Although I’m a young man, I’ve tried just about all the oxford-cloth buttondowns out there. They all have excellent qualities, and each has a character entirely its own. I truly do enjoy them all. But the more I explore new things, the more I long for the original: the Brooks Brothers buttondown polo shirt.
We all know the story. The design idea came to John Brooks after watching polo players in England who had buttons on their collars to keep them from flapping in their faces. A Newton-esque moment. But I’m not interested in the history. I’m not interested in the non-iron version, of which you can regularly buy four for $184. Nor am I interested in Brooks’ supposed fall from grace: that they’re owned by an Italian, that most production is done in China, or that they’ve removed the breast pocket (which, by the way, was not added until 1968).
What I’m interested in is the good stuff, what I can see and feel in front of me. With the most recent reincarnation of the original buttondown polo shirt, what I see is a recall of greatness. I see a product made in the USA, putting my friends and neighbors to work. I see sleek mother-of-pearl buttons glistening in the sunlight. And I see the collar roll, like when Miles Davis takes you up, brings you way down low, and moves you all over again on ”Milestones.” Like when you have that first sip of espresso as you’re watching people with baguettes and cigarettes rush by you against the backdrop of the Seine. Yes, I see that roll.
I could never mistake a Brooks oxford. You see, the Brooks Brothers buttondown is not a mere shirt, but an American icon. On par with apple pie, the Model T, Will Rogers and Route 66. It defined not just a look, but a way of life. It shaped the path forward for many young men. And, when done right, it still has the same poignancy today as it did in 1953 (long before the pocket made an appearance).
Yes, $140 is a hell of a lot of money for an OCBD — especially one that doesn’t tick all of the Ivy regulations. There’s no arguing there. So when they often go on unannounced half-off sale, I hop right on. Most recently, perhaps due to the virus or perhaps Brooks was just in a generous mood, they took off an extra 25% from each item once it was in my cart. My grand total for two shirts came in under $105.
So what do we have here? Well, like anything else, it’s all in how you look at it. Many will say it’s an overpriced shirt lacking the details that made it most beloved. I say that — when you can get it on sale — it’s not only worth every penny, but it’s the original. And I know that when I put on my Brooks Brothers buttondown, I get a feeling like no other in the world. — TREVOR JONES