Classy, elegant and versatile are the standard features of a must-have item like a button-down shirt. Though this garment was originally custom-made and reserved for men back in the day (cue the 1800s zeitgeist), the work shirt style since has become a go-to essential for women's wardrobes in the modern era, according to "The Dynamics of Fashion, Third Edition."
In the essence of functionality, the button-down shirt serves as a great piece to mix and match. From building professional outfits to wearing them as layers, the button-down is a transitional piece that is designed for easy wear and takes your daily outfits from casual to sophisticated.
To help you pick the right button-down shirt for your rotation, Shop TODAY talked to several stylists to help you leverage your pieces and boost your outfit choices for the daytime grind and offline evenings.
How to pick the right button-down shirt
The market has many button-down shirt options, but there are some essential features to keep in mind when choosing perfect one. "When looking for the right button-up shirt, we recommend looking for three key garment benefits: a flattering fit, fabric quality and garment care," shares wardrobe stylist Carolyn Wang.
According to personal stylist Cassandra Sethi, you'll also want to "make sure you buy a shirt in a light or dark color" since you'll get more outfit possibilities in these hues.
The weight and material of the shirt are other key factors when it comes to keeping it fresh in warm weather conditions. Style expert Allison Bornstein suggests shopping for linen, silk or denim button-down shirts, depending on your day-to-day style.
Button-up shirts vs. button-down shirts
"A button-up shirt is a shirt that fastens in the front of the body with buttons — it does not have to have buttons on the wing collar points. A button-down shirt is a shirt that has buttons on the collar points that you can button down. 99 percent of the time, a button-down shirt is also a button-up shirt!" mentions Wang.
Another thing to notice is the placement of buttons. According to "The Dynamics of Fashion," buttons are on the right side for men, while women have buttons on the left, since they "tend to hold babies on that side and can more conveniently use the right hand for buttons."
How to style a button-down shirt
Button-down shirts can be styled in a variety of ways. For Sethi, there are three timeless ways to style a button-down shirt: pairing it with jeans, wearing a white fitted T-shirt underneath and keeping it unbuttoned.
For a more business casual look, you can easily rock a pair of loafers with a blazer. But if you want to elevate it to a more formal dress code, Sethi suggests pairing a button-down shirt with a skirt. "You’ll want an A-line skirt or something that’s more fitted at the waist and then flared out slightly. Tuck the shirt into the skirt, roll up the sleeves and throw on some heels for the perfect formal look."
Bornstein also likes to use button-down shirts as layers, especially over a tee, tank or bodysuit. "Almost like a jacket just to get a little texture. This is also a great move in the summer when you want a layer but it is too warm for a jacket."
For wintertime, she recommends wearing a button-down over a black turtleneck. "I love the idea of layering it over something to create a new proportion."
How to fold a button-down shirt
Bornstein suggests securing the top button when you hang a button-down shirt. "This will help it keep its shape," she summarizes. "I also recommend investing in a steamer. This is helpful so you don’t have to dry clean it all the time."
How to wash a button-down shirt
As a common practice, it's important to follow the care instructions when it comes to washing your clothes. Sethi prefers to turn the shirt inside-out, put on a delicate and warm cycle and air dry flat to avoid any unnecessary wrinkles.
"We recommend machine washing cold on the gentle cycle and tumble drying on low. If needed, press with a cool iron," says Wang.
The five-star reviews on this shirt have convinced us that is a must-have in your professional wardrobe. For less than $25, you get a straight fit, soft material and almost wrinkle-free shirt to make your dressing experience more manageable in the morning. This poplin button-down comes in different hues and prints and is surprisingly soft for the price.
"I was surprised by the quality of the fabric. It is thicker (though not heavy) than I anticipated and so much softer and smoother than I expected," said one Amazon reviewer.
This boyfriend shirt is a perfect choice to wear every day. Style it with your office go-to pieces or elevate it with dress pants for a date night. It has an oversized fit and a shirttail hem that you can easily tuck in. Whether you style it with trousers or jeans, this shirt will suit a range of activities and occasions.
"I love this one because I can wear it buttoned up with jeans or I can throw it on over a tee or a tank (or an exercise dress). It's the perfect oversized button-down, and I've gotten multiple compliments when I've worn it," says Shop TODAY associate editor Emma Stessman. "It's definitely bigger though, so if you're not into the oversized look, I would suggest sizing down."
For warmer days, opt for a shirt made from linen fabric. This H&M shirt features a front pocket and a double-layered yoke at the back with a box pleat for a classic look. The long sleeves are easy to roll up thanks to the airy, woven linen and cotton blend fabric. It's a comfortable piece you can wear on top of your bathing suit and other garments.
"The material is lightweight and breathable but still has enough structure to look clean and professional," said one reviewer.
The crisp cotton of this oversized shirt will keep you comfortable for days. Since this design has an oversized fit, you can size down for a smaller fit. The shirt can be worn over tanks or T-shirts during cool days or elevate the attire with slacks. It can be worn in a casual or dressy setting as long as you balance the accessories with the right stack of jewelry.
Wear this classic version to an important meeting or keep it casual with a pair of kicks. This button-down shirt is long enough to provide ample coverage when worn loose. For a more chic look, Bornstein recommends tying it at the waist.
"This is a great move if you wish to show off your waist and draw the eye to the waist but still have the more relaxed oversized look."
Consider this long sleeve shirt a premium take on traditional button-down shirts. The material feels super soft and breathable thanks to the 100 percent organic cotton construction, which will feel comfortable even on warmer days. According to customers, this shirt doesn't require ironing and is the perfect low-maintenance item to pull out of the closet.
Look casually chic in this striped shirt. The style comes in two colorways and features a sharp cut that looks stellar layered over tanks. Because of the cotton fabric, this shirt requires to be ironed after washing and a bit more extra care. It's a bit oversized which offers a range of possibilities to style.
Unlike traditional cotton button-down shirts, this one offers a draped fit. The lightweight and cotton-blend construction of this shirt allows breathability and a laid-back look. It also features a partially hidden front-button closure adding elegance and seamless construction.
"As somebody who has really bad luck with button-downs due to gap in the breast area, I really love how I don't have a problem with this style," says Shop TODAY senior SEO editor Jess Bender.
There are many ways to wear this Loft shirt. Keep it casual with denim or elevate your office look with pants since the button-down shirt has a relaxed fit and a shirttail hem. This is a versatile shirt that can be worn loose or tucked in. It falls naturally without extra wrinkles and features two front pockets for added structure.
If cotton is not your preferred fabric, opt for a softer version like this satin classic shirt ideal for sensitive skin. The design features the perfect amount of stretch and a spread collar for a more relaxed look. It sits on the hips and the soft fabric makes it easy to pair with more tailored bottoms. Customers rated it five stars for its soft feel, amazing quality and great color options.
This short-sleeved take looks flattering when worn with jeans. The drapey fabric and oversized construction allow versatility — wear it loose in the back and tucked in the front for a more informal look or go for a form-fitting silhouette by adding a belt.
This oversized design from Madewell features a shirttail hem, front pocket and drop shoulder for a relaxed vibe. Available in eight hues and 11 sizes, it works well as an outerwear piece on cooler days or paired with your favorite dress for a semi-professional look.
"Beyond the fact that I don't have issues with my undershirt or bra peeking out from the midsection, I love how the oversized fit allows me to wear it as a second layer for when I need a little extra coverage in warmer weather," says Bender.
She also breaks down in a few words why this is a must-have in her wardrobe. "[For starters], it adds an elevated feel to an otherwise bare-it-all tank and shorts look, I've rocked it over a sleeveless LBD and I've thrown it on as an impromptu cover-up for reading and sunbathing at the park."
Look put-together and feel comfortable in this silky cotton shirt from Everlane. According to the brand, this shirt has an extra-smooth feel and drapes beautifully thanks to the twill weave. It's easy to dress up or down with heels or sneakers and comes in an array of neutral tones for a more polished vibe when you pair it with denim.
Make maternity easy and elegant with this button-up shirt. With a loose and relaxed design, it works well on every body since it's roomy enough for every stage of your pregnancy.
"It's the only thing I got from Storq that I can still wear [postpartum]. It's the most comfortable fabric, super soft on the skin, versatile and can pair with so many pieces. It has an oversized 'hipster' vibe," says a young mother, Megan Sales.
As a writer that jumps from the office to meetings and events, this charmeuse silky shirt is the most versatile frock I own. The softness of the fabric and slightly fitted construction makes it ultra-comfortable to wear for hours. The material is breathable and features mother-of-pearl buttons that lend a very delicate and feminine look. I always feel well-groomed when I wear it with pants and skirts.
Meet the experts
- Cassandra Sethi is a personal stylist at Next Level Wardrobe, a luxury styling service based in Manhattan. She specializes in creating capsule work wardrobe for her clients through a three-step styling system. Sethi previously spoke to Shop TODAY about shopping for the perfect curvy jeans and how to style sherpa for any occasion.
- Allison Bornstein is a style expert and closet therapist that offers visual consulting to improve her clients' wardrobes. She has worked with many celebrities offering her closet editing system.
- Carolyn Wang is a wardrobe stylist for Jones New York, a brand focused on modern and classic styles for women.