Button-up vs. button-down shirt collar differences

Button-Up vs. Button-Down Shirts

The debate of button-up vs. button-down dress shirts seems eternal.

The main difference between a button-up and a button-down shirt lies in the collar design and button positions.

Still, the dispute is hyped due to formality and styling differences.

The Button-Up Shirt

Button-up shirts refer to any shirt with a full-length buttoned placket, regardless of the collar type.

Button-up dress shirt collar type

The name is “button-up” because you would fasten all the buttons when wearing a shirt.

That said, there can be variations among collar styles. A straight-pointed, semi-spread, cut-away, or wing-tip can exist in a button-up shirt.

A button-up shirt is a formal garment. As for most retailers, it simply means a dress shirt.

The button-up shirt can also come in various fabrics. It would be the fabric that dictates the formality and not the button style.

For example, tartan and poplin can both be button-up shirt fabrics as long as the shirt has an open collar.

The Button-Down Shirt

Button-down shirts specifically feature small buttons that fasten the collar points to the shirt. This detail is absent in standard button-ups.

Button-down dress shirt collar type

These small buttons are the powerful style remnants that descended into the sartorial world.

Historically, British polo players used to have a button-down collar to prevent the collar from flapping.

These polo collar shirts later became a part of fashion; we see them today as button-down shirts.

Button-down shirts can be both dressy and casual. As Oxford cloth or OCBD, it’s a dressy wardrobe essential.

A button-down shirt can also come in different fabrics. But all fabrics innately become less formal due to a unique collar style.

So, most of the time, gentlemen wear button-down shirts to mix formality with something functional.

Button-Up vs. Button-Down Collar Difference

You often hear something like, “All button-down shirts are button-ups, but not all button-ups are button-down shirts.”

Button-up vs. button-down dress shirt

Things like this add complexity to styling as if there isn’t already too much confusion.

However, the main difference between button-up vs. button-down shirts is the collar.

This different collar style led to a variation in the formality of both these shirts.

The Buttons Position

First, both these shirts have buttons that go down from the neck to the hem.

Button-up vs. button-down shirt button positions

The resounding and differentiating thing is the collar buttons.

The collar of a button-down shirt is closed by buttons at the collar points, one on each side.

These buttons are smaller compared to the ones on the shirt front.

A button-up shirt doesn’t have collar buttons, thus having an open collar.

Collar Stiffness

The collar on a button-up shirt is stiff. This represents a more formal nature of the shirt.

The anatomy of a dress shirt collar

In comparison, button-down shirts’ collars are more supple and soft. As a result, the shirt would feel casual.

The stiffness in the collar is due to its construction. A button-up shirt collar has a separate reinforced material stiffening the collar.

In addition, button-up shirts use collar stays (aka collar stiffeners) to keep collar points sharp and crisp.

The collar of a button-down shirt is often just the fabric with no stiffening material.

Formality and Dressiness

A button-up shirt is more formal and dressier than its button-down counterpart.

The reasons are obvious. First is obviously a stiff collar in a button-up shirt.

Secondly, most formal looks are simple yet clean and minimal. A button-up shirt best matches this description of formality.

Lastly, button-up shirts come in a wide range of formal fabrics, contributing to dressiness.

Places to Wear Button-Up vs. Button-Down Shirts

For business situations needing a dressed-up look, wear a button-up shirt.

These situations could be attending business meetings, interviews, work presentations, dinners, etc.

Also, a button-up shirt is your best match when wearing a suit.

Recommended button-up dress shirt colors for semi-formal events

Or at least don a blazer for business-casual outfits. Also, it’s perfectly fine to wear a tie with your button-up.

Less formal or everyday events demand effortless and casual, meaning you can wear a button-down shirt.

A button-down shirt with a blazer can make a business casual outfit.

For a smart-casual look, wear a button-down shirt with chinos or dress pants.

Finally, a button-down shirt with jeans can work for day-to-day casual night-outs and friend get-togethers.

How to Wear a Button-Up Shirt

Wearing a button-up dress shirt is as effortless as it can be. Just be mindful of a few details, and you’ll be good.

First comes the occasion of wearing a button-up. Enough said already; a button-up shirt is best for formal and semi-formal occasions.

Charcoal grey suit, blue dress shirt, black tie, and black Oxford shoes

When wearing the shirt, be mindful of the shirt’s hem. A curved hem best matches a button-up.

The reason is it’s a formal hem style that keeps that shirt tucked in. Keeping the button-up shirt tucked in is best even with other hem styles.

Pink dress shirt, navy chino pants, and brown loafers

Lastly, you can wear a button-up shirt in a routine of outfits. Try any suit and shirt combination, and a button-up will match it.

Pair a white button-up and a tie with any dark-colored suit, e.g., navy, for a semi-formal outfit.

Navy suit, white button-up shirt, and black oxford shoes

You can wear a light-blue button-up with a grey suit for something business-appropriate. Or a pink shirt with a blue suit as cocktail attire.

How to Wear a Button-Down Shirt

The versatility of the button-down shirt makes it easy to wear. But it’s often worn casually.

So, a button-down shirt should have a straight hem. Both approaches are fine, whether tucked in or untucked.

As part of casual wear, you often untucked the shirt. I suggest tucking in the button-down shirt only with a suit or blazer.

Navy blazer with a denim button-down shirt

There are many ways to style a button-down shirt.

First, start with the standard blazer and pants look. It’s an effortless outfit that is stylish but not too formal.

A sweater over a button-down shirt tucked in chinos would be a great smart-casual look.

Grey sweater, tan pants, white OCBD, and brown oxford shoes

A button-down layered over a t-shirt would also provide a timeless casual outfit. Don’t hesitate to roll up the sleeves for a relaxed look.

Button-Up vs. Button-Down Shirts FAQs

Which collar is more formal, a button-up or a button-down?

The button-up collar is more formal compared to a button-down.

The main reason is that the button-up shirt has a stiff collar that matches professional and dressy occasions, compared to a soft button-down collar which is more casual.

Do you always have to fasten the button-down collar buttons?

No, but it’s recommended to fasten the button-down collar buttons. It looks practical and makes your shirt look complete.

Why are button-down collars considered casual?

Button-down collars doesn’t appear very reinforcing, making them look casual.

The accompanying fabric and styling details, like a front shirt pocket, make it a casual shirt style.

Are button-up shirts considered business-casual?

The Oxford cloth button-down shirt represents the epitome of business-casual shirts.

It’s not just OCBD; all other button-downs comply with a business-casual code, even the short sleeve ones.

Can you wear a button-up shirt untucked?

Yes, you can. Generally, it’s the rule of thumb that button-up shirts should be tucked in.

However, if the fabric is casual and the hem is straight, you can wear it untucked.

How to wear a tie with a button-down shirt?

There is no complexity here. Just like you wear a tie with any other shirt, you do it with a button-down.

However, fasten the collar button and wear a casual tie. Cotton and knitted ties are the best options.

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