Oxford collar (for shirt) - Meaning

Discussion in 'English Only' started by James Brandon, Sep 2, 2010.

  1. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    The other day, I was in M&S near where I live, and wanted to buy a couple of shirts with a collar fitted with buttons (to fasten the sides of the collar to the shirt, at the front). As far as I know, such collars are called button-down collars.

    The shop assistant said that this type of collar is called an Oxford collar.

    I have done a search on line and what I have found does not quite confirm this assertion.

    I am just curious to know whether Oxford collar is used to describe a certain type of shirt and, if so, which one, and whether Oxford shirt is used.

    I am not familiar with these terms.

  2. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    In my opinion, your salesperson is a little confused. Oxford cloth is used to make oxford shirts. Oxford shirts frequently, but not always, have button-down collars. Other types of shirts can have button-down collars.
  3. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    OK, that is interesting. (By the way, he was about 55 and looked like he knew his trade, but maybe he didn't...)

    As I understand, then, there is no link between the type of collar and whether the shirt is said to be an Oxford shirt or not.

    Have done a quick search and have found this on Oxford cloth, confirming what you are saying:-


    I quote: "Oxford is a type of woven fabric, employed to make the fabric in oxford shirts. The warp has two fine yarns paired together. The weft has one heavier, softly spun fill yarn, which gives the fabric a very subtle basketweave look with a silk-like and lustrous finish making it a popular fabric for a dress shirt."

    When you click on oxford shirts, it takes you to the article on dress shirts.

    Last edited: Sep 2, 2010
  4. Bobstein Senior Member

    UK - English
    I have done a little searching online and I can't find an 'Oxford collar' per se, but have come across Oxford cloth.

    This simplest explanation of Oxford cloth: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_(cloth)

    Also, "Plain Oxford or pinpoint Oxford weaves are popular as casual fabrics, so are generally used in combination with a button-down collar, while royal Oxford is versatile enough to be used on both sporty and formal shirts". I hope this helps a little bit better. :)

    Thus, an Oxford shirt is made from Oxford cloth and as the collar is generally buttoned down, that would be an Oxford collar.
  5. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I re-visited my earlier entry and found information similar to that given by the last 2 contributors.

    I understand the logic behind the shop assistant's assertion, i.e. Oxford cloth is used to make Oxford shirts, and many (not all) Oxford shirts have a button-down collar, hence one would tend to refer to a button-down collar as an Oxford collar, even though, strictly speaking, this would not be correct.

    If Oxford cloth is expensive and used to make a "better class" of shirt, then many would indeed have a button-down collar, since such a collar is more expensive than ordinary shirt collars and would be seen as fitting with a better kind of fabric...

    Hence the tendency to call a shirt with a button-down collar an Oxford shirt, I suppose.

    Does it make sense?
  6. Bobstein Senior Member

    UK - English
    I think your reasoning is correct and logical! :) Maybe you should have asked him what he meant?
  7. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    I believe that a button-down collar is considered less formal, not more formal, than a collar without buttons, despite the fact that it involves more construction. The basketweave used in Oxford cloth is a casual weave, and not used to make the most formal shirts.

    Thus the association of button-down collar with the relatively "casual" Oxford shirts.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2010
  8. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I could have asked the man in the store but he said it with an air of authority that made me feel very ignorant, so I did not insist. :D

    Also, I was too busy trying to find any shirts at all with button-down collars (I go to M&S to do some shopping, as a rule, not to expand my lexicon) and, in fact, I can say those I found were made of Oxford cloth (if I go by the description given of it in the sources we have quoted), and they were not too cheap (over £20 each).

    What surprised me, incidentally, is that only about 10% of the shirts on sale had button-down collars, as if this was something extraordinary and no one is asking for those any more. I expected them to represent 30% of the total. If we move away from language for a second, I would like to know whether button-down collars are deemed unfashionable, or maybe M&S has a very limited range on offer and is not upmarket enough, you see... :eek:

    On casual Vs formal, Cagey, I can see your point. If such shirts are deemed casual, and men would only buy shirts, today, as formal wear, they would avoid them, then, maybe, and go for...T-shirts instead? Is that the conclusion one can draw?
  9. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    It seems to me that button-down collars were most fashionable in the 1950s, and then became simply an option. I would not be surprised to hear that they have become less popular.

    Men who want formal shirts buy "dress shirts". If you look for images, you will see that they do not have button-down collars. At least, as a rule they don't. I'll allow for the possibility that you will find exceptions somewhere.
  10. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    It is interesting in that "dress shirt" is not used in the same way in AE and in BE. As I understand, "dress shirt" in AE merely is "a shirt" in BE. "Dress shirt" in BE is used for a bit more than that, i.e. highly formal wear you opt for on special occasions etc. The Wikipedia entry on "dress shirts" dwells on this.

    I understand what you are saying about button-down collars. It had never crossed my mind before that they may be deemed "less formal" than the ordinary type. I like them because they look neat whether you are wearing a tie or not, precisely.
  11. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I think it is generally agreed that button-down collars are deemed less formal than those without buttons. Button-down collars are often found in informal check shirts. I understand 'dress shirt' to mean shirts with wing collars. I've never heard of an Oxford collar.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2010
  12. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    OK, interesting insight you provide, which confirms what has been said.

    On the issue of "dress shirts", there appears to be a difference in American and British usage. (If you are based in Singapore/Malaysia, you would be more familiar with the British usage, I would have thought.)

    In AE, it appears to mean any 'regular' shirt, whereas in BE it would apply specifically to a special type of shirt you wear for a white-tie or black-tie event, hence the wing collar that you are talking about.

    This is discussed here, on the Wikipedia page:-


    Dress shirts are normally made from woven cloth, and are often accompanied by a jacket and tie, for example with a suit or formalwear, but the shirts are also worn more casually without. In British English, a dress shirt is known as just a shirt, while dress shirt means specifically the more formal evening garment worn with black- or white- tie, also discussed below. Some of these formal shirts have stiff fronts and detachable collars attached with collar studs. "Button-down" is sometimes used incorrectly to describe the front buttoning of a shirt; a "button-down" shirt refers to a shirt with an American "button-down" collar introduced by Brooks Brothers in 1896, discussed below.

    If any shirt is a "dress shirt" in AE, I wonder what a "dress shirt" in the British sense would be in AE, then? AE speakers may want to enlighten us, not that such issues of etiquette are life-and-death matters...

    On the history of button-down collars, Wiki gives a very interesting overview confirming their casual origin (bold type added by me):-

    Button-down collars have points fastened down by buttons on the front of the shirt. Introduced by Brooks Brothers in 1896, they were patterned after the shirts of polo players and were used exclusively on sports shirts until the 1950s in America. It is still considered a more sporting style, and, particularly outside America, traditionally dressed men still do not wear suits with this style of collar.
  13. Williamfaulkner New Member

    Greetings from across the pond. In California, to my generation (I am 62), "dress shirt" means a shirt of light, woven cloth (usually cotton or cotton blend) with a collar and buttoning up the front, as opposed to, say, "T-shirt", "golf shirt", "woolen shirt/Pendleton" or any other less dressy shirt. A shirt with a wing collar and/or pleats or a bib in front is called a "formal shirt".
  14. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Oxford shirts are also well known on this side of the Pond (though I agree with those who've said that that there isn't such a thing as an "Oxford collar"). I just bought my husband one, which is why I'm so sure. And welcome to the forum, Williamfaulkner.
  15. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Could I just point out that this thread referred originally to the description of shirts sold by M&S (Marks & Spencer) to a British resident. What you call different types of shirt in the USA is irrelevant to answering the question. An Oxford shirt, a type of British shirt, is a tailored shirt with a button-down collar. You can find examples on the M&S website, and also on that of Charles Tyrwhitt. We do also use the term "button-down collar". If you want to waste time paging through the M&S on-line catalogue, you will find that the term Oxford shirt is consistently applied to button-down collars and has nothing to do with the fabric used to make the shirt.

    The Wiki article linked to previously in the thread is a dubious source, since the meaning of dress shirt in AE and BE is different.

    So, in the context of buying a shirt in Marks & Spencer in Greater London (UK), an Oxford shirt is a shirt with an Oxford collar, which is a collar that buttons down. I suspect that the same would also be true in Savile Row, but I haven't checked - it's a bit far from here.
  16. jhonathan New Member

    Well you dontt have to learn what type of collars are called what. But the type you are asking for is usually called the Traditional Button Down collar.

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