The ubiquitous simple-yet-polished button-down (button-up?) is a wardrobe staple. And finding one on the market isn't hard: name a brand, any brand, and you'll find plenty of iterations of the prepster staple to shop. But finding the best button-down shirt—one that actually fits you properly and is made of high-quality materials—is a different story. Pressing 'buy' on the first one you see might mean you end up with a shirt that comes across as too casual for the office or, alternatively, is so stiff and starched that it resembles 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 an oversized on-purpose way—that they look like they're swallowing you whole.
Audrey McLoghlin, the founder of Frank & Eileen, is a master of the garment. The former engineer is now a fashion designer who crafts 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 fit and other key aspects to keep in mind while on the hunt.
What to Look For in a Button-Down
"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. You also want to 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."
"The second thing I'd look for in the silhouette is versatility (i.e. where am I wearing this to?)." The expert encourages you to invest in a button-down shirt that will work for a diverse set of occasions: the office, weekend brunch, and perhaps even happy hour.
A proper fit, McLoghlin shares, is essential in a button-down. She advises you first figure out your desired silhouette—fitted and close-to-the-body or roomy and oversized? "The next important part of making sure your button-up fits is evaluating the bust area, too," she shares. "This is a dead giveaway of whether or not you have the perfect fitting shirt. The button placement should allow room for your bust, without creating a gap or causing you to size up from your regular size. 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."
Next up to consider regarding fit? "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." Lastly, McLoghlin advises you "check where it hits you at the waist, hips, and bum. For the classic shirttail, 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."
The Best Button-Down Shirts for Women
Best White Button-Down Shirt
"At this point, my coworkers are probably sick of seeing me in this basic white button-down from Everlane, but I can't help it—it's become the MVP of my workwear wardrobe. I love that it's made from 100 percent cotton in a silky twill weave that offers breathability and a smooth-to-the-touch feel. Plus, it boasts a slightly oversized fit, which is my favorite, low-effort-looking silhouette. My favorite ways of styling this button-down: pairing it with baggy jeans for a relaxed-on-relaxed combo or tucking half of one side into a pleated mini skirt for a haphazard prepster look."—Emma Childs, Style Editor.
Best Denim Button-Down Shirt
You can always rely on J. Crew for prepster basics, including a denim button-down shirt. "This chambray shirt is well made with wonderful sturdy fabric (so many of these shirts are made of flimsy chambray fabric)," writes one enthused shopper. "It's very chic, can be casual or dressed up, and runs true to size." Another reviewer writes that this style is "J. Crew at its best. Superior quality, style, and fit [and I] love the look and lightness of the fabric."
Best Fitted Button-Down Shirt
"I live and die by Aritzia's Wilfred Pose Longsleeve. I have it in seven colors (that's a conservative estimate—it's probably more like ten), and that's not including the mesh options and waist options I've dabbled in. I wear them to the office, to fancy dinners, just lounging around at home with a tank—I can't get enough. It's made of a soft jersey fabric (sustainably made, no less!) that's the polar opposite of the stiff, starched feel of some button-ups. I've just noticed a few are on sale right now, so...excuse me." Jenny Hollander, Digital Director
Best Striped Button Down-Shirt
If we are talking about button-downs—and hi, hello, we are!—AYR's The Deep End Button Down Shirt is a must-include pick. The brand (which stands for All Year Round) has become a front-running favorite amongst fashion folks for its relaxed and polished pieces, particularly its Oxford-style shirts. This specific style tackles the ultimate preppy code—the striped button-down shirts—but offers a slight subversion with its sideways pocket. With its tunic-like silhouette, this style hits below the hips and scoops up to the waist on the sides.
Best Black Button-Down Shirt
Another key tip from McLoghlin: "Check the collar. You don't want it to be so big that it's a distraction (think '70s 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." Nili Lotan's black button-down shirt is a perfect example of a collar that offers structure but without becoming a costume-y statement.
Best Oversized Button-Down Shirt
"If I could run around all summer in a traveler dress, I would. But for the moments I need to cover up and button up, I love throwing on a Frank and Eileen’s oversized Shirley Italian Oxford for its breathable fabric (100% cotton) and amazing silhouette (a feminine take on a classic button-up). The founder of Frank & Eileen is Audrey McLoghlin, a former engineer, and she once again constructed the perfect investment piece with a long shirttail, large chest pocket, sharp collar, and soft shoulders." Tanya Benedicto Klich, Senior Editor of Money & Career
Best Blue Button-Down Shirt
"Another color I think is universally flattering is French blue because it makes you look happy and brights up your whole face," says McLoghlin. This bright blue button-down shirt also happens to be a personal go-to of Marie Claire's Style Editor, Emma Childs: "Here's another weekly wear of mine: COS's oversized button-down with a slightly exaggerated collar and perfectly roomy fit. It's 100 percent cotton, so it's lightweight and surprisingly comfortable for a button-down. Recently, I've been teaming it with baggy, front-pleat trousers and my favorite silver shoes."
Best Cropped Button-Down Shirt
Once you've found your standard longline button-down, set your sights on a cropped style—like Banana Republic's boxy number. It's perfect for proportion play, an essential style move for the fall season. "When I laid eyes on this top, I immediately knew it was coming home with me," writes one Banana Republic shopper. "[It's] well tailor-made and can be dressed up or down. It is a signature piece." Another reviewer points out that it's ideal to integrate into your office rotation: "Great work blouse. Lovely quality and a cute shape for wearing with BR high-waisted jeans."
Best Pink Button-Down Shirt
If there's one key takeaway from fashion's Barbiecore trend, it's pink's potential as a power color. This particular pastel shade of Alex Mill's ruffle shirt is less eye-popping than hot fuchsia; however, it does tap into the confidence-boosting phenomenon of '80s prep (think: the effortless ease of Ivy League style). Notice the puckering ruffle collar, too, which offers just enough out-of-the-box flair. "The fabric and ruffle are lovely," one Alex Mill shopper writes. "[And it's] not too ruffly—just enough to peel out from a vest or jacket."
Best Linen Button-Down Shirt
"All summer I practically lived in my pink coral linen gauze button-up and shorts set from Vitamin A. Thankfully this Playa oversized shirt also comes in hues like agave green and desert so that I can hold onto this staple set into the early fall. Vitamin A’s eco linen fabric is so light and airy yet offers quality and coverage, so you can wear it hours after you left the beach. This button-up offers an effortless transition from summer to fall."—Tanya Benedicto Klich, Senior Editor of Money & Career
Best Short-Sleeve Button-Down Shirt
If it's not already, Anine Bing should be on your list of contemporary brands showcasing the high-power impact of minimalism. Its short-sleeve Bruni Shirt is the perfect example of how a well-made, masterfully-tailored piece can pack quite a punch. The brand pays homage to the classic look of a bowling shirt but without the kitschiness at the core of the style. As one over-the-moon Anine Bing shopper writes, "This is the most chic shirt. [It] feels amazing and hangs so elegantly."
Best Ruched Button-Down Shirt
“I call this my better-than-basic white button-down shirt. I wear it when I am dying for something a little extra without putting a ton of effort into my look. The fabric is lightweight and breathable. and the smocking at the waist perfectly balances the oversized details. It also gives me a subtle peplum at the bottom, so I can be on-trend and comfortable. If you’re looking to spruce up your white button-down collection, this is the one for you.”—Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Editor
Best Silk Button-Down Shirt
You have your cotton style secured, and you know which linen option you're buying next. Next up: a silk button-down. We recommend this style with a subtle sheen from Frame. It features cinched-in barrel cuffs and nondescript Victorian-style buttons that seamlessly blend into the ivory fabric, creating a very natural effect. The shoulders are slightly perked-up and puffed, too, which elevates the piece's vintage-adjacent feel. As for styling it, try pairing the top wide-leg trousers and a pointed-toe heel or dark-wash denim and your best loafers.
Button-Up Shirt vs Button-Down Shirt
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."
Meet the Fashion Expert
Frank & Eileen was born in 2009 when former engineer Audrey McLoghlin sought to reinvent the button-up for women —a category previously focused solely on men. Inspired by Audrey’s Irish grandparents—our brand namesakes, Frank & Eileen—we have grown slowly and intentionally from our best-Italian-fabric-in-the-world-obsessed beginnings. Now a globally recognized fashion brand, Frank & Eileen is a certified woman-owned, woman-led business that has retained 100% ownership while working with the same ethical, sustainable manufacturers for over a decade.
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Emma Childs is the Fashion Features Editor at Marie Claire, who writes trend reports, long-form reported features, and style guides. She previously wrote for TZR, Editorialist, Elite Daily, and Mission Magazine and studied Fashion Studies and New Media at Fordham University. When she's not writing fashion deep-dives, you'll find her stalking eBay for designer vintage and perusing HBO Max (in her heart, it'll always be *HBO* MX).
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