Every man should own a button-down oxford shirt. It’s a staple of menswear notable for its versatility: it can be dressed up or down, it fits with a variety of wardrobes and it complements a range of body types. And while men’s publications proselytize investing in quality, and countless brands offer “definitive” designs of the oxford, the components of a well-made shirt are, at best, vague. To separate the process from the marketing, we asked Todd Shelton, whose eponymous brand exhibits a respected eye for details, and Chris Olberding, of heritage American shirting brand Gitman Vintage, to shed light on the materials and construction that go into a quality oxford.
Quality Cloth Means a Quality Shirt
It’s about yarn quality. Oxford is such a basic fabric that a fundamental, like yarn quality, is the key ingredient. Oxford is a heavy fabric, which requires a thicker yarn when weaving. A thicker yarn can be created two ways: from one single heavy-gauge yarn, or by twisting two or more finer yarns together. Oxford cloth made from multiple finer, twisted yarns will be softer and richer. It makes a big difference.
A quality oxford cloth depends on, one, good yarn quality, and, two, how good the mill is at weaving and finishing the fabric. My experience has been, you get what you pay for when it comes to fabrics, especially oxford, and the best oxford is coming out of Europe.
There is a lot of good oxford cloth out there, but Gitman uses a particular weave we created with one mill that offers high durability and comfort. Good long-staple cotton helps, too.
Be Mindful of Construction
Every shirtmaker uses the same basic construction techniques. The difference between makers is how disciplined and artful they are in applying those techniques. Are machines properly calibrated? Are stitch-per-inch and thread tension consistent? Are the seamstresses experienced? Are they happy to be sewing?
Making a shirt involves about 75 minutes, 50 steps and about 25 separate pieces that are divided into three main sections of the factory floor, starting with cutting, moving into finishing and ending with inspection.
The Collar (and Details) Create the Aesthetic
In my opinion, the only absolute detail for an oxford shirt is a button-down collar. The length of the collar point is possibly the most important detail and a big decision for a brand. We do a 2 5/8-inch point for button-down collars. I recently made a sample with a 2 3/4-inch collar, 1/8 of an inch longer than what we normally do, and I didn’t like it. As the collar gets longer, the shirt gets more traditional-looking. I think an industry standard is about 3 inches.
We offer a multitude of different options, but our classic shirt uses a center box pleat for movement, a 3-inch button-down collar with double track stitching (this perfects the roll), two-button barrel cuffs for adjustment, an Army-gauge 1 1/2 inch front placket and double-stitched reinforced button-holes.