The shirts I’m talking about today are not soft and silky button-down blouses. These button-downs — also referred to as button-through or button-up tops — are SHIRTS and there is a difference. They are more stiff than the silky blouse variety, and look more like a traditional menswear item. I know that some cotton, linen-blend, velvet and flannel shirts are soft and drapey, but when they’re in that typical menswear silhouette, they’re shirts and not blouses in my mind.
This collection shows examples of what I mean.
When I started my style consulting business almost 14 years ago, very few of my clients wore button-down shirts of any description. Many had them languishing in their closets, either perfectly dry-cleaned or in need of a press. The perception was that button-down shirts were too boxy, corporate, stiff, strict, dowdy, formal, severe, uncomfortable and unattractive. And the maintenance of button-down shirts was enough to put most people off, even when they were lukewarm about the style.
These negative perceptions went on for a decade. I was one of the few people I knew who loved and wore button-down shirts. But in the last few years, the tables have unexpectedly turned. Many of my clients are into wearing button-down shirts these days, thanks to a wider assortment of fabrics, playful patterns, flattering cuts, and the semi-tucking styling technique. The fact that shirts are less rigid and formal has made all the difference. They do not need to be fitted at the waist, which was how we used to think a button-down should be. That’s a dated style concept and things have moved on. Most of my clients prefer their button-downs soft, fluid to very roomy, and with a semi-tuck. Some will wear more fitted styles too.
There is no consistency across my clients. It applies across all bust sizes and shoulder widths. Apple, hourglass, inverted triangle, rectangular and pear-shaped figures alike. Size US00P up to 20W across petites, regular and tall are enjoying a shirt their way. Some wear casual versions instead of T-shirts because they look more grown-up and polished. The button-down shirt has gained momentum.
Despite my love for button-downs, I did at one point force myself NOT to wear or buy button-down shirts for three years because it was a style goal to soften my style and amp up the romantic and pretty. That meant wearing all sorts of soft blouses and no shirts. I passed on all my old button-downs to Dress for Success apart from one tartan shirt. This was hard because shirts are a very easy and natural fit for my body type. I can try on a button-down shirt and it’s a slam-dunk winner 99% of the time. My long neck loves a popped shirt collar. I like their preppy and crisp integrity. They are marvelous for my tucked and semi-tucked top style. But I throughly enjoyed my own “no-shirt challenge” which was a fun change in itself.
On this leg of my style journey, I’m back to wearing button-down shirts because I’m in the mood for classic tops. Absence makes the heart grow fonder! I started wearing my old tartan shirt with white jeans in the Spring and Summer because my shirt bug was back. This time round though, and very importantly, my shirts need to be softer, looser and more playful. I’ve since added four more classics to my tops capsule. Some are strictly Summer shirts because they’re linen blends. I reach for my shirts all the time because they’re like T-shirts for my style. Now that I also layer them under pullovers “school-uniform style”, I wear them in colder weather too.
Here is my current modern classic shirt collection, and I will happily add more.
Over to you. Do button-down shirts feature in your style, and has this changed over the years?