George Frazier had a story about the first time he met John O’Hara. The journalist and clotheshorse Frazier was introduced to the novelist O’Hara while hanging out at a Greenwich Village jazz club. The famously cranky O’Hara looked Frazier up and down before inviting him to have a drink. “You’re welcome at my table,” he announced. “You’re wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt.”
Frazier was known for popularizing the idea of duende. A Spanish folk term for a sort of goblin, duende came during the twentieth century to designate “style that’s truly alive”—a quality essential to those icons of Spanish culture, the poet, the flamenco singer, and the bullfighter. Frazier extended the concept to the exemplars of midcentury America. Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, and Miles Davis had duende. So did the Brooks Brothers shirt that they, like Frazier, habitually wore.
As with any object that possesses duende, it is hard to articulate what is so special about that shirt. It has several distinctive features, but the magic lies almost entirely in the collar. Known as “button-down” to unreflective dressers and a “polo collar” to the enthusiast, the Brooks design involves points that are 33/8 inches long and fasten just over three inches apart—almost but not quite half the distance between the top two buttons along the central placket.