Why Every Tomboy Should Own an OCBD
Erin Gray (Pronoun: she/her) is a Portland, OR based writer with an affinity for working behind the scenes with companies that offer something unique to their market. When she’s not writing, she likes to roam around mossy hiking trails, wear leather hats, and build stuff. You can find her on instagram @rawhidelaces or email her by clicking on the little envelope below:
What kind of shirt justifies having an acronym of it’s very own?
Just one that we know of: The OCBD ( Oxford Cloth Button-Down).
When you think of the word “oxford”, oxford cloth might not be the first thing that comes to mind.
That’s fair enough, because there’s Oxford University, the Oxford english dictionary, the oxford comma, oxford dress shoes… the list goes on.
But we’re here to tell you…
Oxford cloth really should be at the top of that list!
Because truth be told, oxford cloth is right up there with denim when it comes to iconic materials that belong in every wardrobe.
It’s possible that you even own an oxford cloth shirt without being aware of how remarkable it is.
(If so, that’s about to change!)
So sit back, relax, and prepare to learn all about this handsome wardrobe staple.
What is Oxford Cloth?
Let’s set the scene:
It’s the early 19th Century and we’re in Scotland.
There’s rolling green hills. Tasty scotch. Lots of sheep...
But most importantly for our purposes, it’s the heart of European textile manufacturing.
One local mill is getting all creative with their weaving and experimenting with new fabrics.
As a marketing strategy (and to lend the material some prestige) they name four different unique weaves after the four most well known universities at the time: Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and Oxford.
And the market answers back: three of the weaves are nothing special and go out of production, but one catches on, stand the test of time, and proves it’s popularity still today: Oxford cloth.
How to Recognize Oxford Cloth:
Oxford cloth is not recognized based on material it’s made of, but rather the weave.
It’s a distinct style of weave made from two different strands of yarn are woven in a basket weave pattern.
Often (though not always) one of the strands is colored while the other is white, giving oxford cloth it’s trademark checkerboard appearance:
That checkerboard pattern, whether it has the subtle contrasting color or not, is one of the best ways to spot an oxford cloth shirt.
The other way is to take notice of oxford cloths’ unique texture.
It’s a heartier fabric than the thinner cotton material you’ll find on most other dress shirts, yet noticeably softer and less stiff than twill or canvas.
If you have a button-down that is super soft and comfy (so comfy you could sleep in it) but you’re not quite sure why, chances are it’s made of oxford cloth.
The Origin of the Button-Down Collar
But oxford cloth is just one half of the OCBD equation.
In 1896, after oxford cloth had been around for awhile, a man named John E. Brooks noticed how polo players were fastening their shirt collars down with to keep them from flapping about as they played a rousing game of horse-hammer-ball.
Side note: For such a strange sport, you’ve really gotta marvel at just how much polo really managed to influence modern men's ware. Like, a lot.
Collars were previously free-standing, but John thought that fastening them down like the polo players did created a rather... elegant arch.
He took the idea back to his family company, Brooks Brothers (now the oldest men’s clothing brand in the US) and the button-down collar we know today was born.
Before the design started showing up everywhere, it was considered quite practical and sporty, so oxford cloth a natural choice of material.
And thus, the oxford cloth button-down was born.
So by now you might be thinking...
What’s so special about an OCBD?
An oxford cloth button-down has a unique ability to pull double-duty, straddling the line between dress shirt and casual shirt like almost no other shirt can.
You’ll be very glad you invested in an OCBD, for several reasons:
1. You can give the iron a rest.
Oxford cloth is thicker and softer than regular dress shirt material, so it doesn’t wrinkle as easily as a dress shirt, keeping you looking tidy and saving you time.
The button-down collar also helps in this regard, because the button does the work of holding your collar in place instead of an ironed-in crease.
2. Comfort and durability
Due to the strong weave and increased weight of the material, oxford cloth is made to last, resistant to rips and tears, and breaks in over time like denim does.
Unlike many dress shirts which can start looking a bit thin and worn over the years, your oxford shirt will just get better and softer as time goes on.
3. Increased versatility
Because of the more casual details (the collar buttons and the heavier fabric) there is basically no where an OCBD can’t go.
You can rock it tucked in as a classic, preppy, more dressed up look (like a regular button-up)...
… but because of the slightly heavier material, it also thrives when left untucked and casual, hanging in a purposeful, flattering way that you won’t find with most dress shirts...
… and It’s not every shirt that looks just as good with a blazer as it does with ripped jeans.
But you can easily pull that off with an OCBD, like with this monochromatic black ensemble:
Because of its unique texture, an oxford cloth shirt works beautifully as a visually interesting layer underneath your favorite sweater or knit tie.
It’s the perfect piece to add that extra richness and dimensionality that really perfects a layered look.
Have you experienced the awesomeness of the OCBD?
Let us know in the comments!