First, let’s clarify what a “button down” dress shirt is. Many guys refer to any shirt with buttons down the front as a “button down” dress shirt. In business dress “fashion speak”…”button down” refers to the collar treatment of a shirt only.
The principle collar treatments would include (i) point collar, (ii) spread collar, (iii) button down collar.
The first two collars have no buttons on the collars to keep the collars down or in place. These collars rely on “stays” which are typically removable and go into a small sleeve sewn into the bottom of the collar.
The button down collar has buttons at the tips of the points.
Interestingly, the origins of the button down collar go back to returning US soldiers who passed through England. This is an adaptation of the collar worn by English polo players. It was popularized by John Brooks (Brooks Brothers) after he had discovered it being worn by English polo players in order to prevent flapping during a match. ..So the button down collar is, by definition, a casual shirt. Its popularity in the US probably peaked prior to the 21st century but was always much less common in Britain and the remainder of Europe. A recent Men’s Clothing Industry survey disclosed that 60% of the dress shirts sold today feature some form of the “spread collar”.
CHRISTOPHER’S CUSTOM answer to the question “should one wear a button down shirt with a suit?” has always been a firm “NO”.
Here is a quick collar choice summary for different situations:
1) Suit: Your shirt if wearing a tie, should be one with a collar without buttons. The style is a personal choice and should be influenced by your physical traits…big, tall, stout, thin, etc. We’ll discuss this in a subsequent blog.
2) Suit: Your shirt if going “open-collar” should be the same…perhaps a slightly higher collar stance so that it stands up and away from your lapels. A custom shirt or a better business casual shirt will have such a collar. Visit www.alwaysgetlucky.com to see some of today’s popular casual shirt looks.
3) Sport Coat: Essentially the same rules as with a suit. If you prefer a very “preppy” look, a button down with a tie would be acceptable here.
4) No Coat- business casual, weekends: The fashion collar of choice today is one without buttons. If you desire a button but want something other than “your father’s button down”, you might choose a higher stance, coupled with a wider collar with buttons that are offset from the points by an extra ¼ inch. This will provide a distinctive button down, that will not have a “preppy appearance”. If, on the other hand, you are seeking a “preppy” look, then you simply go with a traditional button down collar.
Or put another way, there are very few E.E. Cummings in either literature or style. When you break the rules you will, more often than not, make the message (which is “hey I’m professional,” or “hey, I’m attractive”) harder to receive.