Five Years Ago — The Underappreciated Yellow Oxford

This post originally ran five years ago this week.

* * *

For a certain breed of trad purist, there are only four shirts worth wearing: oxford-cloth button-downs in white, blue, pink and yellow.

White and blue are everyday staples of the office wardrobe, and pink is the iconic color, leaving yellow in fourth place, underappreciated, trickier to match, and less flattering. It’s too colorful to be a business basic like blue and white, yet lacks the legendary status of pink.

I decided to check with Brooks Brothers merchandiser Jeff Blee to see just how the yellow oxford stacks up against its rivals.

First off, Jeff had to qualify things: Not every Brooks store is merchandised the same. Some stores only sell white and blue shirts, so yellow isn’t even a choice (ecru, the only other solid oxford available at Brooks, is so obscure as to hardly warrant mentioning).

So rather than look at sales companywide, we opted to just look at sales at the Madison Avenue flagship, where the four main solids are stacked right next to each other. Here’s how the sales break down:

White: 48%

Blue: 38%

Pink: 9%

Yellow: 5%

What do these numbers mean? For one thing, there are almost 10 times as many white shirts sold as yellow. Moreover, there are also nearly twice as many pinks sold as yellow. However, in the South, Blee noted, the margin between pink and yellow is much smaller.

Those who are violently allergic to non-iron shirtings will be pleased to learn that sales of must-iron oxford button-downs are growing, according to Blee. The shirts are attracting new customers thanks to Brooks’ new slim and extra-slim fit options. Kudos to Brooks for keeping a classic alive for everyone by offering updated variations.

But back to the yellow oxford. Why is it less popular? Could it be the color’s connoations of cowardice, envy (as in “a jaundiced eye”), aging (as in yellowed paper), and sensational media (yellow journalism)?

I asked sartorial sage Bruce Boyer to opine, and here’s what he said:

There are several reasons, I think, why the yellow oxford button-down comes in fourth. Both the white and blue are so extremely serviceable they can be be worn with any outfit. There really don’t seem to be any problems with coordination. The Italians, for example, have figured out that a man can wear a discreet blue shirt with any suit, sports jacket or trouser. And white of course has been a standard for longer than we’ve had white-collar jobs.

The pink is a bit more difficult, or perhaps best to say was more difficult because in a less enlightened age some men thought that pink anything was effeminate. This is mercifully no longer the case, and its been noticed that pink is a very flattering color with regard to skin tone: It seems to make the skin look healthier somehow.

And that is also the reason why yellow is not so popular: It tends to work best with darker skin tones, making the lighters ones look a bit sallow. And of course there are greater problems of coordination with yellow shirts and ties. It takes a courageous man to wear a yellow oxford button down with a charcoal grey suit. I don’t say its wrong, merely that it takes more than your average bear to pull it off.

David Mercer, of Mercer & Sons shirtmakers, offered this on what to pair a yellow shirt with:

Our yellow is a nice faded yellow, unlike the butterscotch yellow of old which faded to its best when you were about to use the shirt for simonizing the car.

As Rodney Dangerfield quipped, “When I told my dentist my teeth were going yellow, he told me to wear a brown tie.” Personally, navy, blue, green and some red ties all look terrific with our yellow shirt, as does a blue blazer, a blue or grey suit, and many old tweed jackets.

There are other ways to wear the yellow oxford. In “Daddy Long Legs” from 1955, we first see Fred Astaire in a scene that magnificently blends the hip and square. Astaire wears a yellow oxford with untied bow tie, while smoking a pipe and drumming along to a jazz record:

Moving on, Judge Reinhold wears a yellow oxford with khakis and boat shoes in 1984’s “Roadhouse 66“:

A yellow oxford is worn by three characters in “Making the Grade,” starting with underachiever Palmer Woodrow III, whom we first meet awakening from slumber in his. As with Astaire’s first scene in “Daddy Long Legs,” the yellow shirt can serve as a kind of cinematic shorthand for nonconformist:

Later, the prepsploitation flick’s hero Eddie wears one with Go-To-Hell shorts, baby blue polo and pink sweater:

And finally, here’s the film’s jerk Biff, who wears a yellow shirt with a navy and red tie and kelly green sweater when learning of his expulsion from prep school:

Here are some more outfits with yellow oxfords. First up, Ralph Lauren (click here for RL’s oxford):

Next: J. Press (whose yellow oxford is here), from the current season:

And finally, as we reach the end of the line, a random shot from the Ask Andy Trad Forum. — CC

46 Comments on "Five Years Ago — The Underappreciated Yellow Oxford"

  1. Old School | June 27, 2010 at 11:32 am |

    For a certain breed of trad purist, there are only three shirts worth wearing: oxford-cloth button-downs in white, blue, and white with blue stripes.

  2. Now that’s orthodox trad.

  3. So, do those figures exclude Ecru, or did you exclude it because the figures include it? It seems to me that Ecru is perhaps more like a very faded yellow than the bright yellows pictured.

  4. Seeing just the title of your post made me think of two yellow oxford wearers: my well tanned uncle who lived in Palm Desert and Astaire.

  5. Christian | June 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm |

    Those figures are the sales breakdown of just the four top colors. But they wouldn’t change much if ecru was included, because ecru only accounts for about one percent.

    I have asked for the breakdown of all seven of Brooks’ oxfords: including ecru and also the blue and red university stripes. If I get those numbers, I’ll post an addendum as it would be interesting to see how the stripes compare with the lesser solids.

  6. I recall my first OCBD: a yellow “House of York” (probably a department store label) for my 16th birthday (or was it 15th?) in December 1965 (4?). My recollection is that in those days even the brand-X buttondowns had classic collar point length and “roll”. The yellow shirt went with a brown marl Shetland sweater I received at the same time that lasted well over ten years of heavy use as (eventually) a pre-fleece era backpacking/climbing garment.

  7. I picked up a slim fitting yellow oxford from an United Arrows outlet a month ago. I find it incredibly hard to wear in any combination that doesn’t look like a bumbling Japanese dad or a Southern frat guy.

  8. Old School | June 27, 2010 at 9:01 pm |


    “House of York” shirts were sold by Harris & Frank, an L.A.-based chain. I wonder if you were in Southern California then.

  9. Today I wore my J.Press NOS heavy-weight yellow OCBD, from the Washington store find earlier this year. As someone else suggested above it goes with brown tones—I wore a camel sweater over it. A Norwegian has also worked. Ties are harder, but yellow really isn’t the dressiest colour anyways. It’s better paired with jeans.

  10. I’ve got yellow OCBDs from Brooks and Press and I find myself wearing the latter at least twice as often as the former. The yellow from Brooks really is an awkward color; it seems to have a lot more gold in it, making it both harder to wear, and less flattering with my complexion. The Press yellow, however, is a much brighter and easier to wear.

  11. Funny, it’s exactly what I’m wearing today. That JPress jacket looks perfect with a yellow OCBD.

  12. Just checked LLB to see if they have a yellow OCBD.
    They don’t.
    Even if they did, I’m afraid I couldn’t recommend it because they stubbornly refuse to modify their collar point length to classic BB or even LE standards.
    Too bad, because they have the sturdiest oxford cloth in the universe.

  13. Just bought a long sleeve BB yellow oxford and a Stafford short sleeve yellow oxford this month actually

  14. Christian | June 28, 2010 at 8:46 am |

    Red Clay Soul has a response post here:

    Thanks, JRS, and I like those RL shirts.

  15. I would like to acquire this shirt in yellow, but I am not sure how it would look with my complexion. I have been advised to avoid red gingham. Do you feel that most men can pull off a yellow oxford? I imagine that a tan will complement this shirt. Thank you.

  16. Christian | June 28, 2010 at 9:00 am |

    Hilton, why not go to a store to try one on and ask a lady friend what she thinks?

  17. 1. Maybe it’s just my monitor, but that BB “yellow” looks like Peach to me.

    2. Yellow is not only more casual, it’s also a color that, as noted, does not flatter a lot of men (well, depending on the exact shade). Now, there are lots of guys who will look good in a golden yellow, or even a peach tone, but there are at least as many who don’t.

    3. In your recent bowtie post, there was a well-dressed gentleman wearing a yellow shirt with his bowtie. He finished his look with a navy blazer–an excellent combination. Yellow works not only with browns and navy, but also with the right shade of gray or blue.

    4. I have been dying for a yellow university stripe shirt for ages, but haven’t seen one for sale for about a decade (alas, RL is out of my price range, and I hate the pony in any case). Any ideas, gentlemen?

  18. My BB store doesn’t sell yellow. I haven’t been able to find it. I don’t mind the Ecru. Its a nice understated yellow. I have a yellow RL instead.

  19. Charles Day | June 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm |

    Lands’ End has offered other Oxford options besides white, blue, pink and yellow. I wonder how popular, say, lavender and pale green have been. Both colors are more attractive to me than yellow

  20. I have a yellow J. Press OCBD with flap pocket and it definitely looks way better worn casually, I typically pair it with jeans and some other pop of color such as switching out my watch strap for a kelly green NATO one.

  21. I’m only posting because today I am wearing an olive Paul Stuart silky linen suit with a yellow shirt and tie today (butterscotch brogues). I have only 1 yellow shirt, pinpoint oxford buttondown.

    I may have an ecre shirt boxed away; it was custom made with a large order of identical cut shirts during one of BB’s insane custom shirt deals. Wore it once and it reminded me of why I do not own ecru shirts. They look like old, old laundry.

  22. Good description.

  23. Okay, that’s really well done. You’ve convinced me. Used to wear yellow BB OCBDs with khakis and tan bluchers, as a sort of uniform. I should probably stock up again.

  24. Christian | June 29, 2010 at 7:58 pm |

    Kind words from LBT — what’s the world coming to?

    Always love it when Ivy-Style inspires someone.

  25. I was recently in one of my local trad shops to try one on in yellow. The salesman commented (his inclination was of a lady friend!) that I lacked the necessary coloring to pull one off. I’m working on a summer tan and will try again later in the season.

    Thanks for your blog.

  26. Christian,
    Not only did the lady friend buy a RL oxford in yellow for me, SHE HAS DYED MY HAIR FRICKIN’ YELLOW!


  27. Like square leg trunks, yellow oxfords require as much physical presence as style sense.

  28. A belated comment to defend the ecru OCBD. I find it the second most versatile color after blue, and in fall/winter perhaps the most versatile of all. It’s perfect with autumnal earth tones; white is frequently too stark. If you don’t have one you’re missing out.

  29. Do you have a preference (Brooks etc.) regarding the ecru OCBD? Thank you.

  30. Doesn’t anyone remember when GREEN was one of the choices in the button-down shirts offered by Brooks?
    They looked great with a tweed jacket.

  31. Kevin M. Quinn | July 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm |

    I’ve owned shirts from most of the major brands over the past 40 years, and I’ve found the Hyde Park Oxford from Land’s End to be the best. Their sizes are true (I’ve found Brooks Brothers to run a bit small, as do their garments in my size), the quality of construction is wonderful, the buttons seem to never crack under relentless pressing, and the fabric is exceptional, if a bit heavy for summer when heavily starched. The colors are muted, although the pink Hyde Park is a bit on the reddish side. I can think of one Hyde Park I’ve worn regularly, and heavily starched, for nearly 15 years.

  32. Michael in Melbourne | August 23, 2011 at 10:22 pm |

    In the halcyon years around 1960, Brooks had a stone gray and a kind of pale celadon or gray-green “linen” in the OCBD range. I don’t recall a true, full-on “green” business shirt, but it might have been in their sportshirt range. (I don’t know if the one worn by Miles Davis on the cover of “Milestones” was Brooks or not.)

    I’m not sure pink was considered okay yet; certainly the blue/white stripe was a mover then too, and I remember the same stripe in brown/white, which looked good with brown- or olive-toned tweeds and corduroys.

    I recently ordered the classic yellow “Supima” OCBD from Brooks and was pleased with the traditional buttery color — it took me right back to the good years. Another yellow OCBD, however, from their cheaper range, turned out to be a hideous, acid, dog-pee-in-the-snow shade of yellow that went straight into the wash with a generous cup of bleach.

    Land’s End’s top range also does a good classic yellow-gold OCBD.

  33. John Coleman | November 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm |

    The yellow Gant oxford 100% cotton shirt that I bought in 1963 for $6 was the preppiest shirt I ever owned. Where can I buy another one?

  34. @Kevin: I agree that The Land’s End Hyde Park OCBDs are truly high-quality despite their moderate price. I have one that is my go-to shirt even though I own several great truly custom-made oxfords. The only issue with the Hyde Parks is that they only come in white and light blue these days. If they came in blue/white stripe and pink I would have no further shirting needs…

  35. Jhonatan Mondragon | January 17, 2012 at 4:55 am |

    How dare you say underappreciated! Ibought mine full taxes and full price at Paul Stuart! Shiny, well made, with texture, and its like a small white box in a yellow box, its so cute, my best shirt for farrrr a distance. simply beautifully made

  36. Re-reading this article for old time’s sake, I notice that J. Press no longer offers (or at least does not currently offer) a yellow OCBD on their site. They do have a pinpoint Oxford in a shade called “eggshell,” which seems close to Brooks’ ecru.

  37. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve had a yellow OCBD, but I do recall an old girlfriend – a Virginia boarding school student at that – who told me that yellow was a flattering color for me. (although I’m not dark complected). Maybe I’ll ease back into the waters with a university stripe version – does anybody make a good one?

  38. Yellow oxfords are tricky, usually due to the shade and a guys skin color. I prefer yellow university striped OCBDs, when available.

    I also agree with Alan C.’s ecru comments, it’s the colder tweedy season’s white.

    What colors aren’t wearable in OCBD, depending on one’s eye, I think none.

  39. I’ve always been a white and blue OCBD guy. A couple months ago, I was watching a movie starring Chris Rock. I don’t recall the name, but he was some kind of investment banker. That big guy, Edward Herrmann was his boss. Anyhow, these women in Macy’s convinced Chris to buy a green shirt. The girls said green was sexy.

    A couple days later, I was in a department store, shirts were BOGO, and I bought the usual blue, AND a light green OCBD, just for the heck of it. Hard to believe, but this old guy was getting compliments on his green, sexy shirt.

    Truth is stranger than fiction.

  40. Ecru is, in the vernacular of the day, highly awesome.

    I had a yellow BB OCBD years ago, and found that I just didn’t like how it looked in almost all situations. Ended up rarely wearing it. Believe it didn’t survive our cross-country move of ’98. Don’t miss it.

  41. maybe they would sell twice as many pink and yellow shirts if only they made them in two undertones: cool and warm. four times as many if they also made them in saturated and muted values. or maybe not.

  42. Totally agree here with these four, but don’t forget ECRU as the fifth and final color!!!

  43. Every time I renew my stock of shirts from BB’s website, I buy three blue, three white, two ecru, two pink, and two yellow of their “must-irons”. Because I rotate and launder them myself, I’ll literally get at least 10-years before they need replacing.
    I have had both their oxford cloth and pinpoints. Never in 35-years have I had any wear issues with them.

  44. Old School,

    I am in that camp. I do wear a pink OCBD about once a month to demonstrate that I can be unpredictable. If I had a to make a choice I would choose ecru over yellow every time.

  45. Love the BB “peach” yellow oxford from the 1980’s!

  46. Interesting post. I think there is one thing which makes you able to wear yellow shirt: how tanned your skin is. I can’t imagine me wearing yellow shirt with my pale skin. But if I my skin were brown, it will be as easy color as light blue.

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