We are here to discuss the Oxford shirt, which, you will find, is the most adequate piece of clothing available to mankind.
First, let’s make clear what are we talking about. We are talking about this.
Yes, we are talking about the collared, long-sleeved, casual dress shirt made from the soft, supple, washing-machine-washable Oxford fabric. Ah, yes. Man, look at all that adequacy.
Even more specifically, we are talking about the collared, long-sleeved, casual dress shirt made from the soft, supple, washing-machine-washable Oxford fabric, with a button-down collar, barrel cuffs, a single non-button pocket on the left breast, and a front and tail that are slightly longer than the sides. Verily, this is the bag of rice of human attire.
But, you are saying, that shirt has no style, no pizzazz! No one will ever notice me in this clothing—wearing that will make me an anonymous drone!
Yes. Yes, this is all true.
Consider some alternatives: the T-shirt, which will absolutely get you noticed at, say, a funeral; the formal dress shirt, which will make quite the impression at karaoke; the polo shirt, which, unless you happen to also be an Abercrombie model, is butt; the short-sleeve dress shirt, which, what are you even doing, this is not an episode of Dragnet, for crying out loud.
Now, your super-cool retro T-shirt that you bought at Urban Outfitters (but will absolutely tell everyone you got at the flea market) … that’s a shirt that will start a conversation. Under the right circumstances, it’ll make an impression, make you look cool and hip, and maybe even ensnare a possible sex partner. But! It is limited to certain situations only: the barbecue, the festival, the self-conscious dive bar, etc. In the wrong situations, it will leave the wearer feeling like a dipshit.
Whereas the Oxford shirt will almost never betray you by making you feel anything at all. Casual night out? Untuck that puppy and roll up the sleeves. A cookout? Throw it over a pair of shorts, absolutely. Job interview? Tuck it in and throw a jacket over it. Boom. Look at this non-threatening motherfucker over here who remembered to wear a belt. Walking on the beach? Unbutton a few top buttons and you’ll be like something straight out of Miami Vice, only totally unremarkable, like an extra or something—a soft-focus extra. Nice.
In all seriousness, sometimes just being a human—walking around in a world full of interesting people with whole defined looks and easy coolness—without making a spectacular ass of yourself can be distractingly harrowing. To be sure, no one anywhere is going to do a double-take at your pastel-colored Oxford, no matter how daring you thought that pale pink might be. On the other hand, no one is going to do a double-take at your pastel-colored Oxford. This can be a loss, but it can and often will be a huge, huge victory.
Your Oxford shirt may even get you laid in the future, so long as your partner is an operating system.
What you should do is, you should have half a dozen of these things in your closet. Buy them so that the shoulder seams are just inside the outer bulge of your big shoulder muscles, and so they’re roomy but not too roomy around the middle. You want to be able to walk and sit and move around without feeling stuffed into your clothing, which is the absolute worst feeling in the world to have when you’re at all body-conscious and there are cool people around. Buy them in cool colors, but have a couple that are just white. Why? Because of the shirt’s versatility, you are going to wind up at a tapas joint wearing a white Oxford, and oil is going to rocket off of a piquillo pepper and find the front of your shirt, and you are going to want to cry. Just then, it will be good to know you already have a replacement. Also! Everyone—everyone—looks fetching in a white Oxford.
Imagine being fetching. Oh, man.
Here’s another thing about the Oxford shirt: you don’t need to shop at cool, fancy places in order to find good ones. Old Navy makes perfectly unspectacular Oxfords you can get for less than 30 bucks. Gap makes a shirt they call the “Modern Oxford” that is, dare I say, the ideal shirt, and Gap is as passé as clothing stores get.
Right, so, have a half-dozen or more Oxfords in your closet. Get a few in daring colors. They will never steer you wrong. You will throw one over khakis for your work uniform, you will throw one over jeans and fit in reasonably well among the cool people. You will throw one over shorts and read a book by the pool, and people will think, There is a guy. Did someone say there was guacamole? Which beats the hell out of everyone grimacing at your late-’80s postman look—I mean, what is with the short-sleeved dress shirt, my man?
Gentlemen. Don’t resign yourselves to looking crappy and underdressed. Resign yourselves to looking inoffensive and unimpressive, instead. It’s way better. Unburdened from your punishing self-loathing, you may even gain the confidence to act cool. Which, hey, right on. Then you can start your own blog and teach the rest of us about being cool. That’s next-level shit, right there.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.