Oxford Cloth


I love an Oxford cloth button-down shirt. That’s what my father wore throughout my childhood (and well into my adulthood), and I don’t think you can find a female who doesn’t unwittingly decide her definition of masculinity by what Daddy did long before she even realized she was liking this and disliking that.

Then I went to snotty prep school, where all those Oxford cloth shirts had bony, adolescent boy wrists peeking from the cuffs, and growing shoulders straining the seams, and the cloth at the back that billowed out from the khakis was deliciously warmed by the boy-heat underneath and then broadcloth shirts took on a whole new degree of appreciation for me.

(See, not so lesbian today. Ooh, I liked those boys in their button-downs!)

You can starch Oxford cloth. It takes starch very nicely, and then everything looks very crisp. The trouble is – it doesn’t MOVE nicely if it’s starched. An old Oxford cloth shirt takes on a chamois-like suppleness and softness. It’s compliant. Obedient. Forgiving. Friendly. Starched Oxford cloth is unmoving and unnatural. Not wanted on the voyage.

This occurred to me (in the isolated word-pictures that stagger across my brain while enjoying a massage) when I was discussing fascia with Gwynn, the massage therapist wizard at Body Dynamics (where? Falls Church, Virginia, of course).

Do you remember about fascia? It’s the membrane that holds all muscles in place. (It might be other places, too, but think of it as that thin, while film that covers a raw chicken breast.) When it’s in good shape, fascia is pliant and liquid. It makes no attempt to restrict the muscle.

But sometimes fascia gets woody. Stiff. Tight. So when you think you’ve got sore muscles or you just generally feel locked up, it’s entirely possible the issue is the fascia, not the muscles.

Gwynn was working on my low back. I’d been having stiffness there because (now I know) I hadn’t been using my low abs to hold my pelvis in neutral, especially when doing my HEP. Now that Barbara has identified my slackerly ways, I’ve been exercising with my tongue between my teeth in concentration, attempting to keep the pelvis tipped upward like a fool. That’s really helped my low back, but things were still tight, and I was grateful for Gwynn’s ministrations.

“There’s a whole sheet of fascia back here,” she said, using her hands to outline a sweeping triangle from the midback down to the butt. “Yours is very tight today.”

“Huh,” I grunted in pain/pleasure. I thought about that, and finally offered up a complete thought (it takes longer to think during a massage). “So some people just have stiff fascia throughout, huh?”

Gwynn swatted away my hopeful suggestion effortlessly. “No, that’s not right. Fascia responds to a lot of things. Diet. Chemo. Some medicines.”


The ghost of Chip the Body Dynamics nutritionist appeared and crossed his legs in the nearby chair as he waited pointedly for me to make the connection.

(The body of Chip was probably down the hall tormenting some hapless client with exercises on a reformer; Chip is also a trainer and very inclined to grin happily while someone is groaning through an oddly specific movement. They ALL grin; they feed off it like psychic discomfort vampires.)

“Sure,” said Gwynn. “You know what’s most influential on fascia, don’t you?”

I sighed. “Sugar?”

“That’s right. Sugar is definitely bad for your fascia.”

“So sugar absorbs all the zinc I eat. It throws off the bacterial house party in my gut. AND it stiffens my fascia like starch in an Oxford cloth shirt.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, damn it.” I thought about it as Chip’s ghost gave me the hairy eyeball. “So you’d better REALLY want that piece of cheesecake, huh?”

Chip and Gwynn both nodded.

I wasn’t as indulgent through the holidays as I COULD have been, but I certainly wasn’t terribly careful, either. The bathroom scale is only one of the ways to measure the effects of Christmas cookies on the body, and it’s not even a very accurate method.

I’d turned the supple, pliant, friendly button-down shirt just under the skin of my back into something starched and crispy. The cookies weren’t even that good.

Dayum. It all comes back to sugar. Grr!


Boys singing in soft, worn button-downs. Could anything be cuter?

2 thoughts on “Oxford Cloth

  1. Soft cotton shirts and fascia? Best analogy ever.
    And those boys — they were IT. Be still my heart!
    And I’m sure that they, like us (and well worn cotton shirts), just get better and better with time.


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