Did you know that nine out of 10 men prefer chemically treated non-iron shirts that feel funny and look artificially perfect to pure unadulterated cotton? And I’m not talking about the general population, but specifically shoppers at that bastion of traditionalism, Brooks Brothers.
Some years ago Ralph Gardner had an interesting write-up in the Wall Street Journal on the classic Brooks Brothers oxford, which he calls “the bedrock of our republic.”
After having been raised on polyester in what one assumes were the 1970s, Mr. Gardner discovered Brooks Brothers’ classic oxfords and has been a devoted fan ever since. Here he is on shopping for supplies at 346 Madison Avenue:
… stepping through its brushed-steel double doors, like those of a bank vault, you felt as if you were crossing from the chaos and flimsy values of the outside world into something immutable, almost a private club, its members united not by religion or politics or a passion for stamps or sports, but by clothing and men’s accessories that flattered the wearer as much for their ethical values as for their quality and cut.
Gardner goes on to find comfort in the idea of kinship shared with Brooks men of the past, who all wore the same shirt:
I have no idea whether there was any connection between Brooks Brothers and writers and editors such as Max Perkins, Harold Ross, Fitzgerald and Cheever. But it always felt as if their ghosts were roaming the aisles alongside you, debating with themselves whether they should stick to white or whether they could pull off pink or pinstripes this season. The store served as connective cultural tissue between different generations of New Yorkers: What we all had in common was an eye for authenticity and an intellect capable of seeing through the fads and false gods of our fellow man.
But Gardner is disconcerted to learn that there is currently only one table at Brooks’ flagship devoted to the classic oxford cloth buttondown. Every other table is piled with non-iron shirts. When he telephones a Brooks merchandiser for an explanation, he’s told that non-iron shirts account for 90 percent of the store’s shirt sales:
“Today, that’s now the Brooks Brothers shirt.”
It shows you how much things have changed since the ’80s. Preppy may be more mainstream than ever, a fashion commodity that can be found, however watered-down, at shopping malls across the country. What’s been lost, of course, is the ethos behind the clothes, what Gardner calls the “ethical values.” And these go as much into how clothes are worn as how they’re made.
If you weren’t born to it, then Old Money values when it comes to men’s shirts are something you learn along the way. There’s that anecdote about Princeton students back in the day, the ones who got in on merit but took their style cues from the legacies, and who were forced to sandpaper the collars on their buttondowns to make them look broken in. Just last week my own father, a classic neatfreak, told me the collars on the Brooks shirts I’d sent him recently were already starting to fray from rubbing against his neck stubble. He wondered if they should be replaced. I reminded him that his hair was thin and gray and his face sun-beaten and wrinkled, and that maybe his shirt should also look like it’s had a little life experience and not come straight from a plastic wrapper.
That a buttondown oxford should have a little character, some fraying around the edges, some puckering on the placket, and the wrinkles that come from rolling up your sleeves and dealing with the business of life, is something you have to learn to appreciate, like the dull but noble patina on a piece of antique wood compared to the showroom-floor shine of new furniture.
Brooks Brothers is a much bigger company than it was in the ’80s, and its customer base much broaderand largely unaware, one suspects, of the old WASPy values for things like natural, lived-in clothes. The desire to look spic-and-span emanates from what Paul Fussell calls a very middle-class “anxiety over neatness.”
Non-iron shirts have their adherents, but personally I can’t stand them. And when time and convenience are valued above all else, even above the rich character of well aged oxford cloth, then I’m sorry but I think you’ve got your values backwards.
With 90 percent of its shirt sales in the non-iron category, Brooks is clearly giving its customer what he wants. But there’s something more, which Gardner hints at:
… what made Brooks Brothers great wasn’t that it catered to the public’s taste; it created taste.
One senses that the hero of Mary McCarthy’s story “The Man In The Brooks Brothers Shirt” feels he’s wearing something special from the unquestioned arbiters of good taste. He certainly wasn’t wearing a non-iron shirt, but then again they hadn’t been invented yet. If they had, who knows which side of the 90/10 divide he’d be on. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
At first I thought this was a bunch on nonsense, but before I reached out to my sources at the company, I went to the website. My jaw dropped when I reliezed how many “no-iron” shirts were available. For some reason, I thought the no-iron collection consiscted of 10 or 12 slim fit shirts and that was it. I have never owned these shirts, but I have a friend that swears by them and those that say they felt a lot of trapped heat when wearing them.
I had written to Lands’ End not too long ago about the non-availability of normal shirts. I was looking for a 100% cotton trim fit oxford/university stripe. Not only was I told that there weren’t any future plans for such a shirt, I was told that the non-iron shirts are quite popular. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t come as a surprise.
I think that there are less housewives than in the past, and less housewives mean less ironing of shirts. You know most men aren’t going to iron their shirts (I’m sure the readers of Ivy Style aren’t “most men”). I, for one, do all of the ironing in our home.
Forget the ironing – wear the old shirt, the baggy soft one with the long floppy collars, and just don’t iron it. Live with the creases and enjoy the feel of the fabric. Ironing wears them out anyway, and starch really finishes them off. One more thing – Made in Malaysia, as per the mini-pic above – is this not as much part of the abandonment of ethics as the non-iron heresy?
Your mothers failed you, if she didn’t teach you to iron a shirt. If you loved her growing up, you did your own shirts.
Never owned a non-iron shirt, natural cotton is king. Heavy bullet proof starch in the fall and winter, light starch or none in the spring and summer. To each his own style.
It is sad that society as a whole has lost an appreciation for natural material characteristics and objects that develop fine patinas. The same horror at the thought of wrinkles that drive men away from genuine unadulterated cotton shirting has also almost made extinct linen shirts, trousers and jackets; the most comfortable garments for summer.
I have found a similar mindset in automobile buyers who specify leather upholstered seating and then complain about the leather “quality” when the seats develop wrinkles and creases, because they have no realization that that is exactly what leather is supposed to do!
I have one of the Brooks non-irons; I use it only for travel, where I can throw it on right out of the suitcase. That is about all it is good for, the fabric is coarse and rough, and the non-wrinkle treatment gives it a stiffness that does not provide a good natural drape. It always looks a bit artificial.
Nothing wrong with wrinkles really, a man not displaying a few might well risk being considered a bit stiff.
So, funny…..I was just looking at Brooks Brothers’ shirts this morning.
I instinctively went to the non-irons (“why not take out a step in my morning dressing?”) and am glad to know about the history of the need-to-iron shirts.
Thanks agin for an informative post!
Does anyone remember? The Ralph Lauren garment labels in his cotton, linen and silk clothing, “guaranteed to wrinkle”
The texture alone is reason to stick with the must-iron variety. That and the fact that clothes are supposed to wrinkle. Some will never understand. Great write-up Christian.
I myself do not recall it, but I like it.
Sorry that I’m not a fashion blogger, but I prefer the convenience of non iron shirts, as well as the fact that 10 minutes in them does not make me look like a rumpled sack of shit. I’m tired of all the hating on non iron shirts. If you don’t like something, just say so. Don’t categorize those who prefer the alternative as having something “wrong” with them. Your shit may not stink, but your shirts, sir, will most certainly wrinkle.
The combat uniforms were got in the Australian military were non-iron and has an alleged infra-red suppressant in them. Three super hot washes with heavy detergent got it out and made them able to be worn in the tropics. It took nearly ten years to get 100% cotton ones issued. I have very few non one hundred percent cotton shirts. You don’t need starch – if you want razor sharp creases put a bit of soap on the inside of the crease you want. Lasts all day and I used to do it on my old green uniform.
When I was in the US Army in 1972, all the fatigues and khaki class A’s were 100% cotton. They wrinkled terribly no matter how much starch was used. I recall off post shops selling wash and wear fatiques, but I never bought them. Some guys had them tailored.
The PX military clothing store sold beautiful wash and wear khakis. Officers and sergeants wore them, on the lower ranks, such finery just didn’t seem right.
Back then, we were never allowed off post unless we were properly attired in Class A uniforms. If you looked too rumpled, an MP would stop you and possibly issue some sort of citation. I made sure I never looked that rumpled. I can recall an episode where someone had stolen my Garrison cap. On getting out of a taxi about 50 yards from the uniform store, an MP stopped me. After explaining my dilemma, he accompanied me into the store to make sure I bought a cap.
Now, all you see are soldiers in BDU’s. A couple years ago, I ran into a recruiter at a car wash. I remarked about his uniform. He told me it was all synthetic, and had velcro closures. He said he rarely ever wore a dress uniform.
My Dad’s commander in WW2, Patton, required men to wear ties, even in combat. Esprit de corps was the rule. Dad met him a few times, he always corrected men on their uniforms, tie knotted too loose, boots not polished, etc.
I don’t know whether the old guys were better soldiers, but we were always told that we represented the US Army to the average citizen, and neatness and proper comportment was mandatory.
From the May 1987 Lands’ End catalog:
THE PLEASURE OF IRONING A FINE COTTON SHIRT
by Roy Earnshaw
My wife is still asleep. I’ve exercised (quietly), showered, eaten breakfast. Now comes time for a familiar early morning ritual.
I take a cotton dress shirt from the closet, a wrinkled cotton dress shirt, shrug it off its hanger, and drape it over the ironing board.
Some men might smirk at the sight of me preparing to iron. “What? You iron your own shirts? John Wayne never would’ve!”
Well, call me a pantywaist, but I happen to enjoy it.
I plug in the iron, check the water level, turn the setting to — what else — cotton. Then pause for a few moments to let it get hot.
The room where I iron is a barren one. No furniture, just the ironing board. A “room we haven’t figured out what to do with yet,” having just recently bought this house. I suppose one day it will fill up with things, but right now I like it this way. Its spartan aspect seems well suited to the art of ironing.
I start with the left sleeve, first spritzing on water with a sprayer, then ironing it so flat, it almost looks as if I could pick it up and slice bread with it.
I turn it over, do the other side, then the cuff. Then on to the other sleeve, while the ironed one dangles just above the dusty wood floor.
(My wife tells me my technique is all wrong, but then so did my golf coach, my typing teacher, other authority figures. I take a perverse pleasure in doing things my own incorrect way.)
Now the back yoke, and a couple swipes at the collar. The easy parts. And then I sweep the shirt up off the board and down again, with its back spread out flat before me.
Sometimes I botch the back pleat, and have to do it two or three times. But no one is watching.
The ironing board cover bothers me. It’s a cheap one, full of childish flowers in jarring hues. Orange. Chartreuse. Purple. The colors of fast food restaurants. I miss the plain white one my mother used to have, with its humble dignity and burn smudges.
I press on. (No letters please — bad puns harm no one.) The cotton cloth is soft, sturdy in my fingers, and responsive to the iron. I swear, it enjoys being ironed! Almost seems to purr. It has a wonderful, tightly-woven texture to it, and glistens with the heat of the iron, and the soft light of the room.
Again I sweep the shirt up off the board, and down again, to do the right front, skating in and out around the buttons, then the left, using plenty of water and going over the stubborn placket again and again, bearing down, until it finally yields and becomes flat, neat. I am finished.
Now, the final pleasure of slipping into the toasty shirt. Especially keen now, in the February cool of the house. It almost crackles as I button it up, tuck it in.
The finches in the back room start to peep as first light looks in the windows. Time for me to go. But I leave with a sense of contentment, knowing that whatever large debacles or small frustrations await me, I have at least done one small piece of good work today.
My preference for supposedly non-iron BB shirts doesn’t stem for a desire for convenience, but a desire for neatness. My experience has been that even the so-called non-iron shirts do, in fact, always need ironing, and that the must-iron shirts never look proper, no matter how much your iron the. Moistening, spray starch, high-steam powerful irons–none of the actually get rid of the rumpled look. When I see a man in a carefully-pressed blazer, an impeccably knotted necktie, greynflannels with a razor-sharp crease, and admirably-polished shoes, I expect him to be wearing a faultlessly-ironed shirt. One can never achieve that look with a non-non-iron shirt. A well-ironed BB “non-iron”shirt can’t be surpassed for a neat appearance.
First, thanks for your’s, your father’s and other commenters’ service.
Also, thanks for the info on the golf thread.
Lastly, the closest I ever got to enlisting was the Cub Scouts, but was a service brat till I was in high school. I remember my mother using those metal frames laundering and starching my dad’s khakis. The pants became like a 1×8 board. That is probably why I’m a starch shirt person, grew up with it. I also, always have at least one pair of khakis that I have starched to the max. Yes, they pop the first time I sit down.
1. Start with the collar. (If you finish with the collar, you will crease the upper halves of the right and left front panels of the shirt and have to touch them up.)
2. Iron the yoke.
3. Iron both cuffs.
4. Iron the sleeves. (If you finish with the sleeves, you will crease the upper halves of the right and left front panels of the shirt and have to touch them up.)
5. Iron the right front panel
6. Iron the back.
7. Iron the left front panel, paying paricular attention to getting the placket done properly.
8. Fasten the top and third buttons, and leave the shirt to cool and air. This will allow the final vestige of moisture to evaporate and prevent creasing.
Perhaps one of the reasons they sell 9 out of 10 shirts no iron, is 9 out of 10 of their shirts are no iron!! At my local BB’s, there are NO traditional cotton shirts on display. You have to ask for them. And then, they come only in White, blue, pink, ecru, and yellow. You can’t find any other colors, or patterns. Like anything else, you can’t sell them, if you don’t have them. It should be noticed, their traditional cotton shirts are still made in the USA, and their other shirts are made in Malaysia. That should give you some indication of why they prefer pushing them.
One more thing, personally, I find the no iron shirts hotter, and feel more confining.
SPRAY STARCH! You guys call yourselves TRAD! Besides spray starch only works well on broad cloth or end on end shirts. Get yourself a box of Faultless Starch, yes I said box. Read the direction on the side, cream of starch, dilute, dip ….etc. The only way to starch a OCBD , BULLET PROOF! 😉
Touch down!, but I iron back, side seams, right front, then placard / pocket / left front
That was an awesome article. Thank you, Christian.
If I wanted wrinkles and puckering, I’d wear t-shirts.
Gardner is a good writer, IMO. Not many people have the talent to write about mundane subjects in a way that holds the attention of readers like he does.
As soon as I saw the article, it seemed obvious that it should be quoted here.
There is a small but loyal segment of the clothing market that will go to great lengths to find an OCBD that is; gotta iron, baggy, no pocket, and truly Ivy authentic. As long as Dave Mercer is in business, you know where they are.
The iron/starch conversation opens the door to another subject. Seems like preferences range from bullet proof starching, to a bit less.
The guy that started the whole Ivy blog thing a number of years ago, that I gained great respect for, said that he washed his shirts in the backyard in a galvanized tub, with a “Carlton Fisk Louisville Slugger” for an agitator.
From there to bullet proof starching. Your call. Can’t possibly be a correct answer.
When I was young my mother used to iron my things for me. Then after a short period of time, I realized that I had a preference for one crease on my pant legs and shirt sleeves. So as a result of my OCD behavior, I ended-up teaching her how to properly iron.
Today I still wear the same exact trad style, I started out wearing in the early 1960’s. To me I knew of only two ways to dress back in the day, trad or greaser. Greaser was never ever, an option for me.
When I buy shirts these days, I purchase the BB’s OCBD’s in 100% cotton, slim fit, (yes in slim fit and nobody need know) in 3-white, 3-blue, 2-ecru, 2-pink, and 2-yellow. All of my shirts do require ironing.
Always wash them before wearing. My shirts are almost six years old and show very little wear. Here’s my little secret. Wash them in warm water, regular cycle. Add one half cup of detergent and one half cup of Clorex 2 to the water. Let it mix in before adding the load of shirts. I ALWAYS also do an addition rinse at the end of the wash cycle as well. Then when completed, I hang them to dry on plastic hangers, on my shower curtain rack, with the collars turned up.
For ironing, steam with cotton setting. Spray each section with water using a waterspray bottle. Start with the back of the collar, turn it over do the front, and then iron the collar with a crease like when you wear it. Then pull each side of the yoke onto the pointed end of the ironing board and do it. I then usually do each side, followed by the back. After the back is completed, I turn the shirt inside out and do the pleat from the inside to crease it. This is followed by doing each cuff outside then inside. Sleeves are done last, on both sides.
Starch is used only on the outside of the collar, the front placket, the outside of the cuffs, or anywhere with double layers of material. In addition, I also number the same color shirts and rotate them in the closet. This way I never wear the same color shirt twice in a row.
Hope that this info is informative from a middle-aged clothes horse!!!
A wonderful article, but then it’s always nice to have one’s prejudices confirmed. I couldn’t agree more: those who are afraid of a few wrinkles tend to have a morbid fear of life, rather like CNN news commentators.
This is the 10% that I choose to be with. Sorry for ther other 90%.
I remember a few years ago being shocked that 75% of Brooks shirt sales were non-iron. The trend has grown. I am afraid it is a lost battle. A few years ago I also read that JC Penney was the biggest seller of business shirts, due largely to their early adoption of non-iron.
I think it is largely due to men not wearing ties or jackets anymore. In the business casual world, the roll of the collar is not as important. People see the shirt more, so perhaps the insecurity for neatness is amplified.
One point I will make is that Brooks non-iron is far better than other makers. Still not as good a all cotton, but better than an Eagle I tried several years ago.
The increase in no iron shirts is because there is no one at home to iron anymore, mom is at work. It’s called progress.
If you are afraid of wrinkles don’t bullet proof starch your shirts. They wrinkle in the right places as they’re worn. They aren’t already wrinkled when you put them on. Find your own style. 😉
So many of the items are, in fact, totems. And the ghosts–they really are everywhere, aren’t they?
“I see Trad people…
…All the time. They’re everywhere.”
The invitation is repeatedly extended by Princeton’s forgotten curmudgeon. To paraphrase: of course you’re welcome at this table. You’re wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt.
Thing is, it can be improved upon. I cherish my old, old Brooks oxfords, but there are at least three makers (right here in the good ol’ U.S.A.) who make an Oxford that, because of custom tweaking (“even bigger in the middle, please.”), might be regarded as us superior.
Individualized makes one hell of an OCBD. A variety of oxford cloth colors and weights. And then there’s Mercer, master of the off the shelf soft roll. And oh-by-the-way, New England Shirt. The first and latter will customize collar length, and with some tinkering, the buttons can be moved to produce a roll that’s well beyond great.
Hard to understand how men who care so much about the micrometric differences between the button down collars made by different manufacturers and the precise amount of collar roll that is de rigueur should be so undisturbed by the unkempt appearance that wrinkled shirts produce. The non-iron shirt is far more visually pleasing than the must-iron shirt, even when the latter is heavily starched.
Just a matter of personal preference, there is no right or wrong. It’s like OWS, some wash their hair, most don’t, even neck tats are optional. 😉
I beg to differ, sir.
The underlying philosophy of Ivy is that some things are right and others most certainly are not.
Neck tats optional? Not to those of us who value civilization.
Upon second reading, I realized that you meant that neck tats were optional for OWS activists, not for followers of Ivy style.
As far as washing their hair, do they even bathe?
“The underlying philosophy of Ivy is that some things are right and others most certainly are not.”
Within ivy parameters, but tell that to the first guy that showed up to the party wearing khakis.
“Neck tats optional? Not to those of us who value civilization.”
The problem with the Brooks oxford BD became the collars they were putting on them during the awful years when Brooks was owned by Marks and Spencer – it simply was not the same shirt as I was buying in the 60’s. I even resorted to moving the collar buttons, which is a real pain. I started buying RL Polo oxford BDs, but I despise wearing someone’s logo. I recently bought a Brooks non-iron oxford BD and was pleasantly surprised – the collar was finally back to the collar of the 60’s. Perhaps they have fixed the must iron version as well.
Another, related evil, to be found in most shirts these days: fusible interfacing in the collars. You might as well wear a celluloid collar.
I’m gonna get a lot of flak for this, but here goes…
“The increase in no iron shirts is because there is no one at home to iron anymore, mom is at work. It’s called progress.”
Progress? I beg to differ.
In America in 1900, 3% of married white women worked (I only have ready access to statistics for whites, so that’s why that qualifier is there). The total fertility rate per woman was about 4, with the out-of-wedlock birthrate at about 1%. The divorce rate was 8%.
In 2010, however, about 60% of white married women work. What happens to the rest of the picture? Well, the total fertility rate is down to lower than replacement levels, at only 1.8. The out-of-wedlock birth rate has jumped to 29%, and the divorce rate is a staggering 53%.
If you believe that the family is the foundation of society, then in 110 years we have gone from stable families and a stable society to disintegrating families and a disintegrating society. No one is so simple-minded as to think that more women in the workforce is the sole reason, but there is a connection.
Orthogonal to proper shirt ironing, true, but progress it ain’t.
Actually readers seem to be defending the non-iron shirts more for their appearance than the convenience of not having to iron.
It seems that this non-iron controversy is a pressing issue that needs to be ironed out.
I got to throw the “progressives” a bone once in awhile.
I think I read somewhere that Brooks has made a version of these shirts since the 50’s.
While I don’t care for these no-iron shirts, I still prefer them to the 60/40 blends of the past.
Think about the Chemicals used to make the shirt non-iron and wearing it all day. Inhaling the toxic chemicals and letting it touch your skin!!
Hyde Park from Lands End!
This reminds me of a recent, tangentially related experience. There’s a store in Edgartown called Sun Dog which carries plenty of higher end preppy clothing. I wish I could remember the brands, because there were some super soft OCBDs, but they were not in my size (17.5″/33″ slim fit, else I feel like I’m wearing a smock). I WANT to get into the iron-neccesary type shirts, but they’re difficult to find in my size, even more so without breaking the bank.
What do I have for dress shirts? Brooks Brothers non-irons.
I have a Brooks non-iron and like it, but more for the pattern and fit, otherwise I would opt for the 100% cotton. Other than the drift toward blended fabrics, their sizing seems way off as well, but that’s another topic. I have been thinking of headed to BB lately to get blue oxford, good to have read this before hand.
Ridiculous. Honestly, I like my oxfords all wrinkled and rolled in odd places fresh from the dryer. The non-iron types look too good… and they feel weird.
Berry punny 😉
The same treatment that makes “non-iron” fabrics resist wrinkles makes them resist starch, too. If I want something that wrinkles less, I’ll choose poly-cotton blends; the “non-iron” stuff just feels weird.
As for starch or no starch for your Oxford button downs, that’s a matter of personal preference. I have some that I starch up and turn stiff as a board, and by the end of the day, they have wrinkled beautifully in all the right places. I have others that I don’t even touch up with an iron; they’re great on the weekends, with or without a casual tie. It’s the magic of the cloth.
What was that Latin phrase? Oh yeah—de gustibus non disputandum est.
Except that “non-iron” shirts are objectively inferior to the regular ones.
If style is about appearance, then “non-iron” shirts are objectively superior to “must-iron” ones, I daresay.
I recently purchased my first Brooks Brothers oxford about a year ago here in Los Angeles. I was excited the day had finally come. I walked in to the store and happily asked where I could find them, her reply was heartbreaking “online, we don’t carry those in store.”
Diego – +1 on the Land’s end Hyde Park. I have one that I got second hand. The collars and cuffs are a bit frayed, but still – that thing is exquisite! I have a washed oxford from them coming today. The description on their site says they hope you don’t iron it and leave it wrinkled. I hope it is as awesome as the Hyde Park.
Although, I do have a BB no-iron white dress shirt that I rather like. Still, it’s nothing compared to the other must-iron oxfords I have (for that matter, the no-iron shirt still definitely needs ironing after a wash). Anyway, I find ironing to be quite therapeutic.
In my opinion the collars on BB ‘must-iron’ BD oxfords leave a lot to be desired as they are too heavily lined and a tie doesn’t sit well under them. The collars on the ‘non-iron’ shirts are far superior, although as has already been said the treated fabric makes the shirts uncomfortably hot.
Re: starch, I only apply it to the inside of the collar and the armpits– and that more to ward off sweat stains. Having grown up in the hot and humid malarial wastes of north Florida, I overheat in anything more.
“The collars on the ‘non-ıron’ shirts are far superior”.
My biggest heartbreak in the world of PITA clothing is the fact that so little is “authentic,” i.e. made where it was made when it became an icon. Weejuns from Central America, Top-Siders from China, Brooks from Malaysia…If it says “imported” in an online item description, I hesitate. (Even non-US made items that retailers want to prove are authentically manufactured shun this word; e.g. Barbour is “made in England.”) Question: is this self-indulgent snobbery? Part of my hesitation relates to overseas working conditions, but part is definitely wishing for “authenticity.”
First, I was being a bit tongue-in-cheekish, but since you mention it….
For some, the wrinkles and puckering of regular Oxford cloth is the image they want to convey (e.g., G. Bruce Boyer), and so the regular stuff is what they want. For others, being immaculate is the image they want to convey, and so “non-iron” fabrics—or better yet, non-Oxford cloths—are better.
When I’m more dressed up, I don’t wear Oxford cloth; when I’m less dressed up, I do. Easy.
Incidentally, style is not just about appearance. It’s also about how you comport yourself.
Clothes are supposed to wrinkle. They’re made of cloth that’s supposed to wrinkle.
Just as shoe leather creases and buckles get scratched.
Oxford is the sturdiest and heftiest of cotton dress shirt fabrics, so, actually, it wrinkles less than other fabrics. Like, say, pinpoint and broadcloth. English multi-ply worsteds are the Oxford cloth of the suit cloth family. And the there’s tweed, and burly flannels (worsted and woolen)–both of which seem right at home with an OCBD.
New England Shirt uses hefty Oxford. Request the classic fit and the Alden collar.
And find a cleaner who offers a wash-dry-fold-and-bag service. Save the starch for the important meetings.
@Henry. I blame shirts not having separate collars the reason for the downfall of society. Thins were so much better for (white) women in the in the days of the Triangle Shirt Factory disaster. Try not bringing politics into the discussion shall we. Women in the workforce…Heaven forbid that… Over to Condoleeza Rice for a comment.
God bless the Central Americans, Chinese, and Malaysians for making it possible for us to dress properly.
Henry, I wasn’t making a joke. What did you think was punny?
My apologies. Somehow, I misread J Kraus’ comment (“It seems that this non-iron controversy is a pressing issue that needs to be ironed out”) as yours.
Non-iron has a time and place, such as when getting both of my kids dressed, fed, and out the door and dropped off at day care in the morning. Nothing competes with Lands’ End Hyde Parks or BBs cotton oxfords, and I wear & enjoy them whenever I can, but for these few years while my kids are little, their non-iron shirts can be a pragmatic choice, in moderation.
Wearing a non-iron shirt is like drinking decaffeinated coffee. It’s simply not the real deal!
He scores!, from some of the comments, I think some don’t know the difference between perm-press poly-cotton and all cotton non iron shirts. Perma-press is made from a polyester cotton blended fabric, it will peel as the polyester and cotton separate. Non iron cotton is a cotton fabric treated with silicone. so your choice is plastic or window chaulk.
I would have said the difference between ground coffee prepared in a French press and instant coffee.
I drink decaf and am able to detect no taste difference whatsoever between it and “the real thing”.
Many thanks for your defense of untreated, 100% cotton shirts. The non-iron variety smell weird, look fake (permanent creases?!), prematurely fray in odd areas, and look worse as they age. The trained eye easily spots this schlock.
I was under the impression that a resin made of formaldehyde was used to shock cotton fibers into line. Am I mistaken? I know that there is at least one lawsuit out there (against Victoria’s Secret) contending that this resin caused rashes.
You may be right, I’m not a chemical engineer, but the cotton fibers are treated with some chemical. I had heard silicone, but formaldehyde fits even better in my attempt at humor. Screw window chalk, those shirts are embalmed!
“Non-iron has a time and place…” Jimmy.
As the Most Interesting Man in the World might say in that regard: “Non-iron has a time and place. The time is never. You choose the place.”
If you want to look like a neatnik, choose non-iron. If you want to look Ivy, choose must-iron.
That said, Brooks is no longer the standard-bearer. They have ceded that ground to Mercer.
I’m puzzled, though, by all who iron their own shirts for any reason other than economics.
I iron my own shirts because it takes less than 3 minutes and it is easy to do. Asking someone else to do it would be like asking someone to put my shoes on my feet and tie the laces for me.
The first shirt my mom ironed for me was the last. She told my 5 year old self to pay attention and then said “If you want something done, do it yourself.”
In addition to economic factors, a wife might iron her husband’s shirts out of love, or a sense of responsibility, or perhaps some other, related reason.
A man might iron his own shirts because he can’t find a laundry service that doesn’t tear them to shreds. He might also do it for the pleasure of it (see the essay in the comments).
GI Zhou, if you have a point, it escapes me. Mine is simply this: as more women have entered the workforce, we have seen concomitant changes. My opinion is that overall, these changes have been for the worse.
Certainly you, too, see rising bastardy and divorce rates as bad things—don’t you?
For those of us of a certain age, being a neatnik and being Ivy are not mutually-exclusive categories. Our adherence to and advocacy of Ivy style were and are a reaction to slovenliness, among other things.
Ken you are right, formaldehyde!
If the shirts fit better I would be more inclined to wear the shirt if it was wrinkled. But as it stands now, it is like a sail with arm holes, so one needs to take whatever measures they can to look as put together as possible (note: my brother is 5’10” 175lbs and was wearing a size 16 extra slim fit and I was still able to grab a handful of fabric).
I am not a fan of the non-iron and BB admits they don’t last as long as their traditional shirts but until they do something to make them fit someone whose chest is greater than their waist it is a moot point.
Being neat is a fine thing…iron, steam and press to your heart’s content but embrace the fact that wrinkles are a natural result of wearing cotton clothes. After all, I don’t recall anyone getting dinged for this before ‘non-iron’ oxfords hit the shelves of Brooks Brothers.
I say be a bit less self-conscious, live in your clothes and let the chips fall where they may. Oh and be sure to tuck in your button-down, lest you be mistaken for one of the other 95%…it’s a slippery slope.
” Oh and be sure to tuck in your button-down, lest you be mistaken for one of the other 95%…it’s a slippery slope.”
What’s up with the young not wearing their OCDB dress shirts tucked, is it a Guido thing?
Re: “Is it a Guido thing?”
Gentlemen who read Ivy Style should bear that in mind whenever tempted to buy an extra-slim shirt.
Good question. When I was in college it was kinda cool…for about five minutes…to sport one the partial untuck- one shirttail hanging out in a Devil-may-care fashion which of course was anything but. Sort of deconstructing the uniform…but still a uniform. The year was 1986 and we were 18.
As for the full untuck? It happened but whatever its roots, the practice of wearing untucked button-downs to me is just so pedestrian…Synonymous with the legions of ill-dressed men sporting the black Bannana Rebublic dress shirt paired with jeans of some horrid ‘wash’ and set off with a sneaker/dress shoe mutation. Delicious.
I to have worn “the partial untuck- one shirttail hanging out in a Devil-may-care fashion”, my first introduction to tequila comes to mind, it was a long crawl back to the dorm. The year was 1970 and we were 18.
Don’t get me going on the hip media / Hollywood “ill-dressed men sporting the black Bannana Rebublic dress shirt paired with jeans of some horrid ‘wash’ and set off with a sneaker/dress shoe mutation”. “Dress shoe mutation”, well done Chris!
I, too, do not wear non-iron shirts, not only because of the way the fabric feels, but because I find them to be too hot.
However, I have not been all that happy with BB’s must iron OCBDs for the last 20 years or so. The problem is that the collars and cuffs have usually been lined, although sometimes rather lightly. Somehow, the current collar is too thick, which messes up the roll, as it is now too orderly looking. The changes over the years and the problem has been well-discussed here.
Thank God for Mercer!
In the mid-70s, we did our best to preserve the purist Ivy look, but we certainly enjoyed hippie music like this:
Does anyone know how to take out the non-iron treatment from shirts and chinos?
Things were slow, so I Google it. Washing over time will leach out the formaldehyde and resins. That’s all I could find, I guess hot water would be best. But, the bad news, for many here, the more expensive the shirt, the longer the no iron resins last.
The must-iron BB Oxford cloth is made in the US and can be had during sales for about $50 per shirt (when purchased three at a time). I don’t think there is a better value for a US made shirt.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped ironing my OCBDs. Nobody has ever commented that my shirt looks wrinkled.
I, like probably many of you, received a promotional e-mail this week from Brooks for its non-iron shirts (link below). There’s a drawing of a well-dressed gentleman from the 1950s or ’60s and an airplane. The copy reads in part: “Remember when travel was a pleasure, not a chore? Before the lines, the inedible food, the delays, …. While we can’t iron out all your woes, we can help you arrive in style. The Brooks Brothers Non-Iron Shirt.”
It’s not going to convince those on this site and elsewhere who prefer the classic OCBD. But it’s a creative attempt to associate the non-iron shirt with classic Brooks “values,” as it were. Somewhere Don Draper is smirking.
Very clever marketing by Brooks Brothers, but they forget to mention that everyone on the plane smoked and the drinks were free. Oh. and the stewardesses, yes I said stewardesses, were hot and maintained the cocktail hour atmosphere.
OK, I’m impressed that everyone is SO Traditional that they turn up their noses at an Easy Care BB OCBD! A decade ago I would have agreed with you, Brook’s Poly/Cotton shirts were HORRIBLE and poorly detailed! But the recent 100% Cotton No-Iron shirts are my favorite OCBD’s EVER! They are the best detailed Easy Care oxfords out there. Particularly the Pinpoint Oxfords are the closest thing to washed silk in terms of breathable sensuality in a dress shirt!
I have not worn BBshirts for decades. I also do not wear button downs.
However, for decades I have worn BB oxford cloth PJs, In recent years
they are no-iron cotton. The negative comments on no-iron are IMHO,
correct. LLBean oxford cloth PJs, when they have them, are the real thing.
My oxford cloth shirts come from Hilditch and Key who use heavy traditional
@Roger Sack Have you bought any shirts from Hilditch & Key in the last few years? In my opinion, the quality has declined since the factory in Scotland was closed and production was outsourced to northern Italy. The factory move is not mentioned on the website which still carries a Youtube video of shirts being made in Glenrothes. Prices have increased substantially too so I no longer buy from them having previously been a loyal customer for over 25 years.
Just discovered the BB no-irons have gotten worse, they now have Spandex and CoolMax (OMG) in them. I mistakenly bought a pair of stretch khakis from another supplier. They are hot and heavy and I may be allergic to them. Really afraid to try a BB grossly overpriced shirt. In due respect to the old BB the new owners should retire the name. Avoid the Abercrombie & Fitch debacle. May the name Brooks Brothers rest in peace.
A mere summer day in Nantucket or a stroll through an Ivy campus provides all the evidence one needs to defend the classic Ivy wrinkle. Simple put…authentic Ivy syle comes not from perfection…rather it refects tradition, quality, confidence, and comfort all of which are splendidly represented by a nice cotton button down shirt with those precious little creases…any doubts…stepping off your Hinckley picnic boat for drinks at Cru Cafe also helps complete the picture.
A couple of years ago, the choice was the older OCBD at, I think, $69.50 on close-out or its less substantial replacement at $140.00. You can bet that I stocked up on the now discontinued version. At my age, I have a lifetime supply.
The only non-iron shirts that I own from Brooks are their sport shirts, which are well-priced and don’t need to be sent to out. Fine for everyday. But there is no way on earth that I would wear a necktie with a non-iron shirt.
And don’t get me started on their Non-Iron Tuxedo Shirts! I would wear a boiled shirt if I could find one.
I only ever ironed an OCBD once – for a wedding. And under peer pressure. Otherwise, wrinkles please.
If I can throw in a mini rant, however, I’m tired of the clothes hunt – which, admittedly, happens fewer and further between now that my wardrobe is finally shaping up how I want it – being hindered with non-natural materials. Stretch Oxfords, stretch chinos, stretch jeans, acrylic sweaters. Not a fan.
Brad Ewin – “I’m tired of the clothes hunt …” So true. Not only is it difficult to find good clothes, it is nearly impossible without going on a hunt. That is one of the reasons that losing the classic Brooks Brothers (which happened at least 25 years ago) is so sad. Up into the 1980s, a man, even a young man with much to learn, could walk into BB at Madison and 44th or L St. in Washington, and be confident that what he found would be well made and timelessly correct, with very few exceptions. The selection was large and covered shoes, socks, underwear, shirts, ties, day and evening formal wear, including tailcoats and morning coats, business suits, sport clothes, belts, outerwear, hats and and if he had questions, he could get sound, knowledgeable and patient advice from the sales staff. That is still true at a handful of shops, but no place has the size and selection of the old Brooks. J. Press gets my vote today, and I gather that O’Connell’s still provides that level of quality and service. Few others can compete.
I understand what you mean concerning the shirts. I like the fit and feel the old shirts had and Ebay and my friends across the country sending me things have been a godsend. I live in Oklahoma City and finding non-iron shirts can be a challenge these days. Spencer Stone and Q Clothier meet some of my needs, but I miss the old BB shirts.
@Jim K: I too stocked up on the 4/$199 deals on Father’s Day and After Christmas sales. Some are still in their packaging. My only concern will be with WFH and my neckline. I do wish I had more pink ones though. They never fail to stimulate a conversation.
The statistic is far from surprising, for since the mid-eighties Brooks has not been a store catering to the man steeped in traditional prep school dress who moved on after college to the old line commercial bank or big law firm look. The man who wanted to stay with the clothing he dressed in during the sixties and seventies had to learn of other sources in the eighties. Thanks to the internet it is easy to select shirts at O’Connell’s or Mercer, but I will always miss going into Brooks and selecting the shirts, not to mention all the other things I used to buy there.
Yes it is amazing that most men prefer non iron, to a must iron shirt. Just one wearing of a non iron shirt was too much for me. Uncomfortable fabric that did not breath during the day. No thank you. My closet is full of must be ironed BB shirts. And every one is comfortable and looks great, even at the end of the day. I now search Ebay and purchase just about every one in my (hard to find) size. Unfortunately Brooks is now a fashion commodity house: they sell the same items as everyone else, but expect you to pay a premium because of the label. This is ironic, because the author states “(men no longer have) value for things like natural, lived-in clothes.” We are now in a time and place where people -do- value natural lived in clothes, because they are comfortable! There is a window of opportunity here ! Show someone lounging around with the Sunday paper strewn about, wearing a wrinkled BB OCBD to show how this icon of Ivy Trad style is still of the moment. Better yet, have a women in the background wearing what is obviously someone else’s wrinkled BB OCBD. Would make a great B&W ad campaign for high profile magazines. Call the series “The new leisure wear” !
Not just the shirts. I knew things were dire when they no longer sold straw boaters (a 1993 purchase for my brother’s wedding; he no longer has said spouse, I still have my boater), and then Chesterfields disappeared (a 1988 purchase that I could not afford at the time, my thirty-year-old nephew has told me will be taking it from my closet the day of my funeral), but then, the final straw; the end of the embroidered corduroy trouser. The more affluent I got, the less wise I became apparently. Years of passing up candy cane, Christmas tree, holly, and various dog breed adorned confections, often on clearance post-holiday, have left me with a single pair (Scotty dogs) that are worn twice a year at the lessons and carols service at church with a blue blazer, and on Christmas day with a sweater. A trip to a Brooks Brothers in Grosse Pointe yesterday, where not a single no iron was to be found, once again reminded me how dire our world has become.
Now that decent Oxford cloth button-down shirts cannot be had at any price from any of the previous suppliers, I have mine custom made by online shirtmakers. Turns out they’re less expensive that way, too.
Part of the creative destruction of capitalism.
Yes, I have dealt with this issue for years!! And this issue is even bigger in the world of men’s khakis. Every company wants a wrinkle-free crease in their pants!! God help us all!!!
I am a Canadian and Brooks Brothers only established their.first store in Canada in 2009. They have about six locations now in three cities. I find this blog to be interesting in its discussion of historic and classic men’s clothing, but I do not entirely understand the veneration for Brooks Brothers and their OCBD shirts or the “ natural shoulder sack suit”. The latter was never popular in Canada at any time, and button down shirts are less popular than in the United States but by no means rare. In Canada the traditional view of button-down shirts is they are satisfactory with sport coats and blazers, but not with suits. I understand that is not so in the US. This thread has been going on for years and it covers the question of permanent press, non-iron fabric versus pure untreated cotton fabric for traditional button-down Brooks Brothers shirts.
I agree that untreated shirts can be slightly more comfortable than treated shirts, but all no-iron shirts are not the same, regardless of whether that process involves formaldehyde, arsenic or more exotic poisons, none of which I know anything about. What I do know is that all non-iron shirts are not the same and some are very close or even indistinguishable from cotton, or are just as terrible as some writers in this thread have stated.
The current BB pinpoint oxford shirts would be at the better end of non-iron shirts and if they suit you in other ways they are quite a decent shirt. I have not tried their pure cotton untreated ones, and have no comment regarding them. However, Ralph Lauren shirts which are sold widely are made in the old way with no permanent press treatment, no interlining in the collars and cuffs, mother-of-pearl buttons and with single needle tailoring. The roll of the collar is not quite the same as Brooks Brothers and that is a point of great significance to some persons, but they are an easy to find traditional type of shirt if the old style construction is preferred. But they are not Brooks Brothers and for some nothing else will suffice. Indeed, as Brooks Brothers isn’t exactly what they were at one time, nothing will suffice for some persons. As in legend, the quest itself for the holy grail may became more important than the actual object of the quest.
My point is, however, that some permanent press shirts, button down or otherwise, can be very good. I recently did an order of semi-custom shirts in Egyptian cotton that turned out well. They are very soft and silky to the touch. Although they are ostensibly non-iron (even non-iron shirts require some easy ironing), these are the first ones that I find indistinguishable from untreated cotton. Other details, including the roll of the button-down collars of a couple I did order in that style, were all excellent.
Just to be a bit perverse, I ordered the button downs with French cuffs and I have not had anyone notice them and didactically inform me that this is considered incorrect. Perhaps that illustrates good manners, as well as how little most men [or women] concern themselves with sartorial details. A group of friends that I had lunch with regularly [until Covid] are not reticent about making comment. If anyone wears what appears to be a regimental tie that is not truly club/organization/regimental, it will get some some humorous speculation as to what it does actually represent. [In addition to learning about regimental ties, I learned how to iron untreated cotton shirts to perfection when I began a reserve officer training program at university, a very long time ago.]
I am rambling and digressing here, but I find the discussion interesting and generally this blog contains a wide range of good material of interest to someone with an interest in classic men’s clothing.
Dear Brooks Brothers, for the love of God, please bring back the 100% cotton button down pocketed oxford dress shirt with neck size and sleeve length. You know, the one’s that you have to iron. Boy, do I miss them. thank you, Tom in NJ.