The Shirts Off My Back

My wonderful wife gave me a new blue oxford-cloth buttondown from Michael Spencer for Christmas, and I recently purchased my first “new-old” Brooks Brothers version in white. Sunday after church, I decided to compare and contrast those two along with a previously purchased Mercer & Sons version.

All three shirts are sized 16 1/2 x 35, full fit. I do not know how guys wear any other fit, as even Brooks’ Madison fit feels snug and, well, traditional is “traditional” and is that not what we are all about? All three are hefty Supima cotton, come out of the dryer well, and look fabulous when professionally laundered or even home-ironed without starch. They also feel wonderful, across the shoulders and torso, down the arms, and to the touch. Spencer, being the newest, has yet to soften but there is no doubt that will come in time. I have not put starch on the Brooks or the Spencer and will not, because even Mercer’s heavy cotton frayed at the cuff edges after about ten starchings over a several-month period. I have since stopped starching it and just roll up the cuffs via their handy offset cuff button, which makes a stylistic statement in my no-tie workplace.

All three shirts have unlined collars, plackets and cuffs, which seemed really flimsy at first, due to having worn so many of Brooks’ previous version. Those cuffs frayed early too, by the way, under starch. I am becoming a fan of the unlined options, although, I must add that lined but unfused continues to provide a bit more of a finished look. But the relief from lesser providers’ fused versions is wonderful. Contrary to what I have read on this site and elsewhere about Mercer’s supposed tent-like fit, I find Brooks to be the most roomy, with Mercer and Spencer quite similar to each other. The measurements are as follows.  The shoulders are each 19 inches. As for the chest measurements, Brooks is 26, Mercer 24.5, and Spencer 25. Each has a superb collar roll, with the point lengths in inches being Mercer at 3 1/2, Brooks 3 3/8, and Spencer 3 1/2. Brooks of course comes without sleeve placket buttons and I chose the same for the other two. I am not well-versed in the subject of buttons, but Brooks uses Mother of Pearl and I find Spencer’s buttons to be thicker than the others. Michael Spencer has, I think, the best blue hue, although they all are similar and better in comparison to other makers’ brighter blue. Am comparing a white Brooks in this piece but also have several of their blue versions in the previous model.

An additional note regarding ordering and customer service. With both Mercer and Spencer, a buyer might get an email personally from the founder, and each has a website which is far superior to Brooks Brothers, which is lacking in many ways. Also, there is something comforting about calling David and Serena Mercer to order a shirt over the phone, which is very old school. Spencer allows you to basically design your own shirt online. Michael Spencer once even remade a pinpoint shirt for me when, after a few months, I sent it back to have a different style collar applied. They were concerned that the new collar would not perfectly color match the rest of the shirt.

Of these three shirts, I would not want to be forced to choose a favorite, but attributes I enjoy respectively are: the slightly roomier chest of Brooks, and their standard side gussets are a very nice touch. The locker loop and back collar button options provided by Spencer are helpful, as are their long and extra-long tail options, and only they provide a split-yoke, as best I recall. Whereas Mercer has their very nice signature triangle fold at the bottom of the placket, and their website is replete with actual photos of their various colorful options. Each provider includes the offset cuff button to allow the helpful half-turn and prevent ink staining. And I believe each now offers options on a chest pocket.

All in all, each of the three is a good buy if one can afford it, and each is made in America which brings added satisfaction. The Lands’ End Hyde Park, also made of Supima cotton (though with fused cuffs and placket) is a quality must-iron substitute if one cannot. Of my 40-plus OCBD inventory (including a begrudging 4 non-iron models for my many business travels), the large majority are blue, followed by pink and various university stripe colors, and many came via eBay and thrifting. Mercer, of course, has their helpful first-time customer discount, Brooks has sales throughout the year, Spencer has a wonderful Independence Day sale, and I have taken advantage of all those options. Whichever of these shirts you purchase will prove to be a more than adequate staple in your Ivy/trad/preppy rotation and will look good either just back from the laundry or fresh out of the dryer.

Let’s keep them tucked-in though, men, unless wearing over a pair of Bermuda shorts and Topsiders or Weejuns with no socks in the summer. — JDV

56 Comments on "The Shirts Off My Back"

  1. Vern Trotter | January 7, 2020 at 12:52 pm |

    Of these three shown, the Mercer is the only one I could wear. To paraphrase, Tony Soprano, Brooks Brothers is dead to me, and the other just looks like it cannot be real.

  2. Thanks for this thorough review. I’d also point out that the Mercer has a six-button front, while the other two feature seven button fronts. The number of buttons on the front is one of the non-customizable features of the Michael Spencer shirts, and one of the reasons to consider Mercer over the others. I think the button placement on a six-button shirt front is an important factor in determining the collar roll, especially if being worn sans-cravat.

  3. “Let’s keep them tucked-in though, men, unless wearing over a pair of Bermuda shorts and Topsiders or Weejuns with no socks in the summer.”

    Hallelujah and amen!

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

  4. Henry Contestwinner | January 7, 2020 at 1:45 pm |

    I own several Michael Spencer shirts, and am quite pleased with them. I order them in my unusual size, and they fit wonderfully. In addition to other traditional features (locker loop, long collars, etc.), mine have a third collar button, a nifty little hidden feature. My only complaint is that the collar roll is not as nice as Brooks’ collar roll, but that might be specific to my size and build.

  5. 100% agree that BB needs to lighten up their blues.

  6. Trevor Jones | January 7, 2020 at 2:45 pm |

    PSA: half price ($70) on BB original polo shirt ocbd in select bengal (more like candy) stripe colourways.
    https://www.brooksbrothers.com/Original-Polo®-Button-Down-Oxford-Madison-Classic-Fit-Dress-Shirt%2C-Bengal-Stripe/ME02341_____GREN_15___33__,default,pd.html

  7. James Anchor | January 7, 2020 at 2:51 pm |

    JDV,
    As others have pointed out, all it takes for one to give up on Oxford cloth shirts is to try a broadcloth buttondown shirt.
    The next step up the sartorial ladder is to switch from blue to white.

  8. Somewhat off topic. For those who want non- button down oxford shirts,
    I can recommend Hiditch and Key. I have several of their blue and pink oxfords
    in 16 1/2. Their contemporary fit has a 50″ chest and their regular
    a few inches larger. The fabric is quite “beefy”. H &K are currently on sale,
    but I didn’t see any blue oxfords offered
    this season.

  9. Trad in D.C. | January 7, 2020 at 5:16 pm |

    Shirts are a highly personal choice, and one person’s favorite may not be right for someone else. I recommend the OCBD’s from J.Press, even though the “traditional fit” can be a bit snug across the chest. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried all the brands mentioned above and still prefer J.Press (and the low-priced no-iron shirts from L.L. Bean) over any of them, including Brooks Brothers.

  10. Bullet proof fabric from Lands End Hyde Park makes up for the three inch collar. If the collar was 1/4 inch longer, it would be the ideal shirt. I still have five white, five blue/white university striped and one blue.

  11. Thanks, Trad. you confirmed my experience with J. Press that their trad fit is tight in the chest. I ordered one and returned it for that reason.

    Vern, not idea what you mean by doesn’t look real. My photo is a little dark on that side and makes the Spencer shirt look darker than it really is

    Benjamin, did not mean that BB blues are too dark, as the must-iron are right-on to me, almost blue-gray, as are Mercer and Spencer, but other makers are way too “blue” such as Lands’ End and Bean

  12. Interestingly the original Brooks Polo soft collar featured a 1 3/4” back and 2 1/2” front. “White Cheviot” was the original cloth. “Collar attached, buttoned wristbands.”

    Cheviot was a thick, hearty, beefy cloth.

  13. Matt Larsen | January 7, 2020 at 8:49 pm |

    Please just combine your two websites (Trad-Man and Ivy Style). We don’t come here for just the clothing advice, we come for your voice. Trust me on this.

  14. Sacksuit, agree with you dollar for dollar, but after wearing the three shirts above, the Hyde Park cuffs and placket are just too stiff. I still have 4 of them, though, plus one just bought of their very thick Sail Rigger Oxford. Back collar button, side gussets, nice pocket. Not a bad shirt for casual wear.

  15. We are not dandies, and we are not fops. We are traditional men, and a traditional man needs a chest pocket, BB.

  16. I’ve really enjoyed the BB USA OCBDs. BB takes a lot of heat but these are nice and not too expensive when on sale. Btw, the dress shirt version now has a chest pocket like the sport shirt. I just wish it was easier to find a Regent 15 34……

  17. Aivii Riigu | January 8, 2020 at 12:04 am |

    “Trad in D.C.”,
    I’ve just re-read your comment and don’t understand how J. Press OCBDs can be your favorite even though they’re tight in the chest.

  18. Aivii Riigu | January 8, 2020 at 12:06 am |

    Sorry about the duplicate comment, gentlemen.

  19. Old School Tie | January 8, 2020 at 5:47 am |

    J Press all the way for me. Flap pocket, generous cut (something which was the norm and now has all but disappeared save for niche manufacturers) and bullet-proof fabric. We have to remember that we are living on an alien planet where the average male model is no longer a six foot athlete but rather a six feet two inch, 34 inch chested beanpole boy-girl. That influences everything in the rag trade. We just need to take what we can get/unearth these days, because one day we will not be able to. In many ways, this debate reminds me of denim-heads arguing the toss about Japanese looms and selvedge. The bottom line is….each to their own.

  20. @Roger Sack Your comments on Hilditch & Key surprise me.

    I was a loyal H&K customer for over 20 years until a few years ago. Then the new management closed the factory in Fife and moved production to Italy. It also changed the sizing and even dropped the classic fit before forced to bring it back due to customer demand. Prices were hiked by around 40 to 60%!

    I visited the Jermyn Street flagship store last week as the January sale is on. I was hoping that standards might have improved but I was disappointed again. The cut, fit and quality remain inferior to when the shirts were made in Scotland. The customer service is awful and the new staff appear to lack even basic product knowledge.

    My advice to Americans and British Ivy fans would be to try Drakes multi-buy offer instead. Their button down shirts have an excellent collar roll, the cloth is top quality and the fit is spot-on.

  21. Hey Ivy Style readers; I’m listing some of my Ivy clothes on ebay. Including a polo coat, turnbull shirts and my rolls royce decanters, etc. Check it out: my username is evst-92

  22. MacMcConnell | January 8, 2020 at 9:43 am |

    I buy Gittman BD shirts from O’Connell’s (or their copies) in heavyweight oxford. The shirts have three inch collars and eight button placards. They fit like 1960s Gants, they aren’t slim fit, but they aren’t flying squirrel full like the original BB’s.

  23. Pocket Square | January 8, 2020 at 9:57 am |

    While reading this website over the years i have been amused that no-one until MacMcConnell has mentioned GITMAN Brothers. For me they represent the last of the family owned American shirt maker. Now granted they are currently owned by IAG. They still maintain a small factory in the middle of PA coal country.

  24. I’m a new fan of Lands’ End, especially their Hyde Park shirts. Rather than replace my wardrobe with the same BB / JPress articles after losing a few lbs., I made the leap over to LE. So far I haven’t been disappointed.

  25. Wells: if you are going for tieless, sad as that is, try the Sail Rigger. Thicker and with more features, like a back collar button, than Hyde Park. Plus, Hydes are unwearable w/out ironing.

  26. Thank you for a detailed comparison. I have long wondered about Mercer shirts and how they were cut. You confirmed their shirts are in fact less full cut than BB. I have successfully purchased many need to iron, traditionally cut BB OCBD via Ebay. I note that the recent made in the US/ unlined BB OCBD fabric is of a lower weight than previous models. I assume that the white BB shirt included in the comparison is a recent Made in the US model, without front pocket. If so, how does the fabric weight compare to Mercer and to Spencer ?

  27. AtlantaPete | January 8, 2020 at 3:31 pm |

    My father spent most of his career working for an Ohio based casualty insurer, the president of which, I believe a Yale alumnus, wore Brooks Brothers shirts which, in the 1950’s, apparently did not have pockets. Whenever my father returned from the home office, he would report that he had told the president he hoped they would start paying him enough so he could afford to buy shirts with pockets. I’m sure my late father would not be pleased to know that I have bought $140 shirts with no pockets (but only when they are on salw).

  28. MacMcConnell | January 8, 2020 at 6:27 pm |

    Pocket Square
    I wore Gant and Creighton BD shirts in the 1960s. Creighton was est in 1920, factories in Ga. Funny all my fathers WWII military shirts were Creighton. In the 1970s I wore Gant, Polo and Pulitzer. The original Polo OCBD had a great collar and fit like a Gitman. I have always thought Gitman made Bert Pulizer’s shirts, when Pulitzer shirts disappeared Gitman appeared. The shirts were identical.
    My only problem with Gitman is the lack of “fancy” shirts, which is why I occasionally purchase Polo. My problem with Brooks is that they are like wearing a bat cape.

  29. I’ve never been disappointed taking my business to David Mercer. I have no familiarity with Michael Spencer, but BB just isn’t BB. I’ve been buying my boxer shorts from Mercer, too, of late, and it appears that they will outlast me.

  30. rl1856 Yes, the new model. In this particular size at least I find Brooks to be a bit thinner than the other two. I recall an article on one of these type blogs about a year ago with a former CEO of Brooks, and he said that was why they started lining the collars, that they lost their heavy cotton supplier and wanted to reduce the flimsiness.

    I think any of these three shirts will serve one well, and each man will have his favorite depending on which options are most important to him.

  31. Roy, you are correct. BB is no longer an American cultural icon they don’t even make traditional fit slacks any longer, likely not jackets either, just a lot of skinny man off-shore, non iron junk. But they still do this one heritage shirt, made in North Carolina. Mercer is great. People on this site swear by it, including G. Bruce Boyer. Spencer is great too. Christian has written on it. Google their collar video and you will be impressed.

  32. john carlos | January 8, 2020 at 7:39 pm |

    I have purchased several “new” BB OCBD’s in the last couple of years, Madison fit. Very happy with them. Other than that, BB no longer has anything that interests me and I’m a 40 year customer. O’Connell’s unlined, unfused OCBD’s are made by Gitman I think. I also have several of them and they have 3 and 3/8″ collars. Very pleased with them also. Haven’t ever purchased from Mercer or Spencer because of the month to 6 week wait. Someone tell me if the wait is worth it?

  33. Stewart Wortham | January 8, 2020 at 8:29 pm |

    j.WESTFAHL WAS AN AUSTIN CLOTHIER IN THE EARLY EIGHTIES – AFTER AN UNTIMELY DEATH IN 1986 – I MENTION THIS ONLY IN IS HONOR – GITMAN , KENNETH GORDON ET AL – HE WAS THE CONSUMATE EXPERT ON TRAD CLOTHING – GREAT TALBOTT TIES IN THAT ERA 35.00 – SOUTHWICK SUITS 550 – TRAFALGAR ACC – ON CONGRESS AVE. THEN – THIS THREAD HAS BROUGHT BACK A LOT THAT HAS BEEN LOST BY THE BUSY TIDE OF LIFE – I CAN REMEMBER AN OFFICER AT THE BANK COMMENTING ON HOW EXPENSIVE MY CLOTHES WERE – MY NEPHEW AND GRANDSON FIGHT OVER SOME OF THE ITEMS – I LOVE O’CONNELLS – GREEN – PURPLE – PINK OCBD – WHERELSE?

  34. Cuff Shooter | January 8, 2020 at 11:25 pm |

    I, for one, prefer the Brooks new/old OCBD’s thinner oxford cloth. I do wish they came with a pocket, however. On more than one occasion I have reached over to stow a pen or glasses, and been stymied.

  35. Thanks Linkman for the overview.
    1. Living in Cologne-Germany, most shirts are starting with a 38cm/15inch collar here, which is too large for me. Am very happy to have the only Hawes&Curtis shop in Germany, here in Cologne where I find shirts with a 37/14,5inch collar. Their slim fit is perfect for me.
    2. OCBD’s in Europe all tend to have shorter collar point lenghts.
    BB opened a shop in Frankfurt last year where I bought my first “American” OCBD, a Regent S-size. I am impressed with the thick and heavy hi-quality cloth and with the very comfortable cut. I am very happy with it. Its light blue colour is a tad to greyish in my opinion. And the price is a steep 180 Euro (200 USD).

  36. Old School Tie | January 9, 2020 at 7:46 am |

    Drakes – very nice, very expensive. What about that Japanese company, Kamakura…? I think they do quite nice tab-collar shirts.

  37. MacMcConnell | January 9, 2020 at 11:03 am |

    Stewart Wortham
    I forgot Kenneth Gordon. I never bought their BD shirts, but in the mid 1970s they had great tab collar shirts, I bought all they had. My wife bought lots of their BD shirts for women as well as Gitman and Pulitzer.

    The best tab collar shirts over the decades in my opinion Gitman, Polo and Gordon, but then I live in the Midwest market.

  38. MacMcConnell | January 9, 2020 at 11:09 am |

    Old School Tie
    Drakes is out of my league price wise.
    I have been considering a Kamakura shirt, but aren’t the sleeve lengths “ranges”, 34-35 etc?

    I should have mentioned M. Spencer’s tab collar, they look really good on their site. Their club looks good too if one is in to that.

  39. Henry Contestwinner | January 9, 2020 at 5:41 pm |

    Wells, JDV,

    Although I liked the Hyde Park material and fit, the last one I bought had a ridiculously tiny collar, which is overpowered by a knotted tie. Have they fixed that?

  40. collar is 3″ but a four in hand knot is the ivy standard, so I have never had a problem with it

  41. Henry Contestwinner | January 9, 2020 at 6:15 pm |

    Thanks. The last Hyde Park shirt I bought was at the height of the skinny & tight craze, so it has a tiny collar, certainly less than 3″.

    I’ll probably stick with Michael Spencer, from whom I can get 3 1/2″ collars.

  42. Max Kleinmann | January 9, 2020 at 11:38 pm |

    Henry Contestwinner,
    Lands’ End and L.L. Bean OCBDs continue to have ridiculously tiny collars.

  43. My Hyde Parks have 3″ collars and are unfused and are all fairly recent purchases. I achieve an admirable roll with a four in hand properly cinched. There is no need for starch as the fabric is as beefy as I have seen. I see that they are offering a yellow Hyde Park on the website. I wish they would offer university stripes in other than blue though.

    Cheers,

    Will

    Will

  44. Hi Will, my Hyde Parks are same as your’s, and I have the yellow one. it is beautiful. Nice roll on all of them with a four in hand. I have the blue uni stripe, but their site does not indicate that collar is not fused. You are correct, they need more conservative colors and patterns. some of their patterns are horrendous. Do the cuffs not feel too stiff to you, though?

  45. Pocket Square | January 10, 2020 at 8:22 pm |

    MacMcConnell.. The Gitman “brand” has been around since the late 70’s. Before it was the Ashland shirt and pajama company. Over the years i am sure they have made shirts for hundreds of independent shops that are now closed. Most recently they made the Made in the USA shirts for Hickey Freeman. They maintain a decent website with standards. Last year was a big anniversary (75years) for the company. They released a beautiful green striped oxford shirt. Total candy.

  46. Trad in D.C. | January 14, 2020 at 3:09 pm |

    Just commenting to Aivii Riigu on the J.Press fit: They’re a little tighter across the chest than BB or Lands’ End or Mercer, but not uncomfortably so. For me, anyway, the Press shirt offers a full range of movement and doesn’t bind. Has anyone else found the Mercer sleeves to be ridiculously long–at least one inch longer than the (theoretically) same sleeve length for other shirts?

  47. MacMcConnell | January 15, 2020 at 11:21 am |

    Pocket Square
    Thanks for the info, I’ll check it out.

    Also, thanks JDV for the article.

  48. Otis Brewster Hogbottom III | January 16, 2020 at 2:28 pm |

    Gitman made a lot of Paul Stuart’s “basic” shirts, at least in the ’80s. I had a PS white buttondown that lasted decades, but was definitely a slightly slimmer cut than BB.

    Michael Spencer’s shirts are great.

    Lands’ End’s Hyde Parks are good, but come in too few colors! For the price, I would pick them over everyone else, but there’s no selection.

  49. UVAwingshooter | April 29, 2020 at 2:11 pm |

    I’ve tried each company, and I keep coming back to Michael Spencer. Their lighter blue hue is, to me, quintessentially Ivy. An excellent product that works well for me. The new Brooks shirts are too short and lightweight in my opinion – though the collar roll is really nice. I assume the pocket is a recent addition? I seem to remember them not having one when they relaunched.

  50. That Brooks has no pocket. Spencer is great but that shirt faded so am selling it on eBay. Alas they are closed for Covid and Brooks – pre bankruptcy – no longer made traditional fit. So, as I write this on Sept. 27, Mercer is the only of those three shirts that you can buy, at present.

  51. Michael Powell | October 4, 2020 at 11:36 pm |

    I’ve been wearing OCBD shirts for 60 years (long before I found out there was a name for them). 2 years ago, I Youtubed my way into buying some Brooks Shirts on Ebay. WOW! These were a WHOLE lot better than the department store shirts I’d been wearing all my life. Which brings us to this – I’ve got a dozen Brooks and one Merecr, The Mercer is terrific. The Brooks are a bit better. I find the fabric a bit heavier – which I like. And the Brooks is a slightly darker shade of blue – which I like. But the Mercer is essentially a made-to-order shirt for the price of an off the shelf Brooks. I’ll by more Mercer’s; but they rarely show up on Ebay in my size.

  52. Yes, Michael Powell. I hardly ever see Mercer’s on ebay. I find Brooks to be the most comfortable, but Mercer’s six button front is very pleasing, Spencer is on hiatus due to Coronavirus, but they are very nice, and even more so made to order than Mercer. Brooks is ceasing production of traditional fit, which is a horrible decision. Brooks from the outlet are plentiful on ebay. Mercer’s have increased in price, which is a problem for a dad with two young kids. And the cuffs on the one in the photo have begun to fray after only 15 or so washings. I do not understand that. The Spencer came back from the laundry with a few tiny white spots on it, yet the laundry swears they have no bleach anywhere on the place. They blame it on the shirt not having been color fast, yet I washed it in cold water a few times before I ever took it to the cleaners. I have found a few preowned Brooks on ebay in my size, nice value if they have not been shrunk. All three are great shirts if you can find them for a value. Spencer, when open, has a nice July sale each year. Their pinpoints are even better. Thickest pinpoints I have seen. All three are very nice shirts.

  53. michael powell | October 21, 2020 at 1:08 am |

    JD, I was checking out the BB website last week, and there was no listing for the Trad size. I didn’t know what they’d done. I bought another one today, and will get another next week. On Ebay, check out this seller :smsmith007. 100% positive feedback. I’ve bought 2-3 shirts from them; factory seconds. The shirts have minor mill errors in them (instead of the normal OCBD thread pattern – blue/white/blue/white – there will be blue/white/blue/blue/white/blue) error.You can’t see it from more than 6-8 inches away – if you know where to look. That makes a $140 BB shirt a $42 factory second. Your kids will never know the difference.

  54. Michael, just saw this on Nov 15. But yes, I have bought from ssmith, 4-5 shirts. Brooks confirmed to me a few months ago that traditional fit has stopped production. So, I am finding them where I can to stock up. Found one really nice new old Brooks trad fit on ebay, preowned but like new. Mercers are just priced out of my range, and Spencer has stopped production due to Corona virus, so hopefully they will be back, with their July sale, next summer.

  55. Nothing beats the original 2 ply pinpoint Gitman shirts. You have to special order from Gitman. Collars are longer than off rack Gitman . Has 8 buttons counting collar button. Full cut, which by the way doesn’t mean you are over weight. Expensive looking refine and classy true professional mans dress shirt It takes Many years to fray and I use light starch. Maybe not for everyone but so few really know how to dress any more.

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