The button-down collar shirt: Yankee doodle dandy

button-down collar shirt

We’re used to touting the virtues of British and Italian tailoring, but those flashy gents from across the pond have also left their mark on classic men’s fashion – and no, we’re not referring to the invention of the bum-bag (fanny pack to Americans). Gentlemen, we’re talking about a classic wardrobe staple found in the wardrobes of men all over the world and it’s as American as apple pie: The button-down collar shirt.

Button-down collar shirt

The Button-down collar shirt: brainchild of Brooks Brothers

Legend has it, that John Brooks, grandson of the founder of Brooks Brothers, noticed at a polo match in England that the tips of the polo shirt collars were attached to the body of the shirt with small buttons, stopping the collars from flying into the players faces. So inspired was he by this natty invention, that he decided to have the button-down collar shirt made and the rest is history. We say ‘legend’ because there is some suggestion that this story isn’t 100% accurate, but who cares, it’s a nice story, even if the British have propagated it deliberately, in an attempt to play down the American’s splendid creation.

The Button-down collar shirt boom

According to Brooks Brothers, the button-down collar shirt has been sold at its Madison Avenue store since 1900, and was initially made popular during the 1920s and 30s when the button-down collar shirt was worn by American sportsmen and preppy gents attending universities on the East coast.

It wasn’t long before sartorially conscious continental men from Europe were jumping on the ‘button-down collar shirt bandwagon’ and flocking to 346 Madison Avenue (home of Brooks Brothers in NYC) to stock up on these American classics.

In the 1980s, the button-down shirt collar rose to a triumphant position and Europeans were returning home with stacks of button-down collar shirts in all manner of colours and patterns…along with a pair of Levi’s 501s.

When and where can I wear a button-down collar shirt?

Some of you might be wondering whether the button-down collar shirt is something you can wear to the office or whether it’s should really be reserved for more informal or casual occasions? The truth is, there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to fashion, as fickle as it is and personally, we think nothing says ‘American society at play in Newport’ more than a button-down collar shirt with a rep tie. But generally speaking, the button-down collar shirt is at the more casual end of the shirt spectrum and if you are working in an office that has a more formal dress code, then you may wish to stay traditionally European and go for a cutaway collar shirt.

Many in the land of the free and home of the brave would say that the button-down collar shirt is the old-school, All-American look that has never gone out of style and never will and they do have a point. Bruce Boyer sums things up pretty well: the button-down collar shirt “is the jauntiest collar that one can wear in the office or boardroom. Its purposefully nonchalant roll acts as a counterpoint to an otherwise sedate outfit and tends to give the impression of dressed-down and approachable respectability; figuratively as well as literally, it softens the stiff edges of the appearance…”

So, we say you decide! Either way, the button-down collar shirt is definitely one of the classics to have in your wardrobe and the go-to when you want to look relaxed but oh so smart.

Famous button-down collar shirt wearers

American presidents, hollywood stars and music and art personalities have all sported the button-down collar shirt. But perhaps no greater affirmation of the button-down collar shirt can be found than in that of the style icon, Mr Gianni Agnelli. Gianni Agnelli was a big fan of the button-down collar shirt and one of the best-known men to wear one. That a man with such impeccable taste and with the ways and means to purchase the best of the best from Italian and English shirt-makers chose to wear an American original, is testament to this shirt’s place in the men’s fashion hall of fame.

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