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Button Up vs Button Down | Differences Explained

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Being asked to wear a button up shirt as opposed to a button down shirt can create confusion if you aren’t familiar with these terms. They may sound very similar, and some people might even use these terms to mean the same thing.

However, if you know your shirts, there is a clear difference between the two. Read our guide to compare button up vs button down and the next time you are looking for a specific shirt, you’ll be able to tell right away. 

Button Up Shirts Button Down Shirts
Classic White Light Blue Darker Colors Lighter Colors
Browse White Shirt Image Browse Blue Shirt dark button down shirtCheck Price light button down shirtCheck Price
Button Up Shirts
  • A classic white dress shirt is your staple button-up shirt. This shirt generally works for any occasion from semi-formal to formal
  • Note that the most important distinction is that the collars do not have buttons to hold the collar flaps down
Button Down Shirts
  • Button down shirts will generally come in more colors and patterns. You'll see more dark color varieties professional color
  • Note that the most important distinction is that the collars have buttons that hold down the collar flaps. Secondly, the collars themselves tend to be smaller and more flimsy.

What are Button Up Shirts?

Button up shirts are probably what you’re picturing right now. They’re the most common types of shirts that you most likely purchase for work and find in your closet. 

A button up shirt is exactly what it sound like: these shirts have buttons placed all the way up to the front, right up to your neck. Button ups also known as dress shirts, so next time you’re shopping, you can just refer to them as so to avoid any confusion.

A button up shirt is a shirt that you can wear at formal events with a tie, or loosely if you’re aiming for a smart casual style. They’re commonly worn because you can wear them for any type of event, and dress it up or down as you like.

slim blue button up dress shirt

 Our Recommended Button Up Shirts

# Brand Rating Comments

[Overall Favorite] Nimble Made


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4.7 / 5

  • Our Best Selling Button Ups
  • Multiple Unique Styles
  • Extremely High Quality
  • Free shipping, exchanges & returns, no minimums
  • 10% off first order with code: WELCOME

Banana Republic



4.2 / 5

  • Good Quality
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bonobos white dress shirt


4.1 / 5

  • Wrinkle Free

What are Button Down Shirts?

A button down shirt is a  shirt with buttons on the corners of the collar when you attach them - or a button down collar. They’re called button down because you can, and you should, button the collar down onto your shirt. Even Polo collar shirts can be considered button downs.

Like the button up shirt, you can style these as you want and make it work for casual or more formal events. There is no consensus if you should wear a tie with it, so make it your own

However, one thing is clear, if you’re wearing a button down collar shirt, the point is to pin your collar down. The buttons aren’t only for decoration, but they also keep the collar from looking flimsy.
If you’re going for a smart casual look, then the button down shirt is a good option to keep in mind if you want to steer away more traditional shirts.


History of Button Down Shirts

mens button-down shirt close upButton down shirts were originally made for polo players in 19th century England to keep their collars from obstructing their view by fasting them onto their shirts, thus preventing the collars from impeding their play while maintaining the sport’s classy appearance.

It was made official by John E. Brooks in 1896 who introduced the button down shirt in his grandfather’s retail company located in the United States called Brooks Brothers. While the pinning of the collar onto the shirt was a quick do-it-yourself solution for polo players in England, he borrowed the idea and made it popular in the American market.

The shirts became a hit with athletes and were then worn for style, and not only for the polo sport. These were adopted by a specific demographic and were sometimes worn to fit the preppy look. 

In fact, button down shirts became very popular among Ivy league students and 1950s American president John F. Kennedy, but eventually became a fashion item worldwide. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a list of frequently asked questions that will help you decide which type of shirt to go for: 


Essentially, the difference is that one has buttons for the collar and the other doesn’t?

That’s right! Just remember that a button up shirt has buttons all the way up front, and a button down short is meant to pin down the collar.


If I’m going to a formal event, which one should I wear?

You can wear either. However, if it is a conservative environment, it’s always safe to go with your classic dress shirt (button ups) and pair it with a tie and suit.

Remember that the button down shirt originates from sports, so not everyone might view it as the appropriate choice for a formal event. 

formal shirt and tie


Should I wear a tie with a button down shirt?

That’s up to you! You can wear your shirt with or without a tie, it depends on what type of event you’re heading to.

Is it necessary to button down the collar on a button down shirt?

You should always button down the collar on a button down shirt.

The star item is your collar, so just make sure to fasten it onto your shirt to complete your outfit, and have your collar looking clean.

 button down shirt in fall setting


Should I always button all the way up if I’m wearing a button up shirt?

Not at all. Again, use your judgement as it depends on what type of event you’re preparing for. 

You can leave the top buttons undone for a more casual look, or button them all the way up even if you’re not wearing a tie. 



Ultimately, it’s always a good idea to keep both types of shirts in your closet in case you want to change it up every now and then. 

The button up shirt is definitely a timeless classic clothing item to have, but a button down shirt shows that you’re able to style anything. 



1. Is it called button up or button down?

Both terms can be used, but here is the distinction: A button-up shirt is one that has buttons all the way up the front. A button-down shirt is one that has buttons on the collar points and can be buttoned down.

2. What's the difference in a button up and a button down shirt?

Button-down shirts include additional buttons to secure the collar and keep it in place. A button-down is a button-up, but a button-up is not always a button-down, according to fashion expert Megan Collins of Style Girlfriend, a men's fashion website.

3. Is button up or button down more formal?

Additional buttons are used to fasten and maintain the collar on button-down shirts. Megan Collins of Style Girlfriend, a men's fashion website, says a button-down is a button-up, but a button-up is not always a button-down.