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

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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

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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

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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.

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part IV: The Reviews

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. 

Lands’ End Tailored Fit Hyde Park Oxford

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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.

Ledbury’s Classic Fit Blue Oxford

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Size: 15

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.

Harry Stedman

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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.

Uniqlo’s Slim Fit Long Sleeved Oxford

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Size: Small

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.

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part III: The Reviews

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.

Mercer & Sons

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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.  

O’Connell’s Heavyweight Oxford

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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.

J. Press

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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.

Gitman Gold’s Cambridge Oxford

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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. 

Kamakura

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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. 

That Enviable Roll

Our reviews of modern oxford cloth button down shirts will come later this week, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share these great photos I found in some old posts at Heavy Tweed Jacket. They were originally taken from 1978 and 1981 issues of Men’s Club (a Japanese men’s style magazine) and feature various New York City businessmen sporting a classic American style of dress. Notice the handsome rolls on the button down collars. These kinds of expressions are a bit rare to see nowadays since many manufacturers make shirts with shorter collar points, resulting in something like this.  

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part II: The “Golden Era” Oxfords

“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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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A yellow candy-striped OCBD from the 1980s is nearly identical, save for the more angled curve at the hem.


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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.


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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). 


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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. 

* Special thanks to Ethan, Mariano, and Giuseppe for their kindness in lending me these shirts for so long, and to Kelly at Brooks Brothers for helping me date them. 

The Oxford Cloth Button Down Shirt Series, Part I

If I could only wear one shirt style for the rest of my life, it would be, without a doubt, the oxford cloth button down (or as it’s also known to style enthusiasts, the OCBD). The OCBD is perhaps our country’s greatest sartorial contribution. As the story goes, it has its beginnings in 1896, when Brooks Brothers' John E. Brooks (who was the grandson to the founder Henry Sands Brooks) saw polo players in England wearing shirts with two buttons at the front to secure their collar tips. This prevented their collars from flapping into their face while they were playing. Men had many ways of securing collars at this time of course – collar pins, wire contraptions, and heavy starch, for example – but this was the most practical for sporting purposes.

John E. Brooks was quite enamored with the invention, so he sent a sample back to his main store in New York City with instructions to have the collar copied exactly, down to every last measurement. In 1900, the company put the new collar style on their ready-made sport shirts. These were called “polo shirts” for their polo-inspired collars. Not too long after, the polo collar was put on white cotton cheviots (also known in the trade as “oxford”) and the American OCBD was born. 

The shirt was almost an instant classic. By 1915, it was a fashion staple for men at almost every East Coast college, and by mid-century, it spread West. Bob Newhart named his first record album after them. Politicians wore them while kissing babies. Style icons Paul Newman, Miles Davis, and Gianni Agnelli were all regularly seen in them. They became something of a symbol of all that was good: casualness, youth, education, trustworthiness, dependability, sport, and professionalism. They were something a man could wear in the country or city, in sport or business, on weekdays or weekends. 

Unfortunately, the OCBD has been modernized, and a lot of what enthusiasts found charming about the original version has mostly been strangled out. At the heart of this transformation is the collar. The original collars had long points and were made without any interlining. This resulted in a very unique, soft roll that would change depending on the wearer’s position, movement, and even the way he happened to tie his tie that day. It was asymmetrical, wrinkly, and frankly even a bit messy looking. But therein lies the charm. These days, most button-down collars are lined (some heavily) so they look more “controlled” and “perfected.” Many also have shorter collar points. Some are so short that there’s no roll at all when the tips are buttoned; the points just lay flat against the body, like a regular point collar with two buttons sticking out. The death knell, I think, was the introduction of the non-iron oxford cloth, which lacks any of the individual expression, casual ease, and lived-in look that made the original oxford charming. The combined effect of all these things is shirts that look a bit lifeless. As one of my favorite blogs, Heavy Tweed Jacket, once wrote of them, “one might say that contemporary shirts […] are almost too well-made.”

Indeed, few people make the original OCBD like they used to, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great options still worth buying. And the OCBD is still one of the most versatile shirts one can own. It’s something you can wear underneath rustic tweeds, navy blazers, softly tailored suits, or fuzzy sweaters. You can even just wear it alone with a pair of trousers and some loafers. A blue semi-spread collar shirt is arguably just as useful, but I’ve never worn one that has brought a smile to my face like a good OCBD. There’s just something about that collar roll and traditional American spirit.

So as an ode to my favorite shirt, I thought I’d do a series of posts on OCBDs. A few friends have generously lent me their vintage Brooks Brothers shirts, which I’ll take pictures of and describe, so people can see how the “genuine articles” have evolved over time. I’ll also do a quick review of something around ten or so different OCBDs, at every price point, so people can figure out who they can turn to in case they haven’t yet settled on a favorite maker.

Get ready for some OCBD adulation. 

One of my favorite blogs, Heavy Tweed Jacket, has a habit of long hiatuses wherein he takes down his content completely. Luckily, he’s back, posting pictures of Secretary of State Dean Atcheson in three-piece tweed suits. Which is tremendous.

One of my favorite blogs, Heavy Tweed Jacket, has a habit of long hiatuses wherein he takes down his content completely. Luckily, he’s back, posting pictures of Secretary of State Dean Atcheson in three-piece tweed suits. Which is tremendous.

Q and Answer: Can I Wear a Tie and a Button-Down Collar?
Matthew asks: I’ll often wear a knit tie with a button-down collar.  I figure, a casual tie for a casual shirt.  But I can’t find much of a consensus on wearing other ties with one.  What are your thoughts on the particulars of ties with button-down shirts?
Here’s the short answer: yes, you can wear a tie with a button-down collar.
The longer answer, as it always does, has a bit more complication.
The button-down collar is a particularly American style. The oxford-cloth button-down is so beloved that in menswear circles it’s become known simply as the OCBD. The collar, originally invented for sport, has become the definitive shirt style for both casual and more formal dress in the United States. Just because it’s a genuine icon, though, doesn’t make it appropriate for every situation.
There is, of course, a heirarchy of formality in shirts. Speaking generally, double cuffs are more formal than single cuffs. Collars grow more formal as their spread widens. Fabrics with harder finishes are more formal than those with softer finishes. Button-down oxfords are the most informal of all. Still, we live in an era where half of the covers of GQ magazine feature men wearing skinny ties with plaid sport shirts, so there’s still plenty of room for the tie-and-button-down combination.
If you live outside the United States, wearing a tie with a button-down collar may be affectedly American, or even inappropriate. I certainly wouldn’t do it if I worked at a London financial services company, for example. Of course, I wouldn’t likely wear a button-down collar much if I lived outside the United States, so it simply wouldn’t come up.
Inside the United States, I think your instincts are absolutely correct. I tend to wear a button-down casually. They pair well with sportcoats, especially casual, texture-y ones, and they look great with knit ties and bows. In fact, I generally prefer button-down collars with both of those tie styles.
The more American your aesthetic, the further you can push this - if you buy all your clothes at J. Press and wear nothing but sack suits, like George H.W. Bush, you can wear a button-down in almost any situation. If you’re of the Anglophilic persuasion, or tend to wear Italian styles, they’re not particularly suitable, even with a blazer or loud checked coat.
If you want to wear a button-down collar with a suit, you’re entering dangerous territory. Above is a famous photograph of Cary Grant in a button-down and suit. It’s a picture that often comes up when people argue about the subject of whether the two are an acceptable pairing. Cary Grant looks great, so as a general rule, I’d say that if you’re Cary Grant, you can wear a button-down with a suit. I’ll also make an exception for the kind of dyed-in-the-wool trads who have sworn a blood oath against suit darts and dress every day like they were going to a meeting at the Dean’s Office at Harvard in 1964. And heck, while I’m at it, I’ll make an exception for the most casual of suits - corduroy.
For all us normals, though, it’s almost never a good move. The best case scenario is that you’ll make it to the level of the inoffensive dress of an insurance conference attendee from Dubuque. The worst case scenario is that you’ll fall short, and end up at the offensive dress of an insurance conference attendee from Dubuque. It’s really not worth the risk.

Q and Answer: Can I Wear a Tie and a Button-Down Collar?

Matthew asks: I’ll often wear a knit tie with a button-down collar.  I figure, a casual tie for a casual shirt.  But I can’t find much of a consensus on wearing other ties with one.  What are your thoughts on the particulars of ties with button-down shirts?

Here’s the short answer: yes, you can wear a tie with a button-down collar.

The longer answer, as it always does, has a bit more complication.

The button-down collar is a particularly American style. The oxford-cloth button-down is so beloved that in menswear circles it’s become known simply as the OCBD. The collar, originally invented for sport, has become the definitive shirt style for both casual and more formal dress in the United States. Just because it’s a genuine icon, though, doesn’t make it appropriate for every situation.

There is, of course, a heirarchy of formality in shirts. Speaking generally, double cuffs are more formal than single cuffs. Collars grow more formal as their spread widens. Fabrics with harder finishes are more formal than those with softer finishes. Button-down oxfords are the most informal of all. Still, we live in an era where half of the covers of GQ magazine feature men wearing skinny ties with plaid sport shirts, so there’s still plenty of room for the tie-and-button-down combination.

If you live outside the United States, wearing a tie with a button-down collar may be affectedly American, or even inappropriate. I certainly wouldn’t do it if I worked at a London financial services company, for example. Of course, I wouldn’t likely wear a button-down collar much if I lived outside the United States, so it simply wouldn’t come up.

Inside the United States, I think your instincts are absolutely correct. I tend to wear a button-down casually. They pair well with sportcoats, especially casual, texture-y ones, and they look great with knit ties and bows. In fact, I generally prefer button-down collars with both of those tie styles.

The more American your aesthetic, the further you can push this - if you buy all your clothes at J. Press and wear nothing but sack suits, like George H.W. Bush, you can wear a button-down in almost any situation. If you’re of the Anglophilic persuasion, or tend to wear Italian styles, they’re not particularly suitable, even with a blazer or loud checked coat.

If you want to wear a button-down collar with a suit, you’re entering dangerous territory. Above is a famous photograph of Cary Grant in a button-down and suit. It’s a picture that often comes up when people argue about the subject of whether the two are an acceptable pairing. Cary Grant looks great, so as a general rule, I’d say that if you’re Cary Grant, you can wear a button-down with a suit. I’ll also make an exception for the kind of dyed-in-the-wool trads who have sworn a blood oath against suit darts and dress every day like they were going to a meeting at the Dean’s Office at Harvard in 1964. And heck, while I’m at it, I’ll make an exception for the most casual of suits - corduroy.

For all us normals, though, it’s almost never a good move. The best case scenario is that you’ll make it to the level of the inoffensive dress of an insurance conference attendee from Dubuque. The worst case scenario is that you’ll fall short, and end up at the offensive dress of an insurance conference attendee from Dubuque. It’s really not worth the risk.

Q and Answer: The Blue Oxford Cloth Button-Down Shirt
Nik writes: On the menswear blogs I follow, I always see the blue Oxford button-down  as the go-to shirt for any occasion, the “only shirt you’ll ever need”.  However, I rarely see a button-down worn in a business setting, with a  suit and tie, here in Europe. Do I suffer from selective vision or is it  an inherently American style (since almost all of the men’s style blogs  hail from the States)?
You’re seeing two factors at work, here. The oxford cloth button-down (referred to colloquially by style nerds as the “OCBD”) is indeed an inherently American shirt. It’s also a shirt that isn’t often suitable for business wear.
The OCBD is probably the greatest American contribution to menswear. The shirt features a soft button-down collar and cotton in a durable, richly textured oxford weave. Colored oxfords often combine colored thread with white, creating the soft colors seen above. Oxfords were pioneered by Brooks Brothers at the turn of the 20th century, and they’ve been the classic American casual shirt ever since. Brooks still calls the oxford the “polo” shirt, because the button-down collar was originally seen on polo players. It’s an incredibly versatile shirt, and looks great in a wide variety of contexts.
Its popularity here in the US means that you will often see it paired with a suit. This can be pulled off, especially with a casual suit - say cotton or tweed. It pairs very well with sportcoats and bow ties. It’s mostly worn in a business context, though, by people who just don’t know any better. (There are exceptions: Yankee types steeped in “trad” style might pull it off in a conservative business context.)
In Europe, you might see a button-down collar on a more high-collared Italianate shirt, but the classic OCBD is a relative rarity. More typical is a variation of the traditional English shirt, with a stiffer, spread collar and fabric in a finer weave (a fine oxford is called a “royal oxford”) or a weave with a harder finish, like a poplin.

Q and Answer: The Blue Oxford Cloth Button-Down Shirt

Nik writes: On the menswear blogs I follow, I always see the blue Oxford button-down as the go-to shirt for any occasion, the “only shirt you’ll ever need”. However, I rarely see a button-down worn in a business setting, with a suit and tie, here in Europe. Do I suffer from selective vision or is it an inherently American style (since almost all of the men’s style blogs hail from the States)?

You’re seeing two factors at work, here. The oxford cloth button-down (referred to colloquially by style nerds as the “OCBD”) is indeed an inherently American shirt. It’s also a shirt that isn’t often suitable for business wear.

The OCBD is probably the greatest American contribution to menswear. The shirt features a soft button-down collar and cotton in a durable, richly textured oxford weave. Colored oxfords often combine colored thread with white, creating the soft colors seen above. Oxfords were pioneered by Brooks Brothers at the turn of the 20th century, and they’ve been the classic American casual shirt ever since. Brooks still calls the oxford the “polo” shirt, because the button-down collar was originally seen on polo players. It’s an incredibly versatile shirt, and looks great in a wide variety of contexts.

Its popularity here in the US means that you will often see it paired with a suit. This can be pulled off, especially with a casual suit - say cotton or tweed. It pairs very well with sportcoats and bow ties. It’s mostly worn in a business context, though, by people who just don’t know any better. (There are exceptions: Yankee types steeped in “trad” style might pull it off in a conservative business context.)

In Europe, you might see a button-down collar on a more high-collared Italianate shirt, but the classic OCBD is a relative rarity. More typical is a variation of the traditional English shirt, with a stiffer, spread collar and fabric in a finer weave (a fine oxford is called a “royal oxford”) or a weave with a harder finish, like a poplin.

Cable Car Clothiers, Summer 1983 (at Heavy Tweed Jacket)