It’s not often I find myself disagreeing with the other writers at Ivy Style, and on those rare occasions a divergence of views occurs, it calls for some reflection. I was boarding a plane home from a Florida escape when Christian called and sought my first reaction to the news that Brooks Brothers was now offering unlined oxford shirts. With the sun still warming my disposition, I took a look at the publicity images and smiled broadly. I shot off a quick email to the stalwart Ivy Style editorial board, saying I was thrilled at how the shirts appeared at first glance, and that it seemed to me like Brooks Brothers still had a soft spot in its heart for traditionalists.
As I landed in chilly New York and switched my electronic device from airplane mode, my sunny heart sank at the words of the distinguished G. Bruce Boyer. Ever the sensible pessimist, he is not convinced that the new shirt signals any big change in the direction of Brooks Brothers. Other readers chimed in that the price jump was an outrage, that the collars looked too short, that this was an evil ploy to fool the unwitting consumer.
It stung my soul to see such a tepid, even hostile reaction to something about which I was quite pleased.
Now Mr. Boyer is a maven of menswear and I a mere strolling minstrel, but while I’m no optimist, I couldn’t bring myself to conclude that this was anything but a positive development. We’re all well aware that there are plenty of options for US-made oxford shirts these days, but Brooks Brothers offering unlined shirts, something that traditional customers have been crowing about for decades, is damn good news in my book, and I applaud whomever made the decision. May that person be promoted to the suit and sportcoat division!
In Christian’s analysis, the biggest gripe he has is the jump in price. It is certainly not enjoyable to see an asking price on Brooks Brothers OCBDs that breaks $100 for the first time ever, and by a lot. However, as Mr. Del Vecchio told The Trad during the Ivy Style exhibition at FIT, the company has been losing money on untreated shirts for years. Additionally, similarly styled and constructed shirts sell for a similar price. It’s a new era, and what was once a basic is now a luxury, from quality shirts to American-made jeans. The new Brooks Brothers oxford falls squarely in the middle of what companies charge for similar shirts. It hardly seems fair to place the blame for inflated prices solely on one company. And, as we all know, there will always be another December 26th sale.
Now on to the shirts themselves. On Thursday Christian and I discussed the development at our local cafe. Later we crossed paths in Grand Central Station, and decided to swing by ol’ B-Squared in the hour of spare time we both had. It turned out the new shirts had just been put out that morning.
On first glance I liked them instantly. The lack of lining in collar, cuff and placket is immediately evident, and the fabric feels similar to the soon-to-vanish Black Fleece shirting. I tried the shirt on (a Madison fit, the most generous), and the unlined collar band is clearly far more comfortable than Brooks’ former offering. As you can see from this pic snapped outside the dressing room, it rolls quite nicely with a tie (courtesy of Christian, as I wasn’t wearing one).
As Christian left for a meeting, I borrowed a saleswoman’s measuring tape. Unwashed, the collar point measures just shy of 3.5 inches. The thin mother-of-pearl buttons add a touch of elegance that plastic ones just can’t duplicate. These shirts are a fantastic offering, and while there are currently quite a few unlined oxford shirts available online from competitors, these are a worthy addition, now available to try on in person, and which will theoretically be available at some kind of discount in the future (though if the general non-blog reading public likes them, they may not stay on the shelves long; we’ll have to see about that).
I’m at a loss as to why more options for unlined oxfords could possibly be a bad development. If the qualm lies with supporting Brooks Brothers, keep in mind that this is the company that owns a fair share of traditional manufacturers, such as Garland and Southwick. On the other hand, it’s unrealistic to expect exact replicas of the No. 1 sack suit on the fashion runway anytime soon. What is a real possibility, as was attempted with Own Make, albeit to mixed results, are a few basic items that appeal to traditional dressers.
To Mr. Boyer’s point that he doesn’t see this as a real change of course at Brooks Brothers, I would only say that if these shirts sell well, it would take serious intransigence on the company’s part not to at least explore the possibility of reviving a few famed Brooks Brothers products of yore. Time will tell, of course, which may prove Mr. Boyer’s thoughts prophetic. But I’ll play the optimist and say that, if not a major shift, this new shirt might be the beginning of Brooks Brothers’ gradually offering more traditional items each season. Call me a sensible optimist. — DANIEL C. GREENWOOD