The Hunt: Button-Down Shirts

button-down-shirts-for-womenSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

Of all The Hunt features we’ve done, I’m kind of surprised that we’ve never done one on the best button-downs for women — a crisp white blouse is a classic for the office.  (All of these shirts come in white, even though I’ve mostly featured colored shirts so you can see the details better.) Now, a few points: yes, yes, most women’s collars do not button down, so these should all properly be called “button front” shirts. But most of these stores call them button-down shirts, and that’s what I’ve always heard, so I’m going to go with “button down.” A second point: a big decision (as far as blouses go) is whether you want one that is non-iron. Personally, my iron is gathering dust because I always buy the non-iron ones for myself — but I have heard (but not researched) that there are some health concerns regarding the chemicals that treat a fabric to make it “non-iron.” So — readers, if you HAVE researched the subject, please weigh in. Finally, two random tips: a) check out our tips on top 10 ways to wear a button-down shirt, and b) as a laundry tip, I’ve had great success with putting the shirts in the dryer for no more than about 15 minutes and then hanging them up to air dry. Readers — which are your favorite button-down shirts? Do you purchase non-iron shirts? And what are your best tips for laundering (and wearing) a button-down shirt?

button-down-shirts-for-women-1In terms of pricing, you can’t beat The Limited for this highly-rated button-down shirt (which apparently was seen in Vogue and InStyle recently).  The black and white are $46.90, but the dark blue and purple are on sale at $34.99.  Long-Sleeve Button Down Shirt
button-down-shirts-for-women-2Another usual suspect: Ann Taylor’s “Perfect” long sleeve button down shirt, which has 190 positive reviews, is one of Kate Hudson’s “latest loves,” and is apparently so reliable that Ann Taylor only sells it online right now.  It’s available in nine colors, sizes 00-16 for regulars and petites, for $68 (but take 30% off today with code FRESHSTART).  Perfect Long Sleeve Button Down Shirt
button-down-shirts-for-women-3J.Crew has a number of iterations of the “stretch perfect shirt,” including this cute mini-gingham.  It’s on sale — was $75, now marked to $60. Stretch perfect shirt in mini-gingham
button-down-shirts-for-women-4Here is where we start to get into the non-iron stuff:  I love Brooks Brothers shirts.  I think they’re classics and they’re great quality — and you don’t have to iron them.  Note that even at the height of my BigLaw days I still wore button-downs pretty rarely, though, so you may want to reconsider the chemical question if you wear them daily.  This lovely fitted stretch shirt (shown here in pink and in blue at top) is $98.50; get two for $159 (note that they also have non-fitted shirts as well).  Non-Iron Fitted Stretch Dress Shirt with XLA(Note that Banana Republic, Jones New York (in regular, petites and plus), Land’s End (in regular and plus) and Eddie Bauer (in regular, petites and talls) all sell non-iron shirts as well.)
button-down-shirts-for-women-5Another popular subset to the crisp-white-shirt group: the shirts fitted for bustier women, all in the interest of preventing gaping shirts.  Pictured is The Shirt by Rochelle Behrens; I would also put Carissa Rose and Rebecca & Drew in this category.  Sample price point for The Shirt: The Skinny Shirt costs $132 and comes in six colors in sizes XS-XL.  The Shirt by Rochelle Behrens 
button-down-shirts-for-women-6Ah, Thomas Pink: I love you so.  When I want to splurge on a button-down shirt, I head to Thomas Pink (pro tip: wait for a sale).  The shirts are classic and made of beautiful fabrics.  (Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like everything from the UK is somehow friendlier to a busty figure, even if it isn’t advertised as such.)  Also in the “splurge” price range:  Anne Fontaine, Boss Black, and possibly Charles Tyrwhitt (which I’ve always heard mentioned in the same breath as Thomas Pink but actually looks really affordable right now, with shirts marked more than 60% off to $59ish). The Katherine shirt is $150, and available in UK sizes 4-22. Katherine Shirt

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Comments

  1. NYC Meet Up says:

    NYC Meet Up this Wednesday (3/27) at 8PM at Grey Dog’s Chelsea. Hope you can make it!

  2. katie says:

    Other good ones in the “splurge” category are Facconable and Pink Tartan (a Canadian company but available at Saks). They’re great fitting and unique designs.

  3. IDoNotLikeTheConeofShame says:

    I love the look of button down shirts, but I am a little busty, and struggle with fit issues. Anyone else have this issue, and have you had better luck with any specific brands?

    • Kerrycontrary says:

      I’m busty and I’ve had good luck with the jcrew perfect shirt. It’s the only button down I wear on a regular basis. I usually go one size up though to accomodate my bust.

    • Sydney Bristow says:

      I’d like to know this too. I don’t own any right now because I just never wear them since its such a pain to prevent gaping. I’ve been tempted to try the ones like Carissa Rose but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

    • momentsofabsurdity says:

      There used to be a company that advertised on This Site with button front shirts sold by bra size (or at least, specifically designed for larger chests). I am blanking on the name, but maybe someone else can remember?

    • Olivia Pope says:

      I will be monitoring this thread for this very issue!

    • Carrie says:

      I love button downs but struggle with the same busty issue. BiuBiu has a nice inexpensive button down, but it looks rather casual in person with lots of seams and darting. I’m eagerly waiting for my first Rebecca & Drew button down; the sample in their Houston store fit wonderfully.

    • Joan Holloway says:

      Also look at Campbell & Kate. Unlike The Shirt, which only adds an extra hidden button at the bust, Campbell & Kate shirts are actually fitted for an hourglass shape, meaning they have more fabric at the bust and less at the waist, thanks to waist and bust darts.

      Rebecca & Drew is similar except they use princess seams. With princess seams, you need to be sure your bust apex matches the apex of the princess seams. If your bust line falls lower than that, you can end up with a little air pocket of fabric above your apex. If this happens, the trick is to make sure you’re in the most lifting bra possible.

    • Plan B says:

      I’ve given up on button down shirts for these very issues re: fit.

      • Same here – will never wear one again. Silk blouses, yes. Wrap/faux-wrap, yes. Not cotton, not button-down type.

        • Same here. My problem isn’t just bustiness, it’s that cotton button-down shirts often have wide arms and shoulders, so even if it fits both my bust and waist, the shoulder seams often stick out oddly and the arms just flap around. Silk and polyester blouses are much easier to fit since they’re often supposed to look flow-y.

    • Beatrice says:

      Thomas Pink makes beautiful shirts with room for curves.

      • Beatrice says:

        P.S…….there is a Thomas Pink outlet in Orlando. It’s in one of the outlet malls just off I-4 and International Drive.

    • Bonnie says:

      I had given up on button down shirts until I tried a Brooks Brothers fitted shirt. It fits me perfectly, with no gaping.

    • phillygirlruns says:

      for basic, everyday “workhorse” shirts, i’ve had luck with express button-front shirts – they are relatively inexpensive but hold up well. i am a 32DD with a 28″ waist, wear a 4 or 6 in their editor pants depending on the material, and buy the button-down shirts in a M or an 8 – sizing up in the shirts makes them far more office appropriate.

      if you have the means, i’d strongly recommend getting shirts made. i have a few button-fronts that i’ve gotten from my tom james rep – while i don’t think their suits are at all worth the cost, i do think their shirts are. i think they ranged from $125-145 apiece depending on fabric choices and how many you bought at a time.

      • Joan Holloway says:

        Another good low-cost option is the JCP Worthington line.
        However, I’m not a giant fan of Tom James shirts for women who are larger in the bust than you, phillygirlruns–unless they’ve continued to improve since I had one made for me in 2011. It didn’t gap at my bust and it fit my shoulders, but the style was pretty boxy because of all the fabric falling from the bust line.

        • phillygirlruns says:

          the ones i bought this year have darts in them, which i understand is a pretty new feature for them – i agree, without darts the shirts would be enormous through the waist, which completely negates the point of having a shirt made in the first place…

          • Joan Holloway says:

            Glad to hear! Mine had waist darts but not bust darts, and I’d heard they were working to improve their shirts for women.

    • Nancy says:

      I just found Thomas Pink fantastic for larger bust sizes! The ones with the stretch material in them.

  4. I do need a good “go-to” brand button-down shirt. I wear suits regularly and I like the classic look (with or without a suit). I have so many but it seems like there’s something about each that I don’t like – some pull across the chest, some of the collars stand too high (and I always get makeup on the collar), some are too stiff and uncomfortable…

  5. I’m busty with broad shoulders and a thin torso. I finally caved and bought two custom shirts from Ascot Chang. Best decision I ever made considering I wear a button down at least once a week.

  6. Hey Ladies:

    I am on the hunt for a cross-body bag good for my daily commute. I want something with a thick-ish strap, and large enough to fit a notebook/ipad. I’ve been looking at the Marc Jacobs large sasha cross-body and the Tory Burch Amanda bags, which are a little more than I want to spend (around $200). Any suggesstions?

    Thanks!

  7. Emily says:

    I like the look of button downs but not on me. Something is always off about them. They’re too small for me in the shoulders, too short in the sleeves, there’s gapping between the buttons at my chest (this forever bothers me. I’m a 34C. my chest isnt that big. why is this an issue??), and finally/most importantly, I can’t get these to stay tucked in or look nice unless my pants are too big and then I look like a bag lady who’s pants are too big. Sigh. Last I checked, the Ann Taylor button down had enough room in the chest.

    • Jackie says:

      Truth – my issue with button downs besides the gaping is keeping them tucked in to the level that they still look sharp. Also, being a woman with a pretty intense hourglass shape (my waist is inexplicably small while my hips are large and in charge), button-downs never do anything for my figure. Yay for being in technology and never needing to suit up!

    • Have you tried sizing up from your usual size? I typically wear a larger size in cotton button down shirts than I do in tshirts and silk blouses. As for the staying tucked issue, I usually tuck mine into my underwear and they tend to stay put. You could also try a body suit. Can’t speak to current quality (and I’m normally not a fan of their clothes) but I got some in the past from VS and was very happy. The ones I had were white and blue, so not sure if this is the same, but it’s a good solution for the staying put problem. http://tinyurl.com/afm968h

      • Yep, I tuck mine into the tops of my pantyhose/tights.

      • Sizing up isn’t really an option because then everything would be too big on me in the torso. I know I could get it tailored but I don’t want to go through that much effort for something I’m indifferent towards.

        I’ve never seen anyone actually vouch for the body suits. I’ve found them intriguing but haven’t heard any feedback (oh how I wish VS would allowing customer reviews on their website). I’ll have to give them a try.

    • I don’t generally wear them either – the collar ends up sliding back farther than it’s supposed to. And unless I get a tall size, the body and sleeves are rarely long enough. And there are enough other shirting options for women that I generally don’t sweat it. I’ve just learned not to buy them.

  8. Dulcinea says:

    For those of you who use heatless curling methods – like velcro rollers or “headband curling,” what styling products do you use?

    I find that whenever I curl my hair it gets really frizzy. I have been using Aussie philosophy mousse, and trying to tame the frizz with some J freida serum, but these products seem to not work very well and/or create ugly white flakes and flake off. Suggestions appreciated! (Ideally drug store brands)

    • I either “plop” with Aveda “Be Curly” and my own wave spray (10 parts water, 1-2 parts sea salt, .5 part coconut oil, 0.25 part vodka to keep the bacteria away, and a couple drops of essential oil), or do headband curls with no product and add B&B Brilliantine to muss everything up a bit after I take the headband out.

  9. minimize says:

    One of those days where I just want to give away all my clothes and buy 5 shirts, 5 pants, 5 skirts, and two sets of weekend clothes! Am I the only one who thinks this?

    • Nonny says:

      Oh yes, all the time. My closet is a constant work in progress, mostly because it needs to be refined and whittled down.

      • minimize says:

        Have you been successful with the pare down ? I envy the women who can do this. Thr funny thing is I wear the same outfits all the time. I read somewhere that women wear about 30 to 40 percent of their wardrobe. I’m about to just toss everything in a big trash bag, drop it at goodwill and speed away like the langolier is after me!

        • Nonny says:

          I’m working on it all the time. Over the past couple of seasons I have been doing my version of Project 333, which is really helping me focus on what I actually need and use. I still have problems getting rid of things, though, because I generally only buy things that are good quality and that I really like. Having said that, though, I’ve gotten rid of bags and bags and stuff, which I find totally embarrassing – and yet I still have too much! I only have one body, and I can only wear one outfit at a time – so my closet should really reflect that reality.

          • minimize says:

            ” I only have one body, and I can only wear one outfit at a time – so my closet should really reflect that reality.”

            So true. I just googled Project 333 and it is very fascinating. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    • Susie says:

      I just cleaned my closet this weekend, got my pants down to 5 each black, grey, and grown/tan, plus 8 jeans. I think I left about 10 skirts, and decided skirts in colors other than black or grey is definitely a hole in my wardrobe. Shirts/sweaters probably about 30 work appropriate and about the same for casual wear. Plus about 6 suits (I wear them only occasionally) and about 20 dresses, not including the special occasion dresses I have stashed in my 2nd bedroom along with my coats. This was hard enough, I could never do what you are proposing!

      • minimize says:

        Wow, that pruning is quite impressive, Susie! I think your method is more realistic too–and probably means fewer laundry loads per month whereas I would have to wash my 5 shirts every weekend. I got home and attempted to prune starting with skirts but then I went into analysis paralysis picking out the skirts that could be worn year round. Yikes. Not easy.

  10. MBA Honor Society? says:

    Hi all,

    (Sorry for the repost.) I just received an invitation to join the Beta Gamma Sigma national honor society because of my performance in business school. I gather that this honor society is open to those who graduate in the top 20% of their class. Would this have any meaning to future hiring managers or any other possible benefit? I graduated from college Phi Beta Kappa but don’t know that it really provided any value. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was BGS for undergrad (top 7% of third years, 10% of fourth years), and that in particular carries weight with me. For what that’s worth as a data point. I do hire business grads.

    • darby says:

      I’m curious as to why you wouldn’t join it? Does it cost something? I was Phi Beta Kappa in college & agree it hasn’t really done anything of note other than stand-in as a “got good grades” signpost on a resume for a while, but it was free and hasn’t cost anything since. I’m not aware of anyone viewing it negatively. If you do put it on a resume, it might be worth noting “academic honor society” or something to that effect so people don’t assume it’s a sorority.

  11. I love the no-iron shirts, but my problem with so many button-down shirts is that the material I tend to find them in, it makes me sweat like crazy! Grr. I hate having to wash each thing in my closet a different way, but the grossness of button-downs getting all pit-stain-y despite feeling like they’re not absorbing anything — it drives me nuts.

    • Anonymous says:

      +1. I’m busty, but it’s the sweat stains that are a problem. Do they show on white shirts as much as other colors?

      • I dunno! I bet they don’t show as badly while you’re wearing them, but I bet over time they get stained permanently. I’ve given up on white shirts, though, but because I’m inept at keeping food off them, and because I work with old things in filthy boxes all day. (Why do I have to dress up?! Bah!)

    • Rufus says:

      I think that is due to the chemical that they are treated with to make them non iron.

  12. KS IT Chick says:

    I have been buying no-iron button downs from Coldwater Creek. They recently turned over from winter colors to spring, and I need to go pick up a couple to go under the gray & navy suits.

  13. Divaliscious11 says:

    Charles Tyrwhitt makes nice shirts as well.

  14. LackingLuster says:

    I’ve given up on button downs. I used to buy the Brooks Brothers non-iron (regular and fitted cut) then the J. Crew perfect fit (not so much), but under suits they all just look frumpy on me and they are uncomfortable. Add to that the great collar in or out debate, and I’ll go with a nice shell any day.

  15. I can’t tell you how timely this post was. I spent part of my weekend scouring the mall for a crisp, white button-down. Unbelievably, they aren’t that common in department stores without some scalloped neck, or buttons that start at the cleavage line. Add the fact that I’m busty on top and smaller on the bottom and I’m usually struggling to find great fitted tops that are still appropriate. Glad to see you round-up some less spendy options – I’ll have to turn my attention online from what I can see!

  16. Senior Attorney says:

    You all are going to think I’m nuts, but after searching high and low for the perfect white shirt for my short-waisted, big-busted, short-armed figure, I finally found it at Costco, of all places! Kirkland brand, no-iron, cost something like $16.99, washes like a dream. It comes in white and a few pastel-y stripes. I think I’m gonna go back and get a second one for backstock!

  17. first year associate says:

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned custom shirts. I never liked the white button-down, simply because all off-the-rack shirts were a poor fit for my frame. Now I wear one at least two times a week. No gaping at the chest, adjusted collar width to fit the size of my face, slimmed sleeves… And that each shirt only costed me $60? I am addicted.

  18. What makes a shirt no-iron is basically formaldehyde. Which is my lung doctor’s no 1 candidate for developing asthma. So yes, on the whole I iron.

    And busty ladies, a little c*tte search will get you lots of advice from the comments on potential good fit.

  19. I’m a UK shopper so Charles Tyrwhitt for the win !!! Their 4 for 100 pounds deals are the reason my closet has more shirts than blouses :-D
    I solve the peekaboo problem by sewing on snapbuttons.
    I’m a size 6-8 so for me, CT is the best. Other good options (for UK) are Hobbs and the usual European labels like Zara and H&M.

    • chocochat says:

      curious, what’s their sizing, compared to other European brands (Zara, Benetton, Mango, H&M, etc.)?

      • CT sizes a bit larger/roomier than Zara. So if you’re an XS in Zara (UK) that’s a size 6 for CT. I should ideally get them altered to fit me better around the bust (like Clare Underwood in House of Cards) but for now I solve the loose fit by wearing a more fitted sleeveless sweater on top (keeps me warm as bonus).

        All tailors close by 5 and I’m too lazy to go out on Saturdays :-(

  20. I’ve had very good luck with Talbot’s button-up shirts; they’re all made from the same basic pattern, which fits my somewhat curvy, size 12 / 36 C figure really well. I’ve never had a problem with gaps, and they’re nicely tailored to come in at the stomach, so it doesn’t look like I’m wearing a giant box.

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