Considering the fact that half of you reading this right now are probably wearing one, It’s only right to start this week off with the most commonplace of all acronymic items– the OCBD (oxford cloth button down.) While the latter half is attributed to the shirt’s button down collar, Oxford Cloth itself has a far less straightforward explanation. As the last remaining fabric from a series of four, Oxford cloth’s story is one of inexplicable survival. In the late nineteenth century a Scottish Mill designed and produced four cloths, one for each of the world’s most distinguished universities. While Harvard, Yale, and Cambridge all had their respective cloths lost to history, for reasons unknown Oxford endured becoming one of the most widespread fabrics in the world. Oxford cloth is created by weaving together two yarns that are of the same color but just a shade different, giving it a marled texture that breaks from the ordinary aesthetic of a solid dress shirt.
Oxford Cloth shirts were originally perceived to be a piece of formal wear and were exclusively worn as part of a suit. This all began to change in 1896, when John E. Brooks, (the grandson of Henry Sand Brooks, the founder of Brooks Brothers’) went to England and noticed that polo players were wearing shirts with button down collars to keep them secured during games. Brooks brought the design back to the states, and Brooks Brothers combined the button down collar with oxford cloth to create the OCBD. They remained a relatively formal shirt until the 1930’s, when tennis and polo players began wearing Oxford cloth button downs during their games. While these were still unequivocally upper class sports, they nonetheless placed the Oxford shirt in an entirely new context, and by the 50’s Ivy League undergrads were wearing OCBD’s. For the students, and their limited wardrobes, the versatile shirts were a major asset. OCBD’s could not only be worn untucked on weekends, or with a jacket when going out, the shirts relaxed basket weave also allowed them to be worn pretty much year round. Today, practically every company produces their version of the OCBD, and they’re somewhat of a collectors item, not because they’re rare but because you can never collect too many.