best in class

The Very Best Men’s Oxford Shirts

Photo-Illustration: Retailer

Like worn-in jeans or the perfect T-shirt, a dependable white oxford shirt is a year-round closet staple. “Nearly every man looks good in a white oxford,” says author David Coggins, an oxford-shirt devotee who also writes a men’s style newsletter called The Contender. It’s not just that they’re a classic style — the best oxford shirts are also easy to care for, “meant to be rugged enough to be taken for granted, balled up and tossed in the wash, dried at whatever temperature, and worn with less of a press than crumpled nonchalance,” explains Chris Wallace, the U.S. editor for men’s fashion website Mr. Porter. As Coggins puts it, “The oxford-cloth shirt endures because the shirt itself endures.”

Derek Guy, editor at the men’s style website Put This On and blogger at Die, Workwear, says, “The oxford Shirt is perhaps the United States’ greatest sartorial contribution.” Guy explained that in 1896, John E. Brooks, the grandson of Brooks Brothers founder Henry Sands Brooks, saw Polo players in England wearing shirts with buttons that secured the collar. The idea was to prevent the collar from whacking players in the face while they sped around on horses. John copied the style to start selling it at Brooks Brothers, and by 1915, it had become a staple among East Coast college kids, helping to birth the Ivy Style movement that influences fashion to this day.

The oxford shirt — also known as the OCBD, for oxford cloth button-down — is now almost as foundational to American fashion as blue jeans. There’s a reason that cultural icons from Miles Davis to Paul Newman have regularly been seen wearing them. They were always meant to be versatile and dependable, equally easy to wear with a tie in the city or untucked on a trip to the countryside, which is why they are still popular after more than 100 years of existence. So to find the very best oxford shirts, we asked several fashion experts and other stylish men about the ones they’d recommend.

Best overall | Best less-expensive | Best splurge-worthy | Best traditional | Best for tall people | Best with stretch | Best made-to-order

What we’re looking for

Style & details: The oxford shirt has evolved over the decades, but at its heart, it was designed to be sporty and casual. In its most traditional form, it has buttons at the collar points, a reinforced chest pocket, pleated sleeves, and back details like a box pleat to allow for comfortable movement and a locker loop that was conceived so that college students could hang their shirts in, you know, lockers. The oxford shirt is about as casual as a shirt can be in the realm of collared shirts, despite the fact that it may be viewed as dressier by today’s standards.

Many brands offer a slim-fit oxford, which is tapered and slimmer in the arms, chest, and body. This style was especially popular in the early 2010s, but many brands are starting to return to a roomier classic cut inspired by the original Brooks Brothers oxford shirt. According to Guy, “different people will draw different lines in the sand for what they think is the most iconic version of the oxford shirt, and the Brooks Brothers design has changed slightly over the years.” He says that for him, what’s most important is the collar: “In the last 20 years, as clothes have become slimmer and shorter, collar points have also shrunk to keep proportions,” says Guy, explaining that the charm of the oxford shirt is all about how the collar ends up having this very sporty and carefree roll. “So for me, the collar points have to be long enough to express that roll and, ideally, be unlined so that it feels more comfortable and looks more natural,” he says. The collar roll is a small detail that may hold extra appeal for die-hard clothing enthusiasts, but Guy says most people will be perfectly happy with a shorter collar. And as oxford-wearing men know, a good oxford shirt doesn’t have to be white, so we’ve also noted which of our picks come in additional colors.

Sizing: We prioritized brands that carry a wide range of sizes and cuts to accommodate different body types, sizes, and style preferences. Some brands also list measurements for sleeve and hem length or neck and chest diameter, and paying attention to those can help you achieve a more custom-feeling fit. A good rule of thumb is to measure a shirt that you already have and like and compare it to a brand’s online measurements and size chart to be sure you’re buying the right size for the look you want.

Fabric: There is a difference between a standard button-down and an oxford shirt. The latter usually uses oxford cloth, which is traditionally thicker than the fabric of a standard dress shirt, according to image consultant Patrick Kenger. After all, the oxford shirt takes its name from oxford cloth, developed at a Scottish mill in the 19th century; that mill also developed Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale cloths, but we’re not wearing shirts called by those names today. Oxford cloth is typically made of cotton — a popular shirting fabric that’s more naturally resistant to wrinkles — but the defining characteristic of oxford cloth is the way it’s woven, with a basket weave that gives it a more textured feel and makes it more durable. Traditional oxford shirts are meant to be able to take a beating, which means you can usually repair them if they fray or tear.

Best overall oxford shirt

$52

Classic fit, slim fit, tall fit | Chest pocket, pleated back and sleeves, Locker loop | XS–XXL | Cotton | 7 colors

This oxford shirt got the thumbs-up from three of the men we talked to. Photographer and rug dealer Mikael Kennedy wears oxford button-downs as often as he wears T-shirts — so he looks for options that both look good and are affordable enough to buy in bulk. That’s why he likes J. Crew’s oxford. “They’re not disposable-feeling, but they don’t feel precious, either,” Kennedy says, adding that he even got married in one he bought on sale for $30. Tim Melideo, who runs the men’s fashion website Stay Classic, also recommends this shirt to anyone dipping their toe into more formal dressing, saying it was J. Crew’s oxford that first “transformed my style and got me to really step it up.”

One of the J. Crew oxford’s greatest attributes is that it comes in three different fits, meant to accommodate a variety of tastes and body types. It also comes in many different colors and patterns, from classic white and blue to plaid and seasonal prints. The J. Crew oxford also has callbacks to classic details with a reinforced chest pocket, back pleat, and locker loop. Model Miles Garber, the co-founder of candle company Hands, adds that he’s had his J. Crew oxford shirt (“a Hanukkah gift”) for years, telling us it has served him well as both an unfussy everyday staple and his “go-to suit shirt.” The shirt is also prewashed to create a more broken-in feel to the fabric.

$52 at J.Crew
Buy
with code: FLASH

Best less-expensive oxford shirt