The Shirt That Changed History, And How History Is Changing The Shirt


Today Brooks Brothers is running an online campaign for its buttondown “polo” collar shirts. The tagline is “the shirt that changed history” (it’s also running as “a shirt that changed history”). Introduced in 1896, within a couple of decades it was already the default shirt for style-setting college men in the Northeast, and on places such as Wall Street, where such men went on to work.

But now history itself — namely the future history that is being made right now, if you follow me — is changing the shirt.

Last week a reader informed us that he spoke with Brooks Brothers’ customer service department as was told that traditional-fit shirts would no longer be offered in stores, and could only be purchased through the website. We reached out to a contact at the company to verify. A spokesperson reiterated that Brooks makes four cuts of shirt — traditional, regular, slim and extra-slim — but that traditional needs to be ordered online or in-store, as it’s not stocked on store shelves.

He added:

There is simply less demand for the traditional-fit model, whereas sales for the other three fits continue to grow each year. We recognize that that the traditional-fit shirt is important to some customers, therefore we continue to make it available in all the same fabrics.

The key phrase is “less demand.” Don’t blame the retailer, blame your fellow men. — CC

39 Comments on "The Shirt That Changed History, And How History Is Changing The Shirt"

  1. Vern Trotter | September 2, 2014 at 1:09 pm |

    Even though they say you can get the traditional cut, I believe these shirts are the no-iron material.

    Having enough shirts to last the rest of my life, still I just ordered a few Bengal stripes from Mr. Mercer. Glad we have him.

  2. The traditional fits are really very baggy, I’ve migrated over to regular fit. I can’t imagine the trad fits have been big sellers even at the Madison Ave. store.

  3. I don’t see university stripes any more on their website. The shirts are not labeled non-iron state in the description “This shirt is machine washable for easy care.” Sounds like non-iron to me.

  4. John Schulian | September 2, 2014 at 1:59 pm |

    Why would anyone buy a shirt from Brooks Brothers when David Mercer is making the best shirts money can buy?

  5. I was going to say, considering regular fit is a tent on most people, I can’t imagine who would need a traditional fit shirt? For me, I’ve found the best fitting OTR shirts BB makes right now is for their Red Fleece line.

  6. Yet back in the day, rail-thin men like Fred Astaire wore the traditional-fit shirt, which was, of course, the only fit available. Astaire did what military men do now: create pleats in the sides to keep it neat across the front.

    I have read that some men took their Brooks Brothers tent-shirts to their tailors/seamstresses and had them put in darts. Now that other fits are available, they no longer need to do that.

  7. Henry, you just gave away my image for tomorrow! I think we should have a shirt-fit poll.

    Unless someone can find a good shot of Cary Grant in the voluminous pink oxford from “Father Goose.” I couldn’t find one.

  8. Or maybe the “traditional” fit actually grew along with the rest of Brooks Brothers’ lineup to compensate for ballooning Boomer bellies and those people are finally retiring to Boca, getting lap band surgery, or dying and no longer need shirts that could fit the broad side of a barn.

  9. I strongly suspect that back in the day, people routinely had their shirts altered. The “traditional fit” is designed to accommodate a truly obese person. If you’re healthy you’d just look silly wearing it.

    I like the dress shirts from O’Connell’s – but I immediately take them my neighborhood tailor to take them in at the waist. I take a 17-36 shirt, and need every inch of the width across the shoulders, but I have a 34″ waist. Those shirts just billow around me until I get them corrected.

  10. Astaire and Grant wore their traditional fit shirts with full fitting trousers that sat at or above the natural waist. That means more places to hide the extra fabric.

  11. Traditional cut shirts are indeed quite baggy. When I was in high school and college I wore them because that’s all that was available. (And perhaps, more importantly, it was what my parents bought for me.) These days, however, I’ve moved to slim-fit models and can’t see going back. Right now, I’m wearing a J. Press slim-fit model and it fits perfectly. On the other hand, my weight’s in roughly the 15th percentile for my height, so it’s certainly possible that what works for me might not work for most people.

  12. I think “nfnoa” nailed it. Either that, or it was Omar the tentmaker who retired, and he took the pattern with him.

  13. cameron

    I believe O’Connell’s OCBDs are Gitman, very well made shirts. I wear a 17-35 and don’t mind the blouse, 34 waist, but I don’t believe Gitman has the blouse of a trad fit BB. One thing I like about O’Connell’s Gitman is that it has an extra button down the front, no gap.

    Is it my imagination, are shirts tails shorter than in the past? In the “old days” they almost reached the bottoms of my boxers.l

  14. All those Brooks shirts “on the shelves”–I’ll venture 80 % or more are non-iron. And I’m not including the outlet stores.

    The lined collars and sleeves render the must-iron oxfords unwearable anyway.

    If only Kamakura would remove the lining from their OCBD collars and cuffs.

  15. What’s wrong with Kamakura’s collar lining, given that they took such pains to make the collar roll?

    If I recall from our original post on them, there is some lining but it isn’t fused.

  16. A.E.W. Mason | September 2, 2014 at 8:43 pm |


    Let me understand what you’re saying: As a preliminary matter do we agree that the BB must-iron oxford is made by Garland? In any case, I’m assuming that’s the shirt on which you’re opining. And you’re saying it is “unwearable.” I really loathe sarcasm and I’ve really tried to stay away from it whenever participating on this or any other blog. But, you’re really testing my restraint. “Unwearable.” Okay, hmm. By the way, the J. Press oxfords, whoever makes them now, are no better than the oxfords made by Garland. Also, picking up on Christian’s point, the Garland collars are not fused.

  17. By “fused” I assume you mean facing inside the collar and cuff. I’ve always thought of fused as when that facing is glued.

  18. The description of some shirts as “unwearable” reminds me of the following exchange from Henry V:

    DAUPHIN. What a long night is this! I will not change my
    horse with any that treads but on four pasterns.
    Ca, ha! he bounds from the earth, as if his
    entrails were hairs; le cheval volant, the Pegasus,
    chez les narines de feu! When I bestride him, I
    soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth
    sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his
    hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes.
    ORLEANS. He’s of the colour of the nutmeg.
    DAUPHIN. And of the heat of the ginger. It is a beast for
    Perseus: he is pure air and fire; and the dull
    elements of earth and water never appear in him, but
    only in Patient stillness while his rider mounts
    him: he is indeed a horse; and all other jades you
    may call beasts.
    CONSATBLE. Indeed, my lord, it is a most absolute and excellent horse.

  19. For anyone that is curious, I recently spoke with Brooks Brothers through email about their Made in USA oxford shirts and was told the collar, cuffs, and placket are all fused. I also spoke with J. Press about their Made in USA oxford shirts and was told all collars, cuffs and plackets are non-fused. And, of course, Mercer & Sons is non-fused. For me, personally, non-fused is a necessity — beyond the style consideration, I just don’t like synthetic adhesives in my clothing.

  20. “Non-iron” shirts actually do need ironing, though admıttedly far less than “must-iron” shirts. The collars on must-iron shirts are actually “impossible-to-iron”, even with industrial-strength spray starch. Treated fabrics and fused collars and cuffs are a godsend to those of us who prefer a neat look to a rumpled one.

  21. Your mother failed you. 😉

  22. A.E.W. Mason | September 3, 2014 at 3:12 am |


    I wouldn’t put too much faith in what a rep tells you. Most of them know very little about this kind of thing. And that’s not a dig, it’s just the nature of retail. In my experience, your not going to go into many places and find people like David Wilder was at J. Press. That world is drifting further and further away, unhappily.

    I just pulled out a BB and a Press oxford. I’m easily able to separate the BB Garland made collar. Not so the J. Press oxford. And I struggled mightily with the Press shirt but couldn’t do it. And that doesn’t mean it’s a bad shirt. It’s a nice shirt, probably made by the New England Shirt Co.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I was re-reading Federalist No. 51 and would like to get back to it. After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I actually cared about this shirt stuff.

  23. @Bryan

    I’m almost certain it’s the reverse – Brooks is unfused and J Press is fused. I’m wearing a recently-purchased Brooks oxford right now and I can easily feel the separate layers of collar fabric between my fingers.

  24. Thanks for the comments on non-fused construction. Two firsthand tests of the Brooks Brothers does make it seem like the rep might have misstated things — perhaps they were thinking of the imported shirts.

    As to the above comment about must-iron shirt collars being impossible to iron, well, if you insist on ironing them, try ironing the reverse first, then the front, and iron from the points towards the center to avoid crumpling at the edges.

  25. When seeing the “slim fit” label in a shirt this comes to mind.

  26. Don’t put your dress shirts in the dryer, hang them on a plastic hanger to dry. Unless you own ten cats that lint in the trap is your clothing.

  27. A.E.W. Mason
    Don’t waste your precious time reading founding documents, especially Federalist NO. 51. Besides the science is settled, political that is, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein: “My friends on the right don’t like to hear this, but the Constitution is not a clear document. Written 100 years ago, when America had thirteen states and very different problems, it rarely speaks directly to the questions we ask it.”

    Ezra has a keen sense of history and time.

  28. Roy R. Platt | September 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm |

    In the sixties and seventies, I used to buy Brooks Brothers Special Order shirts, which were fairly priced then (unlike anything from Brooks Brothers now).

    I always ordered a “tapered” body (probably similar to “Slim Fit” today), with Clifford (short point button down) collars, a third button on the back of the collar, no pleat in back (I have no idea who ever came up with a goofy idea like putting pleats on the back of shirts), and left and right pockets.

    I ordered these shirts in almost every red, white, and blue striped fabric that Brooks Brothers offered.

  29. Mr. Mason, how can it be I became the serpent in the garden who pointed you in the direction of the forbidden fruit that is sarcasm? Resist the temptation. Sarcasm is the laziest form of (what tries to pass for) humor.

    “unwearable.” That’s right. For me, at least. If you prefer lined collars and cuffs, then go for it. I think I can speak with some authority, as I have bought and worn over half a dozen (maybe seven? Eight?) Kamakura oxfords. The initial impression was favorable, but then I noticed something after multiple wearings: like all lined collars and cuffs, they’re just not comfy. I tried to like Gitman Bros., as well. But they too insist on lining. Why? Lined collars and cuffs wrinkle terribly whereas unlined collars and cuffs crease and roll rather smoothly. A vestige of the “never can be too neat” 80s? No thanks.

    My favorite Oxford button down of the moment is a custom made New England Shirt. The Alden fit, which is big. I request a 3.75″ unlined collar. Superb roll. One inch collar space. I ask for more shirt length, as well.

    Other possibilities abound, including Skip Gambert and Individualized. The latter offers five different kinds of Oxford cloth.

  30. Of course, there’s also Brooks custom. I have no idea who weaves their Supima, but there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Not Mason, not Acorn. It’s truly unique stuff.

  31. “A vestige of the “never can be too neat” 80s?”

    Must be a regional thing, here in the Midwest starch has been the thing as long as I can remember. Lined shirts are good for at least an extra pint of starch, bullet proof. 😉

  32. A.E.W. Mason | September 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm |


    I’d like to think you’re trying to be funny, but I fear you’re not. First, politics isn’t a science; but lots of people make a nice living saying it is. Second, to say the Constitution isn’t a “clear document” is a meaningless statement. Third, what Hamilton, Jay and Madison were dealing with in The Federalist was human nature and whether the problems it would inevitably cause as it worked its influence on institutions of a National Government (especially the will to power) could be managed by a federal constitution sufficient to the task. And, of course, at the same time preserve a federal system in its vigor. (Interestingly, the smartest, in my opinion, and least celebrated of all the founders, George Mason of Virginia, found the final draft wanting in that very respect and would not sign in ratification.)

    In fact, your comment is redolent of all that is totalitarian in the left and actually rather scary. However, on a lighter note, let me try to pivot this back to “Ivy Style.” Your statement that it’s a waste of time to read founding documents reminds me of the movie “Metropolitan,” in which the protagonist asserts–entirely unaware of how stupid he sounds–that he prefers to read, say, Trilling or similar critics’ writings on literary works rather than the works themselves on the grounds that, “Well, that way I get to know what the book’s about and also get the critic’s opinion at the same time.” (That quote is from memory, but it’s pretty accurate.)

    Many, many years ago my composition teacher, Roger Sessions, found me with some book–I think it was “Arnold Schoenberg on the Beethoven Quartets.” He looked at me very sternly and said in his most imposing scholarly voice: “My dear man, throw away the book; read the scores.” MAC, throw away Mr. Klein… I think you get the rest of my point.

  33. “Comment by nfnoa — September 2, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

    Or maybe the “traditional” fit actually grew along with the rest of Brooks Brothers’ lineup to compensate for ballooning Boomer bellies and those people are finally retiring to Boca, getting lap band surgery, or dying and no longer need shirts that could fit the broad side of a barn”

    Lighten up on the hate speech, dude.

    If some of us Boomer guys had not kept the flickering flame of demand for real Ivy alive though those awful disco years, even more awful pseudo-Ivy Lacoste/preppy label years and those truly dark days when synthetic fleece was everywhere THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ENOUGH DEMAND TO PRESERVE IVY STYLE LONG ENOUGH FOR INGRATE SNOTS LIKE YOU TO BE ABLE TO WEAR IT. And eat your heart out ’cause you’ll never know what it was like to wear real Bass Wejuns.

    Now run along and get busy paying those ever growing Social Security and Medicare taxes for us, OK?

  34. A.E.W. Mason | September 3, 2014 at 6:04 pm |

    Great picture of Roger Sessions in full Ivy regalia. Life Magazine 1955; reproduced in Natural Shoulder Tumblr

    @S.E. I think you would have approved of his shirt construction.

  35. A.E.W Mason

    I was making fun of Ezra Klein and his ilk, we probably have much in common as far as the constitution is concerned. Federalist No. 51 is very relevant to today’s concerns, separation of powers.

  36. The mention of real Bass Weejuns took it to a new, better level. I blew the dust off my N734’s this past weekend. Great leather, great fit. A truly great American made shoe.

    Now, back to oxfords.

    Firstly, I think we can all ascent to the proposition that Madison would have worn OCBDs. Ambition for unlined soft rolls must be made to counteract ambition for overly neat lined narrow points.

  37. A.E.W. Mason | September 4, 2014 at 1:29 pm |

    @ MAC

    Oh, er, never mind then.

    S.E. Agreed.

  38. Mazama,

    Disapprobation is not the same as hate.

  39. @MAC

    That lint is caused by the washer, not the dryer.

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