What’s the difference: button up vs. button down shirts

shirtsYou’ve probably heard of people talking about button up and button down shirts before. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve ever known the difference. For most men, a shirt is simply a shirt, and as long as it has buttons that’s all that matters.

Well basically: all button down shirts are button up shirts, but not all button up shirts are button down shirts. Get it now? Probably not…

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Button up shirts

Button up shirts are effectively all shirts that have buttons all the way up the shirt, including a top button. These are the most common type of shirt and what you will most regularly find in your wardrobe – pretty simple.

Button down shirts

Button down shirts aren’t really that much more complicated. They have buttons all the way up the shirt like a button up shirt, but also have two buttons on the collar, to fasten it down to the shirt. So the phrase ‘button down’ actually refers to fastening the collar down.

The history of button down shirts dates back to 1869, in England. Polo players often found that when they were charging around the field on horses, the collars of their shirts would flap up in the wind, and impair their vision. So they attached buttons to their collars, in order to hold them down for matches.

It was John E. Brooks who first made the button down shirt a fashion item. After watching a polo match in England, he went back to his American company and immediately started manufacturing them – first known as polo collar shirts.

Originally they were only popular with sports players. Athletes being attracted to the shirts for the same reason as polo players; so the collars remained in place whilst they were in action. However, pretty soon the button down shirt caught on in the world of fashion, and now is a very popular item we see today.

So as we said earlier: all button down shirts are button up shirts, but not all button up shirts are button down shirts. This hopefully makes a lot more sense now.

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How to wear them

To be honest, there isn’t really that much difference between when and where you can wear the two shirts. Button down shirts are slightly more smart, and with a skinny tie and fitted blazer, they can make you look very fashionable. If you are choosing a button down shirt, they don’t tend to work as well without a tie. So keep this in mind when planning your outfit.

Button up shirts can be worn for all occasions. You can still, of course, wear them with a tie and a suit, but they can also be worn in more causal situations. Pair an open collar button up shirt with chinos for a smart casual look which you can wear to dinner or if it’s casual Friday at the office.

The most important thing when picking out shirts, is to consider all aspects of your outfit. Keep in mind which colours work with what, and what kind of jacket you can wear to certain situations. To be safe, you should have at least one button up and one button down shirt in your wardrobe. Then you can be prepared for any occasion and you’ll finally know why your shirt collar has buttons on it.

If you’re in need of a new shirt, Mainline Menswear sells hundreds of them. Visit our website here to browse both button up and button down shirts.

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One response to “What’s the difference: button up vs. button down shirts”

  1. Daniel says:

    Thanks for this valuable article! Not only do I finally know what those terms refer to, but I’m also aware of the interesting origin of button-down shirts. I would have never guessed that polo players were responsible for this invention.

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