Q & Answer: Can I Wear A Button-Down Collar Shirt With A Suit?
Timothy asks: In the pictures accompanying your post “That Enviable Roll,” several of the gentlemen appeared to be wearing suits. I thought OCBDs should not generally be worn with suits. Can you provide some insight?
Button-down collared shirts are the most casual long-sleeve dress shirts you can wear. So casual that I thought twice about describing them as dress shirts in that last sentence. They were developed for wear during sport - that’s why Brooks Brothers still calls them the “polo collar.”
Of course, the story of American style has been, over the last hundred years or so, a march towards the casual. Starting sometime around the middle of the 20th century, that included wearing button-down collared oxfords with suits. It looks great on Paul Newman (above), or on Fred Astaire (who was always about to break into dance), but what about you?
Generally, I’d discourage it. If you’re a J. Press man, wearing nothing but traditional soft-shouldered, undarted, single-vented “Ivy League” suits, I think you’re fine. I think the aesthetic coherence of that style trumps the conflict between the casual collar and more formal suit.
In practice, though, that’s rarely what I see on the street. Generally, I see men who have combined these elements thoughtlessly, perhaps because their wives bought them a dozen shirts one day at Costco and they went from there. That’s a look that does nobody any favors.
So, when to wear a button down? With an odd jacket, blazer or sportcoat, especially a casual one, like something linen or tweed. With a bowtie. When you’re committing to an American “trad” aesthetic. When you’re not wearing a coat and tie at all.
Hope that helps.

Q & Answer: Can I Wear A Button-Down Collar Shirt With A Suit?

Timothy asks: In the pictures accompanying your post “That Enviable Roll,” several of the gentlemen appeared to be wearing suits. I thought OCBDs should not generally be worn with suits. Can you provide some insight?

Button-down collared shirts are the most casual long-sleeve dress shirts you can wear. So casual that I thought twice about describing them as dress shirts in that last sentence. They were developed for wear during sport - that’s why Brooks Brothers still calls them the “polo collar.”

Of course, the story of American style has been, over the last hundred years or so, a march towards the casual. Starting sometime around the middle of the 20th century, that included wearing button-down collared oxfords with suits. It looks great on Paul Newman (above), or on Fred Astaire (who was always about to break into dance), but what about you?

Generally, I’d discourage it. If you’re a J. Press man, wearing nothing but traditional soft-shouldered, undarted, single-vented “Ivy League” suits, I think you’re fine. I think the aesthetic coherence of that style trumps the conflict between the casual collar and more formal suit.

In practice, though, that’s rarely what I see on the street. Generally, I see men who have combined these elements thoughtlessly, perhaps because their wives bought them a dozen shirts one day at Costco and they went from there. That’s a look that does nobody any favors.

So, when to wear a button down? With an odd jacket, blazer or sportcoat, especially a casual one, like something linen or tweed. With a bowtie. When you’re committing to an American “trad” aesthetic. When you’re not wearing a coat and tie at all.

Hope that helps.

That Enviable Roll

Our reviews of modern oxford cloth button down shirts will come later this week, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share these great photos I found in some old posts at Heavy Tweed Jacket. They were originally taken from 1978 and 1981 issues of Men’s Club (a Japanese men’s style magazine) and feature various New York City businessmen sporting a classic American style of dress. Notice the handsome rolls on the button down collars. These kinds of expressions are a bit rare to see nowadays since many manufacturers make shirts with shorter collar points, resulting in something like this.  

Plackets and Pockets: Know the Details
For classic men’s style, expressions are often in the tiniest of tiny details. Closed eyelets on shoes express formality, cuffs on trousers express casualness, and structured shoulders give a sense of rigidity and authority.
The details of a button up shirt are just as expressive. The length of your collar points, shape of your collar, and cut of your cuffs all hold certain meanings. I’ll cover those some other time, but today I’ll discuss something you may not have considered - plackets and pockets.
A placket is that extra piece of material at the front of the shirt  where the buttonholes are placed. It’s usually created by folding the shirt’s  material onto the front, or by sewing a separate piece of  material onto this area. This design not only helps give support and strength to the  opening of the shirt, where most stress is placed, but it also  creates a visual center when the shirt is buttoned. Most  shirts you’ve seen (and almost certainly the one you’re wearing right  now) have plackets.
The alternative is the French front (also known as the “plain  center”). Here the material is folded to the underside of the shirt so  that it’s not visible. It is then secured by the stitching on the  buttonholes.
There’s no right or wrong way to choose between these details, but you should know what effect each will have. Getting a shirt without a placket or pocket, like the shirt above, will look cleaner, and since simplicity tends towards formality, it will also be dressier. A shirt with a placket and pocket, then, will conversely be a bit more causal.
I also find that shirts without plackets and pockets look more Continental European, while shirts with these details look more American. As such, you should choose shirts that most accords with your personal sense of style. I happen to favor shirts without them, as I like dressier, tailored Italian clothes, but someone who likes a more casual American style should get shirts with these details.
However you choose, note that some shirts should be made in certain ways. An oxford cloth button down, for example, is inherently casual and very American, so I think it looks best with a placket and pocket. If you want it to be even more American, you get the pocket with a flap, like this. This design detail was invented by J. Press and has since been strongly associated with the trad/ Ivy League crowd. Again, it’s all about knowing what these details mean and choosing accordingly.

Plackets and Pockets: Know the Details

For classic men’s style, expressions are often in the tiniest of tiny details. Closed eyelets on shoes express formality, cuffs on trousers express casualness, and structured shoulders give a sense of rigidity and authority.

The details of a button up shirt are just as expressive. The length of your collar points, shape of your collar, and cut of your cuffs all hold certain meanings. I’ll cover those some other time, but today I’ll discuss something you may not have considered - plackets and pockets.

A placket is that extra piece of material at the front of the shirt where the buttonholes are placed. It’s usually created by folding the shirt’s material onto the front, or by sewing a separate piece of material onto this area. This design not only helps give support and strength to the opening of the shirt, where most stress is placed, but it also creates a visual center when the shirt is buttoned. Most shirts you’ve seen (and almost certainly the one you’re wearing right now) have plackets.

The alternative is the French front (also known as the “plain center”). Here the material is folded to the underside of the shirt so that it’s not visible. It is then secured by the stitching on the buttonholes.

There’s no right or wrong way to choose between these details, but you should know what effect each will have. Getting a shirt without a placket or pocket, like the shirt above, will look cleaner, and since simplicity tends towards formality, it will also be dressier. A shirt with a placket and pocket, then, will conversely be a bit more causal.

I also find that shirts without plackets and pockets look more Continental European, while shirts with these details look more American. As such, you should choose shirts that most accords with your personal sense of style. I happen to favor shirts without them, as I like dressier, tailored Italian clothes, but someone who likes a more casual American style should get shirts with these details.

However you choose, note that some shirts should be made in certain ways. An oxford cloth button down, for example, is inherently casual and very American, so I think it looks best with a placket and pocket. If you want it to be even more American, you get the pocket with a flap, like this. This design detail was invented by J. Press and has since been strongly associated with the trad/ Ivy League crowd. Again, it’s all about knowing what these details mean and choosing accordingly.

Q and Answer: The Blue Oxford Cloth Button-Down Shirt
Nik writes: On the menswear blogs I follow, I always see the blue Oxford button-down  as the go-to shirt for any occasion, the “only shirt you’ll ever need”.  However, I rarely see a button-down worn in a business setting, with a  suit and tie, here in Europe. Do I suffer from selective vision or is it  an inherently American style (since almost all of the men’s style blogs  hail from the States)?
You’re seeing two factors at work, here. The oxford cloth button-down (referred to colloquially by style nerds as the “OCBD”) is indeed an inherently American shirt. It’s also a shirt that isn’t often suitable for business wear.
The OCBD is probably the greatest American contribution to menswear. The shirt features a soft button-down collar and cotton in a durable, richly textured oxford weave. Colored oxfords often combine colored thread with white, creating the soft colors seen above. Oxfords were pioneered by Brooks Brothers at the turn of the 20th century, and they’ve been the classic American casual shirt ever since. Brooks still calls the oxford the “polo” shirt, because the button-down collar was originally seen on polo players. It’s an incredibly versatile shirt, and looks great in a wide variety of contexts.
Its popularity here in the US means that you will often see it paired with a suit. This can be pulled off, especially with a casual suit - say cotton or tweed. It pairs very well with sportcoats and bow ties. It’s mostly worn in a business context, though, by people who just don’t know any better. (There are exceptions: Yankee types steeped in “trad” style might pull it off in a conservative business context.)
In Europe, you might see a button-down collar on a more high-collared Italianate shirt, but the classic OCBD is a relative rarity. More typical is a variation of the traditional English shirt, with a stiffer, spread collar and fabric in a finer weave (a fine oxford is called a “royal oxford”) or a weave with a harder finish, like a poplin.

Q and Answer: The Blue Oxford Cloth Button-Down Shirt

Nik writes: On the menswear blogs I follow, I always see the blue Oxford button-down as the go-to shirt for any occasion, the “only shirt you’ll ever need”. However, I rarely see a button-down worn in a business setting, with a suit and tie, here in Europe. Do I suffer from selective vision or is it an inherently American style (since almost all of the men’s style blogs hail from the States)?

You’re seeing two factors at work, here. The oxford cloth button-down (referred to colloquially by style nerds as the “OCBD”) is indeed an inherently American shirt. It’s also a shirt that isn’t often suitable for business wear.

The OCBD is probably the greatest American contribution to menswear. The shirt features a soft button-down collar and cotton in a durable, richly textured oxford weave. Colored oxfords often combine colored thread with white, creating the soft colors seen above. Oxfords were pioneered by Brooks Brothers at the turn of the 20th century, and they’ve been the classic American casual shirt ever since. Brooks still calls the oxford the “polo” shirt, because the button-down collar was originally seen on polo players. It’s an incredibly versatile shirt, and looks great in a wide variety of contexts.

Its popularity here in the US means that you will often see it paired with a suit. This can be pulled off, especially with a casual suit - say cotton or tweed. It pairs very well with sportcoats and bow ties. It’s mostly worn in a business context, though, by people who just don’t know any better. (There are exceptions: Yankee types steeped in “trad” style might pull it off in a conservative business context.)

In Europe, you might see a button-down collar on a more high-collared Italianate shirt, but the classic OCBD is a relative rarity. More typical is a variation of the traditional English shirt, with a stiffer, spread collar and fabric in a finer weave (a fine oxford is called a “royal oxford”) or a weave with a harder finish, like a poplin.

It’s On eBay
Benjamin Bixby Button-Down Oxfords
The death throes of one of my favorite brands have led to a lot of discount sales on eBay. There are a few colors and sizes available at this price in this auction.
Buy It Now for $29.99

It’s On eBay

Benjamin Bixby Button-Down Oxfords

The death throes of one of my favorite brands have led to a lot of discount sales on eBay. There are a few colors and sizes available at this price in this auction.

Buy It Now for $29.99

One of my favorite men’s style blogs, Heavy Tweed Jacket, has returned with a vengeance from a long hiatus. More discussion of the collar rolls of Brooks Brothers oxford shirts than you can shake a stick at. RECOMMENDED.

One of my favorite men’s style blogs, Heavy Tweed Jacket, has returned with a vengeance from a long hiatus. More discussion of the collar rolls of Brooks Brothers oxford shirts than you can shake a stick at. RECOMMENDED.

It’s On Sale
Brooks Brothers Black Fleece Multistripe Oxfords
$75 from $250 at BrooksBrothers.com

It’s On Sale

Brooks Brothers Black Fleece Multistripe Oxfords

$75 from $250 at BrooksBrothers.com

It’s On eBay
Gitman Vintage Striped Oxford
Starts at $24.99, ends April 2nd

It’s On eBay

Gitman Vintage Striped Oxford

Starts at $24.99, ends April 2nd