For a while, Brooks Brothers used to advertise their oxford button downs as “The Most Imitated Shirt in the World.” And it’s true that there are few shirts, if any, that have been as widely copied. In that same 1926 Men’s Wear article I cited a few posts back, the author wrote about how he went a little “progressive” shop in Los Angeles and they had identical versions of Brooks Brothers’ shirt, copied stitch for stitch. When asked whether they had any left on post-holiday clearance, the clerk smiled and said: “Why those were all gone long ago. Scarcely any remained to put on sale. We get fresh shipments every month, and can scarcely keep them in stock.”
Such is the selling power of one of the most beloved shirts in classic American dress.
The shirt today is still widely copied, so much so that I don’t know how many men really associate it with Brooks Brothers anymore. Not that I necessarily think that’s a bad thing. The imitations are perhaps what make the oxford cloth button down (or OCBD for short) a living and genuine classic.
For the remainder of this series, I’ll give quick-and-dirty reviews of some thirteen or fourteen contemporary makers of OCBDs, so that readers who haven’t yet settled on a favorite can get a quick view of the landscape. Since fit is everything when it comes to clothing, I’ll post measurements of the samples I received. You can use them to compare who makes a slimmer or fuller model, but note that none of these shirts have been laundered (as they were not mine to keep), so there may be some shrinkage. The chest is measured from armpit to armpit, the shoulders from shoulder seam to shoulder seam (measured from the back of the shirt), and the length from the bottom of the collar band to the hem (also measured from the back of the shirt). The length of the collar tips is also included. The most important part of an OCBD is the collar, after all, and how well it rolls or moves is determined by many factors – the positioning of the buttons, the construction of the collar, and how long the collar tips are. I’ll talk about the first two and give measurements of the last.
Size: 15 x 32
Retail price: $112.50
Features: Curved chest pocket; fully unlined collar; sleeves made with an off center cuff button and no gauntlet button (like Brooks’ originals); 6-button front; box pleat at the back.
Measurements: Chest 24.75”; Waist 23”; Shoulders 18.5”; Length 32.5”; Collar tip: 9.25cm
Impressions: To the extent that there’s a shirt that closely resembles Brooks Brothers’ “Golden Age” oxfords, it would be Mercer’s. The collar is unlined and has long collar tips. The combination of these things produces a very handsome roll when the collar is worn with or without a tie. The cloth, in my opinion, is also much better than any other maker’s. It’s nubbier and there’s more variegation and depth in the color. The only problem is that it fits very, very full. Mercer however, allows you to do customizations fairly easily. You can size down two, such that a size 15 collar can go on a size 14 body. The waist can also be further reduced two or four inches if needed. This should dramatically reduce the fullness, but it will still be less slim than many of the more “fashionable” brands. Best to email Mercer and ask for specific measurements across their size range to see if doing a made-to-order can work for you. If you get something made-to-order, I may also suggest requesting a 7-button front, as this will help the shirt from gaping as the collar naturally shrinks over time.
Size: 15 x 32
Retail price: $110
Features: Curved chest pocket; lightly fused collar; box pleat at the back; 7-button front; split yoke.
Measurements: Chest 22.5”; Waist 21”; Shoulders 18.5”; Length 31”; Collar tip: 8.5cm
Impressions: Another one of my favorites. Again, the collar tips are long enough for there to be some expression, which is rarer and rarer to see nowadays from more fashionable companies. When worn, I think O’Connell’s has one of the better collars around. The fit is very traditional and classic, however. Not baggy, mind you, but classic in the real sense of the word. This is a great option for people who take the idea of classic style seriously.
Size: 15 x 32
Retail price: $98
Features: Flapped chest pocket; 7-button front; split yoke; box pleat at the back; collar made with a lightweight, fused interlining.
Measurements: Chest 22”; Waist 20.75”; Shoulders 18.5”; Length 31.5”; Collar tip: 8.5cm
Impressions: Just a tad slimmer than O’Connell’s. Fit is again very traditional and classic, and the collar points are long enough to produce a roll. This version is most distinguished by J. Press’ signature flapped chest pocket, which few other producers make.
Size: 15 x 32
Retail price: $135
Features: Curved chest pocket; split yoke; 7-button front; box pleat at the back; collar made with a medium weight fused interlining
Measurements: Chest 21.5”; Waist 20”; Shoulders 18.25”; Length 30”; Collar tip: 8cm
Impressions: Slightly slimmer than the aforementioned options. The collar is a bit too heavily lined for my taste, but it does look good when worn without a tie. The length of the shirt is also a bit short, which makes this harder to tuck if you’re tall. Note, Gitman has a wide line of shirts, and this is only one. You can may also want to check out Gitman Bros., Gitman Sport (blue label), and Gitman Vintage (green label). Their gold label line is Gitman Dress.
Size: 15 1/3 x 35 1/2
Retail price: $79
Features: Curved chest pocket; 7-button front; no pleats, but darted, back; off-center button cuff; collar made with a lightweight floating interlining.
Measurements: Chest 21”; Waist 19.5”; Shoulders 17.5”; Length 33”; Collar tip: 9cm
Impressions: I can see Kamakura become very, very popular soon. This fits on the slim side of classic. Not so slim that I’d feel uncomfortable recommending them, but they’re clearly made for someone with classic sensibilities in 2013. The collar is lightly lined, but the interlining is unfused, so you can get a little wrinkling when it’s worn. Nice touches for an OCBD, in my opinion, as wrinkles carry a casual, carefree, American charm. The collar buttons are also spread further apart, which bring the points closer to the lapels of a sport coat when both are worn. This is a great option for someone who likes how a traditional button down collar should look, but wants a slightly more modern fit in the body. Price is fairly affordable too. I would just recommend sizing up a little, as this size 15 1/3 shirt already fits somewhat tighter in the neck than the other options above (which were all sized 15)
Kamakura is currently available in-store in New York City, though you can call them to place orders. They’re also opening an online store within a month. Certainly a company to keep tabs on.
Check back tomorrow for more reviews.