The Ultimate Guide To The Button Down

If there’s one shirt a guy should have in his wardrobe, it’s a button down. Hands down, the button down shirt is one of the most essential and versatile pieces a man can own. Having a few of these in your closet can help complete your wardrobe. They are the perfect middle ground between a t-shirt and a dress shirt, allowing you to look put-together, stylish and relaxed all at the same time. Don't forget to select your height and bodytype to filter the information applicable to you!

Photo Credit: I Am Gala

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Photo Credit: Pinterest

In this guide we’ll cover the 80/20 of button downs, giving you the information you need to rock these with confidence.

Feel free to read it in order or check out the table of contents to jump to sections.

Too Long; Didn't Read;

What Is A Button Down

A “button down” shirt is referred to a long or short sleeve shirt with buttons going down the front and sometimes on the collar. Button downs can also be referred to as a “sports shirt” or “casual shirt”.

Dress Shirt vs Button Down

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Button Down

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Dress Shirt

They may look alike, but a button down is different from a dress shirt. Dress shirts are meant to be more formal and are typically worn with suits or dress pants, while button downs can easily be dressed up or down. The biggest difference is button downs can be worn untucked or tucked, where as a dress shirt must always be tucked in.

There are 4 ways to tell the difference between a dress shirt and a button down:

Sizing

Button Down Sizing

Dress Shirt Sizing

Button down sizes are written as XS, S, M, L, and XL on the tag. However, dress shirts come in a numerical neck (i.e. 17) and arm length (i.e. 34/35) written as: 17 34/35. This is one of the easiest ways to know if the shirt you have is a button down or dress shirt.

LENGTH

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Button Down Length

Photo Credit: (Proper Cloth)
Dress Shirt Length Front

Photo Credit: (Proper Cloth)
Dress Shirt Length Side

Button downs are cut shorter so you have the choice to tuck or not tuck them. However, dress shirts are made extra long because they are meant to always be tucked in. So, if the shirt is going past your zipper and creeping into thigh territory, it's probably a dress shirt. We'll talk about button down length below and what you can do if your button down is simply just too long.

FOLDED VS HUNG

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Hung

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Folded

Button downs are usually found on hangers in the casual clothing section (i.e. next to jeans). Alternately, dress shirt usually come pre-folded with pins and clips to keep it in place and are placed near suiting and ties. Dress shirts can come hung, it just depends on the retailer.

FABRIC

Button Down Cuff

Dress Shirt Cuff

The fabric on the collar and cuffs in button downs are the same throughout the shirt. With dress shirts the fabric, especially around the wrist cuff and collar, tends to be a bit stiffer for a more formal look.

Button Up vs Button Down

You might have heard the words “button up” and “button down” used in reference to these shirts. There is actually a very small difference between a button “up” and “down”, which is button “downs” have little buttons on the end of the collar, where as a button “up” doesn’t.

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Button Up

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Button Down

So what’s the point of the little buttons? They were initially meant for polo players so their collars wouldn’t go flying in different directions when playing. The benefits of the little buttons to the modern man? They keep the collar intact.

Buttons or no buttons? Shirts without the buttons can look slightly more dressy, other than that, it’s a personal preference thing.

How to Wear It

Tucked vs Untucked

When deciding how to wear a button down, the age old questions comes up: to tuck or not to tuck? The answer: it depends on the occasion and what vibe you’re looking to give off.

When to Tuck it in

Anywhere you need to look dressed up, sharp, or professional - tuck in your shirt.

What are these settings? Think: dinner date at a nice restaurant, job interview, networking, wedding rehearsal dinner, or symphony. Also, if you’re planning on wearing something over your shirt like a blazer or sweater and want to look sharp, tuck it in.

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Tucked In Smart Look

Photo Credit: Stay Classic
Tucked Button Down with Blazer
When to Untuck it

Go untucked when you want to look relaxed. Think: bars, park day, coffee shop, running errands, house parties, or a casual date. If you highly prefer going untucked most of the time, that's totally fine because the modern man style allows you to do so and still look on point. Keep in mind, if you feel like tucking in your shirt for casual occasions, you definitely can.

Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Untucked With Chinos

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Untucked With Jeans

You can pair your untucked shirt with a blazer, casual jacket or sweater, but keep in mind this look is in “relaxed” territory. If you want to wear your untucked shirt with a blazer, make sure there is no or very minimal amount of shirt showing in the back. However, if your shirt is longer than your sweater or casual jacket (i.e. bomber jacket), it's fine.

Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Untucked with Blazer

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Casual Untucked with Sweater

Photo Credit: Styleoholic
Untucked with Dressy Coat

All in all, if you want to give off a classic and sophisticated vibe, go for the tuck. If you want to give off a more chill and relaxed vibe, go untucked. Can you give off a chill vibe with a tucked in shirt? Of course, just roll up your sleeves and keep the top button undone.

Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Tucked and Relaxed

Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Untucked and Relaxed
Untucked Length

A little too often guys wear their untucked shirts too long. Here’s a rule of thumb: the shirt should fall anywhere between the middle and just above the bottom of your zipper. The closer to the middle of the zipper, the better.

Keep your shirt length within the white lines

The white lines indicate the “safe zone” of how long or short your button down should be. Anything above is too high and anything below is too long. Wearing your shirt near the middle of your zipper will make your legs look longer and make you appear taller.

On the other hand, button downs that are too long will make your torso look unproportionately long and your legs look shorter. If your button down covers your whole zipper, it's too long.

Photo Credit: Zappos
Button Down is too long

Rolling Up Sleeves

There are two easy ways to roll up your sleeves: (1) the Casual Roll or (2) the Italian Roll.

The Casual Roll
  1. Unbutton both buttons
  2. Fold the cuff over
  3. Tuck the cuff and roll it under so that the cuff creates a clean end of the sleeve
  4. Repeat until desired length is acheived
Photo Credit: Esquire
Casual Roll
The Italian Roll
  1. Both cuff buttons should be unbuttoned
  2. Fold the sleeve up, it should be an inch or so past your elbow
  3. Fold the sleeve up just below the end of the cuff. A third of the cuff should be visible.
Photo Credit: Esquire
Italian Roll

If you're new to rolling, practice rolling when you are not wearing the shirt.

Which Roll to Go For

All things even, your roll style is a personal preference. The Casual is simple, clean and easy, while the Italian can be alittle more complex. However, if the inside of your button down cuff has a print and you want to show it, the Italian Roll is perfect for that.

Photo Credit: Hello His
Example of Italian roll with inside cuff print
How High to Roll

You can go from a simple single roll to all the way up to your elbow. The higher up you go, the more casual it will look. However, don’t go past the elbow or it will look awkward. Let's go over some example lengths:

At the Elbow

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Showing a little bit of elbow is okay, but don’t go above the elbow. If there was one more fold in the example above, it would be too high and look bad.

Just Below The Elbow

Photo Credit: Alphaarea
This is an easy, casual and stylish length. Since the fabric gathers at the bicep, it can make your arms look bulkier too.

Near Wrist (2 rolls)

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Mid-Forearm (3 rolls)

Photo Credit: Bedstu

Excited to show off that new watch? Try folding your sleeves anywhere in the forearm area, which is about 2 to 3 rolls. This is a nice length to keep it clean and classic, and also works for business casual.

Note : If you have very slim forearms and are self-conscious about them, don’t go too high in your roll. Refer to the example above on the left.
Rolling Half Sleeve Button Downs

You can fold your half sleeve button down shirt once or twice, depending on how long your sleeves are. Fold at the cuff and fold once more or twice more.

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Two clean folds

Photo Credit: Rules of Thumb
Don't go higher than this
Fit Makes a Difference

If your button down sleeves are really baggy, wide or sticking out, that means the fit is off. Trying to fold an ill-fitted half sleeve button down will make it look like you have wings. Red Bull anyone?

Photo Credit: Zumiez
Bad Fitting Half Sleeve Button Down
Avoid The Following

Origami Arms

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Having cuffs this high and sticking out will look awkward and add an unnecessary origami effect to the arms. It looks like an incomplete Italian roll.

Folding Above Elbow

Photo Credit: One Dapper Street

Unless you're delivering newspapers in the 1920's, avoid rolling past your elbows. Once you do this, your sleeves will bulk up and create really large cuffs. Don't be fooled into thinking this will make your biceps look bigger, it will just look weird.

Undoing Buttons

Undoing the top button gives off a relaxed vibe, while keeping all the buttons done up can be a stylish statement. If you're new at this, keep your shirt either buttoned all the way up or leave the very top button unbuttoned. If you're an undershirt guy, opt for a v-neck when unbuttoning.

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Top Button Done Up

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Top Button Undone

If you want to keep it even more relaxed, unbutton the top 2 buttons. If you want to undo 2 buttons, either don't wear an undershirt or wear one with a deep V.

Photo Credit: Notely
Top Two Buttons Undone
Note : If you have a short neck, unbuttoning will help elongate it.

The Unbuttoned Look

Wearing an unbuttoned shirt with a t-shirt is a specific casual look that has an element of hip. This look is best with sneakers, boots or casual shoes since it’s meant to give off a relaxed weekend vibe. You can pair this look with jeans, chinos or shorts.

Curious to give this look a try? Here are some sample outfits for inspiration:

Photo Credit: Hello His
Unbuttoned Layered Look

Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Unbuttoned with T-Shirt

Photo Credit: Scout Sixteen
Unbuttoned Layered with Vest

Photo Credit: Express
Unbuttoned with Shorts

Photo Credit: Magic Fox
Unbuttoned Flannel Look

Photo Credit: Notoriously Dapper
Unbuttoned with Horizontal Stripes Look

Pockets

The more pockets that you have on your shirt, the more casual it becomes. Other than that, pockets or no pockets is a personal preference.

No Pockets
Photo Credit: Nordstrom

No pockets offers a clean and dressy look. You can easily tuck this shirt in and wear it with a tie and slacks.

One Pocket

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
One pocket casual

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
One pocket Can be dressy

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
One pocket with button makes it casual

One pocket is convenient, especially for storing sunglasses. Depending on how the rest of the shirt looks, the pocket can add a touch of casual to the look. Going for smaller patterns or solids with a pocket can keep it on the dressy side of things, especially if you wanted to tuck it in. Having a button on your pocket makes it casual.

Two Pockets
Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Double pockets make a shirt casual. You would not wear this to any place you need to "dress up".

Note : Double pockets are a great trick for hiding “man boobs”. Also, they can visually add bulk to your chest.

Ties and Button Downs

Some nicer button downs can be pulled off with a tie. The biggest thing to watch out for is material and patterns. For example, solids are easy to pull of with a tie and some plaids too. I'll go over some examples to make it easier to understand.

Wearing a button down and tie with a suit works for business and business casual settings. In the example below, the guy is wearing a plaid shirt that works really well with a tie and suit. However, if you need to be very formal, stick to a dress shirt.

Photo Credit: GQ
Example of plaid shirt with tie that works great
Note : If your button down has a busy print, go for a solid tie.

Avoid large and casual looking prints when trying to pair a button down with a tie. For example, the large box plaid in the example below screams casual, while the tie will try to make it look dressy, which is a recipe for confusion.

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Don't wear a tie with this style of casual pattern

Pairing your button down and tie with a sports coat keeps the look smart. You can easily dress up or down the looks with pants: jeans (casual, but nice), chinos (smart) and slacks (dressy).

Photo Credit: Indichino
Button Down with Tie and Sport Coat

If you are wearing a tie, tuck in your shirt and do up the top button. Your button down should be long enough to tuck into your pants without it coming out every time you raise your arms. Besides it looking very bad if it keeps coming out of your pants, it will be very annoying.

Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Button Up with a Tie

If your shirt looks too casual (i.e. has two pockets, is a very thick flannel, has too many button details, has an embroidered design on it etc.) a tie won’t look good and it will definitely throw off the look.

Photo Credit: Kohl's
Avoid Ties with Shirts like This: Double Pockets and Flannel

What about the untucked button down tie look? Honestly, don't do it. It's trying to be formal, but not. Basically, you’ll look like a young pop singer at an award show who’s trying to look “cool”. Avoid.

Photo Credit: Style Bistro
Untucked Shirt with a Tie

What to Wear it With

What to wear with your button down can be broken down by Casual, Smart, and Dressy. You can mix and match the tops, bottoms, and shoes to make something casual look more dressy and vice versa.

A couple of notes:

  • (1) Avoid mixing casual shoes with the dressy category
  • (2) Jeans and dress shoes look fine as long as you mix the look with smart and dressy items
  • (3) Don't mix shorts with boots or dress shoes
Bottoms
  • Casual: Jeans or Shorts
  • Smart: Chinos
  • Dressy: Dress Pants or Slacks
Mid-Layer
  • Casual: Sweatshirts, Hoodies
  • Smart: Cardigan, Sweaters
  • Dressy: Blazer
Top Layer
  • Casual: Denim Jacket, Bomber Jacket, Parka
  • Smart: Suede Jacket, Leather Jacket, Harrington Jacket, Quilted Jacket
  • Dressy: Peacoat, Over coat
Shoes
  • Casual: Sneakers, Street Shoes, Casual Boots
  • Smart: Oxfords, Derby, Loafers, Nice Boots
  • Dressy: Dress Shoes, Dressy Boots
Style: Casual
Items:
Button Down
Shorts (Casual)
Slip-on Sneakers (Casual)
Stylist Note: This is as casual as you can get with a button down, but notice the look is still more stylish than shorts and a t-shirt.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Casual and Modern
Items:
Button Down
Shorts (Casual)
Suede Derby Shoes (Smart)
Stylist Note: The shoes add a modern and stylish touch to an otherwise casual look - bonus points for hidden socks!
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Casual and Fun
Items:
Button Down
Chinos (Smart)
Sneakers (Casual)
Stylist Note: The chinos are rolled up at the bottom, making something smart look more casual and relaxed. The look is paired with a fun button down, making it weekend friendly.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Casual and Hip
Items:
Button Down
Jeans (Casual)
T-Shirt (Casual)
Desert Boots (Smart)
Stylist Note: The flannel unbuttoned shirt gives the look a casual, but hip vibe. The suede desert boots complete the look nicely, versus pairing it with a sneaker.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Casual and Modern
Items:
Button Down
Chinos (Smart)
Espadrilles Shoes (Casual)
Stylist Note: An otherwise very smart look is made stylishly casual with rolled up chinos and espadrille shoes, perfect for summer. A great example of how a look can easily be dressed up or down based just off shoes.
Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Style: Smart and Casual
Items:
Button Down
Chinos (Smart)
Boots (Smart)
Stylist Note: The shirt, grey chinos, and boots keep the look smart, while the rolled up sleeves and double pockets add the casual touch.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Smart and Stylish
Items:
Button Down
Chinos (Smart)
Derbys (Smart)
Stylist Note: A classic look gets a modern touch with rolled up chinos, smart shoes and no-show socks.
Photo Credit: Notoriously Dapper
Style: Casual and Modern
Items:
Button Down
Jeans (Casual)
Peacoat (Smart)
Leather Sneaker (Casual)
Stylist Note: The Peacoat makes this look smart, while the leather sneakers keep it casual. Opting for a sleek leather sneaker versus a running shoe is an excellent choice for a modern look.
Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Style: Smart and Modern
Items:
Button Down
Chinos (Smart)
Coat (Smart)
Vest (Casual)
Chukka Boots (Smart)
Stylist Note: This otherwise very smart look is made modern with an untucked button down and Chukka Boots. Bonus points for added warmth with a down vest.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Smart and Fun
Items:
Button Down
Slacks (Dressy)
Loafers (Smart)
Stylist Note: A fun tucked in button down is dressed up with slacks and a fashion forward loafer shoe. You can switch the shoe out for an oxford or derby if you prefer a more classic shoe.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Dressy and Casual
Items:
Button Down
Chinos (Smart)
Blazer (Smart)
Sneakers (Casual)
Stylist Note: An otherwise dressy look consisting of a blazer and chinos is made casual and modern with fresh white sneakers and a chambray button down.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Smart and Modern
Items:
Button Down
Jeans (Casual)
Blazer (Smart)
Oxford Boots (Smart)
Stylist Note: A tucked in button down, blazer and stylish Oxford boots pair perfectly well with a dark wash jean to keep this look modern and stylish.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Smart and Classic
Items:
Button Down
Slacks (Smart)
Chelsea Boot (Dressy)
Stylist Note: A perfect example how to dress up your button down with slacks or dress pants for a professional look.
Photo Credit: Notoriously Dapper
Style: Dressy and Fashion-Forward
Items:
Button Down
Chinos (Smart)
Blazer (Dressy) and Loafers (Smart)
Stylist Note: Creating a faux suit with a blazer and chinos is very smart and stylish look, which can easily be dressed up or down. In this example the look is slightly dressed down by unbuttoning the top two buttons.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Style: Dressy, Classic, and Smart
Items:
Button Down
Chinos (Smart)
Sweater (Smart)
Tie(Smart)
Blazer (Dressy)
Shoes (Smart)
Stylist Note: This is high on the spectrum of looking dressy. The sweater, tie and button down paired with chinos and derby shoes give it a very professional look.
Photo Credit: Pinterest

There you have it, all the ways you can make outfits with button downs. Keep in mind, you can easily switch out certain pieces like shoes or jackets to easily dress up or down a look. Use the examples above as a base and make edits to fit your style.

Overall Fit

Fit Styles

One of the most important things you can do to dress well is wear clothes that fit properly. This means avoiding shirts that are too baggy or too tight. Luckily, brands make fits beyond Small, Medium and Large to help you achieve this.

Note : Each brand designs with a certain "fit model" in mind, this is why shirts can fit very differently from brand to brand. For example, some brands create very long shirts for taller guys, while others cut their arm holes high for slim guys. A fit model is a person (a model) the designer uses as their mannquein to make clothes for.

Common Fits:

  • Classic Fit: Plenty of room through the chest and arms holes
  • Regular / Tailor Fit: A little extra room through the chest and body, less tapered in the waist
  • Slim Fit / Modern Fit: Fitted through the chest and arm holes, slightly tapered around waist
  • Extra Slim Fit / Trim Fit: Slim throughout with higher arm holes.
Note : It's important to make sure your shirt lines up well at the shoulders, most of the other stuff, like a loose waist, a tailor can fix.

Good Fit

Fit Notes

Collar

The collar doesn't need to be snug, but make sure there isn't an obvious gap either. A sharp collar looks more professional, if your collar is weak, consider getting a collar stays.

Test: You should be able to comfortably fit two fingers inside your collar.

Shoulder

The shoulder seam should fall right at the edge of the shoulder. Going past the edge will make your shoulders look sloped. Going too high will make your shoulders look narrow.

Chest

The shirt should not pull at your chest nor should there be extra fabric hanging around the underarms.

Test: Sit down and see if the buttons pull. You can also raise your arms and make a triangle above your head to see if the chest pulls, however, the more important thing is to make sure it doesn't pull when you are in a normal stance or sitting.

Arms

The arms should not be frumpy, but don't need to be tight at the same time. You should be able to bend your arm and not have the fabric pull.

Test: Raise your arm to the side and you shouldn't be able to grab more than 1 to 2 inches of fabric right under your bicep.

Wrist

The length should fall past your wrist, right at the base of the hand.

Test: Flex your hand and you will see a dimple at your wrist near the thumb, your shirt cuff should end at this dimple.

Waist

Make sure the shirt follows along your body and slightly shapes the waist. None of the buttons should pull, especially when you sit.

Test: Grab all the excess fabric around your waist to one side, you shouldn't be able to grab more than 2 to 3 inches of fabric.

Back

The back should lay flat. There shouldn't be any fabric billowing out at the back. However, it shouldn't be uncomfortably tight.

Test: Put your hands straight out in front of you and there shouldn't be any uncomfortable pulling of fabric.

Note : Having extra fabric on the back can be common, your tailor can take in the sides or dart the back to make it flat.
Length

The shirt should fall anywhere between the middle and bottom half of your zipper, the closer to the middle the better. The top your back pockets should be covered.

Test: Raise your hands in the air and create a triangle with your arms. Check to see if your stomach is exposed. If you're a tucked in kind of guy, make sure the shirt doesn't come out of your pants.

Note : Don’t assume every S, M, L is supposed to fit every male body type in the world. Finding a good tailor to make slight edits to your shirt is like getting a custom shirt.
Hem

One more thing to note is the hem of the shirt, which is the bottom of the shirt. There are two types:

Round Hem

A bit of a rounded hem is pretty standard in button downs and is the easiest to work with. If your hem is rounded and is showing the side of your belt loops, it’s too short.

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Round Hem
Flat Hem

A flat hem can be a little trickier. If you have a beer belly or are naturally round, avoid a flat hem as it can obstruct the otherwise straight bottom finish and make your stomach look bigger.

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Flat or Square Hem
Note : If you love an old school 60’s clean cut look, a flat hem can help you achieve that.

And that, my friend, is how your perfect button down should fit. Now you might be thinking, "How is a button down supposed to fit me that well off the rack?" Never fear, I have a solution for you, which is your new best friend, the tailor.

Tailoring

Wait! Before you get rid of that shirt, there's still some hope. Tailors can be your best friend when it comes to making sure your shirt fits you to the T! However, keep in mind that tailors can cut or take in fabric, but can't add fabric. For example, they can easily shorten a shirt, but not lengthen it.

Note : Before taking your shirt to a tailor, make sure your shirt lines up well at your shoulders. This can be a hard part to fix, so it might not be worth the cost.
Things a tailor can fix
  • If your arms are too baggy, a tailor can tighten the arms. Price: $20-$30
  • If your sleeves are too long, they can shorten them. Price: $20-30
  • If the shirt is very big in the waist or back, a tailor can take in the sides. Price: $30
  • If the shirt is slightly big in the waist or back, a tailor can dart the back. Price: $20
  • If the shirt is too long, a tailor can shorten the hem. Price: $20
  • If you don’t like the shape of the hem, a tailor can change it if there's enough fabric: $20
  • If your shoulders slope a tailor can take in the excess fabric bunching around the underarm: Pricing can vary depending on difficulty
    Photo Credit: GQ
Note : If you have sloping shoulders, wearing a blazer or jacket with your button down will help make your shoulders appear more broad.
Note : Once you find a good tailor you can trust, seek their opinion on whether a shirt fits well.
How to Find a Good Tailor
  • Check Yelp
  • Most big department stores have in-house tailors
  • Ask a men's suiting store for a recommendation
  • Ask a friend for a recommendation

Not sure if the price is right? Call a couple of spots and compare prices for the service you want. Bigger cities may charge more for services than smaller towns.

Bad Fit

One of the biggest style mistakes you can make is wearing an ill-fitted shirt. A fitted shirt can make you look more fit, tall and stylish, where as a bad fit will overwhelm you. If your shirt fits like the example below, you will look wider and shorter than you are.

Note : If it's nearly impossible for you to find shirts that fit well, going custom-made might be the best option for you. Custom shirts start at $75 and up. Better quality shirts will start near $130.

Prints, Patterns and Colors

Aside from prints and patterns being aesthetically pleasing, they can help make our bodies appear bigger or smaller than they are. When deciding what pattern is best for you, the main thing to consider is creating balance with the upper body and lower body. For example, if you have a larger upper body and a slimmer lower body, going for a shirt with vertical stripes will help even you out.

Keep in mind that this guidance is a great stepping stone for those of you who are new to the style game. Once you get comfortable and confident with your clothes, feel free to start experimenting with different prints, patterns and lengths to see how they make you feel. This advice is to help you better understand why something might look good on you vs why it might not and what to watch for.

Light Color Shirts

Light colored shirts are an easy staple to keep in your wardrobe. They are very versatile and can pair with numerous bottoms. If a bold white shirt isn’t your thing, try lighter shades of any color such as blue or grey to achieve a similar effect.

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Light Shirt with a Touch of Blue

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Light Shirt with a Touch of Grey

Light Shirts:

  • Makes you look bigger
  • When paired with light bottoms, streamlines the body and makes you look taller
  • When paired with dark bottoms, breaks up the body and makes you appear shorter
  • Great for daytime wear
  • Offers a crisp, clean and classic look
  • If your legs are way slimmer than your upper body, avoid really dark pants with light shirts
Note : Want to appear taller for that first date? Wearing monochromatic colors, like a light grey shirt and medium grey jeans, makes your body appear taller.

Dark Color Shirts

It’s a good idea to keep a couple of darker shirts on hand, especially for going out at night. Medium to dark colors doesn't mean wear navy blue or black all the time. Instead, stick to medium to darker shades of your favorite colors like "olive” in the green family or “burgundy” in the red family.

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Mediium Chambray Shirt

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Dark Chambray Shirt

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Dark Burgundy Shirt

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Dark Olive Green Shirt

Dark Shirts:

  • Makes you look slimmer
  • When paired with dark bottoms, makes you look taller
  • When paired with light bottoms, makes you appear shorter
  • Great for going out at night
  • Offers a sleek and stylish look
Note : Not having a color major color break in your clothes can make you appear taller (i.e. pairing a navy blue shirt with black jeans and black boots)

Horizontal Stripes

Horizontal stripes are pretty classic when it comes to prints. You don't have to only go for horizontal stripes, but can go for a pattern that has prominent horizontal stripes to achieve the same effect like in the example below on the left.

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Horizontal Stripes:

  • Makes your body appear wider
  • Can make you appear shorter
  • The bolder the stripe, the bigger the effect of looking wide
Note : The eye follows horizontal stripes side to side, which is why people appear wider when wearing horizontal stripes.
Horizontal Stripes Across the Chest

Stripes just across the chest is a fun way to wear horizontal stripes without worrying about appearing wide or short.

Photo Credit: Levi's

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Stripes Across Chest:

  • Make your chest appear wider
  • Creates an illusion of a taper from chest to waist

Vertical Stripes

Vertical stripes are pretty classic and can easily be dressed up when tucked in and worn with dress pants or chinos.

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Vertical Stripes:

  • Make your body appear longer
  • Make your body appear slimmer
  • The bolder the stripe, the more the elongating effect
  • Can easily be dressed up with chinos or slacks
Note : Vertical stripes can create the illusion of the body looking taller and slimmer because the eye follows the lines up and down.

Prints

From classic to fun to bold, there are plenty of prints to pick from. Just like horizontal and vertical stripes affect the appearence of our bodies, the size and contrast of prints can also make our bodies appear larger or smaller than they are.

Let's first start by defining some common types of prints:

Microprint

Micro-prints are small repeated patterns througout the fabric. Micro-floral print is a specific example of micro-prints that more men are wearing to stand out of the crowd. Floral not your thing? No worries, there are plenty of other micro-prints available.

Novelty

Novelty prints are fun prints like pineapples, animals or lightening bolts that repeat throughout a shirt. If you have an outgoing personality or like your clothes to speak for you, these are a great choice.

Geometric

Geometric prints are small repeated patterns that consist of a geometric shape like dots or squares. Geometric prints are a great starting point for those who like to play it safe.

Plaid

Plaid is one of the most classic prints out there. Plaid consists of two or more colors repeating in horizontal and vertical lines. We’ll diver deeper into plaid below.

Gingham

Gingham is in the plaid family and consists of two or more colors running horizontally and vertically creating small boxes.

Abstract

Abstract prints consist of unique patterns that don't have a specific shape to them, think of an abstract painting.

High Contrast Prints

High contrast prints are a fun way to stand out of the crowd. High contrast means the shirt's base color and print color are opposite (i.e. black and white).

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Small Print

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Medium Print

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Large Print

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Abstract with Contrast

High Contrast Prints:

  • Adds personality to your style
  • The taller you are, the bigger print you can go for
  • The shorter you are, the smaller print you should go for
  • High contrast prints make the body appear bigger
  • The bigger the print, the bigger it makes your body appear
Note : Medium sized prints with high contrast make good shirts to wear unbuttoned.

Low Contrast Prints

Prints with less contrast is a great stepping stone for those entering the world of patterns since they’re more subtle. Low contrast is when the base color and print color are similar (i.e. light blue and medium blue).

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Small Print

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Medium Print

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Large Print

Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Abstract with Less Contrast

Low Contrast Prints:

  • A subtle way to show personality
  • The taller you are, the bigger print you can go for
  • The shorter you are, the smaller print you should go for
  • Low contrast prints make the body appear slimmer

Plaid

Plaid is one of the most classic prints out there, but that also means it's everywhere. However, there is a way to avoid looking like every other guy in the room, which is by playing around with different sizes and prints of plaid.

Each style of plaid can create an illusion of appearing wider, slimmer, taller, shorter etc. Let's look at a few and see what effects they create:

Example 1

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Extra large sized plaid with contrast makes the body appear bigger.

Example 2

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Medium sized plaid with little contrast is balanced.

Example 3

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

High contrast medium sized plaid make the body appear wider.

Example 4

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

High contrast small sized plaid makes the body appear bigger, but not as much as example 3.

Example 5

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

The horizontal stripes look subtle, but stand out enough to make the body appear wider.

Example 6

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

The dark on dark medium gingham print makes the body appear slimmer. This is a medium sized gingham print, there are smaller versions out there.

Example 7

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Less contrast and small sized plaid makes the body appear slimmer.

Example 8

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Medium contrast print and large size plaid makes the body appear bigger.

Fabrics

Your choice of fabric can vary depending on the time of the year and how formal the occasion. I’m not going to bore you with a complete lesson in fabrics, but here’s a summary of what you actually need to know:

Cotton
Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Cotton shirts are pretty common. They can be lightweight and breathable depending on the fabric weight. The lighter the weight, the thinner the shirt, the more breathable it is. If you want extra comfort, go for a cotton shirt with stretch.

Subcategories of cotton:

  • Washed cotton: more casual looking
  • Fine cotton: dressed up
  • Italian cotton: even more dressed up
  • Oxford cotton: much thicker cotton (also known as a Oxford Cotton Button Down, OCBD)
Photo Credit: Nordstrom
Oxford Cloth Shirt

Best for: Year round

Linen
Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Linen shirts are very breathable and are perfect for hot and humid enviornments. They have a tendency to fit loosely and wrinkle easy. They are okay to wear wrinkled, but it's important to note they do give off a casual vibe.

Best for: Summer or hot enviornments

Chambray
Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Chambray looks like a denim shirt and is often confused for one. However, Chambray is made out of a plain weave fabric that has a soft and light feel, unlike denim. Chambray is a great option for those who like the look of a denim shirt, but don't want to wear a thick shirt.

Best for: Year round

Denim
Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Exactly what you think: jeans in the shape of a shirt. You can find denim shirts in lightweight or heavy denim, as well as dark and light colors. They fall in the casual category and look great with black jeans.

Best for: Fall, Winter and Spring

Flannel
Photo Credit: Nordstrom

Flannel is a thick wool or cotton shirt that is very warm. Don’t be deterred by the lumberjack stereotype, you can find flannel in a non-plaid patterns.

Best for: Cold weather

Wool
Photo Credit: Wool and Prince

Wool button downs are best in class when it comes to fabric. They last a long time, won’t wrinkle easily, and don't absorb odor. You might have heard of Merino wool, which is also a great breathable option, especially for those who sweat a lot.

Best for: Year round

Care

Now that you’ve found “the one”, how do you care for it so you can live happily ever after?

Washing

How often should you wash your shirts? Only when they are dirty. This can vary from person to person since some men sweat more than others. If your shirt starts to smell after one wear, that's your answer. However, the less you wash it, the longer you can preserve it.

Dry Clean

If your shirt tag says "dry clean only", obey it. If your shirt doesn't say "dry clean only", it's optional. Dry cleaning is the easiest option for those who hate doing laundry and ironing.

Laundry

If you don't want your shirt to shrink even the slightest, avoid warm and hot water and wash it in cold water only.

Throwing your shirts in the dryer can also cause them to shrink, so avoid the dryer and dry them flat. The dryer in general has a tendency to weaken fabrics, so don’t go too hot if you can’t live without it.

Note : Unless the care label says otherwise, put fabric softener in your washing machine if you want to naturally dry your shirts. Fabric softener keeps them from feeling crunchy, especially when washing them in cold water.

Wrinkes and Ironing

I hear it all the time..."I hate ironing shirts!" Unless you want to be limited to wrinkle-free shirts, which end up mostly being dress shirts, wrinkles are a part of life. But wait... what if I told you there is a magic wand that releases hot steam that you can wave over your shirt and it gets rid of wrinkles? It exists! It’s called a steamer. Get one! Here are a couple to check out: Handheld(good for traveling/takes up less space) orFull Size (easy and quick to use everyday).

While shopping you can keep a look out for shirts that say “wrinkle-free”, however, a majority of these shirts might be dress shirts, so make sure you're getting a button down.

Packing for Travel

When packing a button down, roll up your shirt to maximize space in your suitcase and avoid heavy wrinkling. If you get a few wrinkles and don’t have access to an iron, hang the shirt in the bathroom while you shower, the steam from the shower can help get rid of some of those wrinkles.

Photo Credit: Ethan Men

Shopping Notes

Look for Stretch

If you love being comfortable and are new to the world of button downs, go for one with stretch. Tug the fabric to see if it stretches.

Don't Be Afraid to Try Things

Have fun with prints and textures. If you are new to button downs, feel free to start with plaids or solids and work your way up. If you're ready to step it up a bit, try dots, woven textures, chambray, or novelty prints.

Find your Brands

Different brands fit in different ways and it's helpful to find which ones are made for you. The easiest way to find yours is by trial and error. Source 4 to 6 different brands of shirts and try them in a change room to see how they fit. Keep a look out for "Slim Fit" or "Regular Fit" as well. Once you know which brands and fits work, it'll be easier to add shirts to your wardrobe with minimal effort.

Measure

Either measure your body or your favorite shirt and compare the measurements listed online to see if they compare or are close. This is great for people who have trouble finding sleeves or lengths that fit. You will need a tape measurer for this.

Sleeve: Some sleeve measurements start from the base of the neck to the cuff, these measurements are usually in the 30s (i.e. 34). If the measurement is in the 20s (i.e. 26) that means it's measureed from the shoulder seam to the cuff.

Shoulder: Measure from shoulder seam to shoulder seam.

Chest: Measure from underam to underarm.

Length: Measure from where the neck meets the shoulder (right next to the collar) to bottom of shirt.

FAQ

Some guys wear their shirts wrinkly, is that on purpose?
Cotton has a tendency to wrinkle easily, so it's normal for shirts to wrinkle throughout the day. However, there are some brands, like J. Crew, that market the relaxed and naturally wrinkly look, which is a personal style preference. If you like the shirts, but not the wrinkly look, you can easily iron them.
Can I wear an undershirt with a button down?
You can definitely wear an undershirt with your button down. Not showing your undershirt is more stylish than showing it, so opt for a v-neck undershirt. If you heat up easily, look for breathable undershirts that have cooling technology. Also, wearing an undershirt can help with not having to wash your shirt after each wear because the undershirt can absorb the sweat and odor. It's also okay not to wear an undershirt if that's your personal preference.
My collar keeps flopping to the side, does that mean my shirt is done?
Overtime collars can get weak, but that doesn't mean you need to toss your shirt. Consider getting a collar stay to make sure it looks crisp and sharp.
What’s up with denim button downs?
Denim button downs are a fashion forward look for guys who like a rugged style. They are meant to be worn casually and come in a number of thicknesses. You can pair them with colored jeans such as olive, burgundy, black or wear denim on denim. If you like the look, but aren’t into the denim shirt thing, try a chambray shirt. Chambray shirts have the denim look, but are much thinner and can be dressed up.

Photo Credit: Pinterest
Thin denim shirt/chambray

Photo Credit: GQ
Thick denim Shirt

Denim on denim is a very specific look that some fashion forward guys like to wear. If it makes you cringe and all you think of is a Canadian tuxedo, avoid it. If you want to try it, wear opposite color denim at the top and bottom, for example a darker shirt and lighter jeans.

Photo Credit: Magic Fox
When wearing my button down with a sweater, should I go with a v-neck or crew neck sweater?
You could go either way depending on what look you like. The v-neck shows more neck, which is nice for guys with short necks. If you go for a crew neck, make sure the sweater isn't right up against your neck or you will look uptight. Keep the very top button of your shirt undone, unless you need to be very formal. If you want to wear a tie, go for the v-neck.

Photo Credit: I Am Galla
Crew Neck

Photo Credit: J.Crew
V-neck

Congrats, you made it to the end! You're a button down expert now. If you have questions or feel like I missed addressing something, feel free to tell me in the comments. The next step is to check out the other guides. Chinos pair really well with button downs, so check that one out!

Stay in the Know

Let’s stay in touch so we can keep you updated on when a new guide or blog post is out. This is just the beginning, we’ve got some amazing stuff coming your way. No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.