The male wardrobe is constantly in flux. Considering our increasingly lackadaisical workplace dress code, our collective obsession with casual attire and streetwear’s menswear vice grip, the idea of staples is drastically different today than it was even ten years ago. Still, while the button-up shirt is no longer an essential part of the modern man’s daily rotation, a wedding, interview or formal event is inevitably around the corner and owning a dependable button-down is a prerequisite. That said, considering the countless options in front of you, narrowing down your search for the perfect button-up is a near impossible task. Thankfully, we’re here to help.

We here at Dry Clean Only are all about cost-per-wear, so when investing in a button-down shirt your first and foremost consideration should be asking yourself: “When will I wear this?” Whatever the answer—often, primarily for formal events or the office—it’s important to understand the different styles, materials and—at times—convoluted nomenclature in order to make the correct choice. Simply put, before you go ahead and get to shopping, it’s vital to understand the basics.

What is a Button-Up Shirt?

By far the most common question concerning button-up shirts is just that: what exactly defines a shirt as a “button-up?” In the most basic of terms, any shirt featuring a button front closure (referred to as a placket) is a “button-up”—they all quite literally button up. That said, not all shirts with button up the front are button-ups. The polo, for instance, which despite featuring between two or three buttons at the neck is pulled over the head, is a different category altogether.

What's the Difference between a Button-Up Shirt and a Button-Down Shirt?

Now, while today the terms are used almost interchangeably, the second most frequently asked question is the difference between a button-up and a button-down. In reality, the two terms are not even related. While a button-up refers to a category of shirt, button-down is a reference to shirt collars. Any shirt collar with button holes that can be fastened is a button-down collar (the collar literally "buttons down"), while all others are not. To be clear, whether or not a collar buttons down has no bearing on whether or not the shirt is a button-up. For instance, flannels and chambray shirts are still button-up shirts despite their often free-standing collars.

Shirting Fabrics

As far as fabric goes, material choice is dictated by intended formality. Generally speaking, most button-down shirts are made from 100 percent cotton, however within that there’s obviously multitudes. Flannels, Western shirts and thick gauge Oxford shirts (all button-ups) are all technically made from cotton, however the weave process is drastically different, and the finished product reflects as such. More formal dress shirts are often made from silk or cotton silk blends, while business casual shirts are blended with synthetic fibers like elastane, polyester or rayon so they are machine washable and less prone to stains. Regardless of the actual fiber, the nature of the shirt itself is crucial, and given your daily routine, certain shirts are considerably more suitable than others. In general, lightweight cotton or cotton-blend dress shirts and Oxford shirts are by far the most versatile, and if you are purchasing a go-to button-up, they are our number one recommendation.

Regional Styles and Differences

The classic button-down shirt consists of four main components: the body, the sleeves, the cuff and collar. In almost every iteration the first three are nearly identical. While cuff styles change slightly depending on region and formality—single button versus the more formal French cuff fastened with cufflinks, for instance—the body and sleeves are rarely altered. Of course, fit changes between brands and to accommodate body shape and taste, however the actual construction (side gussets at the bottom hem, how the sleeves connects at the shoulder) rarely changes.

Collars, however, are something else entirely. In America alone there are a half-dozen collar styles, including straight-point, cut-away, spread, high and low button-down, club and band to name a few. While many collar styles are largely defunct outside highly-specific formal wear, the subtle differences create a wildly different aesthetic, so they are important to note. That said, there are really only three you should recognize: the short button-down (classic, business casual), the cut-away (intended for wider ties, semi-formal) and the wingtip (designed for bow ties, formal). Everything else is for the most part niche and superfluous. Unless you are getting your shirts made custom, you will likely rarely come across anything else.

Tags: suiting, oxford-shirt, dress-shirt, sartorial, tailoring, polo-ralph-lauren, thom-browne, engineered-garments, gitman-bros-vintage, j-crew, brooks-brothers, armani, gucci, tom-ford, prada