When I hear the words ‘button down shirt’, if I close my eyes and concentrate on what I see in your minds eye, I clearly conjure up images of various colours of Oxford cloth, a nice longish collar, with a button at the back of it, complete with a pleat with a loop of material at its top. I’m guessing it’s similar for you, yes?
Thought so. Great minds and all that…
History shows, that many fine and long lasting ideas are borne out of necessity. And it is no different here.
Playing polo in the late 1890s and wearing a shirt whose collars kept flapping up into his face – therefore putting him off his chukka – Mr. John Brooks of the Brooks Brothers clothing dynasty, decided to button down those flaps at their points. Once secured, the collar took on a distinctive ‘arch’ effect and a ‘roll of the collar’ was achieved and has been searched for, by those in the know, ever since.
This ‘new’ look proved very popular and caught on quickly with the non-polo playing punter and the idea of a button down shirt was quickly put into production.
As with anyone with a keen interest in all things Ivy League, when I hit the pavements of New York for my first trip there in 1988, I headed straight for the Brooks Brothers shop on Madison Avenue, where I proceeded to buy up as many colours of the classic oxford button downs as I could carry.
For me, these were the holy grail of that particular style.
For the purposes of fairness, it is only right to name other brands of note, which over the years also had their devotees. These include Arrow, which was imported from the US into Europe in the 1950s.
In the UK, the early Ben Sherman shirts were a very desirable item and any self-respecting original skinhead would wear that brand first, above all the others vying for his spending power. Trawling around in the late 60s with my mum trying to find an authentic ‘Ben’ for my then, tiny frame, is a memory that occurs to me whenever I consider this topic. I never did find one that fitted, but ended up in one that ‘I would grow into’.
Other names I remember fondly from buying them in decent numbers at the legendary John Simons shop in Covent Garden would be Hartford, R and O Hawick and Sero. When that supply dried up, or if I was a budget at that particular time, I was known to buy from the ‘Lands End’ mail order catalogue and decent enough they were too.
Personally I was never a fan of the ‘Ralph’. The streets where I lived were and are still awash with that instantly recognisable logo, and I’ve never been that keen on overt branding….
Now, Art Gallery are never one to blow our own trumpet that hard, but with their button down shirts, they take great pride in getting the details just so.
Their designers know their stuff, and appreciate it is the details that make all the difference in getting the shirts just ‘right’.
So, you can rest assured our button downs come from years of us of learning from the best, and the eternal pursuit of that perfect roll of the collar is in good hands.
The Mumper of SE5