One of the sure signs of the decline of Western civilization is the slow but steady deterioration of the Brooks Brothers white button down Oxford sign shirt. This gentlemen’s classic was worn by John F. Kennedy, Gianni Agnelli, Fred Astaire, Andy Warhol, Miles Davis and Arthur Miller (pictured above with Marilyn Monroe).
The button down collar was originally designed for polo players on Long Island and would function to stop the collar from flapping in the face of the players as they romped through a Chakka on their gold coast estates. The style became a staple of the Ivy League in the 60’s and although J. Press and others make a notable version, the Brooks Brother’s model “was the gold standard”.
Over time however, as Brooks Brothers changed hands, the transfer from production facility to production facility has lost the unique role of the button down collar. The company was purchased by an Italian billionaire. What does he know about English inspired collars?
In this case, mass-production and standardization in the name of efficiency and productivity have almost destroyed the art of fine crafting. The measurements become an exact and the quality has suffered.
Getting the exact correct role of the collar is crucial. Teamed with a blunt ended black silk knit tie and a Harris Tweed jacket it’s most elegant. With rolled up sleeves and an open collar it looks great with khakis (Bill’s Khakis, recommended, www.billskhakis.com) and a ribbon belt.
Stealing a style tip from Bill Buckley I would often use one as a formal shirt with a well tied bow tie for black tie affairs. I would invariably wear beautiful black velvet slippers with my monogram in gold that were so dashing they distracted from the fact that I didn’t have a “proper shirt”.
Then a friend, Tucker Ranken gave made me a beautiful needlepoint cummerbund with a pheasant design. This old-world accessory has made me look distinctive at every black tie function I have attended since 1982.
It’s hard for me to think of an anymore-indispensable garment than the Brooks Brothers button down. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wore his with a tweed jacket and an Irish walking hat. Fiat Scion Agnelli wore his wristwatch over the cuff of his button down. Miles Davis wore his with high top basketball sneakers. Fred Astaire broke all the rules by wearing a button down with a double-breasted suit, a shockingly informal shirt for a formal suit.
This story has a happy ending. Kamakura Shirts has opened a store on Madison Avenue. Brought to us by Yoshio Sadasue, the man who brought classic 1960’s Ivy League style to Japan. Kamakura has perfected the perfect role of the classic button down collar available in multiple cloths and hues. Interestingly they also offer an extreme cut-away collar that is a favorite of mine, but that’s another story entirely.
And here is the best part; the Kamakura button down shirt is reasonably priced at $79 while its counter-part up the street at the Brooks Brothers emporium is $140. The quality in craftsmanship of the Kamakura shirt is far superior. Like Brooks Brothers and J. Press, they have different cuts for men of different physiques.
Kamakura has succeeded in crafting beautiful shirts with taste and elegance. True craftsmanship and techniques of precision make this possible. Their shirts are elegant and precisely cut, well made and available in a tasteful palate of colors and patterns.