Details Matter: the OCBD Story
I’ve been absolutely sure I had already touched a similar topic here on Everyday Classic blog - however, it seems I didn’t! There is nothing else for me to do but to catch up on that, so have a read now. A long one.
Author: Mateusz Tryjanowski
When I had the opportunity to see (and touch!) the new OCBDs before their official launch, two thoughts came on my mind:
● they all looked like things from my own closet (5 out of 6 were almost exactly the same!) - and that's a huge compliment,
● someone in Poland has at last done it right - and, well, that’s an even bigger compliment!
(so you can guess it didn't take long to persuade me to return to the blog on the occasion of their premiere)
You will learn why "at last", why "right" and what "it" is later in the text, be patient. For now, I just wanted to start with explaining how much a simple encounter with a product can persuade me to write a text - well, even form a ready concept in my head! This time, I wanted to look deeper into the topic of OCBD shirts. On the one hand, I wanted to talk a lot about the right thickness and weight of fabrics - and on the other, to reflect on the renaissance of the Ivy League style, how well Asians do it and what we can learn from them. I thought that since I have written something similar before, on a beginners' level, I could go full expert mode now.
Well, I couldn’t. It turned out there is no such basic text!
Well, that's okay, my bad. It turned out for good - I had to compensate for two ideas into one text, probably a bit more inclusive and easier to digest than two separate, very different ones. However, if I were to satisfy neither those who expect only the necessary knowledge, nor those who would prefer to read something on a higher-concept level - let me know, I will make up for another time!
Meanwhile, let's start from the beginning. For example, a short-but-little-boring introduction, after which everything will be more interesting.
In case you didn't know, the “OCBD” acronym literally means nothing more than “oxford cloth (shirt with) button-down (collar)”.
The name sounds extremely technical, but remember - it carries a significant cultural meaning. It does not only describe a shirt's features, but also the style and associations. It cannot be compared with, for example, a "poplin spread collar shirt", because hearing those four magical letters should make us imagine much more than just a piece on a hanger in a store. Anyone who knows anything about men's fashion should already understand what I’m trying to explain now - it’s almost subconscious!
I will spare you lengthy stories about how the fabric was allegedly invented in the 19th century Scotland and named after a prestigious university for no apparent reason or how the collar type was apparently popularized by polo players who were bothered by the flapping points - if you want to read more about it, you will easily find a lot of articles on the topic, no need to copy them. Let's move on!
The part of the history that should really matter to us begins after World War II, of course in the United States, which then finally confirmed their first world power status, becoming a dominant economy, military power and cultural force. Then, in this booming post-war world, thanks to the rise of popculture, trends started shifting - for the first time, clothes’ started slowly losing their meaning as an infallible social status indicator. Richer and educated New England WASPs slowly began wearing "workers" denim, while their style lost the exclusive status and became more available to the masses.
Back to the main topic - when the border between “low-class” and “high-class” clothing started blurring, things like shetland sweaters, tweed jackets and oxford shirts suddenly found their way to a much wider audience and rapidly grew in popularity. Shops, which sold them (not only BB, but also, for example, J. Press), began to adjust their offer aiming it not only to the chosen ones, but also to those who wanted to aspire to this group. It happened mainly in the 1950s and 1960s - first in the USA, later in Europe,
where inspirations from across the pond caught on. Think, for example, British Mods or the style of ... Gianni Agnelli.
That moment of history constituted the modern image of the garment we are talking about today for good - once a favorite thing of privileged white boys suddenly became egalitarian in character! The versatile and irreplaceable OCBD has permanently entered the canon of the classics, became a worldwide phenomenon, worn by almost everyone - even those, who had absolutely no knowledge about its origins or cultural meaning. For some, it was just a nice casual shirt. A favourite one.
And yes, I agree, that’s a lot to like about this shirt - it earned its status for a reason! An oxford fabric should soften over time, being quite heavy and thick, but also airy, with pleasant rich and matte texture. Unlined collar does not irritate the neck and looks right both with and without a tie. The degree of formality allows one to wear an OCBD either with shorts or tailored trousers and a jacket, sometimes even a suit. A perfect wardrobe staple?
After all, the matter is not so obvious - it is a commonly liked and popular thing, but... surprisingly difficult to buy well.
Although it is a classic that has never actually gone out of fashion nor disappeared from the shops’ shelves, the subsequent phases of interest (or lack of it) in the Ivy League/preppy style made their mark. In the recent years, there have been at least two such waves on a global scale - first the one from 2007-2010 (let’s leave the second for later), with its "hipster", slim cuts and a subsequent rise of “#menswear” community, blogs, forums etc. After that, we were left with too narrow sleeves and overtly shaped waists, shrunken collar points and wrong proportions that spurred the untucked movement. You could buy an OCBD in every chain store, but it just wasn’t a well-made proper OCBD.
It seems that after a few years, the #menswear community got a sense of what was going on and felt they needed to improving the details. It started with the collars - up to some “long button down” interpretations, which lengthened the points to a caricature level and totally messed up the proportions in the pursuit of the supposedly perfect roll - and this is where things stopped for a long time. The worst thing is that among the forgotten small details was the fabric.
Paradoxically, it was the huge companies that usually did the "OC" better and the small ones, run by enthusiasts, the "BD" part.
By the way, mind that I am writing this article from the continental European (more specifically, Polish) perspective - I know that some things looked completely different in the US, Japan or even the UK, where the market is different and, for example, the true Ivy pieces were always more accessible than here. For those of you who cannot agree with me, treat this part of the article as an interesting trivia, an insight to our world.
For several years, the status quo prevailed on the (mainly European, forget about the trad US) market - you could buy either a poorly finished and badly made shirt with an ugly collar, but cut from the right fabric with great texture, or a locally made, high-quality thing, which, however, was not exactly what it promised, lacked details and were, let’s say, over-engineered.
industry), I found that it could be done even better, so I drew another one, this time with Poszetka in mind. I think that both turned out really well (the sales prove it best), but it does not change the fact that it was still overthinking one particular detail, not improving the whole concept. It turned out, however, that someone else had already begun to fix it...
Then a new-new wave came (speeding up around 2019, still booming), the popularity of the Ivy League style skyrocketed again, this time bringing the looser cuts, stronger colors and a kind of youthfulness. Instagram was immediately filled with inspirations and it has emerged that there are already those who perfectly recreate the classics, not only as modern interpretations, but as very orthodox (but timeless) pieces. Specifically for an OCBD shirt: good, rough texture, unlined collar with a natural roll due
to the fabric weight (not strange tricks), breast pocket, box pleat, etc.
There were two options - those phenomenal shirts were either old, deadstock stuff (as, for example, Brooks Brothers changed their style in the meantime and their new stuff simply wasn’t that great anymore), some old-school brand customs (think those small Ivy shops still alive somewhere) or... Japanese. That last option is particularly interesting, as it was not the first time for them to save some good stuff.
Post-war Japan has always been a copy-and-improve nation that - thanks to its philosophy (I guess that’s the Kaizen spirit) - brought us some best cars, best electronics and... best American style. They did it with workwear (who saved old looms, old techniques and makes the best selvedge denim nowadays?), they did it with Ivy Style (just read Ametora - or think about how often you see curated pictures of Take Ivy), trying to distillate the purest and best image of the particular aesthetic, recreate it and sell further. And yes, I admit - and you probably should, too - they are now the masters of it and the biggest source of inspiration. Better than the original, 110% of it.
However, still, even in the era of globalization, Japanese-made products were not really the readily available stuff - and even if you could order a product from some obscure brand of theirs, it wasn’t always that easy, cheap or sensible. Also, speaking from a Polish perspective, it was just sad that here, having one of the best shirt manufacturers in Europe, still no one could get the OCBD quite right and you couldn’t get the good product locally.
Back in the spring, when I met with Tomek and talked about Poszetka shirts, nothing seemed to me that the situation would change any time soon, but... we started going through fabric swatches out of curiosity and we came across something very interesting - a novelty from Albini, American Oxford. Bingo! No unnecessary sheen and decent weight - have we finally found the perfect fabric? I left my suggestion and forgot about the topic, not knowing if or when Poszetka would manage to squeeze a new collection of shirts in their production plan. And then suddenly, in August, when I visited them in Katowice on my way, I was positively surprised: they did it, now!
We got it. Is it the true dream-come-true? Or at least a milestone?
I guess so.
It feels really nice to know that more and more brands (especially young ones) understand the concept of the OCBD and offer such shirts in the right fabrics, with the right details and made well. Personally, I would recommend all of 6 new Poszetka shirts on par with some best I have in my closet - they perfectly get the balance between being orthodox and modern, having all the important details, just without some controversial stuff (like rear collar button or a locker loop - things that aren’t really useful anymore). And yes, maybe they could have a box pleat (I’m always after that), but... I know that the majority of you would still choose darted, more shaped back.
- 3 invincible classics, that you can wear with practically anything: white, blue, and white/blue university stripe shirts cut from the aforementioned American Oxford,
- pink university stripe, the often underrated choice, but a one that will outclass any other with a grey suit or sportcoat,
- aqua university stripe, surprisingly versatile, more playful alternative to standard blue,
I’ve heard that the latter three are made not with Albini’s fabric, but a tad lighter (still not too light, don’t worry!) oxford from the Spanish mill, Sidogras. There is a difference between those two, but they are both as matte and rough as they should be. I’ve checked and could easily tell that these all are the real stuff!
In conclusion, I would like to add that I rarely write such a subjective article, a one in which I do not hide my personal and emotional relationship with a given item of clothing. Honestly, I don't know if this openness is a nice thing to you or exactly the opposite - but well, since that's already happened, just take it as a special recommendation.