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