Career Notes: The Button-Down Shirt

The classic, preppy, button-down shirt - the defining garment of the American male and a staple of The Gap - is almost a century old. Collars were first buttoned on to shirts in 1900 when John Brooks of Brooks Brothers had the bright idea of adapting the shirts worn by English polo players for everyday wear - collars were buttoned down to stop them flapping around during play. Today, Brooks Brothers on Madison Avenue in New York still sell the benchmark button-down shirt, with prices starting from $48 (pounds 32). Unfortunately, you have to cross the Atlantic to buy one.

For a more accessible, still authentically American name in button-downs, you need only travel to your nearest major department store. Arrow, the makers of the shirt that according to a 1938 advert gave you instant access to "the world's best-dressed fraternity", sells over 30 million shirts each year. The best-seller in the range is the classic button-down at pounds 39.95. The company was one of the first to see the potential of the button- down collar outside of America and brought it to Europe in the Fifties so that every man could have that fresh-faced Ivy League look.

The thing about the button-down shirt (and a button on the back of the collar was something to really drool over) was that it looked great worn with a tie pulled down and the top button of your shirt undone. Think Frank Sinatra after a hard night out on the tiles in the Fifties, Chet Baker in a short-sleeved summer version, or Art Blakey, collars looped just right over a sharp tie.

Nowadays, the button-down collar is as commonplace as any other kind of shirt collar and the connotations of preppies and sharp-suited jazz musicians are no longer in most men's minds as they queue up at the cash desk in Marks & Spencer's.

John Symons of J Symons in Covent Garden, London, gets hot under the collar at the mere mention of a button-down. He has been selling them since 1964. "It has become increasingly difficult to find the product we want," he says.

These days there is little respect for the history of the shirt: buttons are almost an afterthought - too high up and too large; collars are not set correctly and even sleeves can play a part in the balance of the perfect shirt. Mr Symons describes many of the modern-day button-collar shirts as "pretty matter-of-fact" affairs, not at all appropriate for the "man of some experience with certain sensibilities who has an international subliminal awareness of how things should look".

The current offerings at J Symons are made by the American company Sero (pounds 45) and the French label Hartford (pounds 69-89). In the heyday of B-Ds, between 1945-65, every shirt company in the States had it right, according to Symons. But they wrecked their own product when they started to replicate the European version. And he should know - he has just written an in-depth piece on the button-down shirt for American mail-order company, Lands End, whose shirts at pounds 19.50 are, he says, "an honest product".

Ralph Lauren is one designer who still sticks to the button-down collar rules. His is a soft shirt with tiny pearl buttons on the tips of the collars. With prices ranging from pounds 65 to pounds 160, they are not cheap. But a button-down is not just a shirt - it's a way of life.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Key Account Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

    £22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project