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The Button-down: Part 1

Button down shirts in various colors and stripe patterns

Kamakura Shirts could not have made it in New York without the button-down shirt.

Dress shirts were invented in England, though they were popular all around the world. However, the button-down shirt was an American invention that appeared on the market around 1890.

Button-downs originated from polo shirt collars being buttoned down to prevent movement during the sport. It must’ve seemed unusual at the time. Nevertheless, the shirt established its status as a symbol of the United States, possibly to rival the fashion in Britain, or maybe because it was a simply sensible design. Students of the eight Ivy League universities favored these shirts as everyday “traditional” American clothing. The button-down came to represent American fashion.

I had the fortune of working under Mr. Kensuke Ishizu, who, after researching these eight universities, helped spread the Ivy "Look" across Japan. That was 50 years ago. In today's America, the birthplace of preppy "Ivy Style," there is no real following left for this trend, and the Ivy Look is only practiced in Japan. Despite this, I'm sure some of the American people can recall their childhood surrounded by this style of fashion. Perhaps many still feel affection and nostalgia for the clothing of gentlemen and ladies of that time.

In the year 2008, we reached the decision to open a store in New York, and started our research. It seemed as though the market of traditional producers had shifted towards Italian shirt makers and the good old button-down shirts were now using wrinkle-resistant fabrics. There was no nostalgic look of the collar roll left, and the complaints we heard gradually piped down to become words of disappointed acceptance.

Fortunately, I also knew a thing or two about button-down shirts. Why not use this knowledge as a weapon and revive them? If we could do that and show appreciation for this long-lost style, I was sure our company would be accepted by the American people.

From opening day, button-down enthusiasts poured into our store. “How come you guys know so much about the collar roll?” “Is this really ‘Made in Japan’?” “Why does Graham Marsh recommend you guys?”
(Mr. Graham Marsh is a jazz and Ivy researcher, with a best-seller repertoire as an author.)
The button-down enthusiasts loved our shirts. None of the discrimination I had expected occurred. If anything, the people in New York welcomed the arrival of ‘Made in Japan’ products, as I came to understand the main option available in the United States was ‘Made in China’. I was moved by this open-mindedness, and a culture that was eager to accept and acknowledge items of good quality.

Seven years have passed since we gained ground in New York. An even higher level of button-down shirts is necessary, meaning nothing other than the reproduction the original button-down.

Where two pieces of fabric overlap, interlining is used to give thickness and set in place the upper and lower fabrics. Interlining is essential for structure in the modern dress shirt. Further, very few factories that could sew a shirt without interlining. Still, if we could accomplish a shirt without interlining, the collar roll would regain its elegant finish. The good old shirts from the past would spring back to life.

Thankfully, staff with the skills to reproduce these shirts were working in the same factory where VAN Jacket’s shirts had been sewn in the past.

Kamakura Shirts launched a new button-down shirt called “SPORT” in 2018. We’re confident in this new creation: our company is quite possibly the only one that can recreate button-downs of the good old days.

The button-down shirt is unique and a convenient, as it may be worn formally and casually. It was born out of America’s practical-mindedness, and has grown into something that signifies nostalgia and comfort.

50 years ago, 300 thousand VAN Jacket fans cherished this B.D. shirt.

— Yoshio Sadasue, Founder, Kamakura Shirts