Why the Oxford button-down shirt is an American icon – Robb Report
There is perhaps no acronym more studied – or scrutinized – in men’s fashion than “OCBD”. Short for ‘oxford cloth button’, it refers to the casual sports shirt that was first introduced by Brooks Brothers at the turn of the last century and has since spawned countless knockoffs.
According to legend, the shirt was born after Brooks Brothers chairman John Brooks attended a polo match in England and noticed that the long spikes of the players’ shirts were attached to the body to prevent them from beating. in the wind. Brooks had the shirt copied by his tailors and began selling it in the United States in 1900.
But it wasn’t just the buttoning that set the shirt apart – the collar was unlined and soft, a radical departure from the rigid, removable collars that reigned over the day. And the generously cut shirt was made from an oxford fabric, a basket weave that is less fine and more durable than other cotton fabrics.
In short, the OCBD was quite an American original. Its laid-back nonchalance made it a popular choice among Ivy League students, and campus stores quickly designed and sold their own versions: OCBD J. Press stood out with their iconic flap pocket, while Gant a introduces locker buckle and back collar button. The shirt also found favor with jazz musicians, with Miles Davis wearing an emerald green OCBD on the cover of his 1958 album. Milestones.
But at the end of the 20th century, the ancestor of the shirt seemed to have lost the thread. Following its acquisition by Marks & Spencer in 1988, Brooks Brothers gradually refined its most famous offering, introducing non-iron fabrics, tighter fits and a lined and fused collar. Among the shirt’s devotees, outrage ensued.
In response, a small cottage industry has grown around recreating the soft, unlined, fuseless OCBDs of yesteryear. Among the first was Mercer & Sons, which was established in 1982 and cuts its shirts in the style of the traditional Brooks Brothers cut. The quest continues today with younger brands like Junior’s, which introduced a made-to-order unlined OCBD in August, and Wythe, whose OCBD is inspired by Brooks Brothers shirts from the 50s and 60s and washed multiple times for a feel.
“I love the longer unlined collars, the locks and texture of the fabrics, and the overall ease with which they appear to be worn,” Wythe founder Peter Middleton said of his shirt inspiration. .. “All of the examples I have found over the years are so loved, and I wanted to make shirts that would feel loved and worn the same.”
In August, Rowing Blazers launched a bespoke shirt program with 11 oxford fabrics and a single collar option – an unlined button-down shirt that founder Jack Carlson says is “inspired by vintage Brooks Brothers long ago.” Back when they were made in the USA and the necklaces were in the right shape.
Although its MTO shirts are made in the country, Rowing Blazers has resisted the OCBD convention by adding Anglo features, including more elegant side pleats in place of the traditional box pleat. âIt’s less of the old American Orthodox school, but more flattering in my opinion,â Carlson continues. “This is also what Prince William would wear, so you can’t go wrong.”
Traditional OCBD makers also exist across the pond, including Drake’s and newcomer Jake’s. The latter was founded amidst the lockdown slump of 2020 by independent pantsmaker Jake Wigham, who prefers a traditional looser fit, which he says is “completely essential for what I would call good buttoning.” Wigham draws inspiration from a number of classic American brands such as Gant, Brooks Brothers and Troy Guild Shirtmakers, as well as vintage material.
“I wanted to create a shirt as faithful as possible to the classics”, says Wigham. Robb Report. âAuthenticity is key, so I take a lot of inspiration from archival images from campus directories and jazz musicians from the golden age. “
In 2016, Brooks Brothers reintroduced its OCBD, dubbed the Original Polo Button-Down Oxford, as a nationally-made model with a soft, unlined and unfused collar. However, the company’s bankruptcy in 2020 forced the closure of its shirt factory in North Carolina, cutting off the second shirt shortcut.
But at the end of September, Brooks Brothers reintroduced the Original Polo button-down Oxford shirt for the third time under the direction of Michael Bastian, the brand’s newly appointed creative director. To design this latest iteration, Bastian looked through company records to see what characteristics of the shirt remained consistent from the 1930s to the 1980s, before the company’s first acquisition.
âWhen you put them side by side, you realize that there are things that change and there are things that never change, and these are the things that we want to focus on,â says Bastian.
To that end, the new OCBD features an unfused, unlined collar and cuffs, along with a seven-button front, straight box pleat, and six-pleat gathers at the cuffs. Perhaps most drastically, Bastian has forsaken the company’s many cuts in favor of a single, generous fit that is reminiscent of the roomy original.
âHow did we come up with a Milano shirt when we are the most American brand in the world? Bastien said. “How did we come up with a SoHo cut when we don’t even have a store in SoHo?” “
The shirts, which are again made overseas, also ditched the size of the collars and arms and were streamlined to XS-XXL. However, Bastian reveals that customers will soon be able to order them in exact neck and sleeve sizes thanks to an upcoming domestic make-to-order program.
For now, traditionalists will be relieved to find a Brooks Brothers OCBD that looks more like it once was, or at least what they remember. As Bastian says, “It’s this shirt that people think they never change, when it actually always changes in little ways.” Perhaps this is the key to the lasting appeal of this nostalgic style: the more the OCBD changes, the more it stays the same.