Yes, the Oxford button-down. OBD to its friends. Of such iconic importance in the American style lexicon that I almost fear for expressing my opinions on the subject, such might be the rage they would invoke.
But I jest. I love the Oxford. I just have some experience about the collar that I wish to pass on to anyone out there considering bespeaking one.
I am about to have my fourth bespoke Oxford button-down shirt made. For those that are unfamiliar with this style of shirt, it is made with an Oxford cloth, originally woven in that city in England and featuring a thicker weave that, while not necessarily more open is heavier in texture and thus more casual than a standard poplin.
This fourth shirt follows three rather frustrating attempts to get the design right. The first essay can be dismissed easily: for some unknown reason I went with French, or double cuffs. An element of formality entirely inappropriate on a casual shirt. I don’t know what I was thinking.
The second failed because of the maker, whose name I won’t bore you with, but who managed to construct a shirt that was devoid of any consistent fit. The upper arms were extremely tight. Yet the (now single) cuffs were oversized and had to be squashed into some jackets. It was a tailoring marvel, in some ways, such was the distortion of proportion.
As the shirt was made in Italy while I was there, and I didn’t fully comprehend the errors at the time, I couldn’t have it altered. I don’t think the sleeves could have been widened anyway. But it did teach me some valuable lessons on observing fit all over the shirt – even in areas you would assume to be very standard.
Now the third, the third was a heartbreaker. A wonderful shirtmaker, though again I won’t reveal the name, he made a beautiful shirt in many ways. Rouched sleeves where they attached to the cuffs. Fine, single-stitched seams. Unfused collars that, despite their lack of fusing, did not curl at the corners. Lovely shirts. But the collar wouldn’t stay up straight. Despite being rooted on either side to a button on the body, the collar refused to sit up either side of the neck (when unbuttoned) but sank rather sheepishly beneath the jacket collar. Most frustrating.
One shirtmaker told me in an interview recently that she had found the placket was key to keeping the collar erect. While it was fashionable to have a clean front to the shirt, a placket gave greater stability to the shirt and propped up the collar. I’m not convinced. After all, of the two sides to the collar it is always the one without the placket (the right, from the wearer’s point of view) that collapses more. The placket won’t help there.
So, fingers crossed for number four. It’s from Turnbull & Asser and my four bespoke shirts so far from there have been pleasingly sharp in the collar. Though they have all been spread collars, so the OBD test has yet to be performed.
My pattern at Turnbull & Asser features a distinctly higher collar than I am used to, though it makes perfect sense for me given that I have a rather long neck. As this means the collar on my OBD will also be longer and stand up further from the jacket, it could solve the collapsing collar conundrum.