Father's Day is one of those holidays when you buy a tie, tools or--in my case--a big summer sausage for Dad.
But another father I know dropped some hints that he needed a new cream-colored dress shirt. A few months ago, a clerk in men's furnishings at Nordstrom told me tan was the "in" color, but the Nordstrom-label shirt was not available in cream this season.
I could have traipsed through the mall, but if the Internet is to realize its potential, it should save me the trouble. How hard could it be to find a cream dress shirt?
I began by looking at the Web site for men's clothier Jos. A. Bank (http://www.josbank.com). I could pick from the dress shirt category or "build your own dress shirt," which seemed little more than an exercise in clicking on what you wanted (color, size, etc.). But under dress shirts was an Egyptian cotton twill number for $42.50--in cream. The description was a bit lost on me: "tailored of soft, luxurious 80s 2-ply 100% Egyptian cotton." Was this what I wanted? And what was with all these different collars?
I had to ask. Point collar, the father said.
The Bank site was pretty straightforward: It showed that the shirt was in stock, and I could add monogramming for $6.50. A size chart could help me out. I decided to order the Egyptian cotton shirt.
The process went smoothly until the end, when I couldn't find the spot to enter a discount code (I had 20% off and free shipping). But by then, I'd already clicked the order button (thinking I might be asked for the code on the next page) and watched as my total came to $42.50 plus $13.95 in shipping (I wanted overnight shipping.) No discount. I e-mailed the site asking where I was to enter the code.
Meanwhile, I shopped for another shirt to have a few to compare. Brooks Brothers (http://www.brooksbrothers.com), I figured, would have nice dress shirts, and, indeed, it did. One of the 12 on the site was $95 (I don't think so), so I down-marketed to Lands' End (http://www.landsend.com). Dress shirts . . . pinpoint . . . solid broadcloth . . . what were the differences? I didn't see anything explaining them.
I had to go back to the father again and ask. He pulled one of the Nordstrom ones from the closet: 2x2 pinpoint, 100% cotton.
Lands' End had other options: 80s fabric, nonsolid (straight collar), nonsolid (spread collar), tonal solid (straight collar). And there was no "point" collar, just button-down, tab, straight and spread. At Nordstrom, I could usually eyeball the shirt or ask the clerk. I tried talking "live" to a Lands' End representative using text messaging. But like the last time I did this, the site froze just as it said it was connecting me; then I was logged off. So I called the toll-free number. A helpful woman put me on hold, then said, "We've taken a poll here, and we feel [a point collar] is the straight collar."
So I clicked to order a straight-collar, regular-cuff, long-sleeve shirt for $29.50. And after all that . . . I discovered there was no cream! Just two blues and a white.
Surely, Google (http://www.google.com) could turn me on to a cream dress shirt. The search engine brought up something called Dress-Shirts.com (http://www.dress-shirts.com), but the site didn't have overnight shipping (I was in a hurry) and you had to return shirts by calling for an authorization code. I've never liked that.
I couldn't get on the Bloomingdale's site (http://www.bloomingdales.com); I kept getting an error message. I bounced back to the Brooks Brothers site since I was getting desperate, but I didn't find any cream shirts at all. L.L.Bean (http://www.llbean.com) had no dress shirts, and Nordstrom (http://www.nordstrom.com) had only a white straight-collar dress shirt.
Macys.com (http://www.macys.com)? At first, I thought there were several possibilities, such as the Kenneth Cole point-collar dress shirt on sale for $29, but it was in khaki. Spiegel.com (http://www.spiegel.com) showed me only two shirts (neither cream).
By now, I could have scoured the mall in my take-no-prisoners mood. This had taken 1 1/2 hours. I tried one more site: Men's Wearhouse (http://www.menswearhouse.com). I'd gone into one of the stores for the first time during the holidays. I was able to see shirts by selecting categories such as "color." Though there was no cream, "ecru" looked cream--almost white--on my screen. Here was a Cricketeer shirt for $32.50 ("a value of $50") in the style I wanted. Done for $50.11. (I paid $15 for rush shipping plus $2.61 tax.)
The two shirts arrived on time. The Jos. A. Banks one was clearly more ecru (or tannish) than the cream-colored Men's Wearhouse one that was supposedly ecru.
I threw in the towel and had the father I was shopping for try them on early. He liked the Jos. A. Banks shirt better; it fit well, and he decided it offered an option to cream. But when the shirt was unbuttoned, threads from the buttonholes clung to the buttons, which I viewed as a sign of poor quality. (Meanwhile, the Web site had responded promptly to my e-mail and deducted 20% and the cost of regular shipping. Apparently, I hadn't scrolled down far enough on the order page to see the spot for entering discount codes.)
The Men's Wearhouse shirt was tight at the neck and across the shoulders and definitely had a yellow, not cream, hue. A return.
I called Nordstrom at the Glendale Galleria to find out whether any cream-colored Nordstrom dress shirts had come in. "No, the one we have is more tan," the clerk said, again.
Here's his gift this Father's Day: I'll keep him out of cream. Obviously, it's not in style.
Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor at The Times.