The cotton oxford button-down is one of the most versatile items in your closet and consequently one of the most replicated items in the marketplace. Named after the Oxford weave (which was named after the university), these shirts traditionally are made of 100% cotton. Cotton is perfect for this item because the fiber properties coupled with the weave allows for breathability. This was especially important in the athletic origin of this clothing item. Since it is cotton it is also easily laundered, a necessity for anyone that is lazy like myself.
In the 1800’s the cotton oxford button-down could only be found on polo players in England as a portion of their uniform. Lucky for us, in 1896 Brooks Brothers launched the first line of cotton oxford button-downs catapulting this popular item into the American marketplace. By the middle of the 20th century button downs were a staple for both men and women. What started as a uniform for athletes soon turned into the “WASPY” uniform of east coast Ivy leaguers.
1930’s film star Marlene Dietrich is credited with “androgynous style” of oxford button downs and suites. She was once the highest paid actress in Hollywood and by many considered one of the sexiest. She shows a different way to wear the ever versatile oxford button-down. It was once considered a male only item, but through women like Marlene Dietrich it soon became a staple for men and women alike.
In the 1960’s JFK brought the Ivy-league style of oxford button-downs to center stage. As America’s president and a style icon through the years, he forever preserved the relaxed preppy style of a white oxford. I would like to take a second to thank Brooks Brothers for making all the handsome oxford clad pictures of JFK possible.
In the 1980’s Tom Cruise placed the oxford button-down on the silver screen in a very big way. His dance scene in Risky Business, wearing only oxford button-down, underwear, and tall white socks forever immortalized this shirt. During the mid-80’s the “preppy” look was in and that meant oxford button-downs and boat shoes. This look has staying power, as we still see it across college campuses 30 years later.
Today we see oxford button-downs every day. The item has been transformed, restored, and transformed again. Children and adults of both genders wear oxfords daily. This item seems to never go out of style even if it goes through styling changes. Today you can find college girls wearing oversize or “boyfriend” oxfords with leggings or shorts. J-crew inspired families’ wear them paired with kakis and sweaters for family portraits. Women of all ages wear oxfords with skirts and pants of all silhouettes and shapes. Men wear them at the beach and to the office in traditional and non-traditional fabric patterns. No other item can be worn so many ways and by so many people; it has become a ”uniform” of sorts for Americans across the country.