Collar ID: The Button Down
Welcome to Collar ID. This week we’re going to visit the history and the style of the button down collar.
The button down collar is the most American—and casual—of all styles. It looks just as good under a sweater as it does with a tie and jacket.
But why the buttons? It was invented to serve the needs of English polo players, who needed a way to keep the long points of their shirt collars from flapping into their faces during play. An American spectator admired the style, and brought the idea back to Brooks Brothers when he returned.
The style was a hit on Ivy League campuses, and many graduates continued to wear them as they found jobs on Madison Avenue or Washington D.C. (JFK had to ditch the style on the campaign trail, to avoid looking “too Ivy League”). It also became a part of the mid-century jazz uniform—Miles Davis famously wore a mint green button-down on the cover of Milestones.
The classic button down collar has long points, but more recent versions have shortened the collar lengths to give it a more modern edge. Whichever you choose is a matter of personal preference: the classic length is better if you’re gunning for old-school cool, and the shorter (or “mini”) length lends itself to contemporary looks.
Any sort of tie can be worn with a button down collar. But because the points are fastened in place and do not “spread,” the button down is especially suited to slim and skinny ties, as well as tight tie knots like the four-in-hand. The more casual look of a button down collar also makes it a great match for casual ties, such as knit and square-end styles.
You may be picking up on a pattern here: button-down collars can do most anything, but they’re often the best choice for casual fabrics. That goes for suits and blazers as well: they make a great match to rougher, less formal fabrics like tweeds and corduroys.
But button down collars don’t require a tie or jacket to look their best. Their casual design means they look right at home with a pair of jeans and beat-up sneakers.
And what can be more American than that?