The oxford cloth button down (OCBD) is an essential item in a man’s wardrobe. Praised for its versatility, it can be worn with shorts on the beach or under a blazer during a job interview. The OCBD is characterized by two main features, the oxford weave and button-down collar.
The traditional oxford is thick and densely woven cotton, which is highly durable and resistant to wrinkles. The colored threads are usually crossed with white threads, which gives the oxford a cool checkerboard pattern. The resilience of the oxford cloth is what makes the shirt a great casual item.
The button-down collar is usually softer and longer than other shirt collars, which gives it the highly sought-after collar roll. The perfect collar rolls shift with the movements of the wearer and create a casual vibe that fits perfectly with the overall feel of an OCBD. Many contemporary manufacturers product shorter lined collars, which are stiff and don't roll. I recommend sticking with makers that respect the traditional designs, e.g. Gitman Vintage or Kamakura. The images below show how beautiful and personal the collars can get.
Although dubbed as America’s greatest contribution to fashion, the OCBD traces its roots to England. During a trip to England, John E. Brooks saw local polo players wear shirts with buttons securing the collar to prevent it from flapping into the players’ faces. Fascinated, he immediately sent in samples to his New York factory, ordering his workers to make identical copies. The Brooks Brothers’ OCBD became a classic.
The button-down collar is the most versatile out of all collar styles. Combined with the rougher oxford fabric, the OCBD can dress up casual outfits and dress down formal outfits. It can be worn with or without a tie, tucked or untucked, under a blazer, a thick sweater, or even a sweatshirt. You can pair an OCBD with wool trousers and oxfords for a more formal look, or with jeans and sneakers for a relaxed look. There are very few wrong ways to wear an OCBD.
To achieve some flair, wear it immediately after you take it out from the dryer and give it a little shake. According to Michael Bastian, the few wrinkles are a “perfect imperfection.”
If you’re on a tight budget, check out Uniqlo, Charles Tyrwhitt, or Lands’ End. All of them make affordable, decently made OCBDs. If you want something traditional, I recommend J. Press, Brooks Brothers, Mercer & Sons, and O'Connell's. For a more shirt of high quality and modern style, check out Gitman Vintage or Japanese shirtmaker Kamakura. Although their missions are to revive the traditional Ivy League OCBD style, their fits are slim.