The Ultimate Guide to the Button-Up Shirt

Unbuttoning the button-up!

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opening image white button down

The button-up shirt often tops “fashion classics” lists in magazines, and it’s likely that you have at least one in your closet already. These shirts are usually styled to be more business-y and less college, but that doesn’t have to be the case! A chic button-up shirt can work just as well in the bookstore as it does in the boardroom.

If you want to learn more about the button-up’s history, see how to style it in two college-appropriate ways, and get some shopping tips for the piece, scroll down for more:

A Brief History of the Button-Up Shirt

Okay, guys, this history is an interesting one. Unlike other pieces in the Ultimate Guide series, the button-up has a confusing and conflicting history (probably due to the many variations and names for the piece, and whether you call it a button-up or button-down). So with that in mind, let’s get started.

Tailorstore suggests that the first iteration of the button-up came to popularity during the middle ages: it served as a collarless but buttoned-up undershirt or night-shirt for men.

Then, in the 19th century, the shirt took a turn into sportswearLawrence Covell says the shirt, in a long sleeve oxford style, was used in games of polo. The players would button up their shirts and button down the collars. Hence, button-up refers to the shirt itself whereas button-down refers to the collar.

During this time, Tailorstore emphasizes, the shirt had class implications. Wealthy men would have crisp, tailored button-ups while poorer men would have home-made shirts, sans-buttons. There weren’t any mass-produced shirts at the time so the quality and style distinctions were more clear and obvious.

In the late 19th century the button-up shirt began to be mass-produced. In the early 20th century, after the end of World War I, the mass-produced button-up became widely popular with men everywhere. Soon, pockets were added to the shirts.

Eventually, this shirt made its way to women’s wardrobes and shifted its materials and collar style into the modern iteration we have today.

2 Ways to Wear the Button-Up

Below the same white button-up is styled in two different ways. I wanted to style a white button-up as it’s the most classic and versatile style of the piece.

Ease In

outfit 1

Products: Shirt, Cutoffs, Necklace, Flats

Ease into this more formal piece by pairing it with some casual classics. Half-tuck it into denim cutoffs in front (and let it hang out in back). Unbutton it enough so the trendy long choker can hang inside the neckline. Throw on lace-up flats to complete the look.

Go For It

Products: Shirt, Skirt, Necklace, Shoes

Go for it by embracing the business-y side of the button-up, mixing the shirt with a pencil skirt. Keep it from going too business-y by embracing bold color and a cool fabric with this coral leather skirt. Pair a necklace with the look: Either layer it over a completely buttoned-up shirt or unbutton a few buttons and wear it underneath. Nude two-strap heels complete the look.

3 Tips for Buying a Button-Up Shirt

  • Consider investing in a high-quality piece. The button-up, while totally college-friendly, is a perfect piece for work. If you invest a little more money now, you can get a shirt in a nicer material, that’s better made, and that will last longer.
  • Consider color and fabric. While I focused on the classic white button-up in this article, there are some other cool and classic options. A casual chambray shirt, for example, may be a better choice if you want a more everyday look.
  • Look for button-ups in stores you might not normally try. Although our favorite stores might not normally let us down, it’s unlikely that you’ll find the perfect basic white shirt at ASOS or Urban Outfitters. The ones you find there likely won’t stand the test of time. Instead, you may want to look at more upscale, business-oriented stores like Nordstrom or Ann Taylor.

What do you think?

How do you feel about the button-up? Do you have any tips on how to wear them or where to buy them? Are there any other pieces you’d like to see an ultimate guide on? Leave a comment and let me know!

4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to the Button-Up Shirt”

  1. I’d also try Uniqlo for shirts, they have a line of relatively cheap good quality shirts in a bunch of colours.

  2. I love button up shirt but I can never find any that either don’t gape open at my chest or aren’t super baggy around my waist. Anyone know of any brand that fit hourglass figures?

  3. I’m obsessed with button-up shirts. It’s def a closet staple. I like the ones with a little stretch in them and have a stiffer collar because the fabric wrinkles less and the collar doesn’t awkwardly fold over.


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