Every man should own a button-down oxford shirt. It’s a staple of menswear notable for its versatility: it can be dressed up or down, it fits with a variety of wardrobes and it complements a range of body types. And while men’s publications proselytize investing in quality, and countless brands offer “definitive” designs of the oxford, the components of a well-made shirt are, at best, vague. To separate the process from the marketing, we asked Todd Shelton, whose eponymous brand exhibits a respected eye for details, and Chris Olberding, of heritage American shirting brand Gitman Vintage, to shed light on the materials and construction that go into a quality oxford.
Quality Cloth Means a Quality Shirt
TS: It’s about yarn quality. Oxford is such a basic fabric that a fundamental, like yarn quality, is the key ingredient. Oxford is a heavy fabric, which requires a thicker yarn when weaving. A thicker yarn can be created two ways: from one single heavy-gauge yarn, or by twisting two or more finer yarns together. Oxford cloth made from multiple finer, twisted yarns will be softer and richer. It makes a big difference.
A quality oxford cloth depends on, one, good yarn quality, and, two, how good the mill is at weaving and finishing the fabric. My experience has been, you get what you pay for when it comes to fabrics, especially oxford, and the best oxford is coming out of Europe.
CO: There is a lot of good oxford cloth out there, but Gitman uses a particular weave we created with one mill that offers high durability and comfort. Good long-staple cotton helps, too.
Be Mindful of Construction
TS: Every shirtmaker uses the same basic construction techniques. The difference between makers is how disciplined and artful they are in applying those techniques. Are machines properly calibrated? Are stitch-per-inch and thread tension consistent? Are the seamstresses experienced? Are they happy to be sewing?
CO: Making a shirt involves about 75 minutes, 50 steps and about 25 separate pieces that are divided into three main sections of the factory floor, starting with cutting, moving into finishing and ending with inspection.
The Collar (and Details) Create the Aesthetic
TS: In my opinion, the only absolute detail for an oxford shirt is a button-down collar. The length of the collar point is possibly the most important detail and a big decision for a brand. We do a 2 5/8-inch point for button-down collars. I recently made a sample with a 2 3/4-inch collar, 1/8 of an inch longer than what we normally do, and I didn’t like it. As the collar gets longer, the shirt gets more traditional-looking. I think an industry standard is about 3 inches.
CO: We offer a multitude of different options, but our classic shirt uses a center box pleat for movement, a 3-inch button-down collar with double track stitching (this perfects the roll), two-button barrel cuffs for adjustment, an Army-gauge 1 1/2 inch front placket and double-stitched reinforced button-holes.
Fit Is King
TS: The single greatest variable between brands, and the ultimate contributor to quality, is the shirt pattern — it’s their blueprint for shirt construction. A pattern makes up all the shirts’ components and how those components sew together. The pattern wholly controls how well a shirt will fit. If the fit is not right, the best fabrics and the smartest details are meaningless. Fit is king.
TS: I found a horn button years ago made in Italy. It was in line with our brand aesthetic. But horn buttons are harvested from bulls, and I didn’t think that was necessary. Instead, we have a company in Iowa make our version to look like horn. Every button is slightly different, and that’s nice. Some shirtmakers will say mother-of-pearl buttons are the best, but that’s only true in that they’re expensive. I’ve never liked the iridescence of mother-of-pearl.
CO: We offer an array of buttons, from mother-of-pearl to our original chalk. At one time, we even offered a plaid button, when we were making shirts for Burberry. Most of our shirts now use either a MOP, MOP-like or chalk.
Quality and Durability Go Hand in Hand
CO: Many inferior makers offer a good-fitting shirt, some even with a decent collar roll. But show me one that lasts more than six months of continuous wear and came through the American laundering process. You’d be hard pressed to find it.
For Care, Wash Cold and Hang Dry
TS: I wish men could get to a place where they’d embrace a shirt that has a bit of a rumple — and didn’t feel the necessity of eliminating wrinkles or commercial pressing. It would save them lots of time, money, and chemicals. In my opinion, an industrially cleaned and pressed shirt is dated. Great fabrics, with a slight rumple, on a clean-groomed man is natural and cool — even in a professional setting.
We advise our customers to wash cold and hang dry; this method preserves the longevity of the shirt. A light ironing at home is great if the occasion calls for it, and you have the time and patience.
CO: Hand wash cold; hang dry and then iron. Or toss in the machine and tumble dry if you’re short on time. Either way, your Gitman will be ready to go.