Kamakura Shirts: The Classic Buttondown Returns To Madison Avenue

Although it was founded in a small historic Japanese town, last week Kamakura Shirts opened at its spiritual home: Madison Avenue.

Why spiritual home? Because, according to the company’s marketing materials, “the Ivy League style is in our soul.” Located at 400 Madison, just one block from J. Press and four from the Brooks flagship, the small shop — which carries only shirts and a small selection of neckties— plans to supply a discriminating clientele with “the shirt that Brooks Brothers forgot how to make.”

Kamakura Shirts was founded in 1993 by 72-year-old Yoshio Sadasue, who spent the years 1966-1978 in a variety of roles at pioneering Japanese Ivy brand VAN Jacket. In a gesture only the hardest of hardcore Ivy fans would recognize, a large photo of Sadasue with VAN founder Kensuke Ishizu, the man who brought Ivy to Japan, hangs behind the cash register of the Madison Avenue store.

Sadasue takes a purist approach to shirtmaking. He makes no non-iron shirts, politely scoffing at the idea. All the shirts are made in Japan with tremendous attention to detail. Cotton thread count starts at 80, and all shirts feature natural shell buttons. “I was taught by Mr. Ishizu, who always said to pay attention to quality and details,” says Sadasue.

Basic shirts, including oxford-cloth buttondowns, are priced at a modest $79. They never go on sale, but Kamakura offers a membership club that entitles customers to one free shirt after 16 purchases.

Ivy fans will be pleased to know that Kamakura has made collar roll a priority. According to Sadasue, as Brooks Brothers, inventors of the iconic buttondown oxford, changed factories over the years the collar roll manufacturing technique was lost. “And also the company was bought by Italians,” he says, “and they don’t know buttondowns and tell the factory not to pay attention to the collar roll.”

Achieving the roll is tricky, Sadasue says, and comes down “not to the pattern, but know-how.”

For his Ivy-inspired buttondowns, Sadasue developed a special cotton-lined but unfused collar. It rolls naturally because, as is the case with any curved surface, the top layer of the collar is a slightly longer piece of material than the bottom layer, as it must travel a greater distance.

Sadasue believes his small shop can compete via word-of-mouth and because American companies today are focused mostly on cost and speed-to-market, not quality and details. “We’re making these shirts year-round,” he says, “so we don’t have to rush, and we can ask the factory technicians to do something different to make the shirts better.” Kamakura sells 700,000 shirts annually in Japan, 60 percent of which feature a buttondown collar. In the US, he anticipates that number will be 30 percent.

“We don’t plan to sell to all the men of New York,” he says, “just the 10 percent who really want this kind of high-technique shirt made as it was 30 or 40 years ago. A lot of company owners today don’t have a philosophy for making garments, which have to have an emotional part. It’s not just the physical.”

While Sadasue has taken as his mission to preserve classic Ivy details, not all Japanese companies have the same commitment. Of Onward Kashiyama, current owners of J. Press, Sadasue says the president prefers European clothing and “doesn’t even like Ivy League.”

When I suggest that perhaps Mr. Sadasue should be the owner J. Press, he laughs and says, “Yes, I think so.” — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

45 Comments on "Kamakura Shirts: The Classic Buttondown Returns To Madison Avenue"

  1. Makes sense.

  2. They look great–thanks for sharing.

  3. Seems like a great price-point. What’s the cut of these shirts like? Are the voluminous like Mercer, or cut smaller?

  4. Ah, forgot to put that in there. There are two cuts, regular and trim.

  5. @Trip

    Does “price-point” mean “price”?

  6. Michael Mattis | November 5, 2012 at 10:45 am |


    I was just thinking the same thing. It’s funny how marketing jargon becomes an ear-worm among the general public after even a short while these days.

    In any case, I’m eager to give these shirts a test drive.

  7. No, it went price-point. Got any more questions?

  8. Sorry, *meant.

  9. Wow!
    Kamakura is better than Kamasutra !!
    (and less tiring).

  10. As long as we’re talking Japanese in NYC, Seigo at 1248 Madison has some of the most affordable and high quality ties in the city. As with Kamakura, all of his products are made in Japan.

  11. Nice to have some other options available to try out.

  12. Richard Meyer | November 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm |

    All very nice, but what abour Mercer, who has been making great BD shirts in the US for 30 years?

  13. This all sounds very promising, lets hope Mr Sadasue does a thriving trade and that Brooks and J Press sit up and take notice.

  14. Sounds great. Any online options?

  15. What’s the size-point on these shirts?

  16. Price point:

    Suggested retail price of a product, determined in such a way as to compete with prices of other products. A product may be introduced with a specific price point, but that price may be altered depending on current demand and competition.

    Good question Trip….

  17. Visiting the Japanese web site (www.shirt.co.jp) is worth it just for the incredibly Japanese “animation” of an updated Tuxedo Sam going into the store.

    Are there any plans for Kamakura Shirts to sell on-line in the US?

  18. Bill Stephenson | November 6, 2012 at 2:28 am |

    Good to know.

    You have to wonder if it is possible to sell enough niche related shirts at @$80 to pay the rent at 400 Madison for long.

    When most Mercer customers have been well served for so long you wonder why a change would be considered?

  19. More choice is healthy for us all.
    A good exercise would be to compare a Kamakura, a Mercer and a current Brooks and J. Press OCBD, not to determine “the best” but to note the differences and strengths and weaknesses in each.

  20. Beyond point scoring is the reality that “Ivy” is primarily just a certain silhouette in menswear. Culturally it can be various things but in menswear it is just a certain style.
    Shirt collars and jacket shoulders are in the DNA of that certain style.
    I welcome anything that celebrates and promotes that certain style.
    I have no interest in all the rest, no matter where it comes from.

  21. OK, after a couple of days delay (they’d pulled the wrong size for me; must’ve gotten lost in translation), a shirt has gone through the wash and is ready for wearing. Here are a few more details.

    Presently the shirt patterns are not Americanized: They’re in centimeters. That means they correspond to in-between sizes.

    It ended up working out great for me. I’m more or less a 16 x 35, but Kamakura’s shirt comes out to 15 3/4 x 35 1/3. As I’m running pencil-necked these days, the neck came out perfect. As for the cuff, it’s snug and doesn’t slide down your hand, so the extra length is as it should be, allowing you to move your arms and keep your shirt cuff in place rather than sliding up.

    Collar roll in place straight from the drier.

    Now the slim version has something some may not like. There’s no box pleat in the back, as well as no locker loop (or even split yoke for that matter), and there are two long darts running up the sides of the back.

    I can’t recall if these are on the regular shirts, and perhaps the slim version is just a regular one that’s been darted?

    I may be in their neighborhood again today and will try to find out.

    Oh, and my girlfriend says that in Japan the shirts are about $50. Her mother’s coming to visit in a few weeks and we plan to have her stock up for me.

  22. The first review of the shirts.

  23. This is extremely interesting. Like Bill Stephenson I am a Mercer customer, but I sometimes chafe at their lengthy production timelines. Might be nice to have an option for when I need immediate gratification. I will be in NY on Thursday-Friday and will check them out.

  24. Boston Bean | November 6, 2012 at 9:15 am |

    Praying that the “regular” shirts don’t have darts.

  25. Boston Bean:

    Good news, the photo above is no doubt a regular…complete with box pleat.

    I’m a lean guy, but here comes that Ivy vibe creeping into my thought process. “if I’m going to buy one of these shirts, I’m going with what they view as their masterpiece.”

    Christian, are you loading up with slims?

  26. The slim fits me great, but the back darts do look a bit off. Unless you go custom, seems there’s always a trade-off.

    The Japanese don’t have our obesity epidemic, so it’s quite possible that a regular fit is pretty fitted by our standards. I plan to try one on and decide then.

    Update: I’ll have a regular fit tonight and will report on the sizing.

  27. BlueBlazer22 | November 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm |


    How does their oxford cloth compare in quality and thickness to that of Brooks’ “Made in the USA” Pima cotton oxfords?

  28. I think it’s safe to characterize it as middle ground. It’s neither super beefy nor wimpy feeling.

    After talking about collars, I asked Mr. Sadasue about the oxford fabric, and recall his saying that overall the trend among consumers was for lighter fabrics.

  29. OK guys, got some more info for you.

    A slim shirt measures about an inch to inch and a half less across the armpits, but nearly three inches less than a regular at the waist.

    And the regular fit Kamakura is about an inch less at the chest than a Brooks traditional fit.

    The box pleat on the regular fit is certainly more attractive than the darts. It’ll be up to you thin guys which is more important, a tailored fit or traditional styling.

  30. Sorry to be a dummy, but what are “darts?” Is that just a seam where they have cut/shaped the fabric?

    I’m heading to NYC next week and will pick up a couple fo shirts here (after trying both fits.) I am just trying to learn a new sartorial vocab word- “Darts.”

    Thanks in advance for the tutorial, gents.

  31. Hmm. Love the look of that collar, but really prefer beefy weight and full-on pima that gets softer and softer over time. (My knock on Press is that they aren’t pima, and I hate the placket button, but that’s a nudge. Was told that Gambert of Millburn, NJ, making shirts now for Press, so certainly they should be good shirts).

    I’m a 16 1/2″ x 35″ with a preference for neck comfort. Time to try to figure out the conversion. Still, not liking the news of thinner fabric.

    Thanks for the reporting.

  32. The Brooks Supima is woven for Brooks. Nobody else. It’s a special cloth. Beefy but somehow refined.

  33. @Jason

    Here’s a full explanation of back darts on shirts:


  34. @ Old School.

    Thanks for that.


  35. I thought the most notable point was that the guy who owns Press “doesn’t even like Ivy League.” That isn’t good news.

  36. I plan to pay a visit to the shop later this week.

    In the meantime–

    Mr. Chensvold, did you go with the basic beefy Oxford?

    It looks as though there’s a range of cloth, and Supima might be one of the offerings. I am guessing Supima might be closer to $100 if the basic Oxford is $79.

  37. Supima is just a marketing organization for branding for American Pima cotton. American Pima is the best, know for it’s long and strong fibers. American Pima was developed in the Southwest USA and named for the Indians of that name. American Pima cotton is American Pima cotton whether branded Supima or not. No doubt there are better weaves of cloth made with the same quality fiber.

  38. Yes, I went with their heaviest oxford, which as I said earlier I would characterize as medium weight.

    It’s made from a long-staple Chinese cotton called xinjiang.

    At $180, Kamakura’s ultra-luxe 300-count shirts are also a great value, I think.

  39. Interesting post! So… the collar roll is important. Hm. Some of the guys here wanted to teach me I’m wrong… Nonetheless: they look great! For me perfect Ivy style shirts have a roll like that!

    But I have to disagree that the Italians don’t know about the right collar roll, most of them (especially at Brooks Brothers but also at most other shirt companies.) don’t pay attention to the roll, that’s right. But I have two Italian shirts by a company called “G.F. & Co” that have a slightly spread collar with a nearly perfect roll! So – some of them know it and do it…

  40. I stopped in recently to get a shirt. The service was excellent, and I’ve got to say, the fit, feel and overall quality of the shirt (esp. for the price) is Very Good. I’m planning on picking up a few more.

  41. I stopped by and asked them if they would mind if 1/2 Japanese pornstar London Keyes shoots in their women’s shirts lol. Look of horror on the salesperson face was hysterical. Salesperson goes “That wouldn’t make good PR for us”.

  42. Bought these shirts and they are my favorite

  43. I have purchased a lot from this store- knit shirts of different types, end-on-ends, and oxford cloths. Simply put, these are the only shirts I will ever buy from now on.

    The pinpoint oxford cloth shirt is the best shirt I have ever owned. Every aspect of it is perfect- the fabric is beautiful, the craftsmanship is exquisite, and the fit is incredible.

    This company seems to have come from some distant past where every aspect of the design of its goods and every interaction with the customer has been handled with care, thought and the highest degree of quality imaginable.

    Perhaps I will be more specific about the shirts themselves in a later post- or if anyone needs info- but for now I wanted to say that I am done searching for the shirt I will wear forever.

  44. Based on everyone’s rave reviews, I recently ordered a few Kamakura shirts online, with home delivery (free) to Dubai. Generally I have been buying tailor-made shirts from various Indian tailors in town, but found the finishing details, sizing, and fabric selection a bit inconsistent, and the prices a little high (up to $150). I also have a ton of Brooks Brothers OCBD regular fit (for semi-formal use) shirts, and wanted to try Kamakura for comparison.

    Here are my thoughts so far: there is really no comparison to the BB OBCD. The Kamakura have better collar construction with a higher collar tab and higher first button. This enables the shirt to stand tall and upright all day long, rather than flapping outward which looks sloppy to my eyes. The BD collar really is a thing of beauty, with a perfect roll and ultimate blend of neatness and informality. Finishing on the seams, buttons, plackets etc. are far superior to BB. The cotton fabric is excellent, very soft. The buttons are thin but strong, which makes them easy to fasten. The attention to detail, even for small things like the sown label or the pleats on the sleeve (vs. the somewhat sloppy shirring of BB), is exemplary. If Brooks OBCD is a Ford Taurus, the Kamakura is a Lexus LS. A real quality item at a very reasonable price.

    A note on sizing. I am a pretty chubby (115kg) guy with broad shoulders, somewhat bulging belly and long arms. I take 17-35 in BB OBCD Regular Fit, and they fit quite comfortably (I have dozens of these shirts, even though they are not very exciting). I ordered Kamakura 17.5-36.5 in the NY Classic Fit. Was a little more fitted in the chest and belly, but not tight around the hips. The shirt is still comfortable when sitting (pre-washing). Overall neater and trimmer than BB, and looks more put together. Length is longer than BB, which allows for neater tucking. I hope the Kamakura doesn’t shrink too much; its just about perfect before any shrinkage. However, note that the Vintage chambray XL was too tight around the chest and belly, not wearable (buttons won’t close). I am hoping weight loss can save the day, but bigger fellows should be warned about XL and stick to more precise sizing in Kamakura.

    Hope these observations are helpful. Overall verdict is that Kamakura are simply awesome for button down shirts. Cannot compare to Press or Mercer, as I don’t have those brands in my closet, but they handily outperform BB OBCD in any dimension of fabric, fit, quality, and finishing. Assuming the shirts don’t shrink significantly and they maintain their quality ethos, I will be buying Kamakura over and over for years to come.

  45. Kamakura makes amazing shirts, but their fit is less than ideal for the north american market. Especially, if you’re athletic, the shirts can be too tight and too short. Sebastian Ward does a great job on quality (Thomas Mason made in Italy Fabric) and construction (Made in the USA) while providing a better fit profile. Check out the Fit Manifesto: http://goo.gl/XDaFfB

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