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The Button-down: Part 3

Man in a red VAN jacket reading: For the young and the young-at-heart.

This is a story I heard directly from Mr. Toshiyuki Kurosu, the Product Development Manager of VAN Jacket - our Alma Mater.

During the 1960s, Mr. Kurosu was hired by VAN as the best person for launching what would come to be known as the Ivy Look in Japan, as he was the leading expert at the time. Although an expert, much of the Ivy Style remained a mystery to Mr. Kurosu until he visited eight Ivy League Universities in 1965.

Mr. Kurosu wished to wear a shirt like the American "button-down," sporting buttons on the collar tips. Without really knowing the details of how this shirt looked, he simply asked for a shirt with collar buttons at his fathers favorite tailor. He then showed this shirt proudly to his friend Mickey Curtis, a musician, returning home from America. Mickey burst out laughing as soon as he saw it.

That looks nothing like it! This is what it should look like! Mickey said, demonstrating.

Mr. Kurosu told me that that was when he realized how frightening ignorance could be, and of course, what a real button-down was.

During that time, VAN started selling button-down shirts as dress shirts. Instead of coordinating it with a suit, it was easier to coordinate it with a sport jacket. People called it an all-purpose shirt that could be both dressed up or down, and it became popular among high school and universities students in a blink of an eye.

That popularity had a huge impact on the existing shirt industry. Copies of VAN shirts started to appear everywhere, but none of them truly understood the essence of the B.D. shirt. This allowed VAN to become even more popular and how VAN rose to become a first-class brand.

The shirt material was oxford fabric, the warp 40 count parallel yarn, the weft 10 count single yarn, all spun at Toyobo inside the Nishiwaki area of Japan. 

Although this was standard for the Ivy Look, Ralph Lauren gave a revolutionary twist to it in the 1970s proposing a new style, coinciding with the lifestyle of the customers. A new, modern interpretation of the button-down emerged. Ralph Lauren moved on to design even more shirts, even beyond his own eponymous business.

Since then, this contemporary style went mainstream. With an Italian alternative added to the mix in later years, the originality of the button-down shirt was completely lost. Production in the United States was drastically reduced, and most of the production was lowered to cheaply bought labor in Southeast Asia. This made it even more difficult to create authentic shirts, as the ability to teach particular details and inherit the technology required was lost.

When Mr. Graham Marsh published The Ivy Look in 2010, young American clothing designers were shocked: the Ivy Look culture had all but been forgotten. The look was slightly old fashioned, but held a certain warmth and a sense of ease. There was something there that modern society had forgotten.

Old distant memories arising from the subconscious feel new. We aim for our own shirts to inspire this in you.

— Yoshio Sadasue, Founder, Kamakura Shirts