The Oxford Dress Shirt (ODS) with a button down collar style is one of the shirts that one should never misjudge. It’s a shirt full of tradition and with a license to never really go out of style, even after all these years in use as a go-to style for gents all over the world.
The Oxford shirt is a sort of sports shirt. Yes, you can call it that. Or perhaps we’d better call it casual. The Oxford button down shirt can be used if you want to add some more casual tones to an otherwise formal outfit. Paired with a summer suit, paired with a necktie, or under a blazer, it can blend in with various outfits while creating a nonchalant attitude.
What Exactly Is an Oxford Dress Shirt?
Soft Button Down Collar
As the name implies, an oxford shirt must have a soft button down collar without interlining. The proper look is achieved by a collar roll, which requires the buttons to be placed closer to the collar than if they would lay straight. Many dress shirt manufacturers simply use a standard collar with interlining that is buttoned down, but that’s not what defines the look of a true, classic oxford dress shirt.
Well, rather obvious, but we’ll mention it. The Oxford shirt must, of course, be made of Oxford material. Oxford is a particular weave that is similar to a plain canvas weave with the exception that several yarns are woven in strands together, rather than individually.
Of course, great ODS feature a number of distinct details. We’ll discuss quality hallmarks and details later in this guide.
The history of the button down Oxford shirt
Today, many people mistake the button-down for a typical dress shirt, thinking if it buttons vertically, it must be a button down. It is not.
In fact, the button down was once created for polo players who use a button on either flap of the collar to allow the wearer to secure the collar, so the wind wouldn’t flap it in his face during a match. This is a significant part of the evolution of the polo shirt created by Polo players in India in the 1850’s and then brought to England in the decade after that.
The birth of the casual Oxford dress shirt
Now a focus of weekend get-togethers amongst friends, it was once a classic wardrobe choice for gents of all ages, attending holiday parties, barbecues, and even good old-fashioned American sporting events. It was a style adopted by everyone from varied demographics. The shirt could be found under a bespoke business suit on a high ranking executive, or an auto repair salesman buying his lunch at KFC. It didn’t seem to matter who wore it, or where, but it became a way for gents to showcase their own style in a variety of ways, and with a broad range of outfits.
One of the biggest benefits to the button down at the time — and even still today — was that because of its versatility, it allowed gents to spend less money on shirts, since it could be paired with so many ensembles. It was a shirt made for everyone, and one that came in basic colours, but also some pretty great patterns and prints.
The Oxford button down collar dress shirt DO’s and DONT’s
Today, button downs are reserved for the casual, yet dapper type of gentleman. These are the rules. you should abide by them too.
- Do not pair button down shirts with formal wear
Tuxedos, tailcoats, morning coats – call it what you like, but the button down was not made for them nonetheless. Pairing a button down dress shirt with formal attire is about as silly as wearing white socks or sandals with it. The same goes for business suits. Leave the button down at home.
- Do not wear button down shirts at formal workplaces
If you wear a suit to work, this applies to you. The button down shirt is a very informal type of dress shirt. It works splendidly when paired with a blazer, a sports jacket or yes, even below a sweater – but it must never be worn with anything more formal than that. If you work in a very casual office environment, feel free to wear one – but only if your office celebrates casual Friday on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as well.
- Do not wear short-sleeved button downs during Summer
Many look at the button down shirt and assume that the short sleeves are perfect to wear, but in fact short-sleeved dress shirts with a button down collar just look odd. Rather than a short sleeved dress shirt, either try wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, or a polo shirt with short sleeves — but not a button down collar shirt with short sleeves.
- Wear button downs during the weekends
The weekends were invented for button downs. That’s not fake news. Or maybe it was the other way around? Either way, weekends and button downs go together like gin and limes (Feeling thirsty?).
Fact is, that unless you’re attending a formal event, the button down shirt can and should be your go-to casual shirt during the day.
- Do NOT wear button downs at interviews
Many people think that it’s a marvellous idea to wear a button down at an interview for a casual office job, since it’s technically still a dress shirt, and yet doesn’t give off the same formal undertones as the standard classic or semi-spread collar broadcloth shirt, because Oxford is a more casual fabric.
Well, while there may be offices where you can show up in an Oxford shirt, we suggest a poplin or broadcloth shirt instead.
What to Look for in a Button Down
There are so many button down shirts available today made of different fabrics, ranging from linen and cotton to polyester blends — but an authentic Oxford dress shirt has a few details you should be looking out for in particular:
- Choose a shirt with a soft roll collar
Most shirt companies today offer a fused collar with interlining that is a bit more on the stiffer side. If they add a button down collar option, the collar usually lays flat, whereas the original has an S collar curl, which is achieved by making the collar longer.
Moreover, the original Oxford button down collar had no interlining and was soft. Therefore, anything but a soft, S-curled button down collar cannot be called a Oxford dress shirt.
- Don’t hold back on going vintage
Some of the very best Oxford dress shirts are actually from the 1960’s. Quality was more revered by the general public, and most companies at the time weren’t as prone to taking shortcuts to lower costs. But….
You get what you pay for
Unless you’re buying vintage, to a certain extent, you’re really going to get what you pay for. We assume that this goes without saying, but avoid buying your button downs at the bargain bin stores like Walmart, or your local Tesco or Big C in Thailand.
The quality is going to be horrendous. Rather than spending $25 on a poorly made button down shirt that you’ll have to replace in a year tops, double your budget and buy a quality shirt instead. Granted, it will cost a little more, but you’re going to have a dress shirt that will last years if not decades. The oxford dress shirt is an American style staple. It’s been in style since it first came out, and chances are it’s a trend that’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
- Box pleats
Traditional Oxford dress shirts feature a box pleat in the middle for extra movement. Some dress shirts may have no pleats or side pleats etc.,but the original has a box pleat in the middle.
- The cuffs should be casual
Many gents love the idea of wearing French cuff shirts. However, when it comes to the button down, let’s not forget that this is a sports shirt that should remain far more casual than your formal shirts. Therefore, we recommend sticking with the standard barrel button cuff. Keep it classic.
On the chance you do end up with a rare French cuffed Oxford shirt, at least wear some more whimsical cufflinks rather than elegant ones.
If you’re going to the races, try and find ones shaped like thoroughbreds. For a night at the country club, focus on golf club cufflinks. Pairing casual cufflinks with a more formal cuff is one way to remind yourself and others that the button down is all about the weekend and the weekend is all about fun.
Traditionally, the cuff was soft without interlining, and while that is comfortable it is important that your shirt fits tightly on your wrist, otherwise you will end up with wrinkles on your cuff.
- Opt for long sleeves
Finally, the Oxford dress shirt with a button down collar should always have long sleeves. They work splendidly with chinos or jeans. On a hot day, you can roll up your shirt sleeves — otherwise they should be long.
Workmanship & Material selection
The workmanship at Exclusive Tailor is solid and the classic oxford fabric is extremely hard-wearing and the look and feel are old-school. You can either send an E-mail with your order, call in or send an order form. To get more information on the processes, please refer to www.exclusivetailor.com.
So if you want an original Oxford dress shirt as they were made in the 1940s and 1950s, have a look at our services at Exclusive Tailor in Patong, Phuket.
Start off with the basics
While the patterned button down shirts are certainly fun to wear, you will likely not be able to combine them as easily as with your plain whites and blues.
Therefore, it pays to start with the basic Oxford dress shirt in white and in blue. Once you have those covered, think about some solid pastels, or fine stripes. Once you’ve developed a bit of a collection, you can get playing with colours like grey, purple, khaki or green, orange etc, or opt for bolder bengal stripes.
Is the Exclusive Tailor button down shirt right for you?
In case you are looking for a finely made dress shirt with attention to details such as buttonholes, mother of pearl buttons or hand-stitching, this shirt is for you.
An end note
Now that you know the benefits of oxford cotton button down dress shirts, it’s time for you to give them a try. They really are a unique and remarkable piece of clothing and one that you will certainly find a range of outfits to pair with.