

Size: Custom

Retail Price: ~$75 and up for Cottonwork; ~$180-200 and up for Ascot Chang

Features: Variable, as these will be custom shirts

Impressions: You can get custom shirts from any number of places, and every one should be able to make you a custom oxford cloth button down. The two I have experience with are Cottonwork (who’s one of our advertisers) and Ascot Chang (who’s my main shirtmaker).

Cottonwork is an online made-to-measure operation while Ascot Chang is full bespoke. As is the nature of these things, there are different advantages to each. If you can find a highly skilled, local tailor that can make you a bespoke shirt, you have the advantage of being able to see and feel fabrics before placing an order. Then, after you receive your shirt, you can have the tailor access the fit in person and decide whether or not any changes need to be made. However, good bespoke shirts are expensive (rarely less than $175/ shirt in the United States) and not everyone will have access to a good tailor in their area. If bespoke isn’t an option, consider online made-to-measure. They’re cheaper, and if you’re willing to do a few orders and play around with adjustments, you can dial in on something pretty good. Of the six or seven online made-to-measure shirt makers I’ve tried, Cottonwork was easily the best – in construction, fabric quality, and fit.

Cottonwork and Ascot Chang can make you a custom collar, but they do have their defaults. Oversimplified, Cottonwork differs in that it has longer collar points – 9cm as opposed to Ascot Chang’s 7.5cm. If you go with Ascot Chang, I’d recommend asking for something a bit more traditionally sized. Or, if you have a collar you like, you can send it to either company and have it copied.

Q & Answer: How Do I Eliminate the Blousing on a Shirt?
Gary writes: I just got a new job and am having to wear dress shirts for the first time. I went out this weekend and tried a bunch on, but all of them seem to blouse and billow over the top of my pants. Is there any way to fix this, or do I just have to keep searching for the perfect shirt?
Ready-to-wear clothing rarely fits perfectly off the rack. Remember, garments are made with an imaginary person in mind, usually someone that’s an “average” of the demographic the company is trying to target. You’re unlikely to be that exact average, so some alterations will likely be necessary.
The less you alter a garment, however, the better. So the first step is to find a shirt that fits as well as possible. After you find one and purchase it, take it to the tailors to have the sides slimmed down. This will take out most of the billowing, but be sure to not go too slim. You want to be able to sit down and have a full meal, after all.
If you’d like, you can also have darts put in. These will help reduce the fullness in the lower back. They’re good for most men, but if you stand with a bit of a hunch, note that they’ll accentuate your less than ideal posture (as they’ll create a bit of an S curve from your side profile). You can get them put into one shirt and see how you like the effect. They can be taken out afterwards if you don’t like them, but on many cotton shirts, this will leave some faint lines where the darts used to be. The job of taking in the sides and putting in darts should probably run you something like $15.
If you find that you still have some blousing even after alterations, you can try the military tuck. That’s when you tuck your shirt in straight, but then pinch the sides and pull them back to reduce fullness. You can see a simple guide on how to do it here.
A good alterations tailor and military tuck will solve most of the billowing, but if you’re striving for perfection, you’ll likely need to go custom. I’ve written a seven-part series on custom shirts, which you can read here.
This is one area where I find bespoke makers to be a bit better than most made-to-measure services. With a good bespoke tailor, you’re getting a custom pattern drafted from scratch. With made-to-measure, the company is usually altering an existing pattern through some computer program. The first, from my experience, allows you to more easily account things that might not be easily captured by simple measurements. For example, my tailor (Ascot Chang) lowered the waist point on my first pattern, so that narrowest part of the shirt aligned with the narrowest point of my torso. This allowed the shirt to better transition as it moved down to my hips, thus distributing the fullness perfectly when my shirt is tucked (like this). That kind of adjustment is often not possible through made-to-measure, and isn’t something an alterations tailor can do for you. 
Bespoke shirts are expensive, however. If you don’t mind the cost, I think they’re worth it. For most men though, a $15 alterations job and military tuck will deliver most of what they need. 
(Photo via GQ)

Q & Answer: How Do I Eliminate the Blousing on a Shirt?

Gary writes: I just got a new job and am having to wear dress shirts for the first time. I went out this weekend and tried a bunch on, but all of them seem to blouse and billow over the top of my pants. Is there any way to fix this, or do I just have to keep searching for the perfect shirt?

Ready-to-wear clothing rarely fits perfectly off the rack. Remember, garments are made with an imaginary person in mind, usually someone that’s an “average” of the demographic the company is trying to target. You’re unlikely to be that exact average, so some alterations will likely be necessary.

The less you alter a garment, however, the better. So the first step is to find a shirt that fits as well as possible. After you find one and purchase it, take it to the tailors to have the sides slimmed down. This will take out most of the billowing, but be sure to not go too slim. You want to be able to sit down and have a full meal, after all.

If you’d like, you can also have darts put in. These will help reduce the fullness in the lower back. They’re good for most men, but if you stand with a bit of a hunch, note that they’ll accentuate your less than ideal posture (as they’ll create a bit of an S curve from your side profile). You can get them put into one shirt and see how you like the effect. They can be taken out afterwards if you don’t like them, but on many cotton shirts, this will leave some faint lines where the darts used to be. The job of taking in the sides and putting in darts should probably run you something like $15.

If you find that you still have some blousing even after alterations, you can try the military tuck. That’s when you tuck your shirt in straight, but then pinch the sides and pull them back to reduce fullness. You can see a simple guide on how to do it here.

A good alterations tailor and military tuck will solve most of the billowing, but if you’re striving for perfection, you’ll likely need to go custom. I’ve written a seven-part series on custom shirts, which you can read here.

This is one area where I find bespoke makers to be a bit better than most made-to-measure services. With a good bespoke tailor, you’re getting a custom pattern drafted from scratch. With made-to-measure, the company is usually altering an existing pattern through some computer program. The first, from my experience, allows you to more easily account things that might not be easily captured by simple measurements. For example, my tailor (Ascot Chang) lowered the waist point on my first pattern, so that narrowest part of the shirt aligned with the narrowest point of my torso. This allowed the shirt to better transition as it moved down to my hips, thus distributing the fullness perfectly when my shirt is tucked (like this). That kind of adjustment is often not possible through made-to-measure, and isn’t something an alterations tailor can do for you. 

Bespoke shirts are expensive, however. If you don’t mind the cost, I think they’re worth it. For most men though, a $15 alterations job and military tuck will deliver most of what they need. 

(Photo via GQ)

The Beauty of a Soft Collar

I assume my friend The RJcat might find them to be a bit affected, but I really like soft collars. Ones worn without collar stays and allowed to give some natural expression. I think they look a bit more carefree and comfortable, and those to me are the bedrocks of good style.

A soft collar requires two things. First, there needs to be enough cloth. Many collars these days are skimpy and can’t carry a good necktie. If you wear them with one, the collar’s points will lift up off the shirt and make you look like you’re being choked. Even without a tie, a short, stubby collar can look awkward, almost like it’s apologizing for its own existence. A more traditional design will have longer points, which in turn will give you more material to express some character.

The second requirement is a soft interlining. A man’s shirt collar is traditionally made with three pieces of material – the two cotton fabrics that make up either side of the collar and an interlining sandwiched in between. This interlining is typically steam pressed into place so that it’s essentially glued to the cloth. If the interlining is stiff, the collar will look rigid; if it’s soft, it will roll, curl, or otherwise do whatever it will naturally do.

Note that some shirts are made with unfused collars, which means the interlining won’t be glued to the shirt fabric. If you rub the collar between your fingers, you can feel the fabric slide across the interlining sitting in between. These types of collars will express their own character (one that Mr. Tony Chang of Ascot Chang, my preferred shirtmaker, described in my interview with him). However, this matter is technically a separate issue from whether the interlining itself is soft.

A stiff collar has its own merits, of course. It will look a bit sharper and more “at attention.” In a truly professional setting, I suppose these are the only way to go. For myself, however, I mostly wear soft collars with fusible interlinings most days of the week, and every once in a while, something unfused. On a well-made shirt, such collars will express themselves like the ones above. Only if I need to look more professional will I straighten them out with collar stays, and that’s the part that The RJcat would probably disapprove

(Photos taken from Ethan Desu, Voxsartoria, and The Sartorialist)