Everyone knows the buttondown shirt has been around forever. Well, we can at least trace its popularity to John Brooks (grandson of the firm’s founder) trip to England in 1896. He saw the polo players wearing this style collar, liked it, and started to manufacture it on his return home.
The buttondown was particularly popular from the 1930s on, when soft, attached collars were making great headway as more casual daywear than the customary stiff detachable ones.
Some dandies even went a step further and wore their buttondowns with a collar pin. There’s a wonderful photo of Fred Astaire, a great aficionado of the style, on his honeymoon with his wife Phyllis on their way to Hollywood in July, 1933. Astaire’s wearing a drape-cut, single-breasted Prince of Wales plaid suit, straw boater, and natty shepherd checked silk tie, and Brooks Brothers buttondown shirt — with a pin through the collar.
Today such sultans of style as Ralph Lauren have taken this idea a step farther yet by wearing the pin with the collar points unbuttoned. A nice touch of deshabille, to be sure. But I got to thinking and decided I’d do the designer one better. So I commissioned David Mercer — and Mercer & Sons is the best maker of the classic buttondown shirt — to make me a buttonless buttondown to wear with a pin. I ordered the classic blue heavy-weight oxford cloth to be made up with a buttondown collar, but asked David to leave off the collar holes and buttons.
The shirt arrived last week, I’ve had it laundered and am now wearing it both with and without a pin through the collar. It’s soft and as comfortable as can be because there’s no fusing. It also tends to wrinkle a bit, which I rather like and think suits me, and sort of echoes the longer point collars worn by Gary Cooper and John Barrymore. All in all I’d say the experiment was a success, and I look forward to Ralph copying the style from me. — G. BRUCE BOYER