Review: Does Sid Mashburn Make the Perfect Shirt?
How a lunchtime buying experience changed my entire sartorial outlook
In a perfect world I’d have a uniform.
I don’t mean I’d dress like a cop or naval officer at all times or anything like that; I just wish I could just find a more cohesive look for five out of the seven days a week. While I value eclecticism and think the way I dress has direction, I respect anybody who can own a look so much that you can’t really see them wearing anything else. Take, for instance, the writer Fran Lebowitz. You think of Fran and you can’t help but think of one of the wittiest people of our time, but for the last few decades, you also can’t think of her in anything but a jacket from Anderson & Sheppard, a white dress shirt, a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans and cowboy boots. It’s a look that might not work on paper, but she makes it work because Fran Lebowitz is cool, and also because she is consistent. Whenever you see her, Lebowitz is wearing her uniform.
The closest I think I’ve come was a couple of summers ago, when I decided that, despite all the dirt and sweat that comes from living in New York City in the summertime, I was going to go with all white oxfords all summer. The simple, smart white oxford, in my opinion, is one of the most deceptive pieces of clothing a person can own. It’s fine for the office and never too casual, but there’s also some hint of prep-school troublemaker in them. Members of the Delta Tau Chi house in Animal House wore white OCBDs, but so did Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg. People on both sides of the political spectrum have owned the look, from JFK to William F. Buckley. You can wear it with a tie, or with a few buttons undone. Jeans or slacks. Sneakers or loafers.
And for the longest time, I had a lot of oxfords — namely the ones I bought from J.Crew when they went on sale over at their factory site. Sometimes I’d spend $20 a pop on five at a time. One for every day of the workweek, I figured.
But then something happened. Well, two things happened. First, I quickly got tired of seeing the same thing every single day, and started slowly switching things up, bringing back different colored oxfords, polos and whatever else I felt like wearing again. I put the idea of a more uniform look on the shelf, but I also found the quality of the J.Crew oxfords to be lacking. The fit left much to be desired, as did the quality. Those two things meant that I wasn’t exactly happy with how the shirt looked on me, but I also didn’t feel like spending more money to get shirts tailored if I was worried about them falling apart within six months.
I wandered the sartorial desert for a few years trying to find a new shirt. It didn’t have to be just a single oxford in one boring color; I wanted to finally invest my money, not just buy something. I wanted to start wearing shirts that looked good on me, but that I also had faith in.
When I walked up to the hotel room a few blocks in my office where Sid Mashburn was hosting one of his semi-regular NYC pop-ups, I didn’t realize my entire view of shirts was going to change. I didn’t find a new uniform, but I did come away with a new philosophy for buying shirts: spend a little more, but do it because you’re buying smart.
There’s already been plenty written about Mashburn, his trajectory, his stores and the sort of ongoing crush the menswear world has on his stuff. The guy is, in my opinion, an evangelist for a very specifically American kind of men’s style that doesn’t do anything too crazy or out there. He understands that the reason things we define as “preppy” have worked so well for so long is because there’s something inherently mischievous about the look. It’s supposed to be fun and loose, not buttoned-up and boring. For my money, the more traditional-leaning menswear designers I’ve been interested in over the last decade or so tend to be guys like Mashburn, Michael Bastian and Todd Snyder. The difference between Mashburn and the other two is I could find their stuff near me and try it on. The lack of a Mashburn NYC location always made that a bit difficult.
When I finally made it to one of the Mashburn gatherings, I was greeted warmly by one of Mashburn’s people, Matt. Warm and friendly with a Southern accent you could mistake for Georgia (since Sid Mashburn is based there) but is actually from Alabama, he ushered me into the room and let me know he was there to help if I needed anything.
So I realize this is in a hotel room and not an actual store, and since I’ve never made the journey to visit any of the Mashburn stores — in Atlanta, D.C., Dallas, L.A. and Houston — that I can’t speak to the experience in their brick-and-mortar locations, but man, shopping Sid Mashburn is chill. I’d even say downright fun.
I grabbed a couple of shirts off the rack. I don’t wear a lot of suits, so I went for some more casual shirts; namely, a couple of spread-collar shirts, one blue cotton, the other linen with a blue, red and green check pattern. I tried both on, and despite my genes that have me built for brutal Russian winters, I found the shirt not only fit me comfortably, but fit me well. Do you know how hard that is? Buying something off the rack when you aren’t skinny isn’t always the easiest thing. I’m 5’11 and 225 pounds with a little beer belly and some muscle up top. The reason I mention that isn’t because I’m trying to impress you with my weird, muscular, George Costanza physique; it’s because shirts aren’t usually made for guys like me. Matt assured me they could tailor anything for me, but it wasn’t necessary.
I’ve learned over time that while the ability to buy clothes online is convenient, size tables don’t always tell the entire story. And that had always been my hesitation with Sid Mashburn. But the quality, especially of the light blue, 100-percent cotton shirt, won me over. The shirts are second to none: comfortable and flattering. Unlike past shirts I’ve sworn some bit of allegiance to, Sid Mashburn’s have held up their end of the bargain on the quality front. They’re a little more expensive (shirts tend to run $125 and up), but that’s sort of the point: I’m paying for quality. I don’t need to buy five at a time like I did with the J.Crew shirts that I knew wouldn’t last forever.
Instead, what I’m doing now is buying shirts that will last, ones that will look as good in a few years as they do today. Quality over quantity. Not exactly a uniform look, but a uniform way of buying. I think it’s fair to say I’m a Sid Mashburn guy now.