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. John F. Kennedy, Gianni Agnelli, Fred Astaire, Andy Warhol, and Miles Davis all wore this iconic style. The button-down collar was originally designed for polo players on Long Island to stop the collar from flapping in the face of the players as they romped through a chukka on their Gold Coast estates. The style became a staple of the Ivy League in the ’60s and although J. Press and others make a notable version, the Brooks Brothers model was the gold standard.
Over time, however, as Brooks Brothers changed hands, the unique role of the button-down collar has been lost. 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.
Getting the role of the collar exactly correct 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 (I recommend Bill’s Khakis) 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, 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 a more indispensable garment than the Brooks Brothers button-down. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wore his with a tweed jacket and an Irish walking hat and 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. It’s brought to us by Yoshio Sadasue, the man who brought classic 1960s Ivy League style to Japan. Kamakura has perfected the classic button-down collar and made it available in multiple cloths and hues. Interestingly, they also offer an extreme cutaway 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 counterpart 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, precisely cut, well made, and available in a tasteful palette of colors and patterns.
400 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10017
(between 47th and 48th Street)