Like many of our favorite labels, Eton often flies under the radar. Its designs don’t feature any over-the-top branding, and it doesn’t do any outré ad campaigns. Instead, it has captured 90 years’ worth of well-dressed men by perfecting just one thing: the button-down shirt. And though its classic dress shirt doesn’t look like it’s changed much since 1928, the Swedish brand has quietly moved the needle when it comes to the modern man’s wardrobe. It was one of the first to introduce wrinkle-resistant dress shirts—releasing its version back in 1992—and also spotted the rise in men’s fitness far before its competitors, slimming down it’s iconic dress shirt to better show of its clients’ new-found muscles.
Now, under the helm of chief creative officer Sebastian Dollinger—whose father created those travel-friendly shirts—the brand is embracing today’s anything-goes dress code. And it’s a change Dollinger admits isn’t easy: “People that buy Eton once, never buy [from] another brand again. So, if you change something, they literally want to hang you,” he laughs. But still, with thoroughly 21st-century offerings like an online shirt customization service and their soon-to-launch Soft Business shirts (think styles that look crisp, but feel like your favorite T-shirt), we’re sure those die-hard traditionalists will come around.
To celebrate the brand’s milestone birthday, Dollinger breaks down how Eton is charting a course for the next 90 years, and dishing out his top tips for picking a shirt that you’ll be able to wear for decades to come.
How has Eton adapted to meet today’s more casual dress code?
When I took over [as chief creative officer] we were very much a dress shirt company. We made shirts you needed to wear when you have a suit on. But not everyone is required to wear a suit anymore. Some people still require that really crisp look, so our wrinkle-free styles is what they typically go for, but you can’t just be a dress shirt maker anymore.
I’ve taken a lot of pride in having the same quality in the casual things that we’ve had on the dress shirt side of things. Normally a casual shirt is paid less attention to during the manufacturing process, because it’s historically not been something you spend a lot of time wearing. But why can’t you have a killer casual shirt in the same way that you have a killer dress shirt? I’ve tried to create hybrids—and the new Soft Business shirts are one of them—so pieces look like dress shirts but feel like pajamas. Men want to be comfortable!
How long has the Soft Business style been in the works?
It’s taken a hell of a long time to develop this style. Because if we’re going to release something new, it has to be awesome from the drop, because it’s going to be there for a long, long time.
Even just changing a collar on a classic dress shirt can take us a year. It sounds insane, but is actually something that’s really cool, because we know that almost everything we do is still going to be around in 25 years’ time.
How do you create a shirt that will look good across a quarter century?
It’s only fashion pieces where you think, “Holy hell, did I really wear that 20 years ago!?” I mean they are fantastic to create. We did a fish shirt a couple of years ago that I loved. It was a shirt with just a random fish on it, and I thought it was brilliantly playful and creative. And it sold out in minutes.
But what sells the most are blue and white shirts, and we’ve always been really open to longevity of those styles, because we know something we make today will last for 30, 40 years. We’ve had customers send in 30-year-old shirts for repair. You can of course see that they’ve got wear and tear on the cuffs and collar, but the shirt itself looks pretty damn good. We try to keep those timeless codes in mind with everything we do.
Any tips for buying a shirt that will look good for 40 years?
Fit, fit, fit! One common thing that guys tend to do is either wear something way too tight or way too loose. So you just need to get the proportions right: If you’re on the heavier side, don’t wear a shirt that is too wide because it will only make you look bigger, and at the same time if you’re slim and the shirt is too tight, it’s not going to look well. You need to have just a bit of space—it’s a fine line walk!
What shirts should every man have in his wardrobe?
This is a boring answer, but you definitely need a nice white shirt with a regular collar—preferably something in a medium-weight twill. I think every man looks great in a well-made white shirt. A white oxford button down and a black shirt with a little bit of stretch (so the color doesn’t fade), are also on my shortlist. They are just such good staples.