There is a great deal of confusion surrounding men's dress shirts and the different weaves available. Some people think that a dress shirt is just a dress shirt, regardless of the weave used in making it. Others are aware that different weaves are used for different occasions, but don't quite understand the specifics.
In men's dress shirts, three of the most common weaves are oxford, broadcloth and pinpoint oxford. The last of these, pinpoint oxford, is a sub-variety of standard oxford cloth. Let's take a closer look at each of these fabrics, their histories and their uses.
Oxford weave has a long history of use dating back to the 1800s. This weave and its distinctive pattern are produced by weaving finer-gauge fabric around a heavier fabric base, resulting in a basket-like pattern and a weave that is by far the heaviest of the commonly-used shirt weaves. While this makes the oxford weave a handsome choice for men's shirts, it also makes it impractical for wearing in hot weather.
These days, you'll mostly find oxford weaves in casual shirts and have become a favorite of college frat boys (GO TKE). Oxford shirts are low maintenance and typically don't wrinkle as much when put into the dryer.
Broadcloth, a more lightweight weave, has its origins in 15th-century England, making it one of the oldest weaves still in widespread use today. Throughout most of its history, broadcloth has been made from wool but more recently, cotton and polyester have been woven as broadcloth. With the move from wool into these lighter materials, broadcloth became almost too light, making it prone to wrinkling. Broadcloth also has a unique texture, being as it is extremely smooth to the touch.
One of the best ways to identify broadcloth is its transparency. If you've ever seen someone wearing a thin dress shirt that showed straight through to his undershirt, chances are it was made from broadcloth. For this reason, a broadcloth shirt is definitely not the thing to wear if you happen to be carrying a few extra pounds or have noticeable man boobs. Nevertheless, these extremely thin and light shirts are very popular in ultra-formal settings.
At last, we come to pinpoint oxford, my personal favorite. Pinpoint oxford is a type of oxford cloth that was developed after the original oxford weave and takes its name from the matrix of tiny dots created by the spacing between threads. The difference between standard oxford and pinpoint oxford is the fineness of the thread. Pinpoint is woven in the same way as oxford, but with a lighter and finer thread. The result is a shirt that is light and breathable like broadcloth, but with the firmness and more appealing weave pattern of oxford.
Needless to say, a shirt that offers the lightweight and formal qualities of broadcloth and the heavier but more casual oxford weave has some serious advantages. Unlike oxford, which is a little too heavy to wear in hot weather, a pinpoint shirt is great for year-round wear. The thinner, smoother texture also makes pinpoint a better weave for a formal dress shirt, though the oxford weaving pattern keeps it from being as transparent as broadcloth.
This combination of characteristics is why my go-to dress shirt, whether for the office or a formal occasion, is a pinpoint oxford weave. I enjoy the lighter feel of the pinpoint, but I know the durability of the oxford weave is still there.