I’m working on an OCBD roundup for Put This On, so that readers who may not have yet settled on a favorite maker can get an idea of some of the options available to them. I originally wasn’t going to post anything about it here, since I don’t see a need to overlap on content, but what Mercer & Sons sent me is so good that I feel the need to say why I’m heartbroken.
Mercer & Sons is based in Maine, and has been producing American-made OCBDs since 1982. Their site feels charmingly anachronistic – something like an old mail-order catalog – and their shirts are no less old-fashioned. I mean that in a good sense. For one, their collars are unlined. Not unfused, mind you, which is what most other producers make. Unlike an unfused collar, which has a floating interlining, an unlined collar has nothing at all inside. This makes the collar very soft and frankly a bit mussy looking. It’s for the kind of guy who understands the casual spirit of an OCBD, if not the historical accuracy (as Brooks used to make their OCBD collars unlined). Their collar points are also an unapologetically full eight centimeters long (again, just like Brooks used to do). The effect of having these longer, unlined collar points is that you get a more relaxed, full, button-down roll. It’s the kind of charming look you see in old photos, but is disappointingly absent in many modern day skimpy collars. The collar being the heart and soul of an OCBD, I haven’t come across a more handsome option.
Mercer’s oxford cloth is also exceptional, though perhaps not something for the neophyte. It’s scratchy, rough, and heavy – a bit reminiscent of a tweed jacket or a new pair of selvedge denim jeans. Not as uncomfortable against the skin, of course, but clearly tough and meant to be broken in. The warp and weft yarns also have more contrast, which gives the fabric a lot more surface interest. After handling this Mercer, I’m too embarrassed to wear my oxford shirtings from Acorn anymore. To be sure, they’re not much different from what you’d find on most OCBDs today, but that just means almost everything now seems incredibly lacking.
The only thing holding me back from ordering a bunch of these is the fit. Mercer’s shirts fit very, very full. My size 15 shirt, for example, has a chest measurement of 49.5”. The company offers the option of sizing down the body two sizes, so you can put a size 15 collar on a 14 body. However, that still puts you at a 45.5” chest, which is a full 4.5” bigger than my custom shirts from Ascot Chang.
I asked David at Mercer whether they could just copy the body on one of my Ascot Chang shirts. That would not only allow me to get a better chest size, but also account for things that are very difficult, if not impossible, to get off-the-rack or even made-to-measure. My shoulders, for example, are asymmetrically sloped, such that the right one is much more dropped than the left. If a shirt’s shoulders aren’t cut exactly right to accommodate this, I get lines going from my collarbone to underarm. That, of course, only accentuates this abnormality (though, from my experience, very, very few men have symmetric shoulders). I also find it necessary to have the waist point on my shirt match my natural waist. Otherwise, I get lines just underneath my ribcage, and the shirt is more likely to blouse over the top of my trousers.
Unfortunately, David said no, they can’t copy other shirts, and would be reluctant to make their OCBDs in a different silhouette. So now I don’t know what to do. Their button-down is far and away my favorite, but they can’t make something for my unusually skinny frame (I’m a puny 36” on a good day). I suppose I could just ask Ascot Chang to make me something with longer collar points, have the collar unlined, and use an equally tough shirting. However, in the end, it would only be a verisimilitude of the real thing: the genuine article that’s a Mercer. And if past experience is any indicator, that means I’ll be left wanting. So, for the moment, the most perfect oxford-cloth button-down shirt sits in a box just ten feet away from me, but I can’t wear it. It’s heart breaking.