When we think of an Oxford shirt a few words come to mind. Classic, versatile, comfortable, and easy. Oxford shirts are actually made out of oxford cloth; a thick and densely woven cotton which is highly resilient and hard-wearing. Oxford shirts can be worn with any type of collar from point to spread, but the most common is the button down collar, hence the name oxford cloth button down. In the menswear world this workhorse just goes by OCBD (not to be confused with OBGYN.) The OCBD originated in England with polo players using buttons to keep the collars of their shirts from flapping in the wind during the game. When the fashion made the jump across the pond Brooks Brothers became the dominate authority—and still are today—on the OCBD.
So why is the OCBD so important? It’s the quintessential American casual shirt. It can be dressed up and down—but only in America. Fred Astaire wore his with double breasted suits. However, most men don’t have the sartorial confidence of Mr. Astaire. Button downs are best worn in casual situations. Weekends, holiday dinners, football games, movie night with the wife or girlfriend.
The casualness of the shirt marries well with chinos, denim, flannels and cords and just as well with loafers, derbies, chukkas and sneakers. Worn under a cashmere or cotton v-neck sweater or a wool cardigan the OCBD is the perfect backdrop for a well-dressed–albeit casual—man.
While the OCBD hasn’t changed much over the last century, today it comes in many different colors, fits, and variations. From classic and roomy to runway slim. Long collar stance or short, solid, striped or patterned. The best OCBD’s have a generous collar roll, meaning the collar doesn’t lay flat like your standard dress shirt collar. The OCBD collar should have a life of its own. Worn with a tie or without the collar buttoned is the stand out of every dress shirt and it’s no different with the OCBD. The best OCBDs don’t need to be ironed. They are meant to be rumpled and roughed up. Save the iron for your cutaway collars and French cuffs.
The OCBD has been produced by every luxury, high street, designer label and by your local Wal-Mart, JCPenney, and Macy’s. It can be purchased for a week’s paycheck or with the change you find under the couch cushions. However, there is a thin line between getting a good deal and going for the cheapest thing out there. Most quality OCBDs that will fit, have a decent collar, and won’t disintegrate in two months will cost at least $20—after the sale/discount/clearance that is. Without going custom or made to measure (MTM) a quality OCBD can be had for around $40.
The OCBD has a permanent place in any man’s wardrobe and should be the cornerstone of his casual shirting wardrobe. Just don’t be afraid to wear it with a tie.