Collar Buttons. Inocuous? I don’t think so.
You know so many things online are just untruths repeated ad nauseum by those who don’t know (or care)? Like you can use olive oil to fix your bad vision or that Steve McQueen wore Sanders…
Well it’s not just the stories that get warped over time by those who are clueless. This post is about the inventors and/or the guardians of ivy style and how they have no idea of their own history or really what made them great back in the day. I’m pretty sure that most of what the current curators think about their firm’s heritage comes from people online who also are clueless (looking at you Ivy Style).
We talk about First World problems and tell ourselves we need to get some perspective. Generally, I would agree. But, here we have something so basic and so necessary to the cult of the OCBD that we really need to point the spotlight as these evil perpetrators.
Most of the time I see this shit on Instagram and laugh or curse and scroll on by. But there are some things that leave me truly incensed.
Where do I begin with this one? It’s a sad fact of life but to most of the population such as on eBay US any shirt with buttons down the front gets listed as ‘button down’).
NO! A button down shirt has buttons on the collar tips!
Of course it also has buttons on the front or how else would you be able to put it on?
Nope. You do NOT put them there.
Where are they putting the buttons?
The key word here is not buttons. We all know that button down shirts have button down collars, right?
But who really stops and thinks about where those buttons should be placed on a collar? Aside from us freaks of course. Well, people surely don’t because they (and we) assume the makers of such fine wares know what they’re doing and where the buttons should be placed on the collar of a shirt.
You see where I might be going with this?
It’s all about the ‘tips’, ladies and gentlemen.
That’s right. The buttons are supposed to be on the TIP of the collar points.
Are you listening, makers of button down shirts?
Mmm, I don’t think a bunch of you are. And what’s worse we’re not talking about Johnny come lately brands who know no better, but real heritage dyed in the wool Ivy brands.
Just No! OMG, NO!
I remember clearly the first time I realized this. I had a Sero 60/40 mix shirt that I wore to school. It was a classic American button down made in the USA that I bought from a great shop in Bournemouth called Katz – sometime around 1979.
Next, in 1982 I started buying BDs at FLIP, and of course new ones from John Simons in Russell St on the rare occasion I could afford them back then. But they all had something in common, whether they were Polo, Land’s End or Brooks Brothers.
They were all made properly, and back then I had no reason to suspect that maybe one day they wouldn’t be.
Marks & Spencer selling Brooks Brothers? What?
Maybe a portent of what was to come came; I remember at some point in the 80s when a friend of mine announced ‘Marks & Spencer just bought Brooks Brothers are going to sell button downs in Marble Arch and the Pantheon stores!’
Wow, this was big news. The hard to get Brooks Brothers shirts in England? (We used to have to order them on the phone from the catalog and pray customs didn’t stop them).
I remember that day I heard this, going at lunch time to Marks & Spencer to see these wonders in the flesh. But what I found there was a travesty.
What the f***? If it was true they’d just bought Brooks, why on earth were they selling these ugly ‘British button downs?
Despite having just bought the legendary ivy staple of Brooks Brothers (a truly weird move to be honest) they were selling Made in England ‘button down’ shirts where the buttons were half way up the collar and then not even placed to be rolled.
And fused collars and cuffs.
You see, the British maker didn’t understand the intricacies of button placement, or unlined placket and cuffs. They literally just put buttons on a (bad) typical British shirt and that was it as far as they were concerned.
Hell, they just didn’t even understand the concept of the collar roll. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
You’d see this a lot in 1960s British movies and with bands on their single and album covers. The button down that has buttons sewn onto the collar but they don’t even pretend to roll. In fact the makers never even knew they were supposed to roll.
This was acceptable for British and European makers back in the day. They were just blindly copying American styles without understanding the importance of button placements they simply didn’t know any better.
NO. NO. NO.
Plus the double row stitching on the mini collar. Why?
A little later Marks & Spencer did introduce the Brooks shirts into those two stores but, as we know, they dropped the ball massively with BB.
But the creators and refiners of the button down shirt were all to be found in the US of A.
Brooks Brothers are credited with the first button down collar. They called it the Polo Shirt as it took inspiration from the collars that English polo players would use – buttoned down to save those long collar points from flying into the rider’s faces every five seconds. But like many of the ivy items claimed by Americans to be English staples the British looked at these strange shirts as way too casual for actually wearing in public.
Then in the 1930s came J Press as well as other makers like the Manhattan Shirt Company and Arrow Shirts. By the late 30s the button down collar was an American staple even if worn with baggy oxford slacks and an oversized jacket, long before the golden years of Ivy from 59-66.
Then in 1949 came Gant who redefined the shirt to feature extra elements like the rear back button and locker loops. Gant was shortly followed by the breakaway Sero who eschewed the extras for their The Purist model.. Then there was Lion of Troy, later to become Troy Shirtmakers Guild and all manner of other smaller but not necessarily worse makers.
Then there was a next level tier with the likes of Enro, Eagle, Campus, McGregor.
Now, the one thing all of these makers got right without fail was the buttons.
The buttons were as close to the tip as possible.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is when the so-called guardians of the style, guardians of ivy history can’t get their button placements right!
Yes I’m looking at you!
I still remember the shock I got when buying a deadstock pink J. Press BD from US ebay many years ago to find the collars AND cuffs stuffed with some kind of celluloid material rendering the roll impossible and not to mention how hot it makes the wearer. For some reason I still own that shirt but will never, ever wear it.
J.Press has long been a confusing brand. The Japanese parent company makes some very cool (but sadly Japanese sized) clothing more in the tradition of true ivy. But then there was the Madison Avenue store with its strange mix of old Press staff and new designer gear amongst the frumpy jackets (long since into the realm of the 3 button cuff). And then there was the truly strange store in York St in the Village selling weird undersized skinny gear like a decade after that was even a thing. What the hell was that about? Some kind of knee jerk reaction to Thom Browne making those Norman Wisdom suits at Brooks Brothers?
Anyway the point is that they are one of the great outfitters of the ivy canon.
In recent times J Press has been on social media championing their history as the preeminent surviving ivy heritage brand. But what are they marketing?
No nonsense from Sero back in the day. Look how those buttons drag themselves right into the corners. Yummy.
The answer is that they’re marketing shirts where the button placement is – let me be kind here – absolutely f***ing shocking.
Now I’ve browsed through hundreds of Instagram posts by J Press, shaking my head many a time at their weird ideas of what ivy is. But, it’s when they post historical stuff like photos of the Rat Pack. I mean WTF?
How you can equate East Coast Ivy with bad Hollywood tailors?
No guys Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were NEVER ivy.
What is wrong with you?) The crazy thing is they don’t need to make up stories or claim things that have nothing to do with their actual monumental heritage to post on social media. They are one of the rare beasts that HAVE the history.
So their SM feeds continue to confuse and amaze me. I’m not talking about the models they now like to use who look like DJs or random urbans for hire – that doesn’t bother me. I’m glad that they are reaching out to a younger audience.
Probably the answer is that they farmed out this work to someone who simply looked up the #ivystyle hashtag and decided that everything that instagram shows under that tag is actually Ivy. If you follow it or any similar tags you’ll know that it brings up some terrible crap on a daily basis. Not to mention a bunch of semi porno stars who just happen to be called ‘Ivy’.
But here we’re talking about their products, not their marketing.
They have the patterns, they made the best back in the day. Ok, so fit and style change over the decades, that I have no problem with either. My problem is that they no longer know where to place the buttons.
Not understanding button placement for J Press is like Jesus not knowing it’s wine he’s serving with the loaves and fishes.
And NO AGAIN…
I mean LOOK at the placement on this. Proudly Made in the USA by people who are clueless.
Now, for years, I’ve kept quiet and tut-tutted to myself many times, thinking to put a comment asking what exactly they are up to, but I let sleeping dogs lie. I like an easy life and have no desire to get into flaming wars with anyone.
But I will say that I’ve tagged J Press religiously on Instagram and they have never even once liked a post of mine let alone commented or ‘thanks’. Even a thumbs up. I think it’s because like a lot of older established businesses they think they know what social media is but for them it’s just the new TV advertising.
And again I say ‘NO’…
I mean look at those buttons! WTF?
You just slap up an image, tag yourself and say something pointless about it being Tuesday and the public is supposed to lap it up. That’s it, job done. Next!
You can see some examples from their Instagram feed in this post of what I’m talking about here.
Am I exaggerating dear readers? No, I don’t think I am.
Another firm that I’ve had a massive amount of time for over the years and even wrote a review on The Weejun some years back – but probably before they knew what the internet was, so I can forgive them for that) but also commit the sin of ignoring fans who tag them, are O’Connells. An ivy staple in Buffalo, New York since 1959.
True masters of the genre. Ivy Gods.
Most of my deadstock Sero shirts came from them. For that I owe them a debt of gratitude.
But guys what the f*** with those buttons on your in-house shirts?
I see people online who’ve been buying their madras shirts – which these days all seem to be those pink and sky blue variants that give Madras fabric a bad name. For a better example check out Kamakura’s Ivy shirt – now that is a beautiful pattern, dark and muted colors. Even though it’s taken literally more than a decade since the last ivy ‘boom’ for anyone to release a dark muted madras, but that’s for another day.
And I say NO to you guys, too!
Anyway back to O’Connells. They are the representatives of ivy. They survived every plague and pestilence that ivy has suffered over the years from flares to fat ties and are perhaps one of the only mid century men’s outfitters to survive, along with Cable Car Clothiers in San Francisco.
They have a duty to their heritage and part of that duty is to not sell shirts where the buttons are halfway up the collars. For God’s sake, it’s not rocket science. Somebody who doesn’t know any better is buying in these shirts made by someone who also doesn’t know any better.
If they read this (they won’t) they would probably think the author is a crazy man. What does it matter where the buttons are placed?
It’s a modern problem. When I get my shirts made I have the same issue – I have to tell my tailor every time to pay attention to the collar button placement. Every time I send him the same photo of a Brooks Brothers shirt showing the hole needs to be right in the corner over the single needle stitching.
Brooks got it right. Still gets it right.
Look at this beauty. Button undone to see the buttonhole in all it’s glory.
I wonder if it’s just modern ideas about this. Maybe there’s a bunch of men and women going around the worlds’ button down shirt factories telling the makers ‘Mmm, sir you should not be sewing holes into the stitched area of a collar or you will weaken the stitching holding the collar together. We suggest that you move the button placement to a suitable upper section where the collar will be more safe.”
Now, despite going through many shameful periods (stand up Marks & Spencer) Brooks Brothers has to my knowledge never abandoned the correct placement of collar buttons. Even in their darkest days the button placement was ‘mwah’!
Of course the Japanese also know how to place buttons. (Collar is based on the Sero The Purist).
I’m writing this in the certain knowledge that neither J Press nor O’Connells will ever bother to read something they didn’t post themselves – they literally don’t respond to fan boy tagging so its highly unlikely that they will look here. But then maybe I’m expecting too much?
In contrast, the first time I posted a selfie in Persol glasses and added a tag, the official Persol account left a comment. Now I know it’s not the same Persol as in the Ratti Meflecto era but that’s still impressive and encourages me to post and tag more. Simple really. So if a large company like Persol can work out how to use social media it’s pretty shocking that smaller boutique businesses like J Press and O’Connells can’t seem to get grips with it.
Anyway, in this post, let’s review and scoff at some truly atrocious button placement. Not all of it is attributable to those two, but let’s have some fun anyway.
Maybe a later post on why Gitman Vintage is not really vintage (well maybe the 80s is vintage now, but not when they first started using that moniker) and ask them why they double stitch collars instead of single needle tailoring? Answers on a postcard, please.
Postscript. It looks like as of 2023 that someone at J Press has gasped in horror at their previous button placements and done something about it. Props to them. But the examples here are only from last year…
Get them out of my sight!
How is it someone got these almost right?
In a way it’s worse, because they can see they have some examples out of many that are spot on. Perfect. Credit where credit’s due.
While I’m at it, WTF with those cuff buttons that everyone now uses? One is too tight, the other too loose. No one needed those double buttons back in the day. Who the hell needs TWO buttons on the cuff, then there’s the button on the sleeve placket. Clearly, an infiltration from button manufacturers to encourage more button sales.
Lastly, I just saw a post by J Press where they claim ownership of the Miles Davis green OCBD. It’s possible but I’m inclined to think it was Brooks Brothers.
But the image they show of their green oxford…
Look at the collar buttons! I ask you…