Instant Like: The Millennial Fogey Tries On The New Brooks Oxford

dcgbrooks

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

51 Comments on "Instant Like: The Millennial Fogey Tries On The New Brooks Oxford"

  1. Nice post DCG. However, I think that you are misunderstanding where the frustration is coming from. This shirt is not an addition to their offerings, but a replacement of something that a lot of people liked.

    You also make a good argument for the price increase. I agree. Here is my question,

    Why don’t they just offer a solid must-iron OCBD option that is not made in America? Why is that such a challenge? It is not a ethical or moral dilemma…or even quality. They produce the majority of their products outside of America.

    I feel my must-iron will being slowly broken. And while I can (barely) afford to buy $100 shirts my biggest frustration is that it puts trad style out of reach for the young and the frugal.

  2. Alan Kirk Gray | January 15, 2016 at 9:48 am |

    Thanks for a balancing view to what I also think is a positive development. I bought my first clothes from them in the winter of 60/61, and have been back often, often recently with disappointing results. But this December I bought on sale a couple of 3-piece flannel suits from them that are very nice, and took me back to the good old days. No, I don’t yearn for 3/2, so some others might be disappointed, but not me.

    On the price-value equation, I always look to the value side first, and Brooks seems to be going in the right direction these days, and the new-old OCBD shirts are a good sign. Pray they continue.

  3. You’ve rekindled my enthusiasm. Thanks for this first-person report.

  4. DCG, call you a “sensible optimist?” How about Oscar Hammerstein’s, “cockeyed optimist.” 🎼

  5. I checked out the site and I’m super excited because they are offering a yellow candy stripe. Rarely seen these days and much welcome!

  6. DCG,

    I believe that is a pinpoint shirt.

  7. OCBD is correct, that is a pinpoint and Brooks pinpoints and broadcloths are primarily made overseas. Every oxford I have from Brooks is USA made and everything else has been Asian in origin.

    However, I sympathize with what DCG is saying. I’m not going to rule this shirt or Brooks out yet. I’m sure the shirts are nice and I like the selection of colors. I did, however, take some umbrage to the price tag. Not because shirts aren’t priced like that anymore (USA made shirts simply are) but they are priced even higher than small custom shops, which I think is poor. Of course, Brooks will have a sale that will shave off a few bones, but that’s no way to operate retail. As I was once told “it’s only a deal if you would have paid full-price for it.” I can’t say I’d pay $140 for an OTR shirt from Brooks, therefore, it’s not worth buying on sale.

    Also, while I applaud Brooks for maintaining a US manufacturing presence, I think OCBD is correct that there is a market for a foreign made budget line. J Press offers a line of shirts made overseas, which is a fair means to help those not quite yet at the point of “investing” in their shirts.

  8. If Made In America isn’t a shibboleth for you, Kamakura is the way to go. The more options the merrier, I say!

  9. Firstly, the collective outrage was hardly “tepid.” Quite the opposite, actually. Far from lukewarm, the cries were positively passionate.

    Said optimism isn’t sensible at all. Turns out one can purchase a made-to-measure Brooks oxford (pick your details!) for around the same price. Buy several, the cost per shirt is, I think (trust but verify!) even less than the $145 pettifogger the Brethren audaciously offer.

    So there.

  10. I love Kamakura. Their fabrics and collars are truly exceptional and I prefer their pinpoints over everyone else. Their oxfords are second only to my Michael Spencer shirts.

    I’ve heard that some struggle to find their sizes available in their offerings, but I’m fortunate and mine is available in their Tokyo Classic line. They are a great alternative to Brooks should you need a less expensive but high-quality option.

  11. All that said…

    …I’ll buy ’em when they’re discounted.

  12. The irony, S.E., is that the day after this past Christmas I went in to Brooks, left empty handed, went online and bought a couple of those very custom shirts. Custom suits are also available online for less than off the rack…odd, ain’t it? This is something worth exploring, is it now cheaper to buy semi-custom made because of the shift in how retail business works?

  13. G. Bruce BOyer | January 15, 2016 at 12:47 pm |

    I hope Mr. Greenwood is right and the glass is half-full. My attitude was that since BB no longer seems to catch the wind in its sails til a squadron of other ships has left port — and ironically BB’s history has been as innovators — I don’t think we should rush to the conclusion this development is anything but a dim light in the cloth-eared heads who make these decisions. But perhaps, to continue mixing metaphors, the slumbering giant has started to blink an eyelid. The proof will fall to the optimists, and, as we used to say on the South Side, I’ll believe it when I see it. Til then, I’ll continue to feel they’re bringing up the rear.

  14. Charlottesville | January 15, 2016 at 1:40 pm |

    Ox and MrEric – It looks like the yellow stripe is a regular Supima oxford, must-iron, made in USA OCBD to me. Am I missing something? Always a possibility.

    http://www.brooksbrothers.com/Madison-Fit-Original-Polo%C2%AE-Button-Down-Oxford-Bengal-Stripe-Dress-Shirt/ME02341,default,pd.html?dwvar_ME02341_Color=YELL&contentpos=5&cgid=0203

  15. For those of you tempted to step through the non-iron OCBD looking glass, DON’T do it. I bought several and after a few dozen washes they still feel stiff and uncomfortable.

  16. DCG,

    Thanks for an informative post. I also share your outlook that this is a positive response from Brooks–and must admit that I fail to understand those whining about this overture–even if coming from the “Slumbering Giant.” U.S. manufacture (Garland), unlined collar/cuffs, thick/quality Supima oxford cloth, pearl buttons, exact neck/sleeve sizing, four different choices of fit (full to extra slim cut), side gussets, 3.5″ collar points and thought given to classic collar roll–aren’t these exactly the sort of offerings that should appeal to our audience. Do we really want to send (to Brooks) the message that we ungratefully appreciate/accept such efforts? Do we want to come across as chronic whiners and complainers who blog off into oblivion? If we send such a message why would we anticipate further extensions of product line by Brooks to meet our desires.

  17. Patrick Wellcorn | January 15, 2016 at 2:43 pm |

    WFBjr,

    I’d prefer the term “crisp” to “stiff”.
    The choice of those who prefer a neat appearance to rumpled fetishism.

  18. Much ado about nothing.

  19. …but, no ecru???

  20. I stopped in to Brooks Madison Ave. this afternoon. They feel nice. I had forgotten how soft and pliable the old(new) collars could be. My older ones don’t get much use these days. Don’t knock the purple stripe. It looks really great. The purple solid-no. Along with most of you, I’ll wait for a sale.

  21. Ezra Cornell | January 15, 2016 at 5:52 pm |

    So glad for this report, and for this development at BB. Thanks very much, DCG, for reporting on the actual shirt, rather than just hyperventilating over pictures on the website, and for standing up to curmudgeons regardless their stature.
    The whining here these last few posts is amazing and laughable. @OCBD (above) says that this replaces a shirt “a lot of people liked.” Really? Has he been reading the slams on these shirts for years and years? Collar lining! Shortened points!! Flimsy material!!! Cheap buttons!!!!! Foreign made!!!!!
    Another earlier post complains that the new shirt has seven buttons, and who has time to button seven buttons in the morning?!
    Quite frankly, these people enjoy not being satisfied. They seem to take it as confirmation of their discernment.
    So, DCG, I’m with you: let’s be pleased. Let’s encourage BB to continue along this vein. For those of you who disagree, there are wonderful options out there, and they need your patronage probably more than BB does. In the end, after all, isn’t it the conservatives who promote free market capitalism?

  22. NaturalShoulder | January 15, 2016 at 6:06 pm |

    Glad to read the positive review. I may have to pay a visit to my local BB (which I have not done for many years) and try one on.

  23. Regarding the remark on “the actual shirt” versus “pictures on the website,” I don’t know why I have to point out that neither me nor Bruce nor anyone here in the comments or at Andy’s Trad Forum were so presumptuous as to evaluate a shirt they had not seen nor worn.

    We were critiquing the business strategy, and the fact that Brooks seemed to finally acknowledge the purists, which is pretty clear are even less than the 1% of their customers that we thought we were, say mea culpa without actually saying it, put the shirt back to the way it was supposed to be, and then jack up the price by fifty bucks.

    It’s an oxford-cloth buttondown. It’s not a suit. We can assume it’s a wearable shirt (remember that half of Tradsville is perfectly happy with Lands End). The only wearability question was now that they’ve removed the lining, does the collar roll?

  24. Speaking of scratching heads (a phrase from my post), I wonder if anyone at Brooks might scratch his head that there’s a guy with the username “Natural Shoulder” who posts on a site called Ivy Style and who has a “local” Brooks Brothers that he hasn’t visited “for many years.”

  25. Ezra Cornell | January 15, 2016 at 6:42 pm |

    @Christian, you are absolutely right; you did not evaluate the shirt based on the photos. But plenty of others did (see comments on previous posts and other fora), some even going so far, based on the wording of the product description, as to declare it a conspiracy and that it wasn’t really unlined at all, etc., etc.

    Here’s my bet: in about 2 years and we will see Tradsville filled with longing for the “good old BB OCBD shirt of the 2000s” and people looking for dead stock because of the dreadful “new” shirt BB cursed us with.

  26. Haven’t tried one on yet but I’ve had the same gut feeling as DCG. We couldn’t expect BB to keep selling their prior OCBD at a loss. And its easy to imagine how having two ‘signature shirts’ available would be difficult for their brand to justify. Whatever we think of most of their offerings, they still position themselves as relatively affordable luxury. With that frame, it’d be sort of awkward to have “our famous, traditional, standard setting OCBD” and a cheaper, made in SE Asia version that was the standard bearer last week (and would surely still cost nearly $100 itself).

    The fickle whims of fashion are blowing away from traditional/ivy/*preppy* styling and the already small group of people that care about the innards of their OCBD collar are shrinking. This shirt is now a niche item. And last week’s BB OCBD was also a niche item. And BB is a global retail corporation that has been through 3 owners in roughly the same number of decades. I don’t mean that we owe them anything but they don’t owe any of us a shirt that they lose money on.

    With all the debate about the price, I couldn’t help figure out what the cost of a BB OCBD actually used to be. So, in 1988 an OCBD went for $45 (HTJ archives: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-ML7BUEownXk/UpFnACjiI3I/AAAAAAAAPTI/uPrAV1V8DNk/s1600/BBFall1988_128.jpg) in 2015 dollars that is equivalent to $90.28 (http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl). With that in mind and the large increase in cost of US based manufacturing since the 1980s, the price shift doesn’t seem that outrageous. Plus it seems to dampen the idea that BB was ever an everyman outpost for affordable staples. At least not within the last 30ish years. The real loss in that category was LL Bean. Those old catalogues are the ones that make me misty eyed…

  27. Chewco L.P. (Cayman) | January 15, 2016 at 7:46 pm |

    Are people really still whining about the price? When was the last time you’ve been inside a Brooks Brothers?

    List of recent “updates” to OCBD shirts:

    Black Fleece Thom Browne OCBD: $195
    Own Make OCBD: $198
    Natural Craftsmanship OCBD: $298!

    A lot of stuff at Brooks Brothers is being updated…

    “Updating the classics. Zac Posen’s take on the polo button-down collar dress shirt.”

    https://www.instagram.com/p/BAk5jazHfts/?taken-by=brooksbrothers

    I say this is gonna have a designer mark-up just like Thom Browne. Say $225/shirt.

  28. Ward Wickers, Wrinkled | January 15, 2016 at 8:05 pm |

    WFBjr

    Agree with your admonition. No-irons remain undeniably stiff after a few washings, and damned uncomfortable. What’s more, the shirts of color lose their pigment around the edge of the cuffs (which are still very stiff) within six months of regular use. (No one can say I didn’t try.) It made me wonder if BB was somehow spraying color onto their shirts, it looked so bad. No more no-irons for me.

  29. @Chewco – That Zac Posen button down is for women, FYI.

  30. I agree with many that the new shirt is a step in the right direction, and I’m glad for it. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they couldn’t just fix the collar on now-defunct must iron OCBD. The shirt was perfectly fine otherwise; there was no need to re-reinvent it. And a price bump would’ve been fine too – I think most of us here wouldn’t hesitate to pay $125 or more if we knew we were getting the honest-to-goodness classic BB OCBD.

  31. Bsquaredcustomer | January 15, 2016 at 10:16 pm |

    Have suit prices have also gone up?

  32. I just opened mine and the cloth of the collars are 3 1/4 inches although they have a nice roll. The unlined feel is…empyrean.

  33. Chewco L.P. (Cayman) | January 15, 2016 at 11:45 pm |

    @McDermott,

    I’m very aware. They’re doing a very good job marketing him. My old lady and I are looking forward to seeing the entire collection coming out next week.

    S/f,
    Chewie

  34. Tempest in a teapot.

  35. Any idea of when the might go on sale?

  36. Bags' Groove | January 16, 2016 at 11:22 am |

    @WFBjr
    Empyrean?
    Who’s been digging around among their early Herbie Hancock albums?

  37. I just want a pocket:(

  38. @Ezra,

    One thing to keep in consideration is that people that do not comment far outnumber those that do. I am also a fan of the shirt. I am just not a fan of how the release was handled, but that could be because I work in marketing.

  39. As to the question of when they might go on sale, if you are on Brooks Brothers mailing list, every so often they send you a 40% off coupon in the mail.

    Those hoping for more than 40% off will probably have to wait (like in a darkroom before digital photography) to see what develops.

  40. University Stripe | January 16, 2016 at 5:47 pm |

    The reintroduction of the unlined collar for Brooks Brothers benefits the community in only one way I know–that you can now purchase a shirt comparable to Mercer at a sale price of around $100.

    However, many of us had grown fond of the former Brooks button down being offered for $60 on sale. It may have been costing the company money at that price, but that doesn’t change the fact that many in the Ivy community did rely on it for an affordable, quality shirt for daily wear. Of course some are upset.

  41. The buttons are too small. I may return both.

  42. WFB, the collar points are still 3 1/4? Before washing? BB has completely lost their heritage. While I bought some of their imported non iron shirts during the after Xmas sale, I’ll stick with the limited selection, 3″ collar LE Hyde park shirts for about $34 on sale.

  43. So, we’ll wait for the sale. There.

    The utter silliness of it all. To price the new and improved OCBD at $140, even as the previous incarnation was less than $100. Do pearl buttons cost that much? Or is the labor involved in removing the chest pocket and the lining that exorbitant? Hmmm…

    This is, seen from a distance, extremely funny.

  44. I was surprised and pleased when I visited my local BB to see the new/old shirts. The staff knew to what I was referring and seemed pretty knowledgeable. They had not gotten them in yet but will soon. When I was asked which color I would like brought in the answer was obvious to me-white. Bit spendy. We’ll see.

    Will

  45. I hate to spit in the eye of traditionalism, but I don’t really mind lined collars on oxford shirts, provided that they have the ideal collar roll. The collar on my Sid Mashburn ocbd is lined and produces a far better roll than that of my vintage Brooks oxfords, IMO.

  46. “…what was once a basic is now a luxury, from quality shirts to American-made jeans.”

    Well and truly spoken. And that sentiment doesn’t just apply to clothes.

  47. I’d be more interested in the shirt if they had kept the chest pocket. Why raise the price to $140 and take away the pocket? And I’m disappointed to see ecru has been deleted, but I still have my Gatsby OCBD in ecru, so I’m set. I know that color sold the least of all the must-iron OCBDs.

    I imagine the solid purple one would like very nice with a gray herringbone tweed. Like everyone else, I’ll probably wait for a sale.

  48. I just saw the new oxford shirt that my local BB store brought in for me. I wear a 15 1/2 34 and the sizing was spot on. Nice collar roll. Miss the pocket. Though I ordered the Madison, it fit like a slim. I am a pretty fit marathoner. If you have a belly, it may not be the shirt for you. The reason I did not leave the store with the shirt was the incredible flimsiness of the oxford cloth. I commented to the clerk that it felt like a broadcloth with the tooth of an oxford. To her credit, she agreed. I did very much want to like the shirt but, in the end, I could not buy it.

    G and T time gents,

    Will

  49. I was in NYC earlier this week for a conference, and I popped into 346 Madison to attempt an exchange of the recently discontinued white oxford shirt for the newly released version. I informed the sales clerk that I was looking for a Madison fit in my size, 15 1/2 32, and was shown that the only colors they had left in that size were yellow and the purple stripe. She said they’ve been selling like crazy since they arrived. As I’m set on yellow oxfords for the moment, I went for the purple stripe, never having owned one before. I’ve actually quite taken to it. I do miss the pocket, but otherwise, it’s a good looking shirt. The weight of the fabric and feel of the collar and cuffs is about the same as some Brooks OCBDs that I own from the late 80s.

  50. I applaud BB for trying to (somewhat) appease traditional customers, but the new shirt misses the mark. In direct comparison with a BB OCBD purchased within the past 3 years, the new shirt is made from a less substantial fabric- it weighs much less than an older shirt, and is not longer available in a full “Traditional Cut”. MOP buttons are not important to me. Unlined collar, placket and cuffs feel nice and are comfortable to wear, but also bring an element of informality when worn in a professional environment meaning the shirt may not be appropriate as a day to day business shirt. Of the 3 issues I have with the shirt, I would gladly accept the last issue if the fabric were more substantial and the cut fuller. BB calls this a reinterpretation of a classic icon, I call it revisionist history. No sale.

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