Essential No.1 The Blue Oxford Shirt
In the first of a new series celebrating the cornerstones of a man's wardrobe, we pay tribute to this timeless sartorial staple .
When the buyers and editors at MR PORTER sat down a few years ago to compile The Essentials, our definitive edit of the clothes that never seem to go out of style, there were a few items that did not warrant discussion. The blue Oxford shirt was one of them. Here is a garment that makes a compelling case for inclusion in any man’s wardrobe: it’s versatile, timeless and pulls off that ultimate of sartorial tricks – abating a hangover.
In the wake of a festive period of excess, it’s the perfect thing to kick-start our refresher series of classic components of the male wardrobe. As the pictures we’ve chosen to illustrate its enduring appeal show, the blue shirt has been a men’s style staple for more than half a century, worn by everyone from industrialist Mr Gianni Agnelli to actor Mr Paul Newman. And we expect we’ll still be wearing it in another 50 years.
The shirt we’ve chosen as our essential comes courtesy of Parisian brand Officine Generale. The characteristic elements of a blue Oxford shirt are all here, from the rounded, button-down collar to that wonderfully diffuse shade of sky-blue (the result of two different colours of yarn – white and dark blue – being woven together in a basket-weave pattern). Elevating it above the ordinary, the material is also self-edged to prevent fraying. It’s a neat touch that’s usually seen in high-quality selvedge denim manufacture, and it speaks of a garment that is built to last. Which is a good thing, especially as it won’t be going out of style any time soon. These men of style show us how to make it work.
Mr Anthony Perkins
Mr Anthony Perkins, circa 1960. Photograph by Getty Images
No actor wants to be typecast, especially not as a cross-dressing madman with an Oedipus complex. But such was the unfortunate fate that befell Mr Anthony Perkins, who earned himself international recognition – and a career-long albatross around his neck – when he appeared as the murderous motel owner Norman Bates in Mr Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The boy next door whom you really, really don’t want to meet looks positively harmless in this photograph, which was captured around the time of the movie’s release in 1960. Such is the transformative power of a well-pressed blue shirt. We particularly like the slightly oversized fit, and the way the rolled-up sleeves show off his brown leather watch strap.
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MR ALAIN DELON
Mr Alain Delon in Plein Soleil, 1959. Photograph by Capital Pictures
Perhaps the simplest way to smarten up a blue shirt is by throwing that other wardrobe essential, the navy blazer, over the top of it. But as Mr Alain Delon proves in this still from Plein Soleil, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. A stone linen jacket (and a perfect tan) works just as well, and is, in fact, a far more suitable option for the summer. It’s worth pointing out the date here, because it offers evidence of the timeless qualities of the blue shirt. This shot was taken in 1959, and is by a whisker the oldest photograph of the four that we’ve chosen. More than half a century later, this is still an entirely contemporary look.
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MR GIANNI AGNELLI
Mr Gianni Agnelli aboard his private jet, circa 1975. Photograph by REX Shutterstock
Mr Gianni Agnelli was a man with the means to dress well. At the peak of his powers as the head of Fiat, the prominent industrialist was in control of nearly five per cent of Italy’s entire gross domestic product. While there’s no avoiding the fact you had to be rich to dress like Mr Agnelli, money alone cannot account for his status as one of the 20th century’s best dressed men. From his habit of wearing a wristwatch over his shirt sleeve to carefree nuances such as the way he occasionally wore his button-down collars unbuttoned, Mr Agnelli’s style didn’t depend so much on what he wore as how he wore it. Here, he manages to appear both statesmanlike and completely at ease, while turning the button-down Oxford shirt, a garment with its roots in sportswear, into something that doesn’t look out of place on a private jet.
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MR PAUL NEWMAN
Mr Paul Newman on the set of Rachel, Rachel, Florida, 1967. Photograph by Mr Mark Kauffman/ The LIFE Picture Collection/ Getty Images
In this photograph, taken in the Florida Keys in 1967, Mr Paul Newman, the man with the most famous blue eyes in Hollywood, wears the blue shirt the way it really ought to be worn: on a boat, with two buttons undone and the collar flapping in the wind (which, of course, is exactly the problem the button-down collar was designed to solve, but let’s ignore that for a moment). The appeal of the Oxford shirt is its versatility. This is a garment that can be dressed up, as in the case of Messrs Agnelli and Delon, but looks just as good when you’re in holiday mode, too.