Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Oxford Shirts

Photos by Salt Water New England

Oxford Shirts

Oxford shirts, Oxford Cloth Button Downs (OCBDs), are a classic style of shirt for men and women and a staple of many wardrobes.  A more formal shirt when new, they can be comfortably used in more casual settings when showing some wear.
White OCBDs are an essential wardrobe piece for men and women. (JD)

Sources of oxford shirts for men include:
White Brooks Brothers, Blue Mercer & Sons
Places to look for oxford shirts for women include:

Wearing Oxfords

- Iron vs. Non-Iron

Many avoid garments that have been treated with a Non-Iron finish.  While some swear by them for their crisp appearance, ease, and for the money they save on laundering, more note the edges wear prematurely, they do not breathe, many don't trust the chemicals, and they simply do not look "right".

Some opinions from earlier comments:
Untreated all the way. Cotton is supposed to wrinkle, the no iron finish makes the shirt or pants look plastic. Plus, the no iron garments tend not to be as comfortable as its regular cotton cousin. I'd rather be wrinkled and comfortable than shiny, smooth and tacky looking like I bought my shirt, tie and suit on one hanger, prematched for me at some factory. (Pedro)
There's quite a few non iron devotees in my office. The clothes, shirts especially, always stand out a mile. Very unnatural looking. (F Jack)
The misery is I can't find non-treated khakis or shirts (usually) at BB anymore. I loathe non-iron shirts and khakis, and gladly would pay to have the "real thing" laundered.  (Reggie Darling)
I made the mistake of buying a non iron oxford (ll bean) once and will never do it again. The collar and cuffs look too bulky, stiff, and artificial. The worst was trying to wear a sweater over it, the sweater didn't stand a chance against that massive stiff collar and stretched out in all sorts of unnatural directions. (HPG)
 A while back the New York Times had an article about allergies caused in the home and found that that chemicals like formaldehyde are used in the manufacturing processof wrinkle resistant clothes and as such give off fumes that can irritate persons who not only wear clothes but closets that store them as well. (John I)
I have worn both, but for the time being I strongly prefer un-treated shirts. Non-iron shirts are convenient but they are scratchier and worse looking.(Bantam in Chicago)
 The weird thing I've noticed about my non-iron BB shirts is that their cuffs get much, much dirtier than my 'must iron' shirts.(Patsy)
What kills me is Land's End's new catalogs lauding their supima no-iron shirt. When I saw it, I had to exclaim out loud, "Why would they make a shirt out of such exquisite cotton, then ruin it with a no-iron finish?!" (Marcus Smith)
The results of a poll on this site were as follows:


Exclusively with Non-Iron Finish
  37 (5%)
Mostly with Non-Iron Finish
  106 (15%)
Mostly Untreated
  168 (24%)
Exclusively Untreated
  363 (53%)

Votes: 674

- Should men wear oxford shirts untucked?


Some opinions from earlier comments:
If a shirt tail is curvy--longer in front and back than it is on the sides--it should be tucked in. Always. I think an untucked OCBD looks sloppy in any context outside lounging around the house. And they can be worn tucked successfully even in shorts at the beach. (Gary K.)
 There is also the issue of height. Men who are shorter than 5'10" should not wear OCBD's untucked under any circumstance. They just fall way to low. Taller men can pull them off, but only, say, at the beach. (Paul)
Wearing OCBD shirts untucked is an abomination. Along with men wearing tank top undershirts in public, backward baseball caps, tramp stamps, vinyl siding and flip flops; it's a further sign of the unraveling of our civilization. (Bernie, June 26, 2014)
No one cares if women wear their shirts untucked. Why the double standards? (nutrivore
Don't wear tails untucked for the same reason I don't chew gum. In prep school, both would get you detention on Saturday. (Beresford)

- Women wearing Men's shirts

It can be difficult for women to wear Men's shirts often for two reasons.  One is that Men's shirts are long and can thus look a tad odd if a woman is not on the taller side.   The other is that Men's shirts are not often forgiving enough through the hip area and thus to have a shirt fit comfortably around the hips one must size up which can then look bulky throughout the chest and shoulder area.   Full-cut classic Men's shirts can be an exception if you are tall enough.   The full cut should extend to the the hips (so you can order a smaller neck size for the upper body) and while they are usually long, some traditional tails are shaped in a way that is more flattering than most. 

Women can wear their oxford shirts out.

A Men's Mercer Pima Cotton Oxford Shirt on a 5' 8" Female

A 14 1/2 Neck and a 33 Inch Sleeve

Long, Uncut Tails


- Mercer & Sons

Mercer & Sons is a small company that makes shirts the old-fashioned way, offering traditional style and fit.
The best people to characterize Mercer Shirts are their very loyal customers, such as one did in a personal note.  He described how he had been "euphorically happy with Mercer shirts for years", and viewed these "real deal" shirts.

He loved the 100% cotton, with its thread count and non-non-iron feel.  He loved the pure, classic cut.

And there was one detail he loved most of all.  He wrote,
Something that only a true purist cares about is the collar roll, on the OCBD. Absolutely the best, IMO. Others have tried to take the shirt apart and copy the collar, but the roll that competitors come up with never approaches the perfect "bell shape" of the Mercer roll. 
Maybe the most compelling advantage of being a Mercer customer involves the fact when you call the 800 number, you talk to Dave Mercer, in person. He seems to know you personally after a short time, and will do whatever it takes to make you a satisfied customer. Could be the Maine heritage. 
He signed off, "Just one customer, with no interest in Mercer, with the exception that I hope that Dave and his wife Serena never decide to retire."

Along the way, this reader also described the shirts as being a great value.  He was not the first person to say this, which seems like a strange compliment for a shirt that is by most accounts not inexpensive.   This is because these last a very long time.  And for many people, the total cost per wearing will be significantly less than even much cheaper shirts.

Other Comments:
I only have six or seven of them in my closet right now, but that's because they wear so well that I haven't needed to replace them. They make the nonpareil, archetypal, classic OCBD.  (Michael) 
Own some tattersalls. First rate shirts. Reminds me of vintage B2 with collar roll & full cut. Old school grownup shop. Definitely not for J Crew -AF hybrid metrosexuals. (Comment) 
I've been purchasing from Mercer for years and I don't believe the shirt has any competitors. The Mercer shirt is a completely different garment than (for example) anything on offer from Brooks. And I mean anything... Now, whether those differences are worth paying extra for is up to you. As for the full cut: I've noticed that they no longer include the slogan "Baggier Is Better" on the label of their shirts, but I hope that this is their only concession to current fashion. A bit of bagginess in an oxford is essential. (Sartre)
Mercer & Sons Shirts - Hand Cut and Sewn in the USA of English Fabric

- Brooks Brothers

Brooks Brothers has recently "updated" their classic button-down oxford shirt.   The reviews on their site <Link> are not stellar.

- Historically, Sero and Gant

There may still be some NOS (New Old Stock) available of the original made-in-Connecticut shirts at O'Connell's.

Yale Co-Op Sold Gant Shirts

Saved 1960s Advertisements

- Other Sources for Oxfords

I have owned a number of OCBD shirts over the years from various companies (e.g. RL, Brooks, Bills Khakis). Some of these were great in certain aspects, but the fit has never been quite right for me. I recently purchased a custom white OCBD from New England Shirt Co. through Hubert White in Minneapolis, and it is the best fitting shirt I have ever owned. I was also able to pick all the details, such as a locker loop, box pleat, third collar button and a flap pocket. Just ordered several more through Hubert White, and I'm eagerly awaiting their arrival. (Comment) 

Salt Water New England Gallery

Governor, Ambassador William Scranton; In the Crowd, A Young John Kerry Wearing His

Headmaster Seymour St. John

Levi Jackson

Robert Crichton

Mercer is a sponsor of Salt Water New England.


  1. While the previous version of BB OCBD shirts has been my staple for awhile (I do NOT like the new, pocketless versions with the $140 MSRP), Land's End has provided a serviceable alternative in their must iron Hyde Park line but with collars that don't take well to neckties. I think the collars are 3" but if worn open are OK.

    I have yet to try Mercer's shirts or any of the shirts from Spencer, Proper, Ratio, Luxire, etc.

  2. Living in the rural Alleghenies, if one wants to shop locally, the only choice for women's quality oxfords is Ralph Lauren in Macy's. Otherwise it's Target, the Gap, or Old Navy. Our children's private schools prefer we purchase their uniform oxfords from Land's End. I still have two Land's End oxfords from the 1990s that have held up very well and that I still wear.

  3. I will be going to J Press when I need new OCBD's, I am quite happy with the fit and quality.

  4. Great feature. I agree with all those who find "no-iron" to be stiff and uncomfortable. My favorite choices remain J.Press and (as available from O'Connell's) Sero Purist and blends. I've tried Brooks Brothers (too shiny) and Bill's Khaki's (very heavyweight) but gave those to my sons. For business travel, inexpensive Van Heusen blends perform better than more expensive shirts. Of course, the better shirts travel for the executive briefings!

  5. I’ve recently ordered one shirt from Mercer & Sons and another from Brooks Brothers and was so impressed with the Mercer shirt, I’ve ordered replacements for all my existing OCDBs from other other companies. The BB shirt is so light and flimsy it hardly counts as oxford cloth to me. I have treated BB broadcloth shirts I wear for work but I’m going to toss them out, too, and replace them with Mercer shirts.

    The quality and service is just better.

    If I hadn’t found them, I would have tried O'Connell's or J. Press but I’m very happy with what they offer.

  6. Where would you, or your readers, recommend a large-busted woman purchase an OCBD? I am also short, though not petite, which complicates matters. I love the look of a crisp white shirt on a taller more streamlined woman, and am wondering how to achieve that effect myself.

  7. Just as it has become impossible to find high quality khakis for women, it has become equally so for a fitted, 100% cotton oxford shirt. Where has quality gone? And classic style? Why won't Mercer make a shirt for a gal? And someone please explain what is meant by the "roll" of the neck on a Mercer that is like no other?

  8. I just wish shirt makers would cease the practice of hyphenated sizes, like 16 x 34/35.

  9. I will continue to get mine from L.L. Bean as they are currently the only source I have found for women's OCBDs in my size that are not non-iron.

  10. Because of these type of blogs I adopted the business casual uniform of Bill's Khakis, BB's OCBD shirts, and Alden shoes. Now they are unavailable. I just hope nothing happens to Alden.

  11. I had been wearing BB for close to 30 years and increasingly disappointed over time. I recently discovered Mercer & Sons and they now have me as a loyal customer for life. David is first class and so is their product...from Toronto

  12. Still a fan of LL Bean. Quality not as good as in years past, but their customer service is still wonderful. Besides, I'm a heretic in that I don't mind the no iron finish. They wash well and can be worn straight from the dryer. Don't hate me.

  13. I have a gardening crush on your friend who still grows plants in cans. Awhile ago, one of your commenters mentioned Uni Glo and I have enjoyed their solid flannel shirts enough to give their oxfords a try.

  14. no hate here, Mary Anne. I rediscovered them a couple of years ago and I'm phasing out my Ralph Laurens (as they are much thinner and hold starch much less well these days) and replacing them with the LL Bean version. In fact, I'm wearing one right now.

  15. The entire Brooks Bros. product line, especially the OCBD shirts have been cheapened by Claudio Del Vecchio, the current CEO and owner of the company. CDV changed the comp. plan for the professional sales force to such a major extent that many of the BEST and longest serving sales pros in the company have left the flagship store at 346 Madison Ave., Newbury St. in Boston and at other top ranked stores.

    If you read the company reviews at most state that BB is on a downward trajectory and not only are they losing valuable employees but CDV's arrogance is costing long time customers. I have become increasingly less inclined to shop at BB and I have had an account with them since 1965. A once iconic AMERICAN company is being destroyed by an arrogant and thin skinned Italian billionaire who did not earn his wealth, it was passed on to him by his father, owner of LUXOTTICA.

    Almost all of the products, but especially as noted here, the OCBDs have less material in them, are cut skimpier are NOT true to size and do not wear or last as long as their predecessors. In addition, the OCBDs have had their collars shortened so that they do not fold over and cover thicker material ties as well as past versions.

    Given the obscene prices CDV charges for just about everything, there are FAR BETTER choices than BB for just about ANY clothes you may seek to buy. As a lifelong BB customer, it pains me to say that and our impending divorce will be just as painful as any lengthy marriage.

    Brooks Bros. and CLAUDIO, keep it up and watch as your most loyal people and customers desert your sinking ship.

    1. I have to agree with everything Paul has said above. Having been a loyal BB customer since college, I have seen the slow steady decline in quality and value. There was a time where, BB was the only placed I shopped. My wife would kid me by saying if BB went out of business I would walk around naked. I am currently wearing a pink OCBD that I purchased in college. After many years and way too many washings it still looks great. But I can not say the same thing about the newer BB OCBD shirts hanging in my closet. They have not held up as well. In fact over Christmas I went through and did a closet purge of shirts that needed to go. The vast majority were BB that I had purchased in the past several years.

      I visited a BB store recently to look for replacements. I was shocked by not only the lack of quality, but the significant increase in price. I contacted Mercer and was very impressed by their samples and reviews. It looks like I will be moving my business to them.

    2. Bravo Randall Biang. Join the club of former BB loyalists.

  16. I try not to be dogmatic about clothing. Most of my dress shirts are Brooks Brothers wash and wear which I do myself (they still need pressing). Commercial laundering is hard on clothes, too. But I'm retiring this year at age 70 (might make it to 71), so my habits will be changing, maybe.

  17. I tend to stick with Ralph Lauren oxfords for my husband and me. I did purchase 3 wrinkle-free shirts from Eddie Bauer about 12 years ago for myself. I normally don't buy WF but they had french cuffs which I adore, and have cuff links that were my late father's that I love to wear. The shirts are still in good condition all these years later. --Holly in PA

  18. I tried the treated shirts from LL Bean, mainly for emergencies when I needed a dress shirt and hadn't made it to the cleaner's. I found they wore on the creases quickly, were uncomfortable in warm weather and stained very easily after having been laundered 5 to 10 times. I only wear Mercer shirts now.

    1. Yes, I do agree. I have to toothbrush scrub the cuffs inside the wrist, as my hand moisturizer seems to wreak havoc there. --Holly in PA

  19. I like Tradlands for made-in-USA women's shirts: OCBDs, flannels, organic cotton options, and nice madras in the summer.

  20. As with many others, I wore nothing but Brooks Brothers OCBDs, starting in college in the early 1960s. As BB became a mass merchandiser and quality declined, I tried the usual suspects - J. Press, Polo, etc. and then discovered Mercer, which I believe is the new "gold standard." I am wearing a Mercer blue university stripe OCBD that arrived yesterday. And as someone else noted, dealing with Serena and David Mercer is a pleasure.

  21. wish I could find a place that has good quality clothing like oxfords in bigger sizes like 3X

  22. I have a lot of old BB and Ralph Lauren but today both companies are a pale shade of what they used to be ( have you seen the models for RL lately? achh...) so I'm considering Lands' End--a far from perfect solution, I'm aware.

  23. Any idea why Land's End has reduced the length of the collar points on its OCBDs? I've contacted them about this but did not get a response.

  24. I've had good luck with Michael Spencer. I had to have my Mercer shirts re-tailored because the billowy cut does not work for me. (That was expensive.)

  25. I'm really enjoying Tradlands Elms oxford and will probably get the equivalent in blue.

  26. Consistent with comments above, Michael Spencer and Mercer & Sons make shirts the way Brooks used to - robust oxford cloth fabric, well-finished, unlined/unfused collars, plackets and cuffs, the option of a full cut as opposed to something narrower or more tailored. PS - both companies will make shirts with a narrower profile if you want that. With Mercer in particular, you probably need to phone them to navigate the sizing; Michael Spencer offers pre-set options for a narrower cut.

  27. After years of addiction to traditionaloxford cloth,
    I have discovered and switched to Mercer's pinpoint
    and end-on-end fabrics.
    Much more comfortable.
    Highly recommended.

  28. I can't say enough about the quality of Ann Mashburn shirts. I also want to add that the service at their stores is impeccable.

  29. For those of us who remember when Oxford cloth was not thick, Lands' End is still the place to go.

  30. I just received my Mercer shirts, and they are excellent! I’ve worn Polo, Gitman, J. Press & O’Connells……they pale in comparison. I just ordered more Mercer shirts.


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