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OCBD: The Essential Oxford Cloth Button-Down Shirt Guide

In the past, we’ve gone over everything you need to know about a button-down collar. Then we walked you through wearing polo shirts, so you’d never be caught out of sorts there.

Though those guides are brilliantly helpful and all you need to be a perfectly fine man, we decided to also help you take your shirt game to the top tier by explaining everything you could ever hope to want to know about the cornerstone of a true gentleman’s closet, the OCBD – Oxford Cloth Button-Down.

The Inception of the OCBD

OCBD
via GQ

The initial button-down collar was adopted by polo players in India who needed a way to look semi-formal while keeping their collars from flapping in their faces while they horsed around. Brooks Brothers saw the interest in immobile collars and sought to bring them into more fashionable wear by combining it with Oxford cloth in a more formal shirt. The newly created Oxford shirt was a massive hit in Hollywood during the 1950s, which translated into a nationwide phenomenon during a time when films wholly defined what people wore.

Related Reading: Your Guide to Oxford Shoes

Evolution of the OCBD

Brooks Brothers Oxford Shirt
via ProperCloth

At first, Oxford cloth shirts with button-down collars were passed off as formal wear, and thus were put with tuxedos, and pinstripe suits, and were permitted as office attire in New York high rises. That fad quickly faded, as fashion mavens recognized that the whole intent of oxford shirts and their unflappable collars was to hold them in place during games of sport.

That casualness was deigned too informal for the workplace, and so the oxford button down was moved to more functional, everyday wear, the spot it remains in today.

Though you can still get away with an oxford shirt that has a buttoned collar under a tailored suit, you’re more likely to find them used as weekend wear during boating, barbecues, or worn by the office IT professional who needs to crawl under desks and do real work. Mechanics, machinists, architects, engineers, and other pros who do more than issue mandates from on high are also adherents to the button-down collar, as it looks fashionable, but doesn’t interfere with their tasks.

Selecting an Oxford Shirt With a Button Down Collar

Cloth button down shirt
via Baltzar

Nearly every brand that makes a shirt has some variant of the oxford cloth button-down, since they’re versatile as a piece of clothing and can be used in a wide range of circumstances. Though they all share a few similar traits, not every Oxford cloth button down is created equal, and you should know what you’re doing before you ever pluck one off the rack.

Related Reading: Best OCBD Shirts

Always Go Long-Sleeved With Oxford Shirts

Long Sleeves are a Must
via Drakes

The Oxford shirt is a casual dress shirt. While the emphasis might be more on the casual, they’re not supposed to be T-shirts. Get a polo shirt if you want to display your guns but still have a collar. It will look more natural, as the oxford button-down looks tacky and slovenly with chopped sleeves. It’s flat-bill level bro gear, and you’re better than that. Roll up the sleeves if you need extra air. That look says “ready for action” while short sleeves say “odd man-child.”

Opt For Natural Fabrics

Opt For Natural Fabrics

Anyone who’s been trapped in a bad double poly blend can attest to how important it is to select textiles that are easy on your body. Brooks Brothers used 100% cotton for their oxford shirts because the natural breathing qualities of the fabric made them comfortable, while also looking excellent as they draped on your body.

Today there are a few other Oxford shirt variants with silk and linen making appearances, but the simple rule for oxford shirts is to choose cotton, or anything else that comes from nature. Most cheap choices of button down collar shirts have a lot of polyester in them which won’t breathe. In addition, it looks stiffer and more awkward, hangs oddly, degrades quickly, and feels terrible against your skin. The lower cost brings too many negatives to make it worth your while.

Get a Soft Roll

Make Sure You go for a Soft Roll

If the collar lays flat when it is buttoned down, it isn’t a true OCBD. It’s a false idol and should be put on the pyre at your first opportunity. In original, classic oxford button-downs, the collar extended past the button when undone, which meant that it puffed up slightly when buttoned, creating what is known as a soft roll. The purpose of this is to add life and depth to a collar that works best without a tie. It’s supposed to frame your face, lengthen your neck, and add breadth to your chest. If you want a shirt that lays down, the buttons are superfluous.

Look for a Box Pleat

Box Pleats on an Oxford Shirt
via SuitsExpert

Remember, the first OCBDs were modeled after sportswear, and modern ones are made for semi-active lifestyles. The rear of your Oxford shirt should have a box pleat to allow you a better range of motion in the arms and shoulders, both for work and for pickup football games on Thanksgiving. If it binds or tugs when you move, it’s not a true Oxford shirt.

Careful With The Cuffs

Careful With Your Cuffs

Though few oxford cloth shirts have French cuffs which require cufflinks, there’s a few out there. It looks odd to have the casual rolled and buttoned collar with the highly formal cuffs, so ordinarily the best option is to get casual cuffs with a tight button on the sleeves. If you can’t live without French cuffs, choose cufflinks that are playful, amusing, or laid back instead of deadly formal.

Wearing an OCBD

By this point, you likely have a solid notion of when and how to wear an oxford cloth button-down, but there’s a few hard and fast rules to follow so you don’t end up looking like a rube who just fell off the potato truck.

It is Not a Dress Shirt

How to Wear a Cloth Button Down Shirt

Your OCBD works well under a cardigan, a smoking jacket, a sport coat, or all by itself with some chinos, tucked in or not. It doesn’t belong with a suit, and never should be put with a tuxedo, tails, or a formal dinner jacket. You shouldn’t be wearing it to a formal work environment, ever.

Remain Tieless…Usually

A Timeless Oxford Cloth Button Down

Since it is not a dress shirt, it doesn’t need to have a tie put with it. In fact, adding a tie can draw eyes to the clumsy mixture of rolled collar and neckwear, which can look frightful. On the other hand, if you go with a casual knit tie, or one with a square end, it can add to the loose, devil-may-care appearance. While it still isn’t appropriate for a white collar job, it can make you lovably rumpled. Best of all, you can and should wear an OCBD unbuttoned with a loose tie on weekends or evenings at the pub. It shows you can dress up or down, and opt to look put together, even on your personal time.

Which OCBD Should You Buy? Our 4 Recommendations:

While the purpose of this article is educational in nature, we understand that comparison shopping can be a PITA. If you want to take what you’ve learned and just run with it, here are four options for the best OCBD shirt for your buck: 

1. L’Estrange ‘The All Day’ Oxford Shirt

L’Estrange 'The All Day’ Oxford ShirtShop Now

As an environmentally-conscious brand, L’Estrange has set out to provide simplified and seasonless pieces for the male wardrobe. And what better item to complete a man’s closet than an Oxford shirt? Here’s how L’Estrange has reimagined the classic OCBD, designing an All-Day Oxford Shirt for the modern man, combining modern sensibilities – durability, style, and comfort. 

Tailored from premium Italian Oxford cloth, it’s lighter than traditional materials. The 2% stretch and looser weave guarantee a softer fabric to the touch. The result is an Oxford shirt that’s effortlessly smart and supremely comfortable to wear for hours on end and from day to night. 

Check Prices

2. ISTO Oxford Shirt

ISTO Oxford Shirt

Shop Now

Oxford shirts by ISTO promises effortless elegance season after season and year after year. Ethically made in Portugal from sustainably sourced 100% organic cotton, it sounds, looks, and feels fancy. Made with heavyweight 175 GSM cotton, it guarantees a lightweight feeling and is breathable even when worn for hours. 

ISTO boasts unrivaled attention when it comes to the details, from the seams to the box pleats, cuffs, and buttons. And this Oxford shirt is the ideal hybrid of modern, slim design and classical fit to make a slightly slim-fitted shirt made to be worn on every occasion. 

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3. Luca Faloni Oxford Cotton Shirt

Luca Faloni Oxford Cotton ShirtShop Now

Boasting Italian craftsmanship from the world’s finest Egyptian cotton, Luca Faloni offers this versatile, luxurious, and long-lasting menswear staple. Hypoallergenic and breathable, it has the makings and the quality ideal for everyday wear. But with the Luca Faloni signature “paramontura” collar, this shirt carries an overall classic look designed to be worn under a blazer.

Timeless and traditional from the seams to the details, finished with mother of pearl buttons to provide an extra touch of sophisticated appeal. 

4. Unrecorded Oxford Shirt – Khaki

Unrecorded Oxford Shirt - KhakiShop Now

You won’t find a more classic menswear staple than an Oxford shirt, and this one from the sustainable clothing brand Unrecorded is essential. Boasting quality craftsmanship from 175 GSM GOTS certified organic cotton Oxford canvas, it softens and breaks in overtime. 

Tailored for a straight slim fit, the Oxford shirt by Unrecorded is suitable for both formal and casual settings alike. Pair it with your chinos for a more laid-back style, or wear it under a worker jacket when it’s cold outdoors.

Conclusion

So there you have it: Our exhaustive style guide on how to wear the OCBD properly. We’ve covered the history of this menswear staple, plus shown you what to look out for when putting together your outfits. 

Let us know if you think we’ve missed anything pertinent to the ongoing discussion about the OCBD shirt in a comment below!