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The Perfect Button-Down Shirt: Fit, Fabric, Styling, and More

Exactly how to find one that fits you to a T.

Street Style: September 21 - Milan Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019
Melodie JengGetty Images

The ubiquitous simple-yet-polished button-down (button-up?) shirt is a wardrobe staple. Meghan Markle made this one in white famous, Victoria Beckham makes them in two-tone colors, CEOs consider them a part of their work uniform. Finding a button-down shirt isn't hard (they're sold everywhere), but finding one that actually fits is a different story. Inevitably the shirt comes across as too stuffy for a casual office or is so stiff, it brings to mind a waiter's uniform at a five-star restaurant. Most regrettable are the blouses that strain and pucker at the bust, or are so big and boxy—and not in a fashion-girl way—they're unflattering.

Audrey McLoghlin, founder of Grayson and Frank & Eileen (Meghan has worn their shirts, too), is a master of this garment, crafting comfortable, affordable, and size-inclusive button-downs. (She calls them button-ups, however, for a smart reason—more on that in a minute.) Who better to tap for advice on how to spot and snag a truly perfect button-down? Here, she walks us through how to find the right shirt for your silhouette, and how to style in under a minute for work or play.

Button-Down or Button-Up?

What's in a name? In this shirt's case...actually a lot. "Technically speaking, a button-down has a collar with an extra set of buttons. It's a [term that came from men's clothing] because they would put their ties through the button-down collar," explains McLoghlin. "I call my pieces a button-up because the placket buttons up, but it doesn't infer that there is a button-down collar. Women tend to use the term interchangeably, but in the men's world, they're distinct."

Important Aspects of the Right Button-Up

"The first thing I would look for is fabric quality—nothing matters unless the fabric is beautiful," McLoghlin says. "I'm a big 100-percent something and not blends [person], so either 100 percent cotton, 100 percent linen, or 100 percent tencel. The second thing I'd look for is silhouette and versatility (i.e. where am I wearing this to?). Third, see if your button-up is pre-washed or not. One way some brands cut costs and deliver the lowest priced garments is that they don't pre-wash the garments. They just cut, sew, and sell it. So if you wear it and toss that into the washing machine, it suddenly might not fit you anymore. Once you have these things down, you have to figure out fit."

Elements of a Button-Up That Fits Just Right

"[An important part to making sure your button-up fits] is evaluating the bust area. This is a dead giveaway of whether or not you have the perfect fitting shirt. The button placement should allow room for your bust, even if you are quite busty, without creating a gap or causing you to size up from your regular size. (I am a 32DD and I wear a size small, with the right button placement.)

Most button-ups have buttons all the way up to the collar (like a men's shirt) so you end up with one button below the bust and one button above the bust. This is what creates the ever-dreaded 'boob gap.' A beautifully fitting shirt will have a button that lines up perfectly with your bust-line. Before ditching the shirts you already own though, check to make sure you are wearing the right bra. You need a bra that lifts and separates so that your bust is sitting in the right place.

Next, check the collar. You don't want it to be so big that it's a distraction (think '70's collars), but also not so small that it doesn't draw the eye up to your face. Ideally, that collar should be versatile enough to allow you to wear it popped-up or wear it down, depending on the look you are going for that day.

You want a shirt where the neck opening and top button placement are designed for a female body [so they] effortlessly create an open v-neck look. Remember, men's shirts are designed to wear with a tie, so they naturally close across the front, giving a very closed and masculine look, which looks amazing on some women, but is tricky to pull off.

The shoulders: The perfect shoulders will depend on the style you are going for that day. Going for the classic look? Make sure the shoulder is crisp. Going for a relaxed look? Make sure the shoulder falls off effortlessly.

Also check where it hits you at the waist, hips, and bum. For the classic shirt tail, it should curve at the front, around your hips, and down again in your back. The length would be even in the front and the back."

Colors to Collect First

"A classic white flatters everyone because it makes you look sharp, awake, and smart. Another color I think is universally-flattering is the french blue (like this option) because it makes you look happy and brights up your whole face."

Three Easy Ways to Style Your Button-Up

1.The Sleeve Roll: Roll your sleeve half way up your arm. Fold again, but don't completely cover the cuff for a relaxed, casual look.

Courtesy of Grayson

2. The Twist Tie: Skip buttoning the bottom few buttons. Grab both ends of the shirt and tie it into a knot. Repeat.

Courtesy of Grayson

3. The French Tuck: Tuck the front of your shirt into your bottoms while leaving the sides and back untucked.

Courtesy of Grayson

The Best Method for Getting Wrinkles Out

"I like to embrace wrinkles, a slight rumpledness and casualness. You don't want to have big creases, like the folding marks, though. To get rid of wrinkles and creases, you can run the shirt over with a quick iron or with a steamer. If [the shirt isn't] heavy, hang it in the shower and let the steam in your shower relax it, then touch it up in the morning."

Now that you're well-versed in the world of button-ups, shop editor's picks:

Design by Morgan McMullen

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