this subject has been on my mind after a foray into no-iron cotton dress shirts from LL Bean. I picked up a few oxford cloth and a few pinpoint a couple of years ago at a low price, hoping they could replace the more traditional cotton oxfords and save some dry cleaning costs. i also received a couple of brooks brothers and jos. a bank no-iron pinpoint button downs as gifts. the bottom line was that a few years out, most of these shirts weren't wearable any more, so i had to hunt for some new shirts. more on that in a minute.
a brief search led me to two places. first, i bought two oxford cloth shirts from brooks brothers. they recently (within the last year) decided to bring back designs they had abandoned. oxford cloth shirts that need to be ironed, no shaping or insert in the collar, and significantly, no chest pocket. Brooks offers these in three different sizes - extra slim, slim, and what i guess i would call 'normal,' which is a relatively generously cut shirt. the 'normal' is called the 'madison' fit. i'm wearing a blue one now. Brooks still sells the 'traditional,' a very roomy shirt, but not with the softer collar. A heck of a lot more expensive than the no-iron shirts at $140 full retail (wait for one of the couple of annual sales), but the cotton breathes a lot better and looks and feels a bit softer around the edges. Too early to tell how they will wear, but their original oxfords lasted a long time.
the other place i landed was mercer and sons, a Maine-based outfit that at some point moved their operations to Montana. Mercer defies modern convention in a number of ways. they don't have a true web-based ordering system - you have to email or fax an order with the shirt model, color/style, and size. They also don't keep shirts in stock the way a larger company does - the shirts i ordered, solid yellow and blue/white university stripe, were 'added to the next cut' and estimated to ship in roughly 6 weeks. that said, everything i could find about this company said very positive things about their cotton oxfords. pricing is similar to brooks brothers. i don't have the shirts in hand yet, so i can't say much beyond the initial order experience.
other shirts i have tried and commentary:
-J. Press cotton oxfords and pinpoints. Overall, very nice shirts. they wear pretty well and feel great. not the most voluminous shirt in the world. my primary gripe is that they are cut too narrow at the wrist. i don't consider myself to be an overly large person, but i do some rock-climbing and wear dive watches. i don't have narrow wrists. even brand new, but even more so after a few launderings, the wrists on their shirts don't accommodate my wrist plus a normal watch. their pinpoints do slightly better in this regard than the oxfords. they are priced 10-15% less than
-brooks brothers pinpoints. been wearing them for years. i had trended away from them because collars frayed when they shouldn't have. that might suit a college kid, but it doesn't work well in a professional setting. dial back ten years or more, they made great shirts, and i still have a few of them that have worn well.
-ralph lauren/polo. i have never worn an oxford from them, but i inherited several pinpoints when my father in law retired. the used shirts were well-worn, cotton quite soft, nice shirts. most of them don't have a chest pocket, if that matters. I can't speak to the quality of their current shirts, but they are priced slightly lower than the brooks brothers and mercer and sons shirts.
-ll bean. my only current experience with their dress shirts is in the no-iron category. once upon a time, bean made great cotton oxfords. if they do now, i can't find them. heavily into the wrinkle-free. the only ones i would consider again are the no-iron oxford cloth shirts, the heavier fabric. a fine without overly generous fit. the lighter-weight no-iron shirts from bean fit fine and looked fine, but they wore out too quickly in my opinion, particularly at the collars but also at the cuff. the oxford cloth shirts have worn well. no-iron cotton is fine, but it doesn't feel as soft of breathable as the regular cotton cloth - stiff due to the treatment applied to the cotton, warmer-feeling in the summer. a lot less expensive, though, and i'll probably keep a few of them because they can readily run through the washer and dryer.
-joseph a bank. not a fan, only familiar with their no-iron shirts. collars curled, and the fabric felt a little slick and thin after a couple of years through the washer and dryer. cut on the narrow side, sleeve holes in particular. not worth the price for me.
-Charles Tyrwhitt - i don't know much about them, but i responded to a promotion and bought a few no-iron shirts with french cuffs. in the same category as the Joseph a Bank shirts - they wore fine. they were cut fairly narrow. the collars tended to curl after a while, and the fabric didn't weather particularly well in terms of how they felt. not worth it for me.