Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review and How To: Find the Perfect Oxford Shirt (aka Collared Blouse)

As someone who used to do lots of sewing (before I started working in BigLaw), in this series I'm hoping to pass on a bit of what I look for when shopping for high quality professional clothing by reviewing a popular work closet staple and describing how to find the perfect one for your closet. 

Scoring: I use a five point system, where a 3 is the average. For an aspect of the garment to receive a 3, that means that the garment has met what I would consider the average standard for a garment of that purported quality level and price range.

Today's review: Banana Republic's Oxford Shirt 
Available here

Overall Score: 3/5

About this piece:
Sorry for the low quality of pictures, but it has been quite grey in London recently and my camera does not like the low light levels in my apartment (though to be fair, I don't either). The Oxford shirt is a classic business wardrobe staple, primarily because it mimics the men's dress shirt and is very easy to throw on in the morning. That being said, a poorly made or poorly fitted oxford shirt can look easily look sloppy. Unfortunately, it's very easy for these shirts to look sloppy, as they were originally designed to be worn by men who do not have curves. Therefore, manufacturers who simply try to make smaller versions of their men's oxford shirt should generally be avoided.

The fabric here is 100% cotton and is thick enough that your bra will not show through (always very important). Cotton is generally the way to go on these shirts because it breathes, which is really important. The downside is that it also wrinkles, which is why a nice poly-cotton blend is sometimes a better option, as the polyester means that the shirt won't wrinkle as easily. With blends, however, it's important to find a fabric that looks high quality, as too much polyester in the blend will make the shirt start looking like it's from Forever 21.

Construction: 4
The construction of the garment is very basic, with curved seams running up the back of the shirt. Those curved seams allow the garment to be manipulated so that it lies smoothly across a woman's curvy body. Men can get away with a shirt that is basically three pieces - 1 back piece and 2 front pieces - but for women, it's better to break the shirt down into six pieces, as they have done here, because it allows the maker to cut the pieces on the bias and then piece them together so the shirt lies flat across the body's curves. This shirt is made of two front pieces and four back pieces: three panels across the back which are all cut on the bias (numbers 1, 2 and 3), plus the panel that goes across the shoulders (4). All of this is to say that the shirt is definitely made with women in mind and, with some tailoring, could be easily altered to fit different body types.

Detail: 2
While the shirt gets an extra point for construction, it loses a point on details. There isn't much you can do with a basic oxford, but even the little things have been left out here. For example, as you can see from the picture below, there is only one button on the cuff. Most men's shirts have two buttons: one to close the cuff and one small button to close the placket. While it's not a necessity, it is a nice touch to have the extra placket button, as it gives the shirt a more tailored, professional look. 

In addition, there are no tucks on the cuff. If you look at high-end men's dress shirts, they will sometimes add small extra tucks of fabric either into the placket or on the outward-facing side of the cuff. Those tucks are an additional sign of quality. 

As far as the collar, it's about as basic as you can get. They also have not reinforced it with anything, such as extra stitching or some additional fabric on the underside, in order to enable it to say propped open. For a casual look that would be fine, but this shirt is being marketed as the women's equivalent of a man's dress shirt. Something additional could definitely have been added to help this collar maintain its shape.

The fit on this shirt is very average and will almost certainly need some alterations. However, as long as the shoulders of the shirt fit and are not too short, the alterations will most likely be minimal. The most common alterations this shirt will probably need are to take in the back bias seams (as shown below - note how the fabric is folded over) in order to achieve a better fit, and to shorten the shirt if you find it a touch too long. My advice on how to fit this shirt is to purchase the size that fits correctly across your bust, and then have a tailor take in the back bias seams to eliminate excess fabric in the back of the shirt. The reason for this is you need the two front panels of the shirt (the panels that you button over your bust) to be the correct size in order to not strain the front buttons. However, once you have that fitted properly you can always take in the back bias seams to get rid of any excess fabric that you find bunching up in the back. You may also have to short the shirt a bit, as it seemed about half an inch too long on me (I have an average-length torso).

Readers, what do you think of oxford shirts (aka collared blouses)? Any tips for finding the perfect one or getting them to fit properly?


  1. Thank you for breaking this down. I always struggle to understand exactly what's meant by good quality in a garment.


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