Passing On The Roll Of A Lifetime

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Today Brooks Brothers sent out an email blast with a graphic emblazoned with the words “The Shirt We Love.” It’s fitting that the shirt features a straight collar, because Brooks’ iconic shirt for the past century — the buttondown — hasn’t been getting much love from the trad community recently.

The latest purist to bemoan the lined and fused collar that no longer boasts its distinctive nonchalant roll comes from across the proverbial pond. This weekend’s edition of The Spectator features the straight-to-the-point headline, “What went wrong with the Brooks Brothers’s shirt?

Included is a photo of Gregory Peck:

Portrait of Gregory Peck, smiling. (Photo by Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Portrait of Gregory Peck, smiling. (Photo by Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

And writer Damian Thompson opines:

… Disaster struck. Brooks Brothers — which had more or less invented button-downs, borrowing the idea from English polo players — changed its recipe. For reasons I still can’t fathom, at some point in the 1990s it shortened its collar lapels so that they sloped straight down to the tiny buttons. This had the effect of flattening the elegant roll so that it virtually disappeared, making Brooks Brothers shirts look like the run-of-the-mill button-downs sold on the British high street. With one snip of the scissors, the Ivy League look was gone.

Thompson goes on to praise Mercer & Sons (disclosure: longtime Ivy Style sponsor) as a purist-minded alternative.

Long live the Ivy League Look. — CC

41 Comments on "Passing On The Roll Of A Lifetime"

  1. G. Bruce Boyer | September 26, 2015 at 11:54 am |

    Mr. Thompson’s article couldn’t be more spot on. Ordinarily you’d think that, because so many have been asking for The Real Brooks Button Down for so long, that the firm would have long ago listened to its customers. How deaf is Brooks Brothers? Real deaf!

  2. Nothing whatsoever went wrong with the BB OCBD shirt. Thanks to the lined collars and the easy-iron finish, it is possible to look crisp rather than rumpled. By the way, the collar points may have been shortened, but they never looked like the run-of-the-mill button-downs sold on the British high street. They still don’t.

  3. People there at Brooks now do not know what we are talking about when we moan about the old OCBD and other fine products long gone or disfigured forever. An assistant buyer recently asked me, “Why would you want a shirt that has to be ironed?”

    Cracks in the porcelain were evident earlier, but I believe the demise began in earnest with the Brit company and the woman CEO. I recall she did away with brass buttons on the Blazers and many other unforgivable sins. Now we are just fortunate to have Mr. Mercer.

  4. A bit unrelated, but I may have found the poor man’s shaggy dog – at least for this season. From Levi of all places:

    http://www.levi.com/US/en_US/mens-clothing-sweaters-sweatshirts/p/193530001

  5. One would have to assume that the number$ just don’t add up. Otherwise you’d see a line of “Original Makers Buttondowns” in their Vermillion Fleece Line (or whatever it is this year) with a nice little price bump.

    Their main customer base is probably surprised the shirts don’t come in the alpha sizing they grew up on.

  6. My preference for supposedly non-iron BB shirts doesn’t stem for a desire for convenience, but a desire for neatness. My experience has been that even the so-called non-iron shirts do, in fact, always need ironing, and that the must-iron shirts never look proper, no matter how much your iron the. Moistening, spray starch, high-steam powerful irons–none of the actually get rid of the rumpled look. When I see a man in a carefully-pressed blazer, an impeccably knotted necktie, greynflannels with a razor-sharp crease, and admirably-polished shoes, I expect him to be wearing a faultlessly-ironed shirt. One can never achieve that look with a non-non-iron shirt. A well-ironed BB “non-iron”shirt can’t be surpassed for a neat appearance.

  7. And there’s the difference between looking neat and looking, shall I say, aristocratic.

  8. FWIW, I prefer non-irons. Mine are LLBean, with a superb collar roll, comfortable feel, and no ironing needed at all.

  9. William Richardson | September 26, 2015 at 5:05 pm |

    @NC Jack, Hans, Thody

    Really?

    Will

  10. Neat dressers strike me as uncomfortable, overly punctilious, and untrustworthy. What character flaws are being concealed by all that smooth plasticized cotton? What depravity has led you to forgo nubby cloth from God’s green earth, rumpled as He ordained, and soil it with liquified maize? Is Harris tweed “neat”? Is nubby raw silk “neat”??

    Repent ere it is too late!

  11. William Richardson | September 26, 2015 at 5:10 pm |

    The people at my local BB store are very nice people but they do not know the first thing about clothing. On numerous occasions I asked about 3/2 roll coats and suits, hook vents and unlined shirts and was met with dear in the headlights stares. I shan’t consider buying anything from them except rep ties.

    Will

  12. NaturalShoulder | September 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm |

    I received a non-iron shirt years ago and wore it once and gave it away. The fabric felt like plastic and was not comfortable. I like my shirts pressed by the dry cleaners with light starch but appreciate how they wrinkle after a day at the office or attending some other function.

  13. William Richardson | September 26, 2015 at 6:41 pm |

    Non-iron shirts have no theme.

  14. The BB ‘must-iron’ shirts made in the USA (oxford cloth) that I have purchased the last few years have a collar only fractionally shorter than my vintage ‘makers’ (.5-1cm, if that) and no fusing in the collar. Blue, white and pink,’regular’ sizing. A few washes and the collar softens and rolls as it ever did. The french-blue ‘end-on’end’ button downs that BB still sell (although now made in Malaysia) have a completely unlined, unfused collar and a fabulous roll. ‘Must iron’ as well.
    The lazy look straight away at the non-iron products and assume that’s all BB do now.

  15. DCG is actually an extremely neat dresser, but it’s in the overall presentation, not the surface of the fabrics. Always neat haircut, clean-shaven (except when singing in synagogue), shirt military-tucked, etc. etc. But loafers may have scuffs from having not been laboriously polished in the past 24 hours, and oxford shirts pucker as they should.

  16. I have a slew of BB OCBDs bought several years ago and still going strong. I’ve acquired a few button downs from Polo RL, Paul Stuart, and J Press, also more ‘vintage’ than new. Lately, I began buying a few replacements from Mercer. Mercer is everything a good shirt should be. Whether old or new, all are must-iron.

    Hans, I appreciate your sentiment:
    “When I see a man in a carefully-pressed blazer, an impeccably knotted necktie, greynflannels with a razor-sharp crease, and admirably-polished shoes, I expect him to be wearing a faultlessly-ironed shirt.”

    Fortunately for me, I guess, my shoes give me a little cover, as they never make it to the “admirably-polished” level. I suppose my slightly rumpled shirts go with my shoes, though, honestly, I’ve never thought about them that way.

  17. Everyone should take a look at BB’s website and their instagram page. The clothes they are coming out with are vomit worthy. Camo cargo pants for starters. And the people they are choosing to represent their clothes are horrendous. Truly the company has lost their way. I was at the Madison Ave store, speaking with my guy who I’ve been going to for custom suits and tailoring for almost 15 years we struck up conversation over the direction of the company. He assured me that not only members of the staff but frequent buyers beside myself are disgusted with the direction.

  18. Christian

    Good that you sprung to DCG’s defense. Some of us, I fear, were getting a little worried. What would the world come to if everyone were a little rumpled?

    Another point against non-iron shirts. Because they are stiff they don’t fall and fold naturally. I bought a few at one time, but regretted it.

    I’m intrigued by CeeEm’s post on BB regular size shirts, and an end on end, being unlined, etc.. I somehow missed that. Too late, though. I get my shirts now almost entirely from Mercer and the Andover Shop, and am very happy about it.

  19. Past Imperfect | September 26, 2015 at 11:21 pm |

    As someone mentioned in the past, I too have a sneaking suspicion that the collar roll was once simply a manufacturing flaw that resulted from the collar and the shirt body shrinking, with the result that the distance between the button hole and the button changed, creating a roll.

  20. My fiancée’s Virginian mother is horrified that I never iron my oxfords, which by the by are mostly recent Brooks and all have at least some roll, more so the white ones.

    If they ever starched my shirts at the cleaners I’d throw my unpolished loafer through the window, I can promise you that!

    Hair’s usually passably neat, I’ll admit. I look like Robert Chambers, Jr. if I let it get too long, too short and I look like a Bavarian boxer, which obviously would interfere with some of my liturgical musician “gigs”.

  21. Virginians are always so neat.

    This post prompted a dream last night, probably because I was reading it late. I was in J Press’s old New Haven store on York Street. I was looking to buy a shirt and James was showing me a white OCBD. Everything was normal when viewed from the front — nicely rolled collar and the J Press patch pocket. When I looked at the shirt’s back, however, it was anything but normal. Rather than one box pleat in the middle, a series of tiny pleats ran across the back. There must have been 20 or 30 little pleats that shimmered in the light. James told me that this is the “New J Press tradition.” I was so startled I came out of the dream into consciousness (which is why I remember it). My first thought was to check the website, and then I realized I was only dreaming.

  22. Shirts should be ironed or not ironed.
    It’s a decision that shouldn’t be made by your shirt.

  23. William Richardson | September 27, 2015 at 11:56 am |

    @Ward

    I think that would be one of the signs of the apocalypse. Maybe bourbon and gummy bears are not such a good idea right before bed. ;0P

    Cheers,

    Will

  24. Can’t think of anything worse than a non-iron shirt.And as a Englishman there’s nothing wrong with British shirts.

  25. ‘Nothing whatsoever went wrong with the BB OCBD shirt.’

    It would be hard to find a more inaccurate statement in the history of mankind.

    The BB OCBD was, for many years, iconic shirt perfection. Still, whatever floats your boat.
    Still, whatever floats your boat.

  26. Is there an echo in here?

  27. I’ll never give up gummy bears and bourbon.

    … gummy bears and bourbon.

    Hey, there is an echo!

  28. William Richardson | September 27, 2015 at 2:31 pm |

    a Englishman?

    Will

  29. William Richardson | September 27, 2015 at 2:47 pm |

    @Ward

    Tomorrow, a blood moon is supposed to signal the end of days and Ward, through his dream, has seen into a bleak future. I don’t want to live in a world of non-iron, kilt pleated oxford button down shirts whether the collars have a proper roll or not. Serenity now!

    Cheers,

    Will

  30. I’m not quite sure what all this consternation over non-iron shirts is all about. I thought all gentlemen had their shirts laundered. (With light or no starch.) I’ve been on that path since freshman year in college. Neat, my fellow Ivy League adherents, should only apply to our single malt Scotch.

  31. Will

    Seriously, I didn’t think the dream was all that prophetic, blood moon or not. After all, it’s no longer Y2K and a moon isn’t a comet. If I had the dream ahead of a comet, well that would be disastrous. So, I wasn’t too worried. But then, I see a Englishman. A Englishman! Kilt-pleats on the OCBD, the blood moon coming and a Englishman – Crikey, the world IS coming to an end!

    There is only one thing to do: Put on my best, un-ironed Mercer OCBD and eat all the gummy bears and drink all the bourbon before the bell tolls the final hour. The end is nigh!

  32. William Richardson | September 27, 2015 at 3:55 pm |

    @Ward

    Crikey, indeed.

    Here’s how!

    Will, a American

  33. Some who remember when Brooks Brothers was still Brooks Brothers (before Allied Stores, Marks & Sparks, and the Italians) might also remember that there were two versions of button down collars, the Polo collar (which was the one with rolls) and the Clifford collar (which was the one without rolls) available.

    I always bought the Clifford collar shirts.

  34. @Roy R. Platt

    Apparently, the Clifford collar was significantly shorter than the standard buttondown collar:
    http://www.thecitrusreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/CLIFFORD-1.jpg

  35. I recently bought a few of the BB U.S.-made OCBDs. I saw an online review, dated as recently as 2013, that said the collar points were 8.5 cm (3-3/8″) long. That compared favorably with a 15-year old BB shirt that was still wrapped and sitting in my closet so I placed my order. Alas, these new shirts have shorter collar points and NO collar roll whatsoever. The fabric’s great but these no longer look like Brooks Bros. shirts. Period.

  36. Steve L.,

    What do the new ones measure? 3.25″? Thanks!

  37. OCBD: yup. The placement of the collar buttons is also different (though I don’t know how precisely standardized that has been in the past and what I’m seeing may be within a “margin of error”).

  38. Great-spot on comments for the most part. I am a Mercer guy, and I say “mot prt” due to comments that are “pro BB.” I never enter my local BB (like a poster above) except for a rep tie. (I would rather actually buy Talbott online, but I am very picky & like to inspect my ties in person to see the stitching et. al.)
    Off track there a bit, sorry. OCBD’s are horrible at BB. I gave 14 to Goodwill last year, after prolonging the effort. I changed to Mercer years ago, and have never looked back! I will admit, I was ignorant in one respect about my BB. They were the older “model” with a decent roll, but I had them laundered (NO starch of course) but stored in plastic, and ended up with horrible yellowing. 12 white, down the tubes. I am better off, enjoying the great Mercer Bulletproof. ps-The plastic storage bags were BB suit bags! It had to be their fault! (ha ha–my fault) If BB sold their OCBD for 20.00, I would not buy one. Let’s start another posting sometime about my fairly recent experience with TWO BB (Southwick) 3/2 navy blazers. Both had over 200.00 in alterations to remove the SUPER excess lining. Be careful! I bought 2 at once since 50% off, and regret it very much! No QC on the lining, or I just got a “bad batch.” My tailor was amazed how bad they were.
    ps- posted this on the BB comment site and immediately removed. The experience literally made me change to 150.00 Macy’s 2 button darted. (found brass buttons with a center vent!!!! Amazing! Bought 3! The good stuff is fading rapidly)

  39. Hyperbole much? Hope the tirade felt good!

    The collars roll on my Brooks shirts. Sure, it takes a few launderings. Yes, the points could be longer. No, I don’t like that the collars are lined.

    They’re still around $60 on sale, the cloth is still superb, they’re still made in the U.S.

    And stop buying blazers! Good god, man. How many could you possibly need? *

    *Disclaimer: I own multiple blazers acquired over many years.

  40. @DCG
    Stop buying blazers?
    That’s like saying Stop buying OCBD shirts, reppe ties, gray flannels, or chinos.

  41. Five new blazers in a space of what appears to be months seems excessive, even to this clothes horse.

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