Ah, Oxford shirts.
Tough but soft cotton… button-down collars…
And a WHOLE lot of difficult questions.
Can I wear an Oxford with a suit?
With jeans? With shorts?
THIS SHIRT IS NEITHER FORMAL NOR CASUAL…. HOW DO I WEAR IT?
Don't worry – I'm here to tell you that you can pair an Oxford with all these and more. You just need to know a few simple rules.
Today we'll cover five great-looking ways to dress an Oxford shirt up or down.
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What Is An Oxford Shirt?
A classic Oxford shirt is made from Oxford cotton, which is woven in a basket-weave pattern with one heavier white thread across two lighter, often colored, threads to give it a distinctive pattern. Some these days are made with poly blends in the same style, but good Oxford shirts are 100% cotton.
Oxford cotton is thicker and softer than your average dress shirt fabric, typically 170 gsm (grams per square meter) compared with about 140 gsm for a poplin dress shirt. However, you can get ‘summer weight' Oxford cotton at 140 gsm.
Oxford shirts may have button-down collars. A classic OCBD has a soft button-down collar without interlining, with a collar roll that requires the buttons to be placed higher up on the shirt. However, a lot of manufacturers just use a standard collar with interlining, buttoned-down flat.
Point collars are another common option. Spread collars are rarer (as they're more formal) but still acceptable. You'll also see a few with round or club collars.
There are short-sleeved Oxford shirts – but with a button-down collar, the sleeves should properly be long. Cuffs should also be soft (no interlining.) Button cuffs are more appropriate than French cuffs, which look a bit too fancy on an Oxford.
Oxford shirts are more casual than dress shirts. They can have less formal details including epaulets, patch pockets, shoulder pockets, and tabs on the back, and can also be worn untucked.
As well as feeling softer, Oxford fabric is more textured and drapes in a less structured way, while dress shirts are smooth and crisp. This gives it a more casual and relaxed feel. It's also very hardwearing.
Five Ways To Wear An Oxford Shirt
It's true that an Oxford tends to look out of place with a business suit – but it looks great with a casual suit, one that's not meant to be worn at work.
First, let's look at what makes a suit a casual suit:
* Casual suits are more textured – fabric is less sleek and shiny, more matte and rough
* More visual texture too – wool fabrics are dyed before weaving (‘yarn-dyed') rather than after (‘piece-dyed'), giving a more uneven and interesting color
* Less structured – softer shoulders, little to no lining, little to no structure to the chest
* Unusual colors and bold patterns like windowpane checks
* Less is more casual – shorter jackets, slimmer fits, smaller lapels, shorter sleeves, and shorter trouser breaks
* Optional details that make a suit more casual include: notch lapels instead of peak, a single vent instead of double, patch pockets instead of flaps, and no ticket pocket (a small extra pocket above the right hip).
A knit tie, or in summer, a cotton tie is a natural partner for a casual suit and Oxford, or you can go tieless and undo the top two buttons of the shirt. (One looks a bit ‘buttoned up', three or four can look sleazy.)
Likewise, you can ditch the pocket square or go for something bright and fun in a casual puff fold.
If you're wearing a tie, choose an Oxford in the kind of colors and patterns you'd wear in a dress shirt, such as white, light blue, or blue and white stripes – or if the suit isn't too loud, something a little more fun like colorful stripes or checks.
If you're going tieless, chambray is actually a great option, as it's so informal it clearly says ‘I'm being deliberately casual' rather than ‘I forgot my tie'.
Derbys are one of the most formal dress shoe styles, so choose brown, oxblood, tan, or any color but black to avoid looking too formal. The addition of broguing will also help to make them more casual.
You can pair an Oxford with jeans, as long as they're GOOD jeans. They should be well-fitted, non-distressed, and a dark neutral color like indigo or black.
Monk straps are a versatile shoe that can go from formal to casual. Again, they should not be black as it's too formal – brown is fine, or oxblood or burgundy go particularly well with blue jeans.
The sky's the limit here, as the variety of sports jackets is so vast – you can choose from different fabrics like tweed, velvet, and corduroy, and all kinds of colors. You also have a wide choice of shirts, as this outfit is informal enough to wear shirts that DEFINITELY are not office-appropriate, such as florals or bright colors.
Use the color wheel for men to make sure your shirt and jacket go well together. Don't pair two bold colors or two bold patterns. When pairing a patterned shirt and a patterned jacket, the pattern on the shirt should be smaller.
The exception is a tweed jacket, where the pattern on the jacket is really more of a textured weave. It's fine to pair that with a shirt in something like a wide stripe.
Again, jeans should be well-fitted, non-distressed, and a dark neutral color. While the Oxford (and maybe the boots) will be the star of this outfit, the jeans play a vital supporting role. Shabby jeans look much too casual to pair with an oxford.
You can go for a clean and simple classic look with a plain white or black oxford (white with black jeans is striking.) Or you can wear bolder colors – rather than ‘dress shirt' pastels, try deep and rich reds, greens, plum purple, chocolate brown, and so on. Dark blue is best paired with black jeans so they don't match too closely.
Plain colors or unusual patterns look good with smarter boots like Chelsea and brogue boots, whereas rich plaid-ish checks look better with rugged work boots.
Remember your belt needs to match the formality and color of your boots – so if you're wearing work boots you need a wide, rugged work belt (about 2 inches wide).
Pair red with neutrals – if you try to add more pops of red or other colors it'll look too bright. Try a classic navy blazer with a light-colored oxford in white, gray, cream or blue.
With this combination, brown loafers look perfect. It's not so much for reasons of casualness this time, as even black loafers skew casual – it's more about matching colors, especially that navy blazer.
Tassel loafers go particularly well here – they're the most casual type of loafer and have a fun look that fits with the red pants. Penny or Belgian loafers are fine too.
Once again, remember that your belt needs to match or at least harmonize with your shoes – tan with brown loafers would be an acceptable departure, black with brown loafers is a NO.
The kind of shorts you wear with an Oxford are tailored, not baggy – no cutoff jeans or athletic shorts. An Oxford is a little preppy, and chino shorts go well with that. A webbing belt is a casual but stylish way to hold your shorts up in hot weather.
A short-sleeved white or pastel Oxford is perfect with shorts. It can be worn tucked in – in which case it's extra important that your shorts fit well. It can also be worn untucked if it's not too long (any more than an inch and a half of shirt-tail hanging below your waist looks sloppy.
For a variation, try leaving an untucked Oxford open over a well-fitted plain t-shirt in a neutral color like navy, gray, blue or khaki. (Steer clear of black in the middle of summer.)
Moccasins will be cooler on your feet in a light color like gray or tan. You'll look foolish if you wear socks with this combo, so either go sockless or wear no-show socks.
Finally, check out our infographic on the best men's sunglasses for your face shape to find what sunglasses will suit you.
Think about what's in your closet – what outfits could YOU create with an Oxford?
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