Seams Plausible: An Oxford Education




A semi-regular column answering questions about clothing.

Reader Donny S. writes in to ask, “Why is it called Oxford cloth?”

There are several theories to explain the name, each of which “seams plausible” at first glance.

Some say the name comes from the fact that hundreds of years ago the fabric was routinely traded for transportation, such as an ox – and then years later, for cars such as a Ford automobile. A little research reveals that the animal in question was usually a horse and the car was more often than not was a Dodge Dart, so by that reasoning the cloth should be called Horsedart. I think we can safely discard that theory.

Another legend says the cloth was named after its inventor, William of Oxford, or “Drippy” as his friends called him because his allergies made his nose run most of the year. He invented the fabric to serve as a handkerchief, but as years passed, it gained widespread popularity as a shirting. You won’t find him in Wikipedia, so he probably never existed, but it’s a lovely legend just the same, don’t you think?

In the end, the answer is that no one knows why it’s called Oxford cloth. Thanks for your question, Donny.

(Oxford fabric was originally created in 19th century Scotland as one of four fabrics, each named after a famous university: Oxford, Cambridge, Yale & Harvard. It was the only one that caught on. -Ed.)


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