One of several light blue cotton oxford cloth button-down collar shirts in my rotation, worn here with a wool flannel navy blazer and a vintage Italian silk necktie once sold under the Rooster label. An orange-brown with silvery paisleys, ideal for the autumn.
The other day, a regular visitor to Classic Style for the Average Guy left a comment in which he asked for information and my recommendations on the classic oxford cloth button-down shirt, commonly abbreviated to 'ocbd.' "Me? Are you tawkin' to me?" Oblique Robert DeNiro references aside, let's talk oxford cloth button-down shirts. This particular type of shirt is one of the bedrock items every man should have a few of hanging in his closet, especially when he wishes to present himself to the world in a way better -- yes, I said better -- than what has become the sad accepted average among so much of the male populace.
First things first though. Lots of people automatically associate this type of shirt with brands like Brooks Brothers, and while there is no argument that the company once sold THE ocbd shirt (and my father was a devotee), times, tastes, corporate focus, and marketing plans change, meaning that this picture might not be the same now as, say, back in 1960. There is some discussion in online menswear fora about the current focus of BB, and how the company is trying too hard to be too may different things to too many different people in 2015.
But back to shirts. While I have three or four shirts with the Brooks Brothers label in my closet, I do not possess any of their coveted ocbd numbers, so I am unable to comment on those specifically. Based on my experience with other brands though, here are my favorite oxford cloth button down shirts in no particular order.
Land's End 'Original' Oxford -- From BEFORE they began selling them as non-iron, wrinkle free items. Possibly available once in a while in thrift/charity stores or via Ebay. Sadly, the 'Original' Land's End ocbd shirt has not been available directly from the company for several years, which is a shame since this was a venerable item that they sold for quite some time. That Land's End seems to have lost its way as a company is open to discussion, but we'll stick to the point today and talk about the shirts. These 'Original' oxfords were very reasonably priced (US$19.99 in 2003 if memory serves), no-frills, sartorial workhorses, and luckily I had the foresight to order several back in '03-'04 when in my first teaching position after graduate school. All of these shirts are still in regular Monday-through Friday use now in late 2015, although I wish I had ordered two, or three more in light blue since these get the most wear by far. Live and learn as the saying goes.
Land's End Hyde Park Oxford -- More expensive, but still good value for your money at around US$49.99. These are heavy, comfortable in all but the hottest weather, and they hold a crease well. But you've got to iron them before wearing unless it's the weekend, or you simply plan on wearing a sweater or pullover on top of it. I have a few in light blue, white, and blue-white University Stripe plus a Tattersall pattern shirt all of which I look forward to wearing when the weather cools each September. This particular make and model of shirt is my #1 recommendation when its comes to quality off-the-rack ocbd shirts although available colors and patterns are very limited. That isn't necessarily a bad thing when combining a shirt with a jacket and odd pants ensemble or a suit ensemble along with a necktie and pocket square.
L.L. Bean Oxford -- This company too has fallen prey to redesigning, recasting, and/or rebranding most (or even all?) of its dress shirts as non-iron. Grrrr. . . They are still decent shirts though, and some readers might love them. I wouldn't go so far as to say that, but I own and routinely wear two or three in University Stripe patterns. Whatever chemicals the no-wrinkle cotton cloth is treated with keeps them from breathing as well as they would otherwise, so these don't work for warm late spring, high summer, or early fall wear. Moreover, all so called non-iron shirts need brief pressing with a warm iron before wear to look their best. You can get away in a pinch, though, with simply pulling them from the dryer, putting them on a hanger with the top three buttons fastened, and simply hang them in your wardrobe or closet until Monday morning. I've done so myself -- Yes. I know, I know. -- but prefer a pressed shirt (with a jacket and necktie) if/when I appear in the office or before a classroom of undergrads.
Mercer & Sons -- These are dear at US$125 per shirt, and I do not yet have one myself only because I already have too many other still serviceable shirts clogging the closet. But, Mercer & Sons shirts are on the radar screen, and when it comes time to replace a couple of my less favorite blue ocbd shirts, I will bite the bullet and spend the money on a couple of them, maybe one in blue, and one in a University Stripe. A white-faint light blue stripe pattern is always a nice addition to the wardrobe.
Polo Ralph Lauren Yarmouth Oxfords -- These are also nice, heavier, generously cut ocbd shirts that iron up well and hold their creases all day. I've picked up a few light blue ones in the last few years either via Ebay or at the ol' thrift/charity shop. I am not sure that Polo Ralph Lauren still offers this particular model, but these shirts do turn up on Ebay a lot (very cheap sometimes) and occasionally new on Amazon.com (for around US$98-$125, sometimes more). Quality and weight-wise, these feel similar to the Land's End Hyde Park Oxford mentioned above. I like the few I have in the shirt rotation although the collars can sometimes be a bit short and thus don't always have that coveted, gentle bell-shaped 'roll' to them. If you are after that old school, North Eastern trad/ivy/preppy look, this might give you pause, but I have found it's best not to get too dogmatic about tiny individual details and instead consider the entire picture you present when all garments, shoes, and accessories are combined. To put it another way, and as the characters might have intoned on the old tv program The Sopranos, put your clothes on and "Fugeddaboutit!"
I have also picked up a few other old light blue Polo Ralph Lauren ocbd shirts that I like in thrift/charity shops during the last few years as well as a couple of lighter weight Club Room shirts, the latter of which I am less fond. 30+ years ago, when I were but a mere a lad in my late teens, I had around one dozen or so of the former in various colors and striped patterns thanks to my parents and grandparents, who always supplied me with a few new shirts among other birthday and Christmas gifts each year. I still like these shirts, although the button-down collars don't always have as much of that bell-shaped 'roll' as this type of shirt should especially when worn with a necktie.
There is also a very heavy Bass light blue ocbd in my wardrobe currently (worn in the photograph above) that I picked up in a thrift/charity shop a year or so ago back in our old Central Illinois haunts. It fits very well under a sports jacket or blazer, with about 1/2" of linen showing at the ends of the jacket/blazer sleeves, despite being a 'Medium' rather than my usual precise 15"x33" dimensions. Just dumb luck here. I would suggest, however, that a man in the market for versatile dress shirts -- and yes, I am aware that the oxford cloth button down is not, strictly speaking, a 'dress shirt' given its casual sporting origins -- should stick to exact neck and sleeve dimensions to ensure the best fit and appearance with a suit, blazer, sports jacket, or simply tucked into a pair of jeans.
On a related sizing point, it's best to stick to traditional or moderate shirt cuts unless you are extremely thin, under 25, or both. Then, by all means, go for the 'trim cut' version of shirts that some companies offer their customers. But, if you are over 30, or carry some extra weight around the middle, just don't. Nothing looks odder than a man unmistakably well into adulthood, who nevertheless tries to force his body into clothes cut for guys built like the young Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, or George Harrison. . . half a century ago. All were thin, lanky guys way back when, who could get away with very trim cut clothing at the time. But this style looks slightly odd, at best, on those of us whose high school and college years have receded by a few decades in the rearview mirror of life. Know what I mean?
As far as colors, I'd stick to the classic mid- or light blue with maybe one in pink or white, and another couple of the so called University Stripe in white-light blue, white-pink, or perhaps white- green, or white-yellow patterns. These colors and combinations of color are surprisingly versatile and look great when worn with a tie and sports jacket/blazer and odd pants, or the classic American sack suit like the kind sold by J Press, Brooks Brothers, and Southwick. Oxford cloth button-down shirts also look great with jeans, corduroy pants, beneath a crew neck sweater, or even untucked with a pair of shorts during the warmer months. It's very hard to go wrong with these shirts, short of embroidering the name of your favorite hockey team across the back.
The more adventurous among you might also enjoy adding a Tattersall pattern ocbd shirt or two to your shirt rotation. These look fabulous with tweed jackets of various kinds kinds and are great for those more casual weekend affairs where you nevertheless want to appear pulled together. But be careful which neckties you might attempt to combine with a Tattersall shirt given the relatively busy nature of this particular pattern. I'd suggest solid color wool ties in darker colors here, so you don't stray into the dreaded used car salesman territory. Think dark blue, dark green, Bergundy, or perhaps a mid- to dark brown just to be on the safe side. When in doubt, err on the less busy, more conservative side of color and pattern combinations.
So, there we are. Those are my thoughts and suggestions for oxford cloth button-down shirts. It is an interesting topic as far as men's attire is concerned, and we could probably discuss and debate the subject all day, but this is the shortened version (yes, really). Hope it might help pave the way as you embark or continue upon your own sartorial roadtrip.
Update five days later. . .
Mea culpa! Ironing today's shirt post-supper yesterday evening, I found that I do, in fact, own two Brooks Brothers 'Makers' ocbd shirts in blue-white and red-white University Stripe patterns. Sadly, these too are the more recent non-iron variety, which is a shame, because otherwise, the shirts are very nice. They feature a generous, non-constricting cut, substantial oxford cloth material, and a nice collar roll. But as mentioned above in last week's post, the chemicals that are used to make the shirts 'non-iron' somehow, someway also inhibit the cotton material from breathing as well as it otherwise would. Why, oh why are so many shirt companies doing this to themselves and their (potential) customers?