10 Things to Know About: Wearing Button-Down Shirts

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Someone was telling us recently that they didn’t wear button-down shirts, didn’t even know how to wear ’em. So, here ya go…

1. If you’re going for the crisp cotton look, go for non-iron. Brooks Brothers makes a great fitted non-iron shirt. Thomas Pink (very high end, typically thought of as a man’s store) makes amazing button-down shirts for women, also, with interesting prints and a lovely fit.

2. Collars and jackets: Collars should stay on the inside of the jacket, not splayed open on the outside.

3. If you have a white shirt, try not to put it in the dryer in order to avoid yellowing. Actually, in our experience the iron-free shirts look best when hung dry. (Just pull them taut, a bit, when they’re wet and you’re hanging on the hanger — it always seems to help the fabric figure out where to go.)

4. If you’ve got a French cuff shirt, do not bother with those tiny knots you can buy at places for $10 — you’re wasting your money and time, because they take forever to put in. Instead, make an investment in a good pair of cufflinks — Thomas Pink has great ones; Nordstrom also has some beautiful ones right now.

5. Tucking: If you’re wearing a fitted, button-down shirt (such as the ones from Pink) you can experiment with how it looks untucked. The key is that it can’t be too long — it should hit mid-hip, and no matter what should not be longer than your suit jacket. Silky shirts should always be tucked.

6. If you want a very clean tucked-in look, there are some stores that make leotard-like button-down shirts. See, for example, Victoria’s Secret or Donna Karan.

7. Non-traditional style idea: Wear a short-sleeved button-down shirt beneath a vest or even a t-shirt. (We’ve given up trying to wear anything but silky button-downs beneath full-sleeve sweaters — the static cling gets us every time.)

8. Non-traditional style idea, Part 2: Wear a camisole/tank top underneath the button-down shirt, tuck in the shirt, and only button it up halfway, so people can see the camisole beneath. See Allison Janey in West Wing.

9. Gaping: If your shirt is gaping, this could mean a few things. A) You need a larger size, and should take it to a tailor to get it to fit you the way you want it to. B) You need to wear a camisole beneath it, so when you turn to the side people don’t get a view of your bra. C) You can experiment with Hollywood Tape and so forth to keep it from gaping — we’ve found the camisole is just easier.

10. Beneath the slightly sheer white shirt: Wear a bra that matches your skin tone, and a white camisole, no matter how convinced you are that no one can see through it. We’ve tried the nude camisole, and trust us: white just looks better.

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  1. what brand of camisole works well w/ button-downs?

  2. Hi, Fan! Bunnyshop did an interesting roundup on camisoles a while back — here’s the link: http://www.bunnyshop.org/bunnyshop/2008/05/the-perfect-cam.html.

    We tend to wear Gap, Banana, or Old Navy camis — simpler the better.

  3. Anonymous :

    who makes the longest dress shirts — theory? monaco? my experience w/pink is that they (even the slim fit ones) have a customarily british (i.e. boxy) cut. is it best to just get a men’s shirt and have it tailored? seems painstaking and expensive, plus risks raising an eyebrow around the office.

    i have a michael phelps esque torso issue, ie, torso comprises 2/3 of body length. everything comes untucked. pls pls halp? any tips appreciated, thanks

  4. I really like the look of the collar outside the jacket–is that out now? Or was it never in?

  5. Res Ipsa — as in, the collar flipped up? I think that style can still be considered “in” but has to be done with the appropriate insouciance and understanding that you might still be viewed as a slightly “rebel” look.

    As in, the collar of your shirt laid over your jacket? Many people do that look, but we’ve never been a fan. (Many people also hem their pants too short!) Hillary is a big offender of both of those things.

  6. Yes, collar laid flat against the jacket. Hmm. Maybe I will re-think this. I don’t think that the “popped collar” look would go over well in our office!

  7. BigLaw Recruiter :

    Can anyone recommend a place for big busted women to buy button down shirts that don’t gape?

    • @Big Law Recruiter- I am a permanent convert to Rebecca And Drew shirts. They close without gapping in the buttons because they are fit by bra size. Genius!

    • Campbell and Kate does white button down shirts for large busted women – their motto “CEO shirts for DEF women”

    • sew little press studs into the gapes and they will sit right best trick I ever learned from a tailor

  8. banana republic makes nice fashionable, reasonablt priced button downs. But it doesn’t matter if it’s tight or lose, one is always @ risk for a wardrobe malfunction. The buttons are crappy and pop out. It doesnt matter if it’s silk or cotton. I have to wear a camisole and use pins in between buttons to stay modest. grrrr

  9. Delta Sierra :

    IT Gal – you can make the buttonholes a teeny bit smaller if you put a stitch or two at each end. Holds the button better.

  10. dramatikz :

    I’ve had great luck with Express button downs! I love the v neck collar!

  11. BigLaw Recruiter – you asked about button downs for women with larger breasts – try Rebecca & Andrews. They size by bra size and body shape, and use extra buttons to avoid gapping. Expensive, but they actually fit.

  12. legallizard :

    I would strongly recommend the Foxcroft shirts from Nordstroms. While the shirts run in the $60-80 range, they are well worth it. They actually design the shirts to fit women with busts. And they make petite ones too!! The large majority of their shirts require no ironing. And the available colors and designs change seasonally. I started buying them about five years ago. Even my oldest shirts are still wrinkle-free and fit wonderfully with no gaping.

  13. Erica Foley :

    Another approach to the “gaping” problem: invest in a really good minimizer bra (and be sure to get a proper fitting!). It’s way cheaper than having all your button-down shirts tailored, and will give you a much cleaner look all around. Oh yeah – as noted above make sure the bra is nude colored and NOT white!

  14. The non-iron shirts from Brooks Bros are AMAZING!!! I like them fitted or the semi-fitted (french cuff) but they tend to be too short on the sides, even with Brooks Bros. suits.

    As for camis…I’ve found the ones at Target work splendidly. They’re perfect length, perfect heighth and perfect fit!

    I also put the collar outside the jacket…it just doesn’t sit right inside w/o the little buttons that men’s shirts have to hold them down…don’t know what to do about that! I tried them inside for awhile but everyone said it just wasn’t looking right.

  15. I have a tailor put a small metal snap at the “gaping point” of my favorite Theory stretch cotton oxfords. Works great.

  16. Re the longer button-downs, you’ll need shirts with tall sizing. So far I like J.Crew the best, but BananaRepublic and Gap also have talls. The J.Crew shirts are truly long enough to stay tucked in. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to carry non-iron versions.

    I love Brooks Brothers’ non-iron shirts, but like others have mentioned, find they do not stay tucked well on those of us with slightly longer torsos (especially with the lower waistlines of modern suits)! Actually, my major problem with Brooks Brothers is the lack of tall sizes. Lovely materials and workmanship, but if it’s too short, it just doesn’t work.

  17. My boyfriend introduced me to the Brooks Brothers’ non-iron shirts, and they’re the only shirt’s I’ll buy now. Not only am I terrible at ironing, but I find that makers of women’s shirts tend to assume that if you have a large chest you must be huge all over, leading to an “I’m wearing a tent” effect. Brooks Brothers’ most fitted style actually fits my top and my waist nicely, and doesn’t gape, either.

  18. You can find great button down shirts that fit according to bra size (no gaps) at Rebcca & Drew.com or at their brick and mortar store in NYC.

  19. Rebecca & Drew

  20. Young Lawyer :

    I just want to agree with the comments about Brooks Brothers’ non-iron. I personally think they are a god-send for fit, look, and practicality.

  21. Re: the large bust button down – buy from Bratique Helene. She makes them just for busty ladies and uses tiny hook enclosures with almost no spacing so gaping is impossible. A blouse of hers was featured on this site – check the archives.
    Every other blouse I have, I have to put in an extra safety pin to avoid gaping.

  22. Oh…and I’m a major “collar offender,” I guess. I love the look of the collar outside the jacket… am I out of touch?

    • I think the collar outside the jacket is great in a more casual look, like a crisp white shirt outside a navy blazer, not really in a dressy suit.

  23. It’s nice to read the comments here. I now have a new solution to gapping. But I was initially confused when I saw the referral to “button-down shirts” because I always thought “button-down” referred to the collar of a shirt and that shirts with buttons were just button shirts or button front shirts. Great conversation here, though.

    • You are right – a “button down shirt” is an oxford type shirt where the shirt collar itself has the two tiny buttons. It’s the collar, not the front placket, that the term refers to.

  24. I’m surprised to see Corporette recommending the “collar in” look for women. Isn’t the traditional rule that men wear their collar in (partly because they have ties) and women go collar out? Isn’t that the reason the majority of womens dress shirts don’t have collar buttons? I graduated from a prestigious law school in 2006, where the career services office would literally stop you and “fix” your collar if they saw that you “forgot” to pull your collar out. It is trendy right now (you can even find womens shirts with collar buttons), but I’m not sure fashion-forward is always the right choice for a woman in a conservative business setting.

    (Needless to say, the popped collar look gives me shivers.)

  25. My solution to the gaping problem – I have the button strip sewn together from below the second button to above the last button and it becomes a pull on shirt. I still get the look of a button down shirt with no gaping. I started doing this because no matter what size shirt I tried I would always have the gaping and this works perfectly.

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