Oxford shirts are a dime a dozen. Good ones, however, are harder to come by. There's of course Brooks Brothers's model — the original, sewn together all the way back in 1900 — but there are many others worth wearing, too, like those from Gitman Vintage, Todd Shelton, Todd Snyder, J. Press and even Rowing Blazers.
While menswear purists are an opinionated audience, there's still no consensus on which one is truly best. Plenty of markers can help you choose one of utmost quality, though.
First, the shirt should be made from 100-percent cotton. It should feel sturdy and slightly stiff at first, but it'll soften with wash and wear. Second, it should be made in either the USA or in Portugal, where many of the best factories and mills are found. This information can be easily found on the shirt's inner tag, but prerequisites concerning construction and shape can only be tested by eye.
It starts with the collar, Todd Shelton tells us. "The only absolute detail for an oxford shirt is a button-down collar." The length of the collar point, the shape of its roll and the type of buttons used are up to the designer, he adds, but these decisions make an impact on the final product. It's the finer details that give a shirt character, but it's the pattern that gives it credibility, he explains.
"The single greatest variable between brands, and the ultimate contributor to quality, is the shirt pattern — it’s their blueprint for shirt construction," he says. Once a blueprint is cemented, changing it is an ill-advised move.
Tenured, trusted brands like Brooks Brothers know this, but even their shirts have undergone several evolutions. Diehard fans on Reddit, for example — under subreddits like r/NavyBlazer, "The Country Club of Reddit," or r/MaleFashionAdvice, a forum for heated menswear discussions and wholesome outfit assessments — have pointed out several changes over time, including a change in the blues used, a transition to alpha sizing (aka S-XL), the removal (and return) of the front pocket...and, of course, the exporting of production to Southeast Asia over North Carolina.
So, what are longtime fans of the Oxford to do when things inevitably change? Rather than track down and try a brand of equal age, why not test a new one committed to making shirts the old fashioned way?
Le Alfré, a brand in its relative infancy still, trusts a mill in Guimarães, Portugal founded in 1958 with making its pre-shrunk, extra-soft Oxford Cloth fabric and contracts a shirt factory in Felgueiras, Portugal founded in 1946 with sewing it all together.
Each step of the way, quality checks ensure a proper fit and final presentation. Measurements of the cuff, forearm, bicep, collar, shoulder, chest, waist, bottom, body and sleeve are done ad nauseam. To create the shirts' 43 different parts, it takes 50 steps, Brandon Snower, the brand's founder, says, and each one is done by hand in one of the two Portugese factory spaces.
The shirts weren't always perfect, although they certainly are now by Snower's standards. It took seven samples to land here, which is a shirt that comprises a mix of both modern and heritage elements. There's no pocket, but each shirt features Mother of Pearl buttons, double button, single rounded cuffs, a rear center box pleat, single need and English stitch finishings and a fine rolled bottom hem. Plus, every collar, no matter whether the shirt is blue, grey or pink, comes white, a classic touch that feels fairly playful in today's context.
Overall, the shirt is comfortable with elements that don't feel outdated, even if they are by all means traditional. It's lightweight without feeling flimsy, and there are no hot spots — aka spots where seams rub or stitching sticks out.
The gray is my go-to, because it doesn't feel too preppy, unlike both blue and pink. The dark green, which looks like a hue one would call Hunter Green, is another solid option for folks who don't typically wear pastels.
It's a definite upgrade over cheaper shirts from L.L. Bean, J.Crew or even Everlane, but that, of course, means it comes at a cost — $150, which puts it in line with longstanding iterations by the well-known brands mentioned before. But that's who Le Alfré wants to compete with, Snower explains.
Le Alfré Oxford Shirts