Kamakura Shirts

It could be argued that the oxford cloth button-down shirt is the bedrock upon which modern day American menswear is built upon. When John E. Brooks, the grandson of Brooks Brothers founder, designed the first OCBD a shirt he spotted on English polo players in 1896, he wasn’t merely developing another garment to add to his family’s reputation, he was making history. It became the workhorse of the Ivy League Look in the 1960s. But history became legend. Legend became myth. And for forty years, the minutiae of the original oxford cloth button-down shirt, specifically the roll of the collar, slowly faded with the men who loved it. Measurements were updated, factories changed, and details diminished. It would take a Japanese man to resurrect it.

In 1993, Yoshio Sadasue quietly opened a small luxury shirt store in Kamakura, Japan. The goal? Craft a shirt that could rival that original Brooks Brothers oxford, the existing gold standard of the Ivy League icon. Sadasue cut his teeth in a variety of roles at pioneering Japanese Ivy brand VAN Jacket during the sixties and seventies. His experience and passion touch introduced precise patterns, 18-20 stitches per inch, buttons carved from natural shell, and button-down collars with the sought-after “roll”—a painstaking level of attention to detail that is uniquely Japanese.

For the uninitiated, finding your fit will be a hurdle you will want to clear with a visit to Kamakura Shirts' 400 Madison shop in New York. They offer four different fits: New York Classic (most generous cut), Tokyo Classic (a little slimmer), New York Slim (even slimmer), and Tokyo Slim (do not attempt unless you are Japanese). We try on all four (multiple times) during our inaugural visit and are still, after 17 minutes, quizzically staring at ourselves in the mirror inconclusive as to which fit is best for our frames. The neck/sleeve measurements are in centimeters. Sometimes they don’t translate evenly to inches, which is one reason why some of the sizes will seem unfamiliar to Americans (thirds of inches?).

It isn't long before we discover the slim fits are darted in the back. As guys, we just don't do darts in our shirts. It seems very...un-American and slightly effeminate. We like to know that at any given moment we could still throw a football, should we come across a game, and not split our shirt at the seams. That, and while Kamakura's OCBDs are designed to be worn tucked in, you lose any hope of doing otherwise with darts. We're left considering the classic fit in the New York and the Tokyo silhouettes.

The knowledgable, young, Japanese (good sign) associate confides that the Tokyo fits are smaller, well, everywhere—in the sleeves, the neck, and the body. The English-as-a-second-language to Japanese is as charming as you would think...drawn out verbs at the end of hesitantly delivered short phrases. Ultimately, we decide the 15.5/34.5 New York Classic fits like a glove (that we can still bend our fingers in). While it is Kamakura's fullest cut, it is by no means a generous fit by American standards. It still sits close to the body while allowing for a full range of motion.

It is worth noting that Kamakura takes particular pride in the roll of its collars. Cotton lined but not fused (lining and fusing help a collar keep its shape, but make it stiffer; not the goal on OCBDs), the natural-looking collar arguably embodies the best roll on an OCBD that doesn't fit like a tent. What's more? It is a grown-ass man's collar, one you can actually wear a tie with. But what might be the most miraculous feat of Sadasue’s resurrection of the Ivy-inspired OCBD is that he is doing it for under $80. It is a shirt you might just have to see to believe.