Button Up vs Button Down… What’s The Difference? (Ask an Effortless Gent)

by   |  in Style Tips

Imagine this. You’re picking out an outfit for work, and there are two shirts to choose from: A blue button-up and a white button-down. At first glance, you might assume that there’s no difference between the two garments besides their color.

Indeed, the terms button up and button down are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. 

We’re going to break down the differences between the two shirts, so you know where and when to wear one over the other!

Button Down or Button Up?

Button ups are shirts that you close up, or undo, using a vertical line of buttons on the front of the shirt. They’re the most common type of shirt available on the market. 

In truth, most button-down shirts you encounter are also button-up shirts, but not all button-up shirts can be categorized as button downs. This may sound a little complicated, but don’t worry, the differences are simple: 

A button-up shirt is any shirt with buttons lining the front, while a button-down shirt has additional buttons on the collar, fastening the collar points down. 

See? Quite simple. Now, let’s go into greater detail, so you know why we have both styles—and what to do with each.

Going into a bit of history will help with this…

The Bottom Line

Button-up shirts are any shirt with buttons lining the front. These are used to open/close the shirt.

Button-down shirts are shirts with smaller buttons at the collar points, to fasten the collar to the shirt, e.g. the oxford cloth button down shirt, or OCBD.

A Brief History Of The Button-Down Collar

The button-down shirt dates back to 1869, in England. While charging on their horses, polo players would often get distracted by the collars of their shirts flapping in the wind, obstructing their field of vision.

As a solution to this problem, they decided to attach buttons to their collars, to hold them down during matches. 

After watching a polo match in England, John E. Brooks, of Brooks Brothers, decided that the button-down shirt should be a fashion item. Brooks then manufactured the first ever polo collar shirts

Their sporty origins are the reason why button-downs are considered more casual. As we often point out here at EG, the more details on an item of clothing, the less formal it is, especially if these extras are utilitarian. This is the case of the collar buttons on a button-down.

man in white denim jeans and a green camo style short sleeve button up shirt
Example of a Short sleeve button down shirt with buttons on the collar points.

How to Wear Button Up & Button Down Shirts 

There’s a lot of overlap regarding where and when you can wear these two shirts. Button-down shirts are more informal, so they can be worn with a suit and tie or in more relaxed settings

They can’t, however, be worn in a formal dress code, such as with a tuxedo, or in a black tie situation. Even with cocktail dress codes (a gray area step above semi-formal), it’s safest to avoid button-downs.

Pair an open-collar button-down shirt with well-fitting trousers for a smart, more comfortable look that you can wear out to dinner or the office on a casual Friday.

Take it even further into casual territory, by wearing your button-down with dark wash jeans, then balance it out with nice shoes and, if you like, a tie.

You could even pair a button-down with your swim trunks for a day at the beach.  

Button-up dress shirts are more upscale, so they are appropriate for formal events, in addition to smart casual situations. You can pair it with a classic tie, blazer, and trim trousers, or you can dress it up even more with a suit or tuxedo.

Any way you style it, you’ll look sleek and sophisticated. You can’t wear a true dress shirt casually though, so don’t pair them untucked with jeans and sneakers. It looks sloppy. I mean, at the very least, tuck in your shirt.

If you’re going for that sports-agent-business-informal aesthetic (say with sneakers and a blazer), opt for a button-down or a more casual button-up, like a linen or workwear-leaning shirt.

Button-up dress shirt with a crisp collar, no collar point buttons.

Frequently Asked Questions About Button Ups and Button Downs

How Do Shirt Collars Differ From Each Other? 

Aside from button placement, you can tell the difference between button-up and button-down shirts by the stiffness of the collar. Button-up shirts typically have a stiff collar, since traditionally, you’d wear a tie with it. Button-down collars are more malleable and relaxed. 

How do I get my collar to stand up on my Button-Up Shirt?

Definitely use collar stays with your button-up shirts. Most dress shirt collars have little slits on the underside of the collar points where you can insert collar stays. This will help keep your collar looking crisp. Another thing you could try is placket supports. There are some temporary and permanent solutions (i.e. you have to sew them into your shirt).

Now You Know The Differences Between BUTTON-UP VS BUTTON-DOWN shirts!

One thing we can all agree on is that button-up and button-down shirts are a classic staple of people’s wardrobes. It’s best to have at least one button-up and one button-down shirt so you can be ready for any occasion.

Remember to consider all aspects of the outfit you plan to wear, and what colors work best for the look. 

Now that you understand the differences between the two styles, you can pick the appropriate option to ensure you look your best!

We hope that was helpful! If you have any other style questions, feel free to DM us on Instagram!