By Sean Wilkinson
Just because I now have an office job doesn’t mean that I have to clean up my act clothing-wise. I have a pretty regular, self-imposed uniform, and it’s business-casual enough for the office. Granted, there are exceptions and I do occasionally stray from the norm, but year-round you can usually expect to find me in dark, clean jeans and a solid color Oxford shirt. Button-down collar, sleeves rolled up, generally untucked. Something about the Oxford cloth, in those standard light blues, greens, white, and yes, even pink, has always appealed to me (though I did hear some chuckles from the rest of the Bollard staff when I wore my pink Oxford to the backyard barbecue at Mort Viande’s this weekend).
I went shopping for new Oxfords the other day, and as I was making a beeline for the back corner of the men’s section (to that beautiful wall full of shelves brimming with plastic-wrapped stacks of crisp, new shirts arranged in a muted rainbow), I realized that I wasn’t sure which size I should get. I had forgotten the size of the last shirts I bought there, but I knew that whatever that size was, that was the perfect size.
The problem is that dress shirts are the only thing in my wardrobe that are measured by neck size. How the hell do you measure an entire shirt’s size by the circumference of the wearer’s neck? That’s like choosing pants by ankle size. And if you’re going to have something so stringent as neck size, how can two brands of shirts be so different? I have shirts in sizes from 16 to 18, and I could say that each of them fits correctly.
Arbitrary shirt-sizing aside, the fact that I couldn’t remember which size to get brought up a whole new facet of Oxford shirt buying. When you know which size to get, the prospect is a tidy and easy one. Walk to the shelf, find the size you need, and pull out a neat little plastic-wrapped rectangle.
When you don’t know which size to get, you have to go into the dressing room and tear into one of those neat little packages. They are not to be underestimated. The plastic wrap is the easiest part. It usually has a slit cut into it where the shirt can just slide out. This is when you realize that the plastic has nothing to do with holding the shirt in its perfect shape. So begins the surgical disassembling of the labyrinth of pins and plastic and cardboard and tissue paper and Oxford cloth.
There are usually a few at the top of each shoulder, pinning the sleeves against the back of the neck. After the disappointment of pulling six pins out and finding that the shirt is still in the same shape, one can find the pins at the other end of the shirt. That’s generally when a rectangle of tissue paper tumbles to the floor and the sleeves unfold into awkwardly creased appendages. More pins at various spots around the collar need to be pulled out, then there’s a cardboard or plastic insert behind the collar. Then there’s a stiff plastic shield at the front of the collar where the top button is.
After all this disassembly and after unbuttoning the shirt, it can finally be tried on. This is generally where an expletive fits as I realize that I’ve chosen to try on the wrong size. Which also means that the process will be repeated on a new shirt. “Maybe 171⁄2 is better… Maybe I can just go for 18 and call it good…”
Maybe they shouldn’t waste all this fucking time and packaging on a dress shirt.
I mean, it’s not as if it comes out of all this packaging looking good. It comes out creased and wrinkled. It comes out looking like the face of someone who’s fallen asleep on a pair of corduroys. So you have to at least iron the shirt. I hardly ever need to iron a shirt except for the first time I wear it. That seems counterintuitive to me.
Nevermind the fact that someone is paid to stand around all day fastening every button on every shirt, and someone else is paid to stick a bunch of cardboard and plastic under folds in the shirt, contort if into a rectangle, and fill it with a dozen straight pins.
I think they do it just for the off chance that someone might forget a pin. They’re an evil bunch, the United Shirt Makers. They know how fast an unprotected arm shoots down the sleeve of a new shirt in a dressing room, and they know right where to put that errant pin so that it gets a good half inch of penetration. Usually right into the web between fingers. Yowch — shit, I just got chills.
Finally, I must admit, after pulling apart and trying on shirts in the dressing room, I generally leave them hanging in there. Armed with the knowledge of my correct size and color choice, I go back to those shelves and get myself a fresh, plastic-wrapped, stiff, crisp rectangle of shirt, replete with cardboard, plastic, tissue paper, and enough pins to set off metal detectors in a 10-yard radius.