Actor Jason Mantzoukas is one of the funniest guys I know, and he’s also a big Put This On supporter - he even appeared in one of our episodes. That’s only part of why I so enjoy the Tumblr Jason Mantzoukas Wearing A White Oxford Shirt And Blue Jeans.
Packing for a One-Week Trip to the UK
I’m headed to the UK later today to do a few comedy shows. Folks are always emailing for examples on how to pack a decent wardrobe, so I thought I’d share what I’m bringing. All of this fits comfortably a carry-on bag (or on my back), along with socks, underwear, a dopp kit and a couple of soft white t-shirts to sleep in.
I’ll be casually dressed in the UK, and while the weather’s pleasantly warm in London at the moment, it’s still a bit cool and damp at night; in my other destination, Edinburgh, it’s actually a bit cold. I won’t be doing laundry on this trip.
All the pieces above go together and can be switched out for each other or layered, and the shoes are comfortable for walking. Those, along with “fits in luggage” are my main criteria when packing for a trip.
I’m bringing a leather A-1 jacket and a workwear-ish cotton blazer. The leather’s fine in actual cold, especially layered, and the blazer I can wear whenever it’s not actually hot hot.
I brought two t-shirts and five oxfords. I love oxfords for travel because they look great right out of my suitcase - slightly rumpled is their natural state. The t-shirts will be great if there are particularly warm days.
I brought two pairs of jeans, though I often bring only one, simply because I had the room. I also brought a pair of khakis for warmer days or days when I want to look a bit more put-together.
I ended up bringing two pairs of sneakers on the trip. It’s always a good idea to have backup shoes in case of soaking or blisters or what-have-you, and canvas sneakers aren’t too heavy. If it weren’t summer, I’d likely bring a pair of boots and a pair of sneakers.
I grabbed an Ebbets Field Flannels 8-panel cap, which is soft and packs easily, along with a favorite gray sweatshirt (for layering) and a white silk scarf that will keep me warm on the way to my 11PM gig in Edinburgh. Hopefully.
Shopping Kamakura Shirts, New York
After reading Derek’s thorough oxford cloth button down (OCBD) shirt series and some background on Japan’s Kamakura Shirts over at Ivy Style, I ordered a Kamakura OCBD in university stripe from their recently opened e-shop with great expectations. The shirt I ordered was well made but a little slimmer than I prefer, and I determined I’d have to visit their retail location before ordering more, so I could better assess the fabrics, cuts, and sizing in their purported throwback Ivy glory.
I was not let down when I finally got to Kamakura this week. Kamakura’s New York shop occupies an unassuming storefront at 400 Madison Avenue, a block north of J. Press’s flagship, with Paul Stuart a little further south. Those are beautiful spaces, with some of the finest American classic menswear on display, but right now I’d prefer to buy my shirts at Kamakura.
Shirt Design and Construction
If you aren’t familiar with the history of the American oxford cloth button down, I recommend Derek’s introduction. Like Derek, I wear button-down collars almost exclusively. Straight and spread collars I reserve for the occasions for which I must wear black shoes like weddings and job interviews. In his OCBD series of reviews, Derek concluded that several shirtmakers produce excellent button-down collars with the sought-after “roll,” but that Kamakura is the top choice for the right collar, a more modern fit, and a reasonable price. Most Kamakura shirts sell for $79; Mercer and O’Connell’s OCBDs are over $100, and Brooks Brothers non-non-iron, American-made OCBD is $95 (Brooks shirts are regularly available at a discount).
The workmanship on Kamakura’s shirts is quite good—stitching is even and clean, and seams finished well. Collars are cotton lined but not fused (lining and fusing help a collar keep a consistent shape, but make a collar stiffer; not the goal on OCBDs). The shirts are made in Japan, while similar shirts from Brooks, Mercer, and O’Connell’s are made in the United States. Kamakura’s standard fabrics are mostly 100% cotton, often Xinjiang cotton, a long-staple variety grown in China that has a reputation for softness. Some shirts use Italian or American cottons and are labeled accordingly. The standard Kamakura oxford fabric seems to have a little less heft than beefy American OCBDs. All shirts use trocas/takase shell buttons, which look better than the plastic buttons on mass market shirts but are not as thick or iridescent as true mother-of-pearl. The basic OCBDs hit the right notes for Ivy-influenced shirts, although they omit some arguably traditional details like a third button at the back of the collar, a locker loop, or a flapped chest pocket. As a rule, Kamakura makes well-built, straightforward shirts.
Shirt Cuts and Sizing
Kamakura cuts both traditional and slim shirts, and the biggest barrier for new customers will be getting the right cut and size. For dress shirts, there are four cuts. In order from fullest cut to trimmest: New York Classic, Tokyo Classic, New York Slim, and Tokyo Slim. The New York Classic is a traditional, full-cut shirt; the Tokyo Classic a little trimmer, and the slim versions are darted and hence slimmer still. Darts are not a traditional OCBD detail, but they effectively reduce billowing fabric at the waist. Shirttails on all cuts are long and intended to be tucked in to pants, so these are not ideal substitutes for short, ultra-casual OCBDs like those from Band of Outsiders or Gitman Vintage.
It’s great to have different cut options, and the shop offers try-on shirts, but Kamakura’s shirts are not clearly individually labeled according to cut. The help of a sales associate is recommended—on my visit, the two associates working were attentive and knowledgeable. The marked sizing can also be confusing to Americans. The tagged sizes are neck/sleeve measurements in centimeters and they don’t translate evenly to inches, which is one reason the e-shop’s style guide can be confusing (thirds of inches?). In addition, the sport shirts are sized S, M, L, and LL (i.e., XL), but the cuts vary greatly. Some of the issues with cuts and sizing can be chalked up to the ongoing process of expanding a well-established Japanese brand to a single location in the United States. The e-shop is adjusting some size notations.
Although the exemplary OCBD is the centerpiece of Kamakura’s shop, other items are worth considering. I purchased a button-down collar shirt in a knit pique cotton fabric that’s also available as a spread collar model. Shirts in 100% linen would have turned my head were fall not already on my mind. Ties are generally in the prep tradition of stripes, solids, and silk knits (made variously in Japan, Italy, or Germany), and fairly priced at $69. Silk or linen Italy-made pocket squares with hand-rolled edges are $30. Kamakura also makes shirts and shirt dresses for women.
Right now, web orders ship from Japan, and customers in Japan have access to a wider range of goods, including pants and a small selection of jackets. The Madison Avenue store plans to launch a made-to-measure shirt service in August, pricing shirts at $180 regardless of fabric choice. But the off-the-rack shirts are reason enough for a visit. In my opinion, once you determine your preferred cut and size (and if you dig shirts in the prep/Ivy/trad style), Kamakura is the best bang for the buck (collar for the dollar?) out there right now.
Dating Brooks Brothers Shirts
I was cleaning up my very cluttered computer desktop yesterday when I came across a bunch of files I used for our Oxford Cloth Button Down Shirt series. Before I delete everything, I thought I’d post these photos, in case some of our readers might be interested in knowing how to date vintage Brooks Brothers shirts.
These are garment labels from the vintage shirts I borrowed from our friends at O’Connell’s, An Affordable Wardrobe, and Typhoid Jones. I snapped these pictures and then sent them to Brooks Brothers’ media relations department, asking if they could help me date them. The process took a while – I assume because they had to search for someone who was familiar enough with the company’s history – but after a month or two, they submitted the following images back, with the dates you see above.
Note, these dates are a bit iffy. The two blue oxford shirts you see at the end (dated 1999 and 2001) are from O’Connell’s. Ethan there tells me that he’s absolutely certain that the shirts are from the early 1990s, as that’s when they last stocked those shirts at their store. I assume he’s right, especially since the garment label for 1992 seems to be the same as the one marked for 1999. Not sure why Brooks Brothers dated those two the way they did, but the possibility of those being a mistake made me doubt how reliable the other dates were. For what it’s worth, however, the pre-1940s tag is almost certain to be reliable, as that was the detachable collar shirt and my contact at Brooks Brothers had no information about these shirts’ styles. The 1949 tag is also probably correct since that was the only oxford cloth button down without a chest pocket (a detail they added sometime in the 1950s or so).
In any case, as iffy as these may be, here’s Brooks Brothers’ submission on how to date their shirts. This might be a potentially useful guide for folks who go thrifting often.
Kamakura Opens Its Online Shop
Kamakura just opened their online shop. Of the slim-fitting oxford cloth button down shirts I reviewed in our series, I thought Kamakura’s was the best one. Timothy Kojima - a sales associate at the company’s store in NYC (currently their only location in the US) - tells me that the shirt they sent me was one of their New York Slim Fits. You can get a sense of the cut by checking out the measurements in my reviews.
Kamakura seems to have two general models: a Tokyo model and a New York model, both of which come in a classic and slim fit. The Tokyo model, as I understand it, fits slimmer in the torso and shorter in the arms. That means a Tokyo Classic Fit will be slimmer in the body than a New York Classic Fit. However, Timothy tells me that the Tokyo Classic Fit will still be fuller than a New York Slim Fit.
For more information about Kamakura, you can read this post at Ivy Style.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
We continue today with four more reviews of oxford cloth button downs. Again, basic features and measurements are given, so you can more objectively compare these shirts against each other. You can check part III of this series for our first set of reviews.
Size: 15 x 32
Retail price: $49
Features: Curved chest pocket; split yoke; seven-button front; box pleat at the back with a locker loop; collar made with a lightweight floating interlining
Measurements: Chest 20.75”; Waist 19”; Shoulders 18.25”; Length 32”; Collar tip 6.75cm
Impressions: Lands’ End’s clothes are often described on the menswear blogosphere as very full fitting and needing a lot of alterations. That hasn’t been my experience. At least for their “tailored fits,” I’ve found that their shirts and pants fit pretty slim. They’re not as slim as fashion-forward brands, but when you compare them to classic silhouettes, they’re decidedly slim nonetheless.
Their tailored fit oxfords are no different. The body measurements compare well to yesterday’s slim fitting Kamakura, but here the armholes are a bit bigger. The collar tips are also shorter – too short to produce any roll, unfortunately, even when the collar is worn without a necktie. Additionally, while the oxford cloth they use is quite soft, it’s a bit flat and boring in its color, and less nubby in texture. If Lands’ End produced something with a more traditionally sized collar and used a fabric with more contrasting weft and warp yarns (to produce a bit more visual depth), I’d be a bigger fan. Still, $49 isn’t bad as a price, and aside from the bigger armholes, the body itself fits pretty well. Something to consider if you’re on a budget and don’t plan to wear this with a tie.
Retail price: $125
Features: No chest pocket; seven-button front; slightly lowered second button on the placket; side pleats on the back; off-centered button on the sleeve cuff; collar made with a lightweight fused interlining
Measurements: Chest 21”; Waist 20.25”; Shoulders 18”; Length 31.5”; Collar tip 7.5cm
Impressions: Our advertiser Ledbury also makes an OCBD, but theirs is a much different animal than the others we’re reviewing. To start, they’re using an oxford cloth from Thomas Mason. It has a very slight, almost imperceptible sheen, and feels much dressier than other oxfords. It somewhat reminds me of Royal Oxford, which is an oxford cloth you commonly see in Italy, but Ledbury’s is more subdued. Their design also doesn’t have a chest pocket at the front or box pleat at the back. All in all, it just feels like a much dressier oxford cloth button down. If you want something dressier and a touch more modern, Ledbury would be a good option. The one they sent me is in the classic fit, but they have a slimmer fitting version as well.
Size: Blue sized small; green sized 36
Retail price: £100-£124 for non-EU customers (~$150-189)
Features: On the blue, there’s a six-button front; box pleat and locker loop at the back; button at the back of the collar; no sleeve gauntlet buttons, and no chest pocket. On the green, there’s a seven-button front; box pleat with no locker loop at the back; button at the back of the collar; a flapped chest pocket at the front; and no sleeve gauntlet buttons.
Measurements: On the blue: Chest 20.25”; Waist 18.25”; Shoulders 17.5”; Length 30”; Collar tip 7.5cm. On the green: Chest 20”; Waist 18.25”; Shoulders 16.5”; Length 30”; Collar tip 7.5cm
Impressions: UK-based Harry Stedman sent me two of their oxfords to review. The green oxford is sized by chest, and fits slimmer than the alpha sized blue oxford. Both fit very slim, however.
Each shirt has a hodgepodge of classic American details – flapped chest pockets (J. Press), locker loops (Gant), and yes, even a fully unlined collars (Brooks Brothers). I favor unlined collars – as they can be more carefree and comfortable – but Harry Stedman’s is perhaps a bit too short to take advantage of their construction. Unlike Mercer & Son’s, who has a much fuller collar, Harry Stedman’s collar leafs measure 7.5cm. It’s enough to produce a bit of a roll, but is still perhaps best worn without a tie.
I do wish these had more traditional proportions and came sized by collar and sleeve, but if you want a more fashion forward shirt, and have the money to spend, Harry Stedman’s would be something to consider.
Retail price: $30
Features: Curved chest pocket; seven-button front; collar constructed with a lightweight floating interlining
Measurements: Chest 20.25”; Waist 18.25”; Shoulders 17”; Length 29”; Collar tip 6.5cm
Impressions: Uniqlo’s OCBD has the hallmarks of fast fashion. The fabric isn’t that great, the stitching is a bit rough, and the silhouette is very trendy. The shirt hugs close to the body (so much so that it feels like second skin) and it’s too short to properly tuck. The collar is also the shortest we’ve come across, so when you button it down, you get something closer to this instead of this.
Still, it’s $30, and currently on sale for $20. If you’re a student, on a tight budget, and are around people who wear trendier clothes, this could be the right buy for the time being. The shirt is difficult to tuck in and the collar is too skimpy to wear with a tie, but you may be unlikely to do either anyway. If these seem right or you, consider Lands’ End Canvas. A few years ago, those used to be discounted to ~$17 on clearance, which is about how much I think they’re worth, but I’m unsure if that’s still the case.
On Monday, we’ll review our last set of shirts, which of course will include Brooks Brothers’ contemporary line.
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.
“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before.” -The Great Gatsby
My original interest in doing this series was to track down “Golden Era” Brooks Brothers OCBDs and see how one of the most classic American clothing designs has evolved over the last hundred years or so. Finding old Brooks shirts hasn’t been easy, however. Brooks Brothers, at least to my knowledge, doesn’t have a clothing archive like Levis or Gant, so I’ve had to track down deadstocks and vintage pieces owned by collectors and enthusiasts. I found mine through Ethan at O’Connell’s, Mariano at Typhoid Jones, and Giuseppe at An Affordable Wardrobe. What they sent me collectively represents about 75 years of Brooks’ OCBD history, which has rarely been seen together before.
To understand why the OCBD became popular, you only need to know what men used to wear before it was invented. Here we see one of Brooks Brothers’ detachable collar shirts and accompanying collars from the early 20th century. The shirt is made from cotton, but the collar is made from linen, cardboard, and various composite materials. It’s difficult to tell from a photograph, but the collar is very, very stiff (you can kind of infer this from the fact that it’s standing up so straight on my table). In the hand, it feels something like thick, heavy cardstock.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, men wore detachable collar shirts because clothing was still handmade and very expensive, so they wanted to preserve their shirts for as long as possible. Since most men wore undershirts, the parts of the dress shirt that would get worn down the most were the parts that came in contact with the skin – that is, the collars and cuffs. Having these detachable not only meant they could be more easily laundered and ironed, but also that they could be replaced without having to buy an entirely new shirt. Sometimes women of a household would make these collars, but you can tell this one was store bought because of the stamping inside.
The high, stiff collar, however, was very uncomfortable, as you can imagine. So when Brooks introduced a ready-made, soft collar shirt, it was instantly popular. The earliest versions were something like a long-sleeved pullover shirt, as you see here.
These were, after all, originally meant to be sport shirts, so they were more casual in nature. Eventually however, Brooks introduced a five button “coat style” shirt, and then later replaced it with a six-button. A “coat style” is what we’re most familiar with today – the full front of the body opens up like a coat, and then is secured again with buttons.
This is an example of a six button coat-style OCBD, which dates back to 1949. Two things to note: the absence of a chest pocket and the presence of a side gusset at the hem. All of the early versions of Brooks’ shirts – OCBD or not – seem to be like this, but as we’ll soon see, a pocket was later added and the gusset was taken out.
Next is a pink candy-striped OCBD from the 1960s. This piece arrived to me in near tatters. The right side seam, for example, is busted and frayed, and the collar is so worn down that the back is falling apart. On the upside, because of how the collar has broken down, you can see that there’s no interlining inside. If you were to cut open almost any OCBD today, you’d see a strip of fabric inside the collar used to make it more “behaved.” Brooks does this nowadays as well, but the originals were unlined and incredibly soft. The lack of interlining also meant a “messier” looking collar. Terrible for the modern man who wants control in every aspect of life, but great for people who understand why mid-century OCBDs looked so charming and carefree.
On this 1960s specimen we also see the introduction of a curved chest pocket, which remained on future OCBD designs from this period on forward. The hem is also uniquely curved, though that seems to vacillate with time.
A yellow candy-striped OCBD from the 1980s is nearly identical, save for the more angled curve at the hem.
Finally, we arrive at the 1990s, when an additional button was added, to help keep the front from gaping when the collar naturally shrunk over time. This is design has more or less remained the same till today.
From photos alone, it would seem that the original OCBD has largely remained unchanged, save maybe for the transformation of the pullover to a coat-style shirt, the addition of a chest pocket, and the slow addition of buttons from five to six and then eventually to seven.
This is partly true, as many things that have been retained. Obviously, there’s still the iconic button down collar, with two buttons to secure the collar tips, which originated when polo players needed some way of keeping collar points from flapping into their faces. Just below the short of the yoke (which always seemed to measure about one and a half inches on a 15.5 size shirt), there’s always the beginning of a box pleat (with no locker loop) that ran down the middle of the back. This would go all the way to the waist, where the pleat would then expand into the fullness of the shirt tail. There’s also always a fold over placket at the front, to help keep the button line straight, pleated sleeves (as opposed to shirred) with no gauntlet buttons, and a uniquely off-centered cuff button (though this style seems to be slightly mitigated on later shirts).
The off-center cuff button is a stylistic holdover from when men who would write with quill pens. Since they didn’t want to get ink on their shirts, they’d fold back the cuff on their Brooks Brothers sleeves just a bit, which a slightly higher, off-center button design allowed.
However, a lot has also changed. At the heart of it, sometime either in the 1990s or shortly after, Brooks added an unfused interlining to their collar. This made them slightly heavier and more “behaved.” The collar leafs didn’t wrinkle as much or change with the wearer’s position, and the collar towards the back didn’t rumple from the bulk of the tie underneath. The cut of the collar itself has also been modified over the years. In a February 1926 issue of Men’s Wear, one author described a sized 15.5 Brooks OCBD as having:
"[C]ollar points measure three and one-half inches in length, buttons placed three quarters of an inch from the tips and three and one quarter inches apart. At the top of the collar is a half inch space to permit the high set of a cravat knot. […] For the neckband, there is simply an additional inner and outer strip of the fabric. This band measures one and one-half inches in back and one inch in front, although the double thickness of the collar extends up another quarter of an inch all around."
This may seem like absurd accounting, but the author was trying to, in his words, give “some measurements and features that make this shirt more than just a shirt.” Undoubtedly, it was talking about how the collar rolled and looked when buttoned down.
These measurements have largely remained the same, except with some minor adjustments. In the 1940s through the 80s, for example, the collar tip buttons were set about a half inch further apart. And today, we have them set back to their original 1929 style, but the collar tips have shrunk about a quarter of an inch. These all don’t sound like much, but when the total measurements themselves are one to three inches, such changes really affect how the collar looks.
Not to be wistful about days gone by, but there is something uniquely special about these “Golden Era” oxfords. Their particular proportions and collar constructions seem to give them an enviable roll – something like two angel wings - when the collar points are secured. They were particularly comfortable and carefree, but still allowed the wearer to look educated, well-mannered, and professional. It’s a bit hard to tell that just from photographs of shirts hung on hangers, but it’s rather evident whenever you see a photograph of someone wearing a Brooks button down during the early- to mid-century.
Brooks Brothers’ oxfords cloth button downs were, and continue to be, a hallmark of classic American style. When they were introduced, they revolutionized how men dressed. Not only because of their uniquely soft and comfortable collars, but also because they were the first ready-made, attached collar shirts. They also signaled the beginning of a uniquely casual American style of dress, one that Brooks would pioneer for the next seventy-five to eighty years. In the history of men’s clothing, there’s perhaps never been a shirt that’s been so beloved by so many for so long.