A Feeling Like No Other

Although I’m a young man, I’ve tried just about all the oxford-cloth buttondowns out there. They all have excellent qualities, and each has a character entirely its own. I truly do enjoy them all. But the more I explore new things, the more I long for the original: the Brooks Brothers buttondown polo shirt.

We all know the story. The design idea came to John Brooks after watching polo players in England who had buttons on their collars to keep them from flapping in their faces. A Newton-esque moment. But I’m not interested in the history. I’m not interested in the non-iron version, of which you can regularly buy four for $184. Nor am I interested in Brooks’ supposed fall from grace: that they’re owned by an Italian, that most production is done in China, or that they’ve removed the breast pocket (which, by the way, was not added until 1968).  

What I’m interested in is the good stuff, what I can see and feel in front of me. With the most recent reincarnation of the original buttondown polo shirt, what I see is a recall of greatness. I see a product made in the USA, putting my friends and neighbors to work. I see sleek mother-of-pearl buttons glistening in the sunlight. And I see the collar roll, like when Miles Davis takes you up, brings you way down low, and moves you all over again on ”Milestones.” Like when you have that first sip of espresso as you’re watching people with baguettes and cigarettes rush by you against the backdrop of the Seine. Yes, I see that roll. 

I could never mistake a Brooks oxford. You see, the Brooks Brothers buttondown is not a mere shirt, but an American icon. On par with apple pie, the Model T, Will Rogers and Route 66. It defined not just a look, but a way of life. It shaped the path forward for many young men. And, when done right, it still has the same poignancy today as it did in 1953 (long before the pocket made an appearance). 

Yes, $140 is a hell of a lot of money for an OCBD — especially one that doesn’t tick all of the Ivy regulations. There’s no arguing there. So when they often go on unannounced half-off sale, I hop right on. Most recently, perhaps due to the virus or perhaps Brooks was just in a generous mood, they took off an extra 25% from each item once it was in my cart. My grand total for two shirts came in under $105. 

So what do we have here? Well, like anything else, it’s all in how you look at it. Many will say it’s an overpriced shirt lacking the details that made it most beloved. I say that — when you can get it on sale — it’s not only worth every penny, but it’s the original. And I know that when I put on my Brooks Brothers buttondown, I get a feeling like no other in the world. — TREVOR JONES

34 Comments on "A Feeling Like No Other"

  1. Trevor,

    For a bit more than 140 smackeroos you can get the Original you pine for. It’s made by Mercer and Sons.

    Now (that’s) a feeling like no other !

    Regards,
    David.

  2. Pink and yellow; the colors of Easter.

  3. Richard E. Press | April 3, 2020 at 1:24 pm |

    Sorry Bub, J. Press OCBDs smarter buy for $125

  4. Brooklyn Dad | April 3, 2020 at 1:34 pm |

    If people have been to Brooks’ website lately, but they have a letter detailing their efforts to sew masks and gowns for healthcare workers.

    https://www.brooksbrothers.com/masks-press-release/masks-press-release,default,pg.html

    The cynic in me sees this as a marketing ploy, but the romantic in me takes heart in seeing a great American company, the clothier of Ulysses S. Grant and FDR, rise to the occasion in the service of their countrymen. Brooks sewing masks, GM making ventilators, it feels as if a certain spirit is awakened that we haven’t seen since at least 9-11. Maybe it’s all calculated and fleeting, but it sure beats the usual sniping, sneering, and “clapbacks” we’re used to.

    Against that backdrop, buying a couple of shirts feels like an act of solidarity. Or at least that’s how I convince myself that I, too, am doing my part.

  5. elder prep | April 3, 2020 at 1:48 pm |

    Good quality as always, but I do miss the pocket.

  6. “Like when Miles Davis takes you up, brings you way down low, and moves you all over again on ”Milestones.” I’ve never thought of comparing Milestones to the roll of a BB OCBD, and now I regret not doing that before. Your writing style is so breezy – loved this piece! (But I do prefer the flap pocket of J. Press ocbd’s)

  7. Austin Trad | April 3, 2020 at 2:28 pm |

    If you look closely, some of the OCBDs now have the pocket! I think they have made the change in the last few months to start adding them again. Shop carefully, my friends!

  8. Jesse Livermore | April 3, 2020 at 3:03 pm |

    The fabric of the current line is noticeably thinner than those I bought in the last century and still wear.

  9. Hardbopper | April 3, 2020 at 3:42 pm |

    @ Brooklyn Dad,
    I can imagine the factory in Garland, NC, busy doing good things in support of current operations. I haven’t had time to read the letter, but there is an old sayin’, “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. [3] But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: [4] That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
    So, yes, I concur with your assessment in it’s entirety.

    @Trevor,
    I concur with your sentiments whole-heartedly as well. There is another old sayin’. “There ain’t nuthin’ handier than a dang shirt pocket”.

  10. I too have tried, worn, and enjoyed — still do — quite a few different brands of OCBD shirt since adolescence. Current favorites include those by L.L. Bean (whose no-irons are softer and heavier weight than the skimpier models in recent years from Land’s End), Brooks Bros., Polo, and one or two from J. Press. Currently waiting on a couple (ordered in February) to come from Mercer, but I suspect there might be even more of a delay given the recent Covid-19 developments. Well, something to look forward to. A badly worded sentence, I know. Oh, the shame! The shame! The unmitigated shame of it all. How can I ever show my face in polite company again??!!

    Stay well everyone.

    Best Regards,

    heinz-Ulrich

  11. I too long for the original–but all we have are the legends of the fall. Based on what I’ve heard/read about the way-back-when original, the “cheviot” in question renders the modern day takes on oxford cloth positively flimsy. Skip Gambert (not to be confused with Mel) uses an incredibly thick, beefy oxford. The Mercer oxford is thinner/lighter. No wonder the old Brookx oxford was known for the legendary roll, sans collar lining: the cloth was thick/heavy, no lining was needed.

    The Paterson, NJ incarnation of the Brooks oxford, familiar to those of us who shopped there back in the 60s-80s, was very good. That factory closed around ’89. Good luck finding one of them. Guessing the Mercers used it for their pattern.

    Skip Gambert’s online business:

    https://www.highbarshirt.com

    OCBDs are a great deal ($99/each). With frequent discounts, even better.

  12. Charlottesville | April 3, 2020 at 4:19 pm |

    Nice piece, Mr. Jones. Through a serendipitous confluence of accumulated bonus points, a drastic price reduction, and some sort of special sale, I acquired one of the new Brooks OCBDs for around $10, and am very pleased with it. It can be seen in one of the headless shots in the collection of selfie-quarantine pics. As Mr. Livermore points out, the fabric is thinner than the version on offer prior to the re-design, but I have a handful left of the unlined collar version from the late 80s, and the weight seems comparable. I like both weights, and note that the thinner cloth is a bit cooler for summer. The collar roll is definitely better on the new one than it was a few years back, but like others, I miss the pocket.

    I hope to try one of the J. Press shirts with unlined collar and flapped pocket to compare, and now is a good time to get one. They are giving 25% of their online sales to purchase much needed medical equipment and supplies.

  13. Too Much Johnson | April 3, 2020 at 4:48 pm |

    For me personally, the thing about the Brooks OCBD was always its uncanny ability to hit that perfect sweet-spot between price, quality, and style.

    In the ’90s, three for $128 represented a tremendous value. Today, $140 each for what is essentially a semi-disposable consumable item is a bit much-too-much in my view.

    Such is the difference between clothes and fashion I suppose…

  14. Irving G. Steinberg | April 3, 2020 at 6:50 pm |

    Great article as always. My own favorite OCBD shirt was the Lands End Sail Rigger OCBD up until one year ago, while they were still all cotton (unlike the new current line called “comfort first” which is a blend). Except for their 2 3/4” collar points and flat Camp style hem (designed to be worn untucked), they were great shirts. Heavy, must iron 100% cotton, rear collar button and locker loop, good fit and finish, they came in all the standard colors as well as fun patterns, and at a good price. Besides the short collar point length, my only other wish was that they had been made in the USA (for which I would consider paying more for). I can’t afford a brooks brothers shirt just for the name, but I have purchased a few well preserved 1960s/70s brooks brothers shirts to wear from eBay and Etsy.

  15. Vern Trotter | April 3, 2020 at 7:40 pm |

    From age 15 to 65, nobody wore Brooks shirts more than me, 100%. In 2000, I bought a box of OCBDs that turned out to have lined collars. My last purchase. As they say in politics, ” I did not leave them, they left me!” I have even measured the now too short collar points a year or two ago in the store and I still stop by 346 Madison for old times sake every few months.

    If I need any more shirts in this life, I’ll get them from Mr. Mercer, still the original Brooks.

  16. NaturalShoulder | April 3, 2020 at 9:05 pm |

    I never experienced the older BB shirts directly but only third hand through the images and writings in the blogopshere which now reminds me how much I miss Heavy Tweed Jacket. I have tried the new/old BB, Mercer, Michael Spencer, and Ratio and find I prefer Mercer for the quality, selection, and collar roll. Reading Heinz-Ulrich’s post made reminded me that I have a Mercer order which should be shipping soon. Given all that is going on in the world, it slipped me mind.

  17. Fine description. Although, there is a fellow named Steve who must have had some connection at one time with the Garland factory, who is selling models from that outlet store on ebay for $62 each. His have a black line through the tag. The pink one above appears to have that line also. Heinz is right about Bean having a very thick version, alas, they are non-iron. The fellow is correct about LE;s sail rigger shirt. Definitely a casual shirt, not a dress shirt, though. Charlottesville is right about most everything. I too have one of the early 1990s versions left and it is comparable in thickness to the current models, yet thinner than the “old-new” versions offered until the latest redesign. I have four of the latest models and they are absolutely a delight to wear. Have Mercer also, and Michael-Spencer.

  18. I agree with Charlottesville about a lighter weight oxford for summer: yes.

    The grapevine has whispered that J. Press’ new made-to-measure shirt program is with Mel Gambert. If this is true, then buy as many as you can. They use a Japanese selvedge for their oxfords–it’s A++.

    If they go with Gambert shirts and Hickey Freeman for their jackets, suits, and blazers, then we can assuredly and happily claim that Squeeze reigns supreme in the quality dept.

  19. Old School Tie | April 4, 2020 at 5:59 am |

    Although I have a good collection of OCBDs, I’m afraid that I have to admit my favourite is an old McGregor model that fits very well and is made from a looser weave cloth that is very soft and has taken on a brushed aspect after years of light wear. Collar points a tad on the shorter side but not a disaster either.

  20. Anonymous | April 4, 2020 at 8:18 am |

    BB Milano OCBDs used to be my go-to shirts (Don’t judge, they sit on my frame as full as regular cuts on others).
    Last year I bought 4 for 99$ each and without really looking at them threw them in to the washing machine, as I expected them to be the same as the numerous ones I bought before.
    While hanging them to dry, I noticed that they omitted the box pleat for, I kid you not: DARTS!
    It seems to be only the Milano fit, but that’s bad enough.
    Now im officially through with BB.
    Only thing I might buy there ever again are Ties.
    I’ll give Mercer a try, it seems they offer an option to have the body cut smaller relative to the neck size.

  21. Charlottesville | April 4, 2020 at 9:00 am |

    JDV – Thank you for the corroboration. I keep telling my wife that I am right about everything, but unfortunately she knows better. Hope you and your family are weathering the current troubles and staying safe.

  22. https://skipgambert.com/sga/swatches.php

    Request oxford— 5250, 5251. The real deal.

  23. Polo OCBDs are half the money of these and they last forever. I also prefer their collars, too.

  24. Good morning. I would like to think I have a different/ personal perspective on BB as well as this virus. My closet is about 90% BB as probably that is all I have bought the past 15 yrs My children attended school with the owner of BB and have been to their home many times and know them personally so the task of BB making masks and gowns I don’t feel is a marketing strategy. The bottom line is he is the most down to earth billionaire you’ll ever meet and chose to make the masks He resurrected the company about 15 -20 yrs ago. I also am a dentist that is on the frontline of my office covering emergencies so I appreciate what BB is doing.

  25. Dr. Peter. Thanks for your perspective. It always helps to know someone personally, doesn’t it. So glad they have kept the Garland factory and the other domestic properties open, even with their off-shore stuff going in a hand basket. Sure miss their traditional fit blazers and trousers. Oh well. We are much benefitted by your comments and experience. Press on. Be safe and healthy.

  26. MacMcConnell | April 4, 2020 at 12:31 pm |

    Those who prefer the heavy oxford might try O’Connell’s heavy weight Gitman oxford shirts.

  27. To give some credit to this site and others, it’s likely their influence that caused Brooks to reissue them. For me Mercer are far too baggy, and I think the current Brooks issue are better than in decades past. I prefer the buttons, not so much because I care about mother of pearl, but they’re not as clunky.

    The Press $125 MTO option does seem very attractive. I would love for Richard Press to tell us about some non-standard cloths and specifically to talk about royal oxford cloth, which press used to issue fairly regularly in ready-to-wear. I remember noticing its weave in a canary yellow version (with handsome tweed) in a shop window of their old premises when the catalogs used to look basically like those windows, with knotty pine.

  28. MacMcConnell | April 4, 2020 at 2:13 pm |

    Weren’t the original BB BD shirts huge in the body? That seems to be what I remember from ones purchased in the 60s while in HS.

  29. Charlottesville | April 5, 2020 at 10:43 am |

    MacMcConnell – The old BB shirts were indeed huge in the body. In the 80s, my friends and I would nearly double them over to get them tucked in. I like the choice of body sizes offered now. Up until fairly recently, trimmer body sizes were available only for custom orders.

  30. Andrew K. | April 5, 2020 at 3:55 pm |

    Trevor, excellent article. BB OCBD is my favorite and go-to shirt, although I have some lighter weight BB shirts as well, and also several LE Sail Riggers which are more casual but very affordable and very sturdy.

    Pretty much all the BB OCBD’s are now offered in a choice of pocket or no pocket.
    If you can live without a pocket, you can currently get virtually any color or stripe (except for solid blue and white) for about $55.

    My view on pockets is a bit more nuanced: Under a blazer or sweater, no pocket is probably a bit more comfortable (and currently cheaper). If my shirt is the outermost layer of clothing, I would rather have a pocket.

    I enjoy this site, and wish everyone a healthy exit from the current situation.

  31. Andrew K. | April 6, 2020 at 1:36 am |

    I made a mistake, it is not “virtually any color”, but there are quite a few varieties of colors and stripes available at that price. Look in the “Sale” section.

  32. Still have a couple of non-pocket Garland factory shirts,at least five years old, wear like iron, breath in the Florida summer and look great. Couple of others – 346 Madison Ave. bought, pink, yellow and striped are finally starting to fray at the collar after three or four years of regular wear. Have no idea what I paid for them. I do know Brooks OCBDs look, feel and wear well and have worked for me for over fifty years.

  33. For that price go Kamakura or Drake’s and get a better (more authentic) collar roll.

  34. J. Mac McChesney | May 22, 2020 at 3:13 pm |

    I’m a lot older then most of you and my memories go back to the 50s when my father would travel to NYC and visit Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Abercrombie and Fitch and Hamburger Heaven. He only wore Brooks shirts, mostly in blue but also pink on occasion. I fell into the habit but could barely afford one shirt much less a dozen or so. I remember ordering the “346” version at $15.00 a piece but had a couple of the standard heavy duty ones for more dress up situations- usually in yellow or pink although green was also available. Up until a couple of years ago I had a circa 1960 pink oxford Brooks shirt. It was of incredibly heavy oxford cotton with a very wide pleat in back. I almost never wore as it was probably one of my father’s old shirts. He was born in 1915, lost both parents by the time he was 12 and was raised by his older brother. He was lucky to get great schooling and was attending UVA when the war started.
    I adapted his dress style and am still looking for those old heavy oxford Brooks Brothers shirts!

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