Mercer & Sons – Saving American Shirting

Posted by: on Feb 17, 2012 | 3 Comments

The oxford cloth button down might be the most quintessentially American piece in all of menswear.  But the perfect button down collar has become something of a lost art these days.  I spoke with owners David Mercer, of Yarmouth, Maine’s Mercer & Sons, who think they have solved this problem once and for all.

David started Mercer & Sons in Boston in 1982 when he saw the quality of other American button down oxfords falling off.  The two qualities that David thought defined the shirt, its full cut and elegantly rolling collar, disappeared in favor of more cost-saving garments.  So he decided to right the wrong himself and set up a small factory to produce shirts like those he missed.

Despite being successful for three decades now, the operation has remained extremely small.  Mercer & Sons only stock blue and white oxfords in standard sizes, while everything else is made to order.  You would expect such a small production company to stock a handful of fabrics, but they’ve actually got dozens.

In addition to the cloth options, you’ve also got a few collar choices.  The button-down is really killer.  I had seen pictures on the web before, but when I opened my box from Maine and pulled out a blue oxford I couldn’t believe it.  That perfectly soft, angel wing shaped roll is the stuff menswear dreams are made of.  But Mercer & Sons also offer perfectly good semi-spread and straight collars that are equally hard to come by in their softness.

What you don’t have choice in is cut.  David insists on a full cut and believes that the so-called generous shirts that others offer are nothing of the sort.  “It is a matter of traditional style and good taste.  Good taste is based upon good sense…comfort requires the full cut we provide.”  It also bears noting that this cut increases durability since  the seams and fabric don’t suffer so much stress.  One long-time customer I spoke to says he has shirts that are pushing a decade and a half and are just starting to peter out.

And everything is done to order.  Your choice of cloth (everything from oxfords to broadcloths to tattersalls) is made-up with the exact combination of collar shape, neck size, body size, and sleeve length that suits you.  If you do want to slim things up a little, they can make your shirt with a slightly smaller body size or trim an inch here and there to accommodate you.  You won’t end up with a slim-fit shirt, but that’s not the style David is going for.

It can take anywhere from four to eight weeks to receive your shirts, since when you’re dealing on this scale a few large orders in the pipeline can tap a big proportion of your resources.

When you speak with David, he’s quick to point out the values-driven nature of Mercer & Sons.  “We sell directly to customers…we have a personal connection with each and every customer.  If something goes amiss, our customers know who to complain to, and how to reach us directly.  It’s more like small organic farming vs. chain store supermarkets – not for everyone but something that suits us and our customers.”

Along those lines, they source materials domestically where they can, though David says things are getting harder as supplies dry up and everything moves overseas.  The quality of make on the shirts shows this attention to detail in each stitch.  Everything about the final product quietly whispers its artisanal provenance to anyone willing to listen.

As I mentioned above, David was kind enough to specially make me a blue oxford with button down collar.  Check back in the next few weeks for a more in-depth look at the details of a Mercer & Sons shirt along with a review of how they wear and launder after I have a chance to put mine through its paces.

3 Comments

  1. ZJP
    February 17, 2012

    Stephen,
    Fine read. I am looking forward to your thoughts on the actual fit. Did you opt for a slimmer cut on your order?

    Cheers,
    Zach

    Reply
    • Stephen
      February 17, 2012

      I had mine made-up in a 14.5 neck with a 14 body and 32 inch sleeves.

      Reply
  2. Benn
    February 17, 2012

    Another first-rate piece. Being on a student budget, Mercer is a bit out of reach. But my father has made several Mercer purchases and only has good to say about the quality of the product, and the quality of the people at Mercer.

    Reply

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