It’s a hotly debated topic, but here’s the bottom line as to when you should or shouldn’t be wearing a button down, but first, a bit of background.
The button down is a sports shirt, there’s no two ways about it, it was a casual shirt and invented for the Polo field in America. Jump to the 50s and you’d see swathes of stylish, Ivy League, preppy young men wearing these button down sports collars across campus with neat chinos and crew neck sweatshirts, a timeless look you will agree but not a formal look. Eventually the button down became popular closer to home, but due to its sporty and casual heritage there has always been a British stigma against wearing it as formalwear where as our American counterparts are willing to wear theirs to work on Wall St! There’s still a bit of a divide in opinion across the Atlantic on the button down, but we’re about to offer our carefully considered and balanced views on the matter so sit up and pay attention!
There’s differing degrees of formality when it comes to suiting up, some are button down territory and others simply are not.
DO wear a button down if…
- You’re going for a smart/casual look with an Oxford shirt, classic crew neck knit and dark denim or a formal trouser, this is a great look, timeless and appropriate for most days and nights!
- You’re wearing a ‘sports coat’ or a jersey blazer. This is a popular look Stateside and one that we really dig, go tie-less, pull on a pair of classic chinos and some brogues and you’ve got yourself a timeless smart/casual look.
- You’re wearing a soft shouldered suit. These are much more informal than a traditional suit and look great with a button down shirt. A pair of desert boots are appropriate, as is a silk knitted tie.
- You’re wearing a suit to a party or less formal occasion. Keep the suit slim or skinny fit, same with the tie if you wear one. An Oxford or brogue shoe is this look’s best friend.
DON’T wear a button down if…
- You’re going to a black tie, this calls for a spread or a wing tip.
- You’re going to a wedding, something a little more formal is usually required (unless the dress code is relaxed and you know you can get away with it 100%, don’t take chances).
- You work in finance, as a lawyer or in the city in a job you’re required to suit up for with a strict dress code. You may think you’re being a little more adventurous or quirky but don’t bother unless you’ve earned the right to exercise your sartorial quirks, best leave this one to the media types and stick with a point or semi-spread collar.
- You’re planning on wearing a big silky tie in a Windsor knot. Just no, it doesn’t work with a button down.
If in doubt and it’s a formal occasion it’s best to leave the button down at home, however if you’re confident and the occasion calls for it, the button down is now much more widely accepted to wear with a blazer or suit and even a tie as in the past these were also no-nos for us snappy dressing Brits. Just stick to our rules and you’ll never fall foul of the complicated formalwear etiquette surrounding the button down collar.