Men's Oxford shirts: Everything you need to know
Getting schooled: The OCBD
Words— Kate Dingwall
In this segment we’re covering menswear 101 with everything you need to know about basic sartorial styles from how they came to be to how to wear. Follow closely.
Sitting at the perfect mix of casual and business, the Oxford cloth button down shirt or OCBD has been the lazy man’s guide to looking put together for decades. Don’t get us wrong: a good Oxford shirt is effortlessly stylish but the keyword here is effortless.
So what exactly is an Oxford shirt and how does it differ from your run-of-the-mill dress shirt? The key difference is the fabric. The shirt you don for office buildings is usually made from a very fine cotton, or if you’re on a lower budget, polyester. Oxford shirts are usually made with a fabric of a heavier weight, making them fall a little more casually. This heavier construction lends itself to a variety of uses. Wear it with a tie and rotate into your workday wardrobe. Throw the tie in your desk at day’s end, unbutton a button or two and the Oxford is suddenly an approachable outfit for happy hour. Sub out dress pants or chinos for jeans on the weekend and an Oxford will lend itself just as easily.
Oxford educated: A brief history
Photographs from Take Ivy by Teruyoshi Hayashida; published by powerHouse Books
Surprisingly, the Oxford’s roots did not originate in Oxford, England. Instead, the neighbors to the North are to thank. In the 19th century, Scotland was a hub for the fabric industry in the United Kingdom. One mill in particular was experimenting with weaving, testing out structures and weights and naming the successful tries after the world’s top academic institutions. While the Yale, Harvard, and Cambridge faded into obsolescence, the Oxford remained. Made with a blend of thick and thin threads, the Oxford has a distinct weight and basket weave to the fabric.
It’s no real surprise the shirt skyrocketed in popularity, quickly being adopted by polo players for their uniforms. As the fabric had a slightly heavier weight, it required less starch. Without the addition of starch, dress shirts were suddenly surprisingly breathable and far more comfortable.
The Oxford later began the uniform of the prep set. Toss a sweater over the shoulders, break out your favorite boat shoes and in the 1950’s, you were the talk of the town. This adoption was largely sparked because of the clean lines and sporting heritage of the Oxford. As these college prepsters age, the Oxford was adopted into the working wardrobe of bankers and Wall Street folk alike, and from there, it disseminated.
How to buy it
Even if you’ve been the same size for the last five years, every brand fits slightly different. If you’re buying from a new brand or trying a new style, take a moment to head on back to the fitting room and try it one.
Let’s break it down it down into the basics. Firstly, does it have a button down collar? That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an Oxford. The name refers to the cloth, not the design (although the majority of Oxford shirts do have the button-down collar). The cuffs should hit just under where your suit jacket would end. You shouldn’t be able to hide your hand in your sleeve, and don’t you dare show more than an inch of wrist. When it comes to the collar, ensure it isn’t too tight, and it doesn’t fit too loosely. Overall, the shirt, both body and sleeve, should hang just off your body. It should be loose enough to feel comfortable, but not loose enough to look like you’re drowning. Finally, when you tuck it, it should stay tucked. If it has a slight taper at the waist that means you won’t have a bunch of extra fabric billowing out of your pants making you look like you weight a few more pounds than you do.
How to wear it
Most likely, you have a long history with the Oxford shirt. Your dad probably wore one when you were yay-high, most likely paired with a two-piece suit or slacks and matching cuff links. While you probably have not transferred his style to your current wardrobe, there are a lot of lessons to pull from the way your father wore his Oxford. Remember how he steamed or ironed his shirt before wearing it, every single time? Yeah, do that. Nothing distracts from a quality Oxford like a roadmap of wrinkles. Even though an Oxford is more casual than your usual button-down fare, it still deserves to be hung up. When not on your body, keep your Oxford on a hanger. It will help the shirt keep its form and requires less ironing in the long run.
Off-duty, the Oxford lends itself to a variety of styles. History will direct you to wear it with chinos, a la the prepsters that first adopted the Oxford with open arms. This is a solid style move, but we recommend leaving the sweater-over-the-shoulder accoutrement off.
For a more casual look, an Oxford works well under a sweater with just the collar showing or left un-buttoned over a t-shirt. For the former, an Oxford is a much better choice than a regular dress as the sleeves and collar will hold their form. The latter is a nice riff on the trend of flannel-over-t-shirt, but with a little less streetwear influence. Both these examples underline the point that an Oxford shirt is a really versatile piece. Have one or two reliable Oxfords – we recommend a denim or a neutral. Next time you reach for your favorite t-shirt and jeans, throw an Oxford over it. It’s chilly? Throw a work jacket over that.
And although it’s the pinnacle of regular-guy shirting, The Oxford has made its way onto the backs of many a sartorially-inclined celebrity. We underline – it’s because this shirt has the comfort of your favorite flannel, but you can be caught slipping out of the gym in it and not look like a total slob. Look at lovely David Beckham, great dresser and overall good-looking guy, opting for an Oxford with tie layering under a leather jacket. Same goes for handsome actors Cillian Murphy, Ryan Gosling, and Tom Hiddleston, they’ve all at one time or another worn an Oxford. Special shoutout to Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koening as well for repping the Oxford and prep style in general.
There you have it! You’ve met the new workhorse of your wardrobe. Under a blazer, over a t-shirt, the world is your oyster.
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