Understanding the Men’s Button Down Collar

Information men need to wear a shirt with a button down collar

A button down collar is an easy way to add variety to a man’s wardrobe without worrying too much about other things like color or pattern. A simple white shirt with this collar will do the trick. But why? What does a man need to know about the button down collar?

Shirt Collars Say Something about the Man

USA Network’s new series White Collar, about a white collar criminal consulting for the FBI, has been using dress shirt collars to distinguish its two principal characters. FBI agent Peter Burke, played by Tim DeKay, has often been clad in a dress shirt with a button down collar.

The employment of this shirt collar by the costumer is an excellent choice for the kind of character DeKay is portraying:a down-to-earth, direct working man. This article will explain why the audience gets that impression through the button down collar while discussing some of its function and history.

mens button down collar

Tim DeKay as FBI Agent Peter Burke, wearing a button down collar Source: Poptimal

Button Down Collars Started in Polo

Like some other menswear traditions still around today, such as hacking pockets or single-vented jackets, the button down collar was invented for a man on a horse. Specifically, it was Ivy League polo players who wanted to keep their shirt collars out of their face.While bouncing on a horse, it was easy for the shirt collar points to flap up so polo players took to wearing shirts whose collar points buttoned down to the shirt front. Because of its origin in sports, the button down is the least dressy shirt collar.

The Nature of a Button Down Collar

Though all dress shirt collars should be ironed, button down collars are actually quite soft. Some starch may be used to get the collar points to lay flat, but the roll of the collar should be soft and it shouldn’t remind you of wearing a stiff formal shirt collar. Make sure the buttons which will hold the collar points down are of good quality because they will be very visible – if you wear a tie and custom suit, they will be the only shirt buttons visible on the front of the shirt, and being so near your face, they will be noticed.

Be sure that the only time they are unbuttoned is when you are putting on your necktie. This collar, particularly on an oxford shirt, can be worn equally well without a tie. That’s the great thing about this men’s shirt collar – it can go up or down in dressiness.


mens blue white button downmens white blue button down collar

Two button down collar shirts from A Tailored Suit

The men’s button down collar is not, however, completely flexible in application. Before wearing it in the workplace with a tie, look around and see what other men are wearing. If you don’t see any button down collars, look for other signs of informality – sport jackets and tassel loafers, for example.

Do not wear a button down collared shirt with a double breasted suit, either. These suits are by nature dressier than single breasted, and it would be a fashion blunder to mix the informal collar with the dressy suit.

mens pink button down shirt

Brooks Brothers pink button down oxford Source: http://www.brooksbrothers.com/

Button Down Collar Button Size

The buttons which hold down a button down collar are smaller than shirt front and cuff buttons. They should be about the same size as sleeve gauntlet buttons and the shirt should have come with a spare. Do not try to replace one of them with a spare shirt front button because the eyelet will be too small and you will have two different size buttons holding down the collar (if you can get the first one through the eyelet).

Also do not try to get by with replacing both buttons with larger ones. Even if you can fit them through the eyelets they will look way too big to belong right under your face. If you lose more than one, you can use the gauntlet buttons if you absolutely have to as long as you wear a jacket and cover up those missing gauntlet buttons.

Fashion Statement: The Unbuttoned Button Down Collar

It is worth noting that while the rule is to button down the collar points with this shirt collar, a man may wear them unbuttoned to make a fashion statement. This statement is not for everyone and a man who doesn’t button down his collar points out of laziness will not look like a fashion-forward man, he will still look simply lazy. If you think this would work for you, give it a try and wear it with confidence.

If you like the idea of a button down collar and don’t want to have to fret about buttoning or not buttoning down the collar points then you should look for a hidden button down collar. The hidden button down functions the same way except that behind the shirt point there is a small loop sewn on for buttoning. This collar is still soft and it can even be rumpled if the look suits the man while the collar points stay put.

mens hidden button down collar

A hidden button down collar. You can see one of the hidden buttons in the red circle. Notice the collar point on the left – it is still soft and flexible.

Button Down Collars are Great for us All

The men’s button down collar deserves a place in every man’s closet. Match it with a pair of loafers and chinos, and you have a classy casual look. Use the same shirt with a single breasted suit and necktie, and you have a no-nonsense straightforward look, like Agent Peter Burke. Whether for business or pleasure, every man needs to understand and wear the button down collar.