Can I wear a button-down collar with a suit and tie?
September 6, 2005 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Men's fashion: can I wear a button-down collar shirt with a suit and tie? Or does that offend some unwritten rule of style? I've gotten conflicting reports.
posted by gd779 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (27 answers total)
Sure, you can, but it's (usually) considered a little less formal than a straight-collar shirt. Again, the reference.
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:41 PM on September 6, 2005

Some say "Never". Some say "Never with a double-breasted suit." I don't think I've ever read "Sure, knock yourself out." Why take your chances?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:43 PM on September 6, 2005

Girl says: looks tacky with a suit.
posted by Miko at 8:47 PM on September 6, 2005

And more:

One style of soft collar is the button-down collar. The button-down has small buttons at the tips of the points. It is a characterictic collar style of the "prepy" looked first popularized in the 1960s. Few boys and men currently wearing button-down collars are aware of its historical origins. The button-down collar is in fact an American adaptation of shirts worn by English polo players. It was introduced by John Brooks in 1900 after he had discovered it being worn by English polo players in order to prevent flapping during a match. Polo players at first wore formal cotton dress shirts, but had the collars buttoned down to stop them flapping about during the game which was distracting to the players. The button-down collar is today a staple of American boy's wear, but much less common in Britain or the continent.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:50 PM on September 6, 2005

I would recommend against it. Unless you're really going for the prep school look, don't do it. I remember having a bunch of them from my more formative years, they helped me keep things in check on the playground.

Odd though, a polo shirt (three buttons, soft collar) doesn't have buttons.
posted by geoff. at 8:58 PM on September 6, 2005

I always thought that style of collar looked weird without a tie, but apparently I was wrong -- as of three weeks ago, the answer was no tie with button-down collars.
posted by jjg at 9:43 PM on September 6, 2005

I think you could sort of do it as an ironic look—maybe with a knit tie. Particularly if you were wearing it with, say, a v-neck sweater and a windbreaker. Or some sort of semi-clashy medley, kind of faux-preppy. With widewale cords. In peach, or pink. But that's sort of... complicated for, you know, just wearing clothes to get to work and stuff.

Otherwise, signs point to nooooo.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:43 PM on September 6, 2005

Having worked in a Haberdashery, the rule of thumb was that button-down collar shirts go with sport jackets and blazers. A traditional suit (matching jacket to pant) should be worn with anything but the button-down. If you want to keep your collar down, you can try a tab collar shirt where there is a bridge just beneath the tie that connects the two points. Personally, I think they look terrible.

You can, and should wear a tie with a button-down shirt, when formality is needed. But the look is also good for a more casual form without a tie.

Fashion evolves, so no one can say "never" wear a button-down with a suit, but aesthetically it just looks bad. Try and stay away from it just like not wearing white socks with a navy suit.
posted by qwip at 9:55 PM on September 6, 2005

No, you shouldn't.

How's that for unambigous?

(OK, a real answer: you can wear whatever the hell you want. Few guys actually know anything about what is "proper" dress attire. But, all of the mens fashion-maven types I have read say: don't do the button down collar. The reasoning behind that given in this thread seems to back it up).
posted by teece at 10:03 PM on September 6, 2005

I have seen formal-ish shirts with "button down" collars, usually white, that look great with a stylish tie and formal suit. It may depend on whether you consider "button down" to imply a softer, less formal fabric (or less formal colour) or not.
posted by krisjohn at 10:52 PM on September 6, 2005

When I see someone wearing a formal button-down collar with a tie, I just assume he went to an Ivy League college. (This includes looking the mirror - I have all my shirts made with button-down collars.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:39 PM on September 6, 2005

Seconding teece's advice; ultimately it's a matter of taste.

That said, personally, if I'm going to wear a button down collar, I go jacket-less or tie-less or both. To me, button-downs are just too casual for a suit.

Unless, of course, you're wearing a white or off-white linen suit, in which case I take it all back. Lookin' sharp!
posted by joshuaconner at 12:25 AM on September 7, 2005

I have quite a few button-collared business shirts. I wasn't aware of the polo origins. Mine are not (particularly) soft collared and I never wear them with a suit (but, I never wear suits) although I wear them with a black leather jacket and/or winter vest at times. I like them because they hold their shape better and also seem to hold the tie in place a bit better. So although they may not be strictly in fashion, I don't regard them as sufficiently unstylish to jettison (that may be the miser combined with aging conservativeness) -- I figure at the very least, the shape-holding keeps me looking better for longer, as it were. I personally haven't ever regarded them as out of place with a suit - but then again, I don't really look at guys that much, so I would take a girl's advice on that aspect. But they need a tie! They look crap without it.
posted by peacay at 1:08 AM on September 7, 2005

If it's a faux pax to wear a button down with a suit you need to get word to those of us in many regions of the south. We wear them with suits all the time. But we're just a bunch of hicks. It does seem like they would look odd with a double breasted suit.
posted by Carbolic at 3:12 AM on September 7, 2005

When I read the following line in a Rex Stout mystery (detective Archie Goodwin is the speaker), I stopped buying button-down collars.

"The only thing I had against him was his buttoned-down shirt collar. A man who hates loose flaps so much that he buttons down his collar should also button down his ears."
posted by 3rings at 4:45 AM on September 7, 2005

The fact that few men know many (if any) fashion rules should not entice you to break them yourself. Fashion guidelines are there for a reason: They make you look good. Now, if you know the rules and have a reason for breaking them, you may. But now you are faced with the burden of making the outfit look good, when the whole point is for the outfit to make you look good.

Or put another way, there are very few E.E. Cummings in either literature or style. When you break the rules you will, more often than not, make the message (which is "hey I'm professional," or "hey, I'm attractive") harder to receive.

Meatbomb, read the guidelines for posting to ask.mefi. The green is not the place to make hit-and-run jokes.
posted by oddman at 5:58 AM on September 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'd say don't, but if you must, a pinpoint or other finer thread shirt will look better with a suit/tie than the heavier Oxford weave.
posted by jalexei at 6:47 AM on September 7, 2005

Button-down collars are a perfectly fine complement to a standard American-fitted suit for a working professional. In fact, if the image you want to convey is that you're a roll-up-your-sleeves, down-in-the-trenches Excel-and-Power-Point warrior, it's actually the preferred look.

If you're wearning a more fitted or fashion-foward suit, or if you need to convey a higher degree of formality or high corporate station, than point collar (with collar stays!) are preferred.

Spread collars are to be avoided unless you're BOTH wearing a closely-fitted, but otherwise conventionally designed, suit AND you have an athletic build. They don't complement those who aren't lean, and they coordinate equally poorly with a fashion forward suit, or a sack suit.
posted by MattD at 7:05 AM on September 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

There may be some regional differences. Strict no-no on the east coast, but out here in Portland, OR you see it e-ver-y-where.
posted by jbradley at 8:10 AM on September 7, 2005

It is a Brooks Brothers prep look. It is a bit less formal but I see nothing wrong with it. An awful lot of Ivy Leaguers wear this combo. Wear the rep tie to complete the look. Certainly not a strict no-no in the east, although it seems less popular than it used to be.
posted by caddis at 8:15 AM on September 7, 2005

I like MattD's advice best. I recently set up a business-attire wardrobe, and among the dozen or so shirts I purchased were two with button-down collars. They are fine-point, thin dress shirts, appropriate for a suit in every way (on preview: they're from Brooks Brothers, in the section where the ties are, if that's any justification, a la caddis above). They are also more casual in style: one is a blue and white tiny houndstooth pattern, the other is pink. Both look good with a jacket and tie.

While I prefer no buttons on my collars, I have no trouble wearing the occasional pinpoint button-down with my suits at work. (But then, I also have no trouble wearing pink, either, so YMMV.)
posted by werty at 8:23 AM on September 7, 2005

When I see someone wearing a formal button-down collar with a tie, I just assume he went to an Ivy League college.

Growing up in New England, you see button-down shirts with suits all the time. So if you're around here (outside of the big cities) and not at something extra fancy, you'd fit in.
posted by jessamyn at 8:40 AM on September 7, 2005

Where are you wearing it? What do people there think?

If, for example, you're wearing it to work and everyone there would take it to mean you know nothing about how to dress yourself, then you shouldn't do it even if everyone on metafilter said it's fine. But if no-one there would notice or care, then go ahead, even if everyone elsewhere thinks it's terrible.
posted by winston at 9:15 AM on September 7, 2005

There are rules (which I appreciate, and try to follow), and then there is the practical aspect. Which is; will anyone notice? And, in my experience, very few people will.

Where I work, things are very casual - almost jeans and t-shirt level. And on the rare "dress-up" occasion (wedding, funeral, etc.) I see a good number of fashion "don'ts"- unvented jackets, mismatched shoe/belt combinations, etc. I think the rules are slowly falling by the wayside. I know many guys who can't even tie a tie! How can they be expected to know not to wear button-down collar with a suit?
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:17 AM on September 7, 2005

Of course you can. It's interesting how contentious this issue seems to be. How can dressing in a "Brooks Brothers prep look" be considered anything but formal? The Brothers cost too much for me though, my own standard is Lands End, who by default have the little buttons on all their menswear collars, even on their Hawaiian shirts, which would look ridiculous buttoned, with or without a tie.
posted by Rash at 10:35 AM on September 7, 2005

Can I just say, button collar or no, please stop with the double-breasted suits? (David Letterman, I'm talking to YOU.)
They are just not flattering, too boxy and weird looking, and you can't wear the jacket open.

And 3rings, good idea on following Archie Goodwin's advice since he is the sexiest fictional character ever.

I myself have broken the habit of leaving my dresser drawers open a crack ever since he blew off an otherwise attractive girl for being a "crack-lover" (this had a somewhat different connotation in the 1930s, I think).
You know, just in case he ever stops by to rifle my lingerie drawer.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:58 PM on September 7, 2005

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