The Difference Between Button-Up vs. Button-Down

A blue, white and red shirt laid out.

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Photo courtesy of Nimble Made

Did you know that button-up and button-down shirts aren’t the same things? These shirts are similar, but they do have differences. A button-up shirt buttons all the way up the front whereas a button-down has buttons on the collar that you can button down. 

The difference is simple, yet many need clarification about these similar shirts and how to style them. Let’s explore how you can dress a buttoned shirt up or down depending on your style. 

The Button-Down Origin Story 

Button-down shirts were invented in England in 1896 by John E. Brooks. At that time, polo players had to wear collared shirts, which sometimes were detachable and washed separately from their cuffs. While playing, the wind would often make these collars impair the players’ vision by flapping in the wind. 

Some players sewed buttons on their collars to make them stay down while they played, which gave John E. Brooks the idea for the Brooks Brothers polo collar shirts. These were dress shirts at first and became a go-to for tennis players and other American athletes. Now, the button-down is found in almost every male’s wardrobe for casual or dressy encounters. 

Button Up, Buttercup 

A button-up shirt is any shirt with buttons that go all the way up the front of the shirt. Button-up shirts are versatile and go with almost everything. Flannels and dress shirts are simultaneously considered button-up shirts since they both have buttons up the front of them. There are short-sleeve button-up shirts and formal and informal variations of button-up shirts. 

A button-down shirt is a form of a button-up shirt since it has buttons on the front, but what makes it a button-down are the buttons that keep the collar in place. Most black-tie dress codes require button-up shirts underneath a suit jacket. Button-down shirts can pass underneath but they aren’t as dressy and don’t look as nice. So, button-up shirts are the most versatile of the two versions since they can pass for anything from white-tie to smart casual dress codes. 

Button Up vs Button Down 

Button-downs are typically more informal than button-up shirts with a relaxed collar and generally darker colors. While both variations of button-up shirts can come in myriad colors, button-ups are geared more toward formal attire than button-downs. 

However, you can wear either form of this shirt for formal events, depending on how you style it. You can wear either sweater with a blazer or sports jacket and pull off a polished and sophisticated look. Generally speaking, the more stiff the shirt collar is, the more formal it’s supposed to be. Most wear a tie to dress up a button-up even more. 

However, you can opt for the air tie look for a fashion-forward way to style. You’ll want to ensure that you have a fresh suit that you want to draw attention to and a nice fitting shirt. To achieve the air tie, button your button-up shirt all the way to the top like you’re going to put on a tie over it–and then don’t. 

Which Shirt Wins?

So, which shirt is better? In the showdown of button-up vs button-down, the clear winner is both. The button-up and the button-down are so similar that the differences between them depend on fabric, collar stiffness, color and collar shape. The winner cannot be defined since the options are endless regarding button-up vs. button-down. Wear whatever you feel the most comfortable in, iron the collar, and you’re good to go. 

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