TL;DR

If it buttons all the way up its a button-up or button-front shirt. If there are small buttons to keep the collar pressed against the shirt then it is a button-down shirt.

 

A Short History

In the 1860s polo players were sick of their shirt collars flapping about during games. Nobody wanted to be the person who missed an absolute sitter because they were rearranging their shirt. This led to the creation of the button-down shirt, which added two buttons to the collar of the shirt, so that the collar would remain fastened throughout the polo match.

Observing this trend on a trip to the UK from America, John E Brooks felt that his Brooks Brothers clothing line could place itself at the cutting-edge of fashion across the Atlantic, by replicating this design in their own shirts. John’s willingness to diverge from sartorial conventions and create a new style of shirt gradually caught on.

Almost 60 years after Brooks returned from his career-changing trip, a French tennis star named René Lacoste ceased wearing the long-sleeve shirt and tie sported by his opponents on the court. Instead, he played in a new, lightweight, three-buttoned shirt with short-sleeves. After René retired having won seven Grand Slams, he collaborated with textile titan André Gilliard, to create the now world-famous Lacoste brand. Lacoste shirts quickly gained international popularity and were sold from Paris to New York. Everyone seemed enamoured with the Lacoste design apart from one New Yorker. His name was Ralph Lauren. His polo shirts, which aged over time to create an evolving, yet timeless look, became wildly popular around the world.

Over time, more formal versions of the polo shirt have been created, and the button-down shirt from which it originated remains popular to this day, as it offers a refined, yet casual alternative to the traditional button-up shirt.

This classic garment, featuring buttons all the way up the shirt, is known for having a stiffer collar than the variation which caught John E Brooks’ eye. While not particularly useful for playing polo, button-up shirts are great for work and formal events. Enveloping one of their straight collars with a tie will immediately set the right impression when you step into an important meeting or dinner.

The classic white shirt has been a hallmark of men’s fashion for nearly two centuries. When the shirt emerged, the whiteness of the collar distinguished the wearer’s class, as only the wealthy could afford to have their shirts washed frequently enough to retain the pure white colour. As the years have passed, a starched white collar has remained symbolic of forthright and honest business dealings, as the design is austere, straightforward and of quality. You get what you see, and you like what you get.

Nonetheless, variations of the traditional shirt, both in design and colour, have become popular and accepted in business and leisure as designers felt overly restricted by adherence to rigid collar measurements and plain colours. Whether you choose a button-up or button-down shirt, just make sure that your shirt is made from a quality, durable fabric, and that both are present in your wardrobe. That way, whatever the occasion you will always look your best.