A lot of people get confused when it comes to men’s dress shirts. There are a lot of different patterns, styles, materials, and collars involved in men’s fashion. Often times, wearing the wrong point on your collar can mean being denied admission to formal outings, or not being taken seriously in important business meetings.
Oxford shirts have been getting a lot of buzz lately, and they’ve certainly gone up in price. Likewise, men’s fashion has made some gains that allow more casual dress in business environments. Are Oxford shirts dress shirts? Can they be used in formal settings?
This article will help clear up some confusion when it comes to Oxford shirts. By the end of it, you will be very familiar with the differences between Oxford shirts and dress shirts, and when you should wear each type of shirt.
Oxford Shirts vs Dress Shirts
While there are a lot of subtle cultural differences, a lot of people are confused because Oxford shirts technically fall under the category of men’s dress shirts by the strictest definition, but they aren’t always appropriate in more dressy situations. If you read nothing else, this section will enumerate the main differences.
To qualify as a dress shirt, a men’s shirt must have buttons down the body of the shirt and have long sleeves and a collar. Technically, the Oxford shirt, therefore, qualifies as a dress shirt. However, there are cultural nuances that prevent it from being a true dress shirt.
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The main factor that disqualifies an Oxford shirt from being a true dress shirt is that there there are button down collars, which is styling that is considered less formal than a plain collar without buttons. This means that it may be considered taboo or un-fashionable to wear the shirt with a tie, to an interview, or to a formal event/workplace.
The second factor is the type of weave. An Oxford weave is usually quite a bit heavier than a dress shirt weave, which makes Oxford shirts look less silky and therefore less formal. Dress shirts tend to have higher thread count cotton weaves with a softer look and feel. Oxfords also frequently come in stripes and patterns, while dress shirts are most commonly in solid colors.
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While Oxford shirts are not the same as dress shirts, they are still quite sartorial. These are fashion staples in every sporty man’s wardrobe. These shirts are guaranteed to remain in fashion no matter how trends change, holding their own alongside white tee shirts, perfectly tailored suits, and that perfect denim for your body.
What is an Oxford Shirt?
First of all, Oxford is a type of cloth that was created in Scottish Fabric mills. It has a heavier and rougher weave than most traditional dress shirt cloths - some refer to it as a basket weave. Oxford cloth tends to be stiff and hold up their form, while still being more formal than flannels. Oxford shirts tend to be very versatile and can be dressed with chinos for a professional, casual look, or even with a suit jacket and jeans. They can work for nearly any situation and can be worn for a number of dress codes.
While the Oxford shirt's origins were among polo players, who needed buttons or pins on their shirt collar flaps to prevent obstruction while riding, the shirt is not actually named after the English city. In fact, Oxford is a specific type of woven fabric, and Oxford shirts are made exclusively from this thick cloth.
Oxford cloth weaves the yarn into a textured finish. The Classic Oxford is what the majority of these shirts are made from, while the Pinpoint Oxford is more conspicuous, with enough of a sheen to be able to hold its own against more formal dress shirts.
Brooks Brothers can be credited with popularizing the Oxford shirt in men’s fashion. They noticed the pins on polo players and developed a shirt that used buttons instead. Their new collar style put an end to men’s fashion requiring shirt and collars to be purchased and worn separately, placing the collar on the shirt.
How to Wear an Oxford Shirt
One of the things that makes an Oxford shirt so popular is that it is extremely versatile. While it won’t hold muster in the most formal occasions in the same way a dress shirt would, it can still be worn in a large variety of occasions.
While the Oxford cloth isn’t as fancy as piqué or poplin weaves, it can be worn with a suit if you’ve got the right fashion sense for all but black tie dress codes. Increase the formality by wearing contrasting colors. Mix white shirts with navy suits and burgundy accessories. You can add a tie to the shirt to make it more formal as well. Vests and jackets always lend formality to the shirt.
Although you can’t get away with an Oxford shirt in a business formal setting, it can be worn in business casual settings. An Oxford shirt is the perfect staple for every businessman’s wardrobe. Wear it with an unstructured blazer and tailored slacks to strike the perfect balance between looking overdressed or underdressed. Get playful; you can wear navy slacks and a light Oxford with a khaki-colored tailored sport jacket or grey coat, or wear it under a tailored suit with an open-top button and no tie.
For a sporty casual look, you can wear the Oxford for a perfect smart-casual wardrobe. Smart casual can be tricky, because you never know how far to push it or how to strike a balance. Wearing an untucked light blue Oxford over dark wash denim jeans works well. So does tucking one into some chinos and tossing on a brown leather coat. Take that tailored suit and cuff the bottom of the pants at the ankle, then pair the Oxford shirt with some dark sneaker or casual loafers.
What to Buy
These days, the Oxford shirt has become more well known as a casual to semi-formal buttoned collar shirt than for its weave or possible shirt fabrics. A lot of people are making them out of polyester, but the only true, long-lasting and comfortable Oxford shirt is made with pure cotton. When shopping, look for 100% cotton fabric composition.
You also want to consider the color of your shirt. If you want to maximize the versatility of an Oxford, then consider the 3 staple colors that every sharply dressed man should own: sky blue, white, and pink. Whether colored or striped, be sure to have these tucked away and ready for use.
Dress shirts are generally fancier and more formal than Oxford shirts, thanks to the more intricate weaves and higher thread counts. There are many different considerations when it comes to dress shirts, but the main way to distinguish them is by the cut of the collar.
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The key components in dress shirts are the collar, the cuffs, and the yoke. Shirts with a button-down collar (mostly Oxford shirts), a pocket, or a single button cuff are more for leisurewear. Shirts with a turned down and pointy collar, no pockets, and French cuffs are more formal.
Barrel cuffs are the standard cuff for most dress shirts. These come in a variety of styles and can be worn for nearly every occasion except the most formal ones. Most of these have a single button. Shirts that have 2 or 3 buttons are artier, and usually more formal.
French cuffs are the ones that should be worn if you are at a formal occasion. These cuffs look excellent with a suit. A button in the sleeve will help them stay closed, but the button is optional with these cuffs. Often, various types of cuff links that go with French cuffs are another way for men to accessorize and develop different fashion preferences.
The collar is the most important indicator of how formal or casual the outfit is. It’s also the most important detail to try out because the collar is what will flatter your face. Pro tip: Use collar stays to keep the form of the collar.
Button-down collars are the most common on Oxford shirts. They are informal and should be worn without ties most of the time. If you wear them with ties, they should be worn with a sweater or sport coat.
The wing collar is for formal occasions only. This collar won’t cover the band of a tie, and is often worn with bowties instead of neckties.
Pointed collars are the most common type of collar on a men’s dress shirt. They generally have a narrow width between collar points and vary greatly in length, so try a few on to find the right one for your face. Just keep in mind that narrow faces should wear shorter tips and rounded faces work well with long collar points.
In terms of formality, a good rule of thumb is that the larger the angle between the collar points, the more formal your shirt is. Spread collars leave wide openings between the collar tips, which leaves plenty of room for large and fancy tie knots.
The most formal collar type (outside of the wing for tuxedo shirts) is the cutaway collar. The edges of this collar form a straight line just above the knot in your tie. The exception to this rule is the tab collar, which uses tabs under the tie to hold a collar close together. This makes a formal, no-nonsense look.
As you can see, there are different occasions and styles when it comes to Oxford shirts and dress shirts. The Oxford shirt is only one type of men’s dress shirt, and it is not typically suitable for true formal gatherings.
Recent culture has gravitated towards a more casual dress code, so Oxford shirts can often be worn in casual business meetings, everyday office wear, and even weddings if you’re a guest rather than a groomsman or usher. That being said, understand that they are still not a full dress shirt and must be treated accordingly.