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The Essential OCBD: Oxford Cloth Button Down (With 10 Picks to Start)

The essential cotton shirt every man should own.

 

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.

About

Grant Harris is Owner & Chief Style Consultant at Image Granted; a Washington, DC based Image Consulting Company dedicated to solving the complex image, style & fashion issues of today's professional man. He has a healthy obsession with socks. Follow him on Twitter & Facebook.

 
  • Bob

    I’d like to throw in another recommendation, the Lands End New Hyde Park series of fabrics. It’s the OCBD as it’s supposed to be, thick heavy duty fabric and great collar roll.

  • Eric Henao

    What about FIT of the shirt? I’d say, that if the shirt isn’t fitted to your body well, it won’t matter what it is or how much/little you paid for it. It looks bad, you look bad.

  • Geoff

    “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.”

    So, am I allowed to wear this in Australia? I think I’ve seen very few OCBDs around these parts!

  • Grant

    @Eric – Thanks for your comment. Yes, fit is always king. Its the first “F” of the three F’s (Fit, Fabric, Function) that we preach. However, this article was aimed at the background, history and use of the OCBD rather than fit. While fit should always be considered we were delving into the style of the shirt. Unfortunately, we can’t cover every aspect in a single article–even though we try. Thanks for reading.

  • Grant

    @Geoff – Thanks for reading. Like we said the OCBD is quintessentially American. This doesn’t mean that men in other parts of the world can’t or shouldn’t wear them. We recommend them for most men. However, they are more common and accepted in America. For instance they are not worn very often with suits in England and hardly ever in Italy. In America it is totally acceptable. I’m not as well-versed on the style of Australia but I put money and my reputation on it that you could wear a causal OCBD in Australia and look just as good as anyone in America. Its all in the three F’s (Fit, Fabric,Function). If it fits, the cloth is right and it functions properly for your lifestyle, then it can be worn in any country successfully.

  • http://www.manshway.com Brock @ Manshway

    Grant – nice post. I’m from DC too (well, Maryland, but you know how it is around here). I just ordered an oxford from Blank Label…best OCBD I’ve ever worn!

    -Brock

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