Earlier this year I had a buttondown shirt made for me at a Sid Mashburn trunk show in Boston. Pleased with its quality, I reached out to the Mashburn team for details about their shirt offerings, both MTO and ready-to-wear. I received the answers I was looking for (it’s an unfused collar with 3¼” points), but also gained the opportunity to pepper Sid with questions over the phone, leading to a freewheeling discussion touching on the hunt for the perfect collar roll, tie-dye, and Sid’s own relationship to the Ivy League Look. — ERIC TWARDZIK
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ET: When did you first introduce your button-down collar? Was that available from the beginning?
SM: It was available from the very beginning, so 2007. Now, it has changed a little bit over the years because the first maker we had for it, it was tough for them to get the roll exactly the way we wanted it. And so we actually had a very, very, very light fusible in there, and then after a couple seasons said, you know what? We’ll get the roll right, but I didn’t want the fusible in the collar. So we said, let’s make sure we have a woven interlining that is not a fused interlining, because we don’t really do fusing in our jackets. Now, we do a very light fusible in our dress shirts because it helps the collar stay a bit crisper and the collars are a little more formal in the dress shirts than they are in the buttondown [shirts]. But all of our sport shirts have a woven interlining.
ET: How did you achieve the roll you were looking for in the buttondown shirt?
SM: It’s pretty subjective actually, but I have a shirt from probably the ‘60s. It was an old madras shirt. Of course, it’s never just about one thing or the other. It’s not just about the button placement, it’s not just about the interlining, it’s not just about the weight of the fabric, it’s not just about the height of the collar band or the length of the collar point. It’s like engineering; it’s about all of that. So if you shift one thing, something else probably shifts also. We just kept playing around with it. We have a fantastic tailor here and I just kept saying to him, “This collar needs to look like a flower in bloom.” It’s almost like an “S” shape in a sense: it really needs to look like it’s a soft, longer “S.” As it’s coming out of the collar band it needs to kind of curl up, and coming down it needs to curl in, and then by the time it gets down to the button it needs to start curling back up a little bit. And then as it finishes it needs to finish on an upward curl.
ET: I have one of those shirts myself. I can see how that “S” description lines up.
SM: When you have a chance, go online and look at the Sid Mashburn garment-dyed button-down sport shirt. You see the collar on the left? If you turn your head about ten degrees, it looks like an “S,” in motion. We want that “pop” to come out and then back in, and then back out again… we call it a flower, or a bloom, or an “S” shape. Sexy is the wrong word, but it does have enough movement to it that it’s like that. Looks sweet, you know?
ET: Is that tie-dyed button-down shirt something you’ve just introduced?
SM: We do it every now and then, when we’re feeling it. Like man, wouldn’t it be nice, I want a tie-dye shirt, you know? We do garment-dyed all the time, whether it’s pants, shirts, polos or sneakers. One of the cool things we did early on, probably in 2010, we took Tretorns and dyed them Day-Glo. Which was nice because you’ve got this kind of 80s’ thing on top of the Ivy… Also, the polo shirt is probably one of the most Ivy things there is, isn’t it? And then you put Day-Glo on the polo, and you get it kind of faded out. You get it kind of crusty and tattered looking. I think that is super cool.
ET: Was that madras shirt you mentioned earlier an inspiration?
SM: Yes. It’s from the 60’s… It was not [from] a super-popular brand from that era, but it definitely was a bleeding madras. And bleeding madras was the way all madras was, because they were vegetable dyed. They were not stable, so the colors would migrate.
ET: Is the button-flap pocket only made-to-order, or do you have button-down shirts featuring that detail ready-made?
SM: We used to do that ready-made. We just got away from it. We just left it as an open patch. If somebody wants [the button-flap pocket], we can always change it out.
ET: There’s something about the flap pocket’s size, and its placement on the chest, that I really enjoy.
SM: That pocket also has a little bit of a Western-vibe to it, too. Which is funny, like preppy-cowboy. The shape is just in the slant of the pocket. It gives it a little something extra, which I think is always kind of nice.
ET: What has been the influence of Ivy style on your brand?
SM: It was a real mash-up at first, because I’m from Mississippi. My older brother was super preppy. And he died at a pretty young age. He was 17 and I was turning seven. But seeing the pictures of him, in a weird way he was a big influence on my style choices. But [having grown up] in a place in Mississippi where nobody in my town was very preppy, it just wasn’t one of those places. Of course, if you went to Oxford or Ole Miss or to Jackson State University, there definitely were. I can remember in seventh grade I looked like a David Bowie picture. I was wearing baggies and platform shoes. And then my sisters who were in college at the time, they brought me a pair of G.H. Bass penny loafers. So I started wearing the penny loafers, maybe I was in the 8th grade by then, and it’s like, “I’m not sure if the penny loafers really go with the baggies, but they’re cool.” And then I started wearing them with jeans. This was probably about ’73, ’74, that I started getting into it. My sister had lived in Boston fairly early on, so I’d see pictures of people up there. I started wearing the baby wale corduroys. And my sister about that same time got me a pair of Top-Siders. The other big shoe back then in Mississippi was the Wallabee. The Wallabee I would never say was very Ivy, but it definitely partied well with Ivy. But I can remember going to a girl’s softball game and I was wearing a Cross Creek white polo shirt with tan corduroys and some Sperry Top-siders. And one of the guys said, “Man, when did you get so preppy?” And I’m like, “What the hell’s preppy mean?” I didn’t think that way. I just was wearing things that I thought were kind of cool. And nobody else was dressing like that.
That was the time I bought my first pair of straight leg jeans, Levi’s. I bought those and would roll them up. And all my friends were wearing bell-bottoms. I thought that wasn’t cool, and my friends thought that what I was wearing was not cool. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, we all were still friends, but I kind of went my own way. So I just liked the preppy thing partly because no one else was wearing it. And course tweed jackets were in my closet, because I had started going to these men’s stores like Owen’s Limited or the Rogue in Jackson. My first job in a men’s store was I think ’75, as soon as I got my driver’s license. And I bought tweed pants and buttondown shirts. Buttondown shirts were not even going on at that point, it was still pointed collars. And so I was going into my grandfather’s closet and getting his old shirts. One of the best shirts I ever had was an old Enro. It was like a kind of amber-gold oxford-cloth buttondown, and of course you know what it had on the back collar right? It had a button! And it even had the locker loop on top on the box pleat. The whole megillah! In high school I dressed like I was in college. I was just into it and I was working at a men’s clothing store. So Shetland sweaters, tweed pants. All sorts of stuff like that.
ET: It sounds like it came together organically, which I think is one of the things that make the aesthetic attractive. It can happen by accident, sometimes.
SM: Yes, it was. I can remember in the 10th grade, for Christmas I got a pair of khaki pants, a tartan rugger shirt with a khaki collar, and a shawl collar sweater. And I would wear Sperry Top-Siders with that. It was like I had the whole package. I thought I was super cool. Anyway, they were not much appreciated by the people around me, but it didn’t matter. I just liked it.
ET: When you started your label, did you incorporate repp ties and penny loafers because that’s just how you liked to dress, or did you consciously decide to include certain Ivy pieces among your collection?
SM: It’s like looking through your albums, or CDs, or music. Sometimes it doesn’t all make sense. Some people say, “I’m into jazz, or I’m into classical, or I’m into rock,” but I tend to like everything. And clothing choices became somewhat similar. Ivy is a fantastic base to work from. And sadly, preppy can become a pejorative word. And it’s not really. To me it just says classic, something that’s widely acceptable anywhere. My wife coined it better than anybody… when she met me I was wearing a pair of old Lilly Pulitzer swim trunks, really short, and I had some beads on, like from Mardi Gras. They were white beads. And I had long hair. And she said, “You’re like a preppy hippie from Mississippi.” And in a weird way, it was a little preppy-hippie. Taking Ivy and shagging it out a little bit more. Ivy already is kind of shagged-out… But a little bit longer hair, with clothes that are a little bit more trad or ivy, I like the mix of that together. Even today, I’m wearing a houndstooth blazer, white jeans, tassel loafers, a Bengal striped shirt and a large foulard tie. I mean it looks super preppy or ivy, but not too. We don’t want it to look like a costume or only a reflection of one style, but if you took all the pieces and took them apart, they’d probably all fit with what it is you’re asking about. Also, I love mixing tie-dye in with Ivy. I’ve got a tie-dye pocket square right now, which is probably the most versatile pocket square I own.
ET: Are there any particularly Ivy pieces in your fall collection that you feel excited about?
SM: There are a couple pieces [in the fall collection]. One is going to be this Shetland houndstooth topcoat that we’re doing that is super cool… Have you noticed our Virgil jacket? That’s pretty Ivy right there. The only difference is it’s sexier than the old, undarted jacket. Because it’s got a little bit more shape to the midsection. Not a lot, but a little bit. And we’re offering that this coming fall in both a center-vent and a side vent. To me, that undarted, center-vent, Virgil jacket is like a forward-fashion piece, in a strange way.