Button-downs: Why, How, and Where

So you know, button down shirts? The shirts that style experts deem to be wardrobe staples despite the fact that they only fit and flatter a small portion of the population? Turns out that many of you hate ’em. Like, with the fire of a thousand suns. Because they really, truly don’t work for women with large breasts*, and can look a mess on plus-sized women and apple figures, and they’re a pain in the ass to maintain, and they just don’t GO with the lifestyles of toddler moms, fitness instructors, or art teachers.

Not to sound like a broken record, but if you hate something, do not wear it. Doesn’t matter who says it’s a must-have or a classic piece. Screw it. You do not need a button-down shirt to be a stylish woman. As I’ve said many times, everything in the world of style is subject to taste, perception, desire, need. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you get to decide. Period.

But if you can find button-down styles that work for your bod and are curious about some non-boring ways to wear and style them, read on.

Button-down shirts are a canvas. Like many items that are deemed “wardrobe staples,” they require some stylistic input from their wearer to look interesting, flattering, and fun. Throw on a button-down shirt with a pair of black slacks and you’ll have an outfit that is staid and lifeless. Even if the shirt is in a bright, flattering color! If you want to wear this item and wear it well, it’s gonna take some work.

So, you’re saying, “Great, Sal. I’m sold. A piece of clothing that’s hard to fit and takes effort to style? I’m gonna wear mine EVERY DAY.”

And I’m saying, “Whoa, Nellie, tone down the sarcasm!”

Yes, button-downs take work. But the reason they make those “basics” lists year after year is because they make a great canvas.

A woman wearing a white tee with a scarf slung around her neck looks cool. A woman wearing a white button-down with a scarf slung around her neck looks chic. A woman wearing a long-sleeved tee under her sweater looks casual. A woman wearing a button-down under her sweater looks sophisticated. These shirts contribute lines and angles, depth and texture to any ensemble in a way that simple knits never can. Since they are seldom worn by children or teens – unless a part of a much-loathed school uniform – they broadcast messages of adulthood, stylistic refinement, worldliness. And, on some level, the observer KNOWS that you put effort into your ensemble simply by including a button-down, so you get credit for your work upfront.

Button-down shirts take effort – to wear and to maintain. But the payoff is that they up your fashionability. Just ask any French lady.

As I mentioned above, a button-down and a pair of pants is NOT a complete outfit. But there are some very simple elements you can add to make your ensemble feel pulled-together and evolved.

I’m a big fan of belting my button-downs. This simple, skinny belt makes all the difference in this outfit: Without it, my top half is a wash of boring, and my waist undefined. I also love belting button-downs using scarves. Soft cloth as a belting element is fun and flattering, especially if stiff leather or metal belts cut into your midsection.

While the combination garments that have a fake button-down peeking out from beneath a sweater or sweater vest horrify me for unknown reasons, I love the look of a real button-down worn beneath a knitted garment. ESPECIALLY if that knitted garment is bright, wildly patterned, or otherwise funky. A button-down as a base-layer can look dowdy and old-fashioned, but if it’s serving as a base-layer for something edgy and outrageous, balance is struck.

A patterned button-down can serve as a pseudo-blazer, especially if it’s constructed from thick cloth and has some shaping at the waistline. This look is fantastic for summer, when an actual blazer might have you sweating buckets.

Now my looks are still relatively simple and conservative. So let’s turn to my girl Audi of Fashion for Nerds for some richer, more daring button-down-based outfits.

Here, Audi has paired her shirt with a fitted waistcoat. Button-downs can make the small of boob appear completely flat, but this little vest mitigates that effect quite tidily. It also defines Audi’s waist and draws the eye right to it, since it’s the darkest part of the outfit. She balances the innate conservatism of the shirt and waistcoat with skinny jeans and cowboy boots, creating a fantastically funky overall look.

Pairing a long-sleeved button-down with a short-sleeved cardi instantly tones down the “office worker” vibe and amps up the “playful gamine” vibe.

And finally, a button-down with a sheer element. How fun is THIS? And I realize you might not have that exact gauzy v-neck vest in your wardrobe, but hey. Try a button-down as the base-layer for any sheer over-layer. Contrasting stiff, opaque, and conservative with supple, translucent, and sensual creates a daring, compelling look every time.

Notice how neither of us looks remotely preppy? Weird, right? Aren’t button-downs a staple of prep-wear? Why, yes they are. If you’re interested in going that route, check out Shade Clothing‘s “One Shirt, Seven Days” project for some J.Crew-esque button-down-centric looks. I stole the header graphic from them, and they have some darling suggestions.

I get all of my button-downs from three places: Banana Republic, Gap, and Ann Taylor. The end. I need shirts with defined waistlines/princess seams, a lot of stretch, and durability. I am HARD on my button-downs. Land’s End and L.L. Bean are too boxy, Old Navy and Target are too flimsy, and J.Crew aren’t stretchy enough.

However, I have only ever shopped for myself. If you’re a button-down wearer, please, please, pleeeeeease chime in and tell us where you shop AND your figure. I’d love to know where to get shirts that work for apple-shaped women, petites, tall women, and plusses.

Button-downs ain’t easy, and they ain’t for everyone. But if you’re willing to wrangle them a bit, they can add depth, sophistication, and polish to your personal style.

At least, that’s my opinion. Are you convinced? How do YOU make your button-downs sing? What do you pair them with in terms of accessories and layers? Where do you buy ’em? How do you care for ’em? Or are you staunchly against them, now and for life?

Top image courtesy Shade Clothing. Audi images courtesy Fashion for Nerds. Images of me courtesy Husband Mike, as always!

  • La Historiadora de Moda

    I wear them rarely, but I think that's because I am relatively large chested so I associate them with button gaping – if they're large enough for my bust, they usually make my waist look like it's lost in a sea of fabric. Also they speak of a preppier style than mine. That is until I read this piece. I should be more playful with my usage of button downs. Thanks for the great pointers, Sal!

  • Meli22

    I have found some really nice ones at H&M. Beautifully seamed sO i don't lose my waist, stretchy, and gorgeous. every favorite button down of mine is from H&M.

    LOVE the looks- thanks so much! I love audi's style, but there are so many elements I get confused- I am not as bold as she is either.
    Breaking down her style like this, in examples such as how to have fun with button downs, is perfect!

  • Sarah Yvonne

    I love this! I'm starting a new job and these ideas are perfect for being semi-professional and style maintaining flair and fun! I'll have to head out and find myself a button-up. I'm afraid my wardrobe is empty of one. :/


    Sarah Yvonne

  • Sara

    You do make me want one! I have one oversized button-down shirt that I wear from time to time, but reading this and seeing their versatility makes me want a proper fitting one. I love, too, that they have instant interest and details – the collar, the cuffs, the buttons.

    I fall into the large boob category of avoidance, so I think my problem with them is that it takes work to find one that fits properly and I tend to get sidetracked mid-way by things that are easier, fit-wise. But the links you provided have made me begin to rethink that, and I believe I will start out on a new shirt-hunt again next year with better focus.

  • CompassRose

    I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU on the hatred of fake button-down collar and cuffs under a sweater! What a cheap, nasty look. (Oddly, I saw a $200 one of these by some famous designer at a boutique last week. Two hundred bucks worth of cheap and nasty.)

    I find button-downs difficult to wear, not only because of the button-gaping problem, but also because my style is neither preppy nor quirky gamine. On the very occasional times I wear mine out, it often winds up in a "punk English schoolboy" sort of outfit.

    For Canadian shoppers of hourglass curves, I recommend trying Jacob for button-downs; my best ones have all come from there, and it's a bit cheaper than Banana Republic.

  • Gwen

    I have an exaggerated hourglass figure, and I think button-down shirts either in a slightly stretchy fabric or with well-done darts (or both!) are really flattering.

    However, every one I own I've sewn closed from the waist to some reasonable collar height. My coworkers really don't need to see my bra, thanks.

    And people who design stretchy button-down shirts with vertical stripes (that the button-gapping turns into sideways EKGs) – why?

    As far as making mine *interesting*, um, I'm working on that. But at least they flatter my figure.

  • Sarah

    For the biggish of boob (recently fitted, and went from wearing a 34/36 D/DD to a 32F–will wonders never cease?), I've had luck with Benetton button-downs, as well as an Express style that they haven't produced since last year. (Note–it is NOT the one they have on sale now, with no top buttons. Mine is totally classic, with buttons that go all the way to the collar.)

    Note: also for the be-boobed, Benetton suits have seriously nipped-in waists on their jackets.

    I have a couple from Macys and one from Ann Taylor as well, with more non-traditional styling. (Sarah Palin, alas, picked up the AT one on her coast-to-coast shopping spree last year and now I can't quite bring myself to wear mine. Pity. It's very fun.)

    I can't say that I don't occasionally get self-conscious that my bra is visible, but nothing beats the look of a button-down under a suit. Knits just don't look as sophisticated.

  • Angela Pea

    hate, Hate, HATE button shirts!! I am very large busted and short waisted to boot, and I have never found one that fits. Get it big enough to cover the boobs, and the cuffs are past my fingertips, the waist is gone and the shoulder seams are hitting my elbows.

    Thanks for the referal to Kelly and MyCurvyClothes. I think I'll give it a shot, because secretly, I DO LIKE button down shirts, and think they look so nice for work.

  • Marley

    My all-time favorites are the Express button-downs. They always have great colors and patterns, with interesting details. I also love their voile button-downs, with the crinkled, worn-in look. Now, they are low-cut, so they're probably not best for the larger busted, but one thing I like is that they're long- great for a long torso like mine. They also hold up well- I've had some of mine for years.

  • Anna

    I have to defend Old Navy's button downs, because it's one of the only places I ever buy them. Their button down shirts are a fantasic fit for my shape: small-busted, small-waisted, with hips and shoulders. Somehow, they always fit like a glove, with just enough stretch to move with me. However, I wear button downs pretty rarely, so I can't speak to how well they hold up over time.
    Thanks for all the great ideas!

  • Sal

    My gosh, you guys, you are a WEALTH of button-down knowledge! Especially for the large of boob … some great tips here.

  • Oranges And Apples

    I actually never thought that I had much of a problem with shirts, but now that I think about it I wear shirts to work and not much else. It's not really so much the way they look at the have to be ironed, and I'm lazy.

    But please excuse my ignorance: what are button down shirts? Where is the button that's being buttoned down? All the examples shown seem to me to just be normal shirts.

  • ranksubjugation

    I recently thrifted a Ben Sherman button-down with awesome teal and navy stripes! Fits my narrow-er shoulders, fits my large-r boobs, fits my not-so-preppy sensibilities. Woot! I also like Ann Taylor, but I think I'll Ebay/6pm me Ben Shermans from now on.

  • ranksubjugation

    I'll second the recommendation of Benetton suits!

  • Sal

    Oranges And Apples: Ahhh, nomenclature confusion! Here in the U.S. a “button-down” is a shirt that closes with buttons and a placket, like the ones shown here. It’s called that because you start buttoning at the top and button it all the way down, I suppose, though I’ve never really thought about it! As far as I know, the word “shirt” alone can be used to describe everything from tees and long-sleeved tees to henleys, shells, and non-buttoned blouses. It’s a much more generic term here in the States.

  • Linda

    I admit I'm one of the haters–I'm on the big-boobed side and they just don't suit my style or my (lack of) ironing skills. But I think what bugs me is–while I realize YOU are quite reasonably acknowledging that they don't work for a lot of people and there's no particular garment that everyone truly "must" have, the idea that they're a "wardrobe staple" tends to make those people feel like freaks. Like going out and buying one of these shirts (and jeans! another sore point) is supposed to be an easy, foolproof way to have something irreproachable to wear, even if you have to do something extra to make it actually interesting. Failing at something I perceive someone (not you) to be telling me is an easy ground-floor exercise does not feel good! I think the "basics" idea puts it into my head that one needs to master these items that are supposed to be simple (but to me are actually quite hard to fit and wear) before being licensed to shop for anything more elaborate, and therefore the Style Rule Makers would leave me back in Style Kindergarten forever. I see to be getting quite heated here. Again I KNOW YOU ARE NOT SAYING OR IMPLYING OR SUGGESTING ANY OF THESE THINGS. I'm just saying this is why the idea of this "wardrobe must-have" makes me all prickly.

  • Tina Z.

    I like the Brooks Brothers for women wrinkle-free shirts. They have several different fits, I was surprised to find one that fit my large chest and everywhere else. Your size might change depending on the fit, but it is well worth the time spent in the dressing room.

  • Faith J.

    YAY for the button down! I love them for work but not for casual wear. I mostly have Calvin Kleins, but I also just got one from Brooks Brothers, which I love because it is non-iron, 3/4 sleeve is great for my short arms. I also have some from Express for the summer. (I am petite all over if you know what I mean!)

    Great ideas for wearing them! Great post!

  • Christina Lee

    Great psot- and Audie is so cool! i buy my butoon downs from those three places too!

  • Oranges And Apples

    Thank you for clarifying, that does make sense! I always assumed a button down shirt was a special type of shirt, like the ones where the collar is held on with buttons.

  • Alli

    I tend to avoid button-downs for two main reasons: 1) I HATE ironing, and 2) no matter how I wash them, they always seem to shrink, and shirts that juuuust fit my long torso in the store become ridiculously short. Maybe I'm not buying at the right stores? Most of my button down experience comes from Old Navy or Target… maybe I need to start "buying up" a little.

    These are some great ideas, though, and make me want to give button-downs another shot. Especially since there really isn't anything better for a clean, professional look.

  • Christine

    I'm a lover of the look a crisp button down shirt. Always have been. However, it is hard for me to find shirts that fit. I'm a pear with broad shoulders and long arms, so any shirt I find that fits my more difficult to fit body parts neglects my waist, which I feel is my best feature. I belt, I wear sweater vests & waistcoats, I wear fitted blazers, all help define the waist.

    I'm a sewist, so I can alter my shirts by adding darts to make them more fitted. I'm also working on finding the perfect shirt pattern so I can make my own. I'm pretty close.

    The last shirt I bought here in Canada was at Reitmans (my go-to store for many items) and it actually fits not too bad.

  • Corrine/Frock And Roll

    These are such excellent suggestions. Thank-you so much, Sal! I don't even wear button-down shirts but hey, I now have a serious hankering to!

  • Sal

    Linda: Gah, I'm sorry to hear that basics lists make you feel so crappy! It can be disheartening to hear again and again that something is a must-have, and find again and again that said item makes you look like a pile of ass.

    My feeling is that basics lists and must-have lists are really just items that style experts agree are "classic." They've been around for years, women of many age groups like them, and they fit and flatter a handful of body types. (Not all, mind you, but a handful.) I really don't think they're mean to level judgment, or make folks feel like rookies if they can't or don't want to wear the designated items. When women are just becoming interested in style, or stuck in stylistic ruts, they often need some pre-laid groundwork. Basics/must-have lists can provide this, and serve as jumping-off points for many.

    Maybe it would help for you to make a personalized basics list. Go through your wardrobe and identify the items that form your personal stylistic foundation. Screw what the "experts" say. You know yourself. What items are YOUR go-tos?

  • Anonymous

    This is a topic about which I am passionate! Hence, long comment.

    Button-downs were all I wore, shirtwise, for about two years–specifically camp shirts, which are a little less formal, I guess; epaulettes and tab sleeves were the items of choice, although I had some plainer button-downs as well. They still comprise a huge part of my wardrobe.

    I am extremely (extremely) pear-shaped. And instead of trying to minimize my hips I have found I look best when I emphasize them (I love my hips). I wear my BD's layered over one or two camis or tees to get the length I need to cover my broad bottom (and this adds a layer of colour, which I love), and unbutton them to underneath the bust to give me a little balance up top. I'm not sure why or how it works, since it works in defiance of all known laws of shape flattery, but this is how I always look me best.

    My go-to top-half outfit is a long-sleeved layering tee under an elbow-sleeve button-down. And I get nearly all my button-downs at (shock) Wal-Mart. The "instantly slim you" ones are universally unflattering but the actual Wal-Mart brand button-downs are frequently surprisingly cute and dirt cheap, and sturdier than you'd think–my Wal-Mart clothes always last longer than my more expensive clothes. I've had one navy blue BD I got there for under 10.00 over three years ago that's still going strong. And I recently bought one of every single colour in a line of jewel-toned camp shirts they had.

    Long, rambling comments ftw! I am a button down girl for life.

  • ambika

    I'm partial to the uber feminine versions Anthro carries. But otherwise I stay far, far away.

  • Natalie

    New York & Company!!!
    There city stretch shirt comes in seasonal colors, sometimes stripes and plaids and then in different sleeve lengths as times change. They always have a sale BOGO 1/2 or go online and sign in to there website and they send coupons in the mail. They give a little room in the sleeve and recognize curves, generally a store that is familiar with a woman's shape and not a stick insects :)

  • burntphotograph

    i'm definitely a fan of the button down, especially in winter. they're just easy to pair with a sweater for work. sometimes in the spring/summer/fall i'll roll up the sleeves of one with a cardigan. i am fairly large busted, but i don't have much for a "figure." i carry my weight in my stomach, in the front. so i'm sort of an apple shape but not really since my hips are as large as my rib cage, which makes the shape of the button down great for me. i usually buy them from gap, american eagle, j.crew, and lilly pulitzer. i definitely prefer patterned button downs, in fact- i don't think i own any "solids" that don't at least have a tone on tone pattern. i like to be able to pair them with a solid sweater, since sweaters rarely come in patterns.

  • K.Line

    I've often considered having a custom made button down (given that I have large breasts). In lieu of that, I buy them rarely – only when I find one that fits slim in the shoulders and torso but larger in the boobs. Oh, and I generally put a hidden snap at the point of tug so that it doesn't pull. I have one from Mexx and one from H&M. I've also bought from Gap and BR.

  • What Would a Nerd Wear

    this is SO funny because i wore a button-down today (under a dress) and yesterday (under a sweater tee).

    i am definitely a pear shape with nearly no boobs to get in the way at all, but i do have broader shoulders. i also love banana republic shirts. i've also found ralph lauren fits well.

    this was a terrific post!

  • Erica

    At 5'7 & 125 pounds A-cup I looked great in a button down. Helped me look very nice & not skel-ator!
    Now that I've bore a child & jumped two cup sizes I can't say the same.
    Bummer I really enjoyed them!
    Thanks for the advice!

  • Rebecca

    I have a hard time with button-downs, as I am large busted and very small-waisted AND have a long torso. When i do buy them (love the vintage cowgirl look), I get them at the thrift store and ALWAYS take them in in the waist. It's the first alteration I learned because otherwise these shirts do not flatter me at all.

  • Nina (Femme Rationale)

    i love the look of button downs but hate the way they feel.

  • Cedar

    I only own one button down. It's Lucky brand, and I bought it about four years ago. It's a fantastic, comfortable flattering fit, and I've never been able to find another one that even comes close. My problem is I have a long torso, and they always gape at the waist, and generally fit uncomfortably.

  • Angie

    I'm a BIG button-down shirt fan. My wardrobe would not function with woven button down shirts! Polished, chic and easy. The lesson is that we shouldn’t think of a button-down shirt as a wow-top that stands alone (unless it’s an Anne Fontaine!) Instead, think of it as a vehicle that enables other items to shine, as Sally has clearly demonstrated.

    Many of my bustier clients loathe button down shirts for the reasons that have been suggested. But I have clients who love them and we turn to Carissa from Bratique Helene who created the perfect button down shirt for the well endowed lass:


    Button down shirts are NOT a wardrobe must. But if they work for you and you like the look, they can be lots of fun to play around with :0)

  • bekster

    I also have issues with these shirts, but I see lots of good ideas here. (If only I weren't so cheap any lazy about shopping… and ironing.)

    This is somewhat off-topic, but I'd be interested to see some tips for how to launder trickier wardrobe items. What might make it easier to keep clothes looking nice and fresh at home, and when is it time just to take something to the cleaners?

  • Angie

    Woopsie. I meant to say that my wardrobe wouldn’t function *without* button down shirts. I guess I need another cuppa tea.

  • Kelly

    Aw, thanks for the link Sal – I'm definitely glad you put it up because you have a lot more readers than me and I obviously want companies whose clothes fit me to have the most support so they all stick around 😉

    Bravissimo and Bratique Helene (soon to be Carissa Rose) also make button-downs that should fit busty ladies, although I don't have any personal experience with those brands' button-downs myself.

  • kathy monahan

    I (like Nina) hate the way button-down shirts feel, but I've had some minor success wearing sleeveless ones with cardigans. Otherwise, all that scratchy fabric down my arms and pulling tight across my back and chest…*skeeve*

  • Anonymous

    i also got my favourite button-downs from h&m. stretchy and cut for women with a small waist and some boobage.
    zara also has some good options sometimes. les stretchy, but very well cut (here again: sometimes).
    i love button-downs, but i detest ironing. oh, the irony.

  • Make Do Style

    I couldn't live without a white shirt and you are so right about getting the right one.

    It is all in the darting and the best thing to do is buy a shirt you love in a size that is too big and get it altered to fit.

  • hillary

    I find button ups impossible to wear if I don't have a layer below or on top. They don't do much for me.

    Button downs? Forget it. They look too stogy on me and like I am all one boob mass. If I am going to do it I need at least a collar sticking out to balance me some.

  • WendyB

    You did this just to traumatize me, right?

  • fromsneakerstostilettos

    I have found good button-ups at both Express and NY&C. I am large of boob as well. NY&C used to be too boxy and fit in the boob, but now they are getting much better at that proportion. Express also flatters my shape more, they tend to have lower neck lines though, so I have to wear a cami with them. This is a great post though Sal! These are pictures of non-gaping button-ups from the above mentioned stores.






  • Vanessa

    I saw Kelly's review of mycurvyclothes.com, and I'd definitely give them a shot if I ever have enough extra cash. Personally, I've always loved shopping for button-downs at Express. I have DDDs and have always been able to find shirts that work for me there, which I've had so much difficulty doing anywhere else. As I always tell everyone, clothing is really expensive there BUT they have absolutely mind-blowing sales. They're definitely not hesitant to mark things down to half off or more, so waiting on items you like really pays off.

  • Sal

    Anonymous (2): Was that a pun? 😉

  • Sal

    WendyB: I warned you this post was coming up! Hope the damage isn't permanent.

  • Audi

    I adore my striped button-down from Promod, the last one you've shown here. It's long, it's fitted, it's stretchy, and it wasn't very expensive. I wish we had Promod stores over here, because I don't think they ship outside the EU.

  • Hanako66

    i wear button down shirts several times per week…they are my go to pieces!

  • Erin

    I'm a big button down shirt fan, it makes me feel a little more pulled together.
    I tend to either buy mine from Gap or AE, and depending I'll buy them from either the girl's or the guy's section.
    Although I have been shopping in the guys section lately.For boyish figures, a nice man's shirt is super comfy and effortless looking. With some red lipstick and black skinnies,it gives off that "hot french lady" vibe… or that's what I keep telling myself :)

  • Chelsea

    I used to have so many button-ups, mostly leftover from prep school where they were a staple, but in recent years my collection has dwindled. I can think of only TWO button-ups I still own, and the less exciting one I never know how to style. Thanks for some fabulous tips, Sal :)

  • Kasmira

    I have 2 button downs I like. The first is from NY&Co and has darts and stretch, so it looks great on all figures. The second is from J Crew. It has no stretch, as you noted, but happens to fit me (small breasts, short torso, small waist, broadish shoulders) just right.

    Personally, I prefer an embellished button-down. My J Crew shirt has ruffles (Argh, matey!) and I searched for one like it for ages. Without embellishment, a button-down looks too much like a uniform for me. I have to say, the image at the top of this post has me reconsidering my stance.

  • try2b_sweet

    I am a petite (super very tiny almost kids sized) college student who tries to look classy, feminine, and sophisticated. I am also broke. After an entire summer of shopping for button-down shirts that fit me and made me look feminine, I finally found them at New York and Company. their pants were too small but they had a collection of attractive button-downs in short sleeves extra small. they fit me perfectly, so i bought four of them, each in a different color. they are a staple in my work wardrobe and i occasionally pair them with a polo or leave them open with a cardigan. SO NICE!

  • Mrs.M in MI

    I love button down shirts, but as a pear-shaped lady with an easy-to-fit top half I don't have any problems with fit. I only button the shirt up to under my bust (and wear a tank underneath) because I have this idea that it makes my boobs look bigger. I also go for preppy or quirky-gamine looks, so the button-down is pretty much a staple for me.

    My favorite shirts come from NY & Co. and Brooks Brothers because they fit well and do not need to be ironed. I also thrifted a few boys' button-collar oxfords that I like to wear in casual looks and under crewneck sweaters.

  • budget chic

    So, so true. I don't have a lot of cotton button down shirt because of the reasons you mentioned. I have 36Cs and most of the time they are not what I reach for. I do like how they worked that shirt 7 different ways. Not hard to do if all you have is a plain shirt, though. I just never been one to buy 'em. They had a rack of them at H&M selling 2 for $10. I wanted to get a few but my heart wasn't in it! LOL

  • Melissa Blake

    Yay! I've always been a huge fan of button-downs!

  • rb

    Way way up there someone was confused about the term 'button down' – me too. I think it's because I've worked in menswear before, but in that world the term referred to a collar that was buttoned to the body of the shirt – a very preppy oxford shirt look.

    Regardless of the name, I'm a hater. I don't mind blouses with feminine shapes, like a wrap or a wide spread collar, but I really dislike the menswear collar on a basic white woven shirt. It's not a fit issue, for me, as much as a style issue. I can make it work, but I can think of 20 things that would look 20 times better in every case.

  • Jenny

    I'm plus-sized (hourglass) and have large breasts, and although I look great in button-downs, it's hard to find ones that fit. The only one I have is from Talbots Woman, and I wear it all the time — it fits everywhere and it's made of a no-wrinkle fabric, so I don't have to iron it. I wear it with pashminas and long skirts, with jeans, over tees…I'll have to try some of these other suggestions!

  • Missa

    Other than soft cozy flannels, I have one button down shirt that I like. It's a vintage light blue work shirt that I procured from my own father's closet back in highschool. It is so soft and worn that it is basically sheer. Other than that, I don't really do the button downs, too much structure for my liking.

  • Linda

    Ahh, don't worry, Sal, I don't feel crappy! I do like posts like this on the off chance that I have some stray garment of this nature lurking in my closet and the ideas will help me utilize it. "Here are ways you might not have thought of to wear a basic item" is always welcome. That's so different from "These items are foolproof wardrobe building blocks [for NORMAL PEOPLE]."

    I must admit after my rant that boots are a wardrobe staple for me even though they are at least as hard to fit as buttoned shirts. It's just worth the angst because they appeal to me aesthetically and they make it practical to wear skirts in the winter.


    Love the look, I invested a good piece from Thomas Pink! Classic the fit is almost perfect~

  • Abby

    strangely I have gotten several winners at the bass outlet … yes the shoe outlet that used to only sell shoes actually has a clothing line that sometimes borders on not cool if you wore a wardrobe made just of theirs tuff, but I have some clothing gems from there for sure including button downs … oh I'm about 5' 7" and 135 I think. pretty well proportioned with a smallish chest and a bit of a middle.

  • Anonymous

    Apologies for the anonymous comment (I came here through Mimi Smartypants, in case you're wondering), but I think you'll soon see why I don't want my name attached to this post.

    The buttondown situation has gotten very dire in the last 10 years. I bought a pink oxford from J. Crew sometime in 2001 or 2002, and if I had known what was coming, I would have bought 20. Slowly but surely, all the shirts in the world were recut to fit washboard-chested 16-year-old girls. ICK.

    Things go so bad that I literally could no longer button shirts over my chest. Not Brooks Bros, not Gap, not any shirt from anywhere. Well, Lands End, but jesus, that shirt is cut like a tent.

    So I gritted my teeth and started wearing white cotton camisoles (almost tanks — this is a look that requires VERY good coverage — none of your lacy scoop necks here) under the shirts, with the now-unfastenable buttons open.

    GENIUS! This is the look every chesty girl should rock when faced with a button-down shirt. It turns a smock-like tunic into a flattering deep v neck with just a hint of skin underneath.

    Happily, clothing has now started to swing the other way, and I lost a little weight, but now that I can button my shirts, I refuse! You can't make me stop looking so incredibly hot!

  • Annie

    I'm with you on the Gap shirts. They are the best, hands down. I look for them when I go thrift shopping but I'll buy them full price if necessary! As for large chests, okay I wouldn't say I'm buxom but since having two children I've gone from an A cup to a C/D and despite this shift in my body, I still love the classic button down shirt – I just need to be a little more mindful of the way I style it.

  • Kate

    I love this post! Such great inspiration :-)

    Express button-downs for me. $49.50, basic, CUTE. Seamed for boobs and waist.

    And FWIW, not all LLBean items are too boxy. They've got a ruffle-front buttondown that is fantastic. Still loose-ish (not skintight), but it has definite waist shaping.

  • Winnie

    Oh yes they can definitely be worn in lots of ways but I don't wear them myself. Maybe it's because I associate them with work and interviews…but soon enough I am sure it will be part of a routine once I get a job after my studies!

  • daisy

    I am exactly who you say might want to avoid button downs–I am large chested (36G or some such atrocity), plus-sized (size 16 at 5'6"), short-waisted (I think), apple shape with so much weight in my belly and big hips. I can't wear belts around the middle–it looks so horrible and ridiculous.

    But I have recently embraced button-downs as being the best professional option for me. It took me years. I used to think of button-downs as being way too preppy for me. Now I realize they are incredibly versatile.

    I often had the big boob gape problem, until I found two solutions:
    1. Shop at plus-sized stores. Being at the smaller end of plus sizes at places like Lane Bryant, Avenue, and Dress Barn women can mean swimming through a ton of way-too-big clothes, but it's the only way to find a top that fits. I have found, especially at Dress Barn women, lots of great fitting shirts. They create an illusion that I have a waist and are very flattering. And I always wear an undershirt, either a lightweight cotton tank (in the summer) or a camisole or even a lightweight long underwear top in the winter. I never buy shirts that don't close easily at the bust. And I am now learning not to buy the too-big or too-long shirts because I'll never wear them.

    2. The other tip is to find stretchy, crinkly shirts. These expand in flattering ways for my shape–they accentuate the hourglass shape I don't actually have.

    This year I started a new job and decided to dress up a notch. Just about every day I wear black or grey dressy pants with either a button-up and maybe a sweather, or a fitted top and a cardigan with a scarf.

    What I haven't figured out how to do well is wear a button up and a scarf. I think I would protrude way too much.

    Anyway, thanks for this. I can't dress at all like you (every woman in every clothing blog seems to wear a belt these days), but this is super helpful.

  • Sheila

    I am not a fan of button-downs, because I am large-boobed, and because I am fantastically lazy and won't buy anything that requires ironing.

    BUT I have a few button-downs that I've found in Canada at Esprit and Club Monaco that fit beautifully, and have a good polyester/cotton mix (perfect for laundering without shrinking AND don't need to be ironed). My figure is petite (5'4") and hourglass, and these have been the best shirts I've had in years.

    Great article and a big thanks!

  • Sonja

    Eeee, love you in button downs, especially in the first shot! And love Audi's blue cardi! You lovely ladies look fab!

  • skapamusik

    I really like button-downs, but rarely wear them and I only own a few. As some has stated in their comments – I think finding a good fit is really one of the major issues. I have pretty small breasts and a tiny waist so sometimes button-downs make that waist disappear. But if they fit, the material is usually the problem – too stiff or too see-through.

    I have one of my dads old shirts and I used to wear it alot as an oversize button-down, belted. Either with pants or a slim skirt.
    But the ones I love the most are my three fitted patterned button-downs – I wear them with cardigans, underneath sweaters or, as you suggested, open over (for example) a simple tank. Love that look for summer!

  • Anonymous

    I have to recommend Eddie Bauer wrinkle-resistant shirts. They come out of the laundry looking great and are perfectly contoured (for me). I'm a very hourglass size 8 C/D cup with straight, slightly broad shoulders, and the medium fits like it was custom made for me. Fan.

  • Maria

    There is a great company called rebecca & drew in NY. They make button downs sized by bra size and height. the fit is incredible. And they also offer a customizable shirt — so fun to choose the fabric and buttons and collars. check them out, http://rebeccaanddrew.com.

  • The Seeker

    Well, I have a few button-down shirts, they were part of my "work uniform" with suits and I like them a lot. I think I don't wear them more because I don't like to iron them (shame on me)
    I had a time that I was tiered of them, but lately I've been trying to incorporate them. After this post I think I haven't done the best with my button-down shirts. Thanks for calling attention to that.


  • The Seeker

    PS – It was a former self imposed work uniform, when I was boring… 😉


  • Marie McGrath (The Joy of Fashion)

    I love this post!! really gets me thinking on how to wear button down shirts. I don't own many yet (just a white one), but I would like to get some soon!


  • gina

    I love button down shirts. I have at least a dozen, in a variety of colors and stripes. Whatever outfit I choose to wear, adding a collared button-down instantly makes the outfit a bit more professional.

    I'm slim with small-ish breasts (32B/C), but I still have some problems with button downs fitting through the boobs. I mainly wear them with a camisole or bralette underneath so I don't have to button over my boobs. A sweater or vest overtop works too, b/c you can't see the gaping.

    My favorite places to buy button downs are Express, Victoria's Secret, and H&M. I've also bought some from Target and Gap, but those stores are more hit-or-miss for me.

    Here are some of my favorite button-down outfits:


















    Wow, that's a lot of links. I had a few specific outfits in mind, but as I was getting the links, I kept coming across other button-down outfits that I love. I guess they really are a wardrobe staple for me!

  • Anonymous

    I just bought a really nice white one at Coldwater Creek, from their no-iron collection (http://www.coldwatercreek.com/no-iron-collection.aspx). They come in all sizes, from XS to 3X. Cold-water wash, machine dry at low heat,take out after 10 minutes and hang – NO IRONING! I am plus-size, have some tummy issues, but am pretty proportionate other than that. I only recently bought it, so haven't tried all the layering possibilities yet, but I was really loving the fit on me. My normal size is 1X, but their 2X fit better and still was slimming. A bit pricey, but very good quality.

    Cindy in CA

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t usually comment on blogs, but I thought I would chime in for a tip for large-busted women. I wear my button-downs ALL THE TIME, and I have a large-busted(DD-DDD)/hourglass figure. My secret: I don’t button them up all the way. I leave the shirts buttoned to about waist-level, and then wear some sort of tank top/cami underneath. This definitely isn’t the most conservative way to wear button-downs, but it works well for a casual environment, and it bypasses the problem of top-button-gaping altogether by bypassing those top buttons.

  • Viktoria

    Just started exploring this interesting site! I have recently switched from all t-shirts to all shirts, because of a skin problem that prevents me from all kinds of bra-wearing. Lucky me I´m on the small side! I am self-conscious about the “jiggle” and think it shows less in a woven fabric rather than a knit. And I need all the tips I can get on how to vary this staple! Thank you!

  • mcphicks

    Hi Sally
    As an Australian, I am not familiar with the term button down. Does it mean a shirt with buttons down the front or a shirt with a collar which is buttoned at the points?

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      Buttons down the front, like a men’s dress shirt.