Unique Clothing

Episode02

ItemOxford Shirts

  • Photography by Yoshio Kato
  • Text by Kyosuke Nitta
  • Illustration by Yoshifumi Takeda

Unique clothing changes the rules. And changing the rules changes our lives.
Here’s another story of a masterpiece, manufactured by UNIQLO to this day.

Autumn/Winter 2002

Twenty years ago. Modelled after button-down shirts of the orthodox American Trad style. The coarse cloth has a sturdy feel, thick and puffy.

2022 Latest Edition

Today. Despite using tough “three-play yarn,” the cloth is thinner and finer than before. Smooth and full-bodied, this Oxford has a feel that is less rustic than refined.

Lots of famous products fall under the category of “happy accidents” or “unlikely contrivances.” Taking an example from the world of tools, the idea for the snap-off blade utility knife came from the grid lines of a chocolate bar. The adhesive used in sticky notes came from a failed experiment. In a similar way, the decision to revamp the UNIQLO oxford shirt, a classic item since our earliest days as a brand, resulted from a serendipitous idea.

After nearly thirty years of refining our original fabric, just as the production team was struggling to think of any way to radically update the item, they thought of using “three-ply yarn.” This was a wild idea, a fantastical notion. Nobody had ever attempted such a strange technique. It was the sort of thing only an obsessed person would notice, if they tore apart the fabric and unraveled the thread, but this three-ply yarn helped us to revolutionise a standard.

Exploring the Authenticity of Shirts

UNIQLO updates its products constantly, incorporating feedback from our customers about comfort and functionality, sturdiness and fit. The oxford is a notable exception, since we’d been using the same fabric for about eight years. This would seem to indicate that we have taken the style as far as it could go. But about a year ago, we decided to reinvent the fabric entirely. To do this, we made test swatches using a single thread and a ply made from two threads twisted together, repeatedly playing with options like the thickness of the yarn count and the number of threads in the warp and in the weft. But the fact that we were using conventional methods held us back. Just when we were at an impasse, a member of our team made an offhand comment that set the wheels in motion. “What if we made the fabric out of three ply?”

A Fabric that Only Gets Softer,
Gaining Character with Age.

Three-ply yarn involves twisting three strands of thread together. Though often used in sewing thread due to its durability, there is little to no precedent for using it in cloth. Why? Because it takes time and resources. But our motto for this project was “More sturdy, more resilient.” In a twist of fate, three-ply yarn isn’t just tough; it’s more resilient by virtue of the extra twists. That being said, the entire venture was unprecedented. Even once we got the weave just right, it took considerable effort to determine how to properly finish the fabric. Not to say how it should be laundered, or the right amount of softener. Same goes for drying. Working in tandem with the factory, it took us half a year to arrive at the right balance. We reworked more than just the cloth, redesigning the pattern and the details, aiming for a silhouette that was relaxed yet elegant, while keeping the length just long enough it could be worn untucked. Replacing the chain stitch are underarm seams utilize a chain stitch that lay flat against the skin. Resin buttons recreate the smoky lustre of a pearl.

Not everything can be efficient. It was a slow process. But by pursuing sturdiness and elegance, we created a fabric that can be broken in and loved for years to come. We want for this to be a shirt you love so much it’s hard to part with.

1. 2008 model. At the time, each item had a different tag. This one said “Authentic Original Wash.” 2. Illustration of three-ply yarn (bottom). The extra twists make it stronger. 3. Side gussets, new this model, increase durability and make for a better look when worn untucked.

Spring/Summer 2022

Candy stripe, available in pink and blue. Also offered in solid white, saxe blue and gray. Ready to become your uniform.

This is My Uniform

This is My Uniform. White Oxfords, Every Day

Text byJunichi ToyofukuMonocle magazine Editor

I’m an ardent fan of UNIQLO Oxford shirts. Strictly white, though. Buttoned all the way up, except for the flaps of the collar. I’ve dressed like this every day, for the past ten years. At any given time, I have about ten in my closet, ranging from rags to replacements.

Though at first glance nothing special, these shirts stand out for being the epitome of “normal.” From the length and shape of the hem to the side, and placement of the chest pocket, the finer details have all been thoughtfully designed. The cloth is just right for daily use. They’re also carefully sewn. Never once have I encountered a crooked button or loose thread. The shirts I’ve had for six or seven years are so well-worn they’re fraying at the collars and the sleeves, after hundreds of rounds in the washing machine and weeks drying in the sun, but I still love them. I grow attached. It’s tough to let them go. What makes me happiest is that I can keep wearing these shirts as my uniform, regardless of the current fashion.

Born in 1985 in Saga Prefecture. Editor at Tokyo offices of UK lifestyle magazine Monocle. He only wears black pants, a rule he hasn’t changed for over ten years, like his shirts.

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