Informal, witty, cheeky: the button-down collar shirt is one of the most popular menswear items. But if its fame is widespread, there’s no generalized agreement on how and when it can be worn. And for those most attentive to fashion, the question of all questions is: can you combine it with a tie?
The button-down shirt is so described because it has a collar with two slots on the tips, to be attached to the two buttons sewn on the underside of the shirt at the sides of the neck. It is, in truth, one of the few contributions offered by the United States to menswear: indeed, it was created at the end of the nineteenth century, more precisely in 1896, when John E. Brooks – the grandson of the founder of Brooks Brothers, the American brand for which the button-down shirt was to become a real cult item – took part in a polo match in England. On the field, John noted that the collars of the players were attached to their uniform by some buttons so that they didn’t constantly flutter in their faces during games. He thought it was an excellent idea and, a few months later, drew inspiration from this to make the company’s first shirts with buttons on the collar.
Their success was such that they become – according to a historic definition – “the most imitated item in fashion history”. It was the Fifties and Sixties, in particular, when the button-down shirt rose up to become an icon of elegance and style, after being launched by celebrities like Paul Newman, Cary Grant or Fred Astaire. Despite the sporting origin of the garment, these Hollywood stars didn’t hesitate to wear it with nonchalance under elegant suits with a tie.
The end of a taboo
And here’s the point: in America this type of collar has always been popular with young managers and those who like the style of a businessman able to combine elegance and sportiness. As a result, wearing a button-down shirt with a tie is the norm. This trend has recently spread in Europe and in our country, where many young people aren’t afraid to combine or to integrate more formal clothing – which is typically Italian – with new trends. The famous Italian TV journalist Enrico Mentana was a trailblazer with this style, which ended up being his trademark.
Many people, on the Old Continent, remain of the idea that the tie must be worn solely with a buttonless, and thus a more rigid, collar. As always, it’s a question of taste and style. But anyone who wants to tie a tie around a button-down collar needn’t fear, certain that they’re not committing a “mortal sin”. However – it goes without saying– they must pay close attention to choosing the right shirt and tie.
The right combination
Particularly suitable for button-down shirts are knit ties, especially those with a straight tail. With a small knot, the result is a look that is at the same time casual but stylish. The bow tie can also be a good choice, bringing to mind a look that falls between the informal and the intellectual look of American college professors. Instead, to wear a more formal tie, you can also opt for a revisited button-down shirt, in which the buttonholes are at the lower end of the collar, not directly visible, so that the collar is still attached, but with a more classic and less sporty look compared to the traditional button-down shirt. We should also remember that there are four different types of button-down shirts: the standard one, characterized by collar point lengths of 9 centimeters and a collar height of 3.8 centimeters behind and 2.6 centimeters in front; the low button-down version with point lengths of 7 centimeters, a back height of 3.2 centimeters and front height of 2.6 centimeters; the high button-down, with a point length of 9.2 centimeters; and the two-button high button-down, with a 4.5 centimeter back height. If the low button-down shirt is the trendiest, the high button-down is characterized by greater elegance and refinement, and it’s for this reason that – compared to other types– it’s the most suitable to wear with a tie.