Initially popularized by American sportsmen and eastern university men during the 1920s and 1930s, the oxford button-down is America’s sole contribution to the lexicon of permanent dress shirt fashion. Since World War II, European enthusiasts have descended upon the doorstep of its shrine, 346 Madison Avenue, to load up on this unique American classic. Until recently, no elegant male could unfurl his stripes without at least one Brooks Brothers pink oxford gracing his closet.
With designer menswear helping to blur the distinction between disposable and permanent fashion. Brooks Brothers has further muddied the water by abdicating its role as the protectorate of America’s traditional fashion. As goes Brooks, so goes the button-down. The Ivy League look was the last patrician-inspired men’s fashion to establish itself before the roots of America’s upper-class taste were displaced in the upheaval of the 1960s peacock Revolution. Were it not for the vision and genius of Ralph Lauren. America’s very own natural-shoulder style would have followed his alma mater. Brooks Brothers, into sartorial eclipse.
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Traditionally clad Continentals have always appreciated the American original’s innate classiness. Each year, a small coterie of French and Italian merchants offers up its own take on the Ivy League look, inspired by Old World images of American society at play in Newport or Palm Beach.
When hosting a necktie, the button-down collar projects about the same level of dressiness as the navy blazer or Weejun-style loafer, two of its more frequent coconspirators. Like the blue blazer, the oxford button-down can be dressed up or down, although it tends to consort more comfortably with like-textured fabrics such as flannel or tweed. In the button-down’s salad days, all style was forfeited, should its points lack sufficient length to roll over and play casual.
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