Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Greatest American Shirt (made anywhere in the world)

A surprising number of emails come to me asking about shirt patterns. At many of the large accounting/consulting firms, only white dress shirts were permitted (this has largely been relaxed since 2000 or so), making pattern and color nearly criminal... a restriction that is more offensive than the assumption of offense of wearing pattern. Imagine a large multi-floored office, staffed by private citizens, all told that only white dress shirts with barrel cuffs will be permitted as a condition of working there. The advice they provide-for-fee better have an accuracy rate in the 80% range to make that nonsense tolerable.

Readers often ask what pattern is the best. In America, the most conservative pattern is our beloved Bengal stripe in navy or lighter blue.

This is a staple pattern in which all men should own at least one shirt. It can be worn with nearly anything, and besides white, it is the most versatile and lasting shirt pattern that we have at our disposal. While there are slight variations in blues, widths, etc., it is one of our finest.

Jeans, khakis, shorts, flannels, suits, corduroys, sweaters, and with nearly any tie, the navy Bengal stripe is universal to the point of being almost overlooked by the eye. It is great as a soft button-down collar, a casual faded oxford, a cut-away collared french-cuff, a barrel-cuffed pointed collar, and even as a white collar/white cuff version, the universal appeal of this shirt is obvious. While it is traditionally not uniquely American by any means, it has become a staple of Americanism, generally accepted in nearly every application.
Unbeatable with a navy blazer, conservative with a suit (even a 3-piece), great under a rugby shirt or over a solid polo shirt, and ubiquitous with white pants and Sperry Top-Siders in summer, this shirt can withstand any pattern of tie, bow tie, ascot, and in any color.

If there is a truly American shirt pattern, this is sure to be it. Perhaps there are others that carry more historical importance, but this pattern, in ANY cut, is (beyond plain white) the single most versatile yardage of fabric at a man's disposal when assembling a wardrobe. If one had to have two shirts only, they would be a single white one and a single navy Bengal stripe.
When I see them on sale at LL Bean in wrinkle-free, I get them. When I saw them at TM Lewin (slim-fit St. James Collar) online for $30 each, I ordered several. When they get too worn out, they become short-sleeved beach shirts, painting smocks, handkerchiefs, etc. And when I travel for business or pleasure, they are first into the suitcase. Even the tattersall and pinstripe shirts are out-paced by the Bengal stripe, restricted by no season, and welcome with more assemblies than any other pattern. If Americans can lay claim to a single shirt, this may well be ours.

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