A Very Biased Guide To Women’s Button Front Shirts


When wrestling the Business Casual devil to the ground, one is highly likely to require the aggressive assistance of some button front shirts. As my friend Maxminimus has pointed out, the correct term is button front, because button down means not the collar but the placket. Nit-picking, but that’s what we High WASPs do to compensate for our declining economic clout.

Women’s business casual button fronts work best when classic with subtle tweaks but good for your particular coloring and silhouette. Shirts should always play well with others.

In terms of silhouette, I am working with very broad shoulders, average bustline, and a waistline indelibly marked by two children who persisted in clambering up into my ribcage. Knock, knock Mom, anybody home?

Masculine/feminine balance warrants a little deconstruction. As a young woman, with long natively blond hair, uniformly pigmented skin, and an indicative hip to waist ratio, I could have dressed in longshoreman coveralls and still maintained the masculine/feminine percentage I prefer. Nowadays I need my shirts to suggest the outline of my former waistline, and offer both snug and flow. In other words, as dimorphic gender characteristics recede, the wardrobe compensates. Sympathetically and with dignity.

If one must compensate for deficiencies, do so carefully, and without causing harm to others.

Behold the resultant button front success criteria:

  1. A smidgen of female to the shape.
  2. No collar bow, epaulets, or puffed sleeves. I already have shoulders.
  3. No large or irregular patterns, because they make me fidget.
  4. Washable. Adding dry-cleaning to the workweek can lead nowhere pleasant.
  5. No cheap tricks, as in “I know, we will make the collar a different color!” Nor, “I know, let’s just leave off the whole back and pretend it’s an homage to 1980s Japanese designers!”

I hunted all across the Internets, from Barney’s to J. Crew. From Australia to Great Britain. Here then are a few button front options.

Striped woman's button front, from Charles Tyrwhitt

This is from the UK. I like the broad stripe, the sophistication of gray and white, the apparent fit. In the world of Quiet Dressing, we wear this with a gray v-neck cashmere sweater. In the snappy world of High Contrast, I suppose one might sport a red cardigan and black pants. Shirtcuffs showing, of course. On sale at 4/£100.

Liberty of London, women's shirt, cotton lawnThis is also from the UK, but in Liberty of London lawn. Brief pause for sheer fabric desire. In this case, probably worn with a black v-neck. I can’t say why. The eyes want what the eyes want. £85.

J. Crew, why don't you let me use large images?

Returning to the USA, we find ourselves inevitably at J. Crew. We gather ourselves at the doorway, shake our heads ruefully at being brand-tagged, and admit that they don’t call these The Perfect Shirt for nothing. The “suckered” fabric evokes stories untold by the usual blue and white stripers. We imagine cold air on a mountain lake, and weathered gray rowboats. $72.

Tahari, button front, business casual

I don’t, at the moment, feel the need for more white shirts. But if I did, I’d want some interest. This Tahari gathered number, for $89, and the Evelyne de Clerc crochet detailed placket, $710 both qualify,  one more realistically than the other.

Of course, there are always those shirts That Got Away. For one reason or another. Sturdy Gals often let fashion escape, knowing that the Artsy Cousin will understand what Sturdies cannot, that Grande Dames will conquer what Sturdies cannot. Some Sturdy sorts, those with vivid coloring, might attempt the Boden shirt at left $68. Both Grandes Dames and Artsy Cousins could pull off Vivienne Westwood, $500. I believe my sister wore Vivienne Westwood to our mother’s wedding. But I digress.

See that blue number, looking so harmless? Click here. Yes. OK then. In my next life as a gallery owner in Chicago, or New York, I will play with the concept of Button Front that directly.

This search traversed Oak, Farfetch, Net-a-porter, Barney’s, Acne, Opening Ceremony, NaracamicieSF, Bluefly, Brora and Boden. (Edited to add, at the reminding of our readers, Brooks Brothers and Thomas Pink.) The full set of results can be seen here, on Pinterest. And yes, I did notice the focus on gray, blue, and white. In this case, the eye wants what the skin wants. If you wear earth tones, substitute buff for gray, yellow for blue, and something else, I know not what, for purple. Onwards.

Stretch gray stripe via Charles Tyrwhitt
Liberty of London via Brora
Perfect Shirt in Suckered Stripe via J. Crew
Tahari Gathered Stretch Shirt via Bluefly
Evelyne De Clerc Crocheted Placket via Barneys
Gray and Red Crinkle Jersey via Boden
Vivienne Westwood Plaid via Farfetch

Paloma Blouse via Farfetch

J. Crew Button Fronts For 2016

Links may generate commissions

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47 Comments

  • 10/31/11
    7:11 am

    Reply

    Alice said...

    Have you checked out Thomas Pink? Their ladies shirts are gorgeous!

    http://www.thomaspink.com/shirtsandtops/women/fcp-category/list?resetFilters=true

  • 10/31/11
    7:13 am

    Reply

    Mise said...

    I’m not usually one for product endorsement, but I’ve found the Charles Tyrwhitt shirts you mention to be so nicely made and such tremendous value for money that I may as well say so. They wash and last beautifully too.

  • 10/31/11
    7:15 am

    Reply

    Marie - wifeinthecity said...

    I have been pondering the button front question recently myself so this is perfectly timed, thank-you! My main issue with them in general is with the ironing so the J Crew ones look to fit the bill perfectly without needing too much care. I find the other problem with a lot is the gaping around the bust. Never a good look.

  • 10/31/11
    7:32 am

    Reply

    girltuesday said...

    I am a long-time fan of Thomas Pink. Despite being sold a few years ago—an act that always seems to sound the death knell for favourite brands—I continue to have good luck with their shirts. A medium price point (about on par with BB), their sales offer some wicked deals.

  • 10/31/11
    7:35 am

    Reply

    Marguerite said...

    This may be too obvious, but Brooks Brothers shirts are nice. Glad you are transitioning back to work nicely.

  • 10/31/11
    7:40 am

    Reply

    kathy said...

    J. Crew “perfect shirts” are nice, although I don’t find them consistent in their fit. I used to wear a lot Faconnable shirts and they had two different basic styles, one with a nipped in waist. Very nice and classic patterns. I love the Liberty of London shirt, but isn’t it always such a big deal when you order from abroad about customs, etc? I tried some Eric Bompard cashmere sweaters and had to pay $85 when they were clearing customs in New Jersey. Then, I tried them, didn’t fit me well and I had to send them back. Has anyone else had this problem with customs?

  • 10/31/11
    7:44 am

    Reply

    Jan said...

    I wear button front shirts nearly every day – I just don’t button them (at least, not very often). I use them mostly as a “jacket” over a closer-fitting, scoop-necked shirt, usually a tank or camisole.

    That being said, I LOVE shirts in solid colors or with vertical stripes, so that first one is right up my alley. Prints, not so much, although I do have a few. I also look hideous in shirts gathered around or beneath my bustline, so that first white shirt is out, but I like the second one with the interesting buttons.

    That plaid thing, center in the bottom photo? No. Just…no.

  • 10/31/11
    7:48 am

    Reply

    DaniBP said...

    I adore your picks and you’ve completely studied and explained the concept of the button front shirt so well!
    Funny I’ve been buying a few of these shirts, after convincing myself that they weren’t “me” for many years. I find I like them now, tucked into pencil skirts, they are polished yet no-nonsense.

  • 10/31/11
    8:13 am

    Reply

    quintessence said...

    I love the J. Crew button down shirts. I own them in a plethora of colors in both the 3/4 and long sleeve versions. While I do agree with Kathy that they can vary in size a bit, they are a great fit (broad shoulders here as well) and that crucial third button falls in just the right place!

  • 10/31/11
    8:16 am

    Reply

    Town and Country Mom said...

    I have always loved the crispness of a well-fitting button front shirt, and have been on a bit of a kick lately, adding a Thos. Pink stipe, which I love. I also added two from Old Navy’s men’s selection in size small, slim fit. They work well for broad-shouldered, long-armed types, and the patterns and the price are great!

  • 10/31/11
    8:37 am

    Reply

    Mardel said...

    As a person who has been known to create a fuss over the differences between button-front and button-down, the opening paragraph of your post has made me smile.

    Love the stripe shirt and the liberty as well. J Crew’s perfect shirts continue to lure me in, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I wish I either had a J Crew store near me or they would be more consistent with their fit. Oh wait, I will have a J Crew store in only a few months. huzzah!

    Love the Vivienne Westwood, but even the artsiest corner of my brain can’t quite wrap itself around the backless shirt from Acne.

  • 10/31/11
    9:33 am

    Reply

    Jen said...

    All great options for the office. Women should also have one or two of these for the office. And, of course I gravitated toward the $700 blouse…

  • 10/31/11
    10:32 am

    Reply

    Sarah said...

    Lovely collection of shirts for us ! Thank you. And agree with Alice (first comment) re THomas Pink shirts although have to say that Liberty print Brora shirt is quite gorgeous. x

  • 10/31/11
    10:37 am

    Reply

    Jacqueline said...

    I don’t tend to endorse products all over the place, but if you get a chance you must check out Pink Tartan shirts. I have two. They are simply perfect. What no photograph will convey to you is the absolute perfection of the fabric and excellent way they are made (they are made as I understand it in a men’s shirt factory and the material much more similar to men’s shirting which is really of superior quality and endurance). Perhaps a little more expensive than J. Crew but in my opinion, well worth it.

  • 10/31/11
    10:43 am

    Reply

    Yulia said...

    Thank you for the review! I always enjoy your posts (but this is a first attempt at commenting).
    I love shirts on and off duty and have similar preferences to yours. I also love to wear cufflinks, which narrows the choice down dramatically. In the moment most of my work shirts are either from your side of the pond – french cuffed ones Brooks Brothers, or from a swedish company called The Shirt Factory (http://www.shirtfactory.se/en/shirts/woman) – last year’s discovery. They are quite well cut and have 2 absolute winning points: collar stiffeners and quite close spaced buttons, so no gaping ever!

  • 10/31/11
    11:11 am

    Reply

    Tabitha said...

    I’ve never had a waist and have spent my life creating one, I love shirts that tailor in at the supposed waist. I have one Thomas Pink and am debating a J Crew perfect shirt as I like the look of the cut – if not taxes, shipping and a 50% mark up.

    PS. I love how you write.

  • 10/31/11
    11:40 am

    Reply

    Susan Tiner said...

    Those are a beautiful selection of button front shirts. Alas, I don’t think this kind of shirt flatters me. However, you look great in a button front shirt!

  • 10/31/11
    11:53 am

    Reply

    mary jo said...

    I love that you wrote about this Lisa, and also your picks. If only more people realized that a tailored look is much more flattering and hides any imperfections much better than loose and baggy!

    Hope all is well with your new job {so proud of you} and of course have a spooktacular day and eve!

    xo Mary Jo

    http://ON-PCH.com

  • 10/31/11
    12:09 pm

    Reply

    Tricia said...

    Alice (above) beat me to it, but my go-to button shirt is Thomas Pink, particularly the Wendy “This stylish stretch cotton pique shirt is cleverly ruched around the waist for a contoured fit. Glamorous cocktail cuffs complete this modern wardrobe essential based on our Slim Fit block.” A true winner. English sizing, so two sizes up. I have broad shoulders and prefer a size 12, so size 16 in Pink. J. McLaughlin is my #2 — jmclaughlin.com (the fine gauge options are always an easy choice), and #3, the Ann Mashburn Classic, for more Liberty selections (annmashburn.com). Thanks for a fun post about my absolutely positively favorite clothing item (next to jeans)!

  • 10/31/11
    12:50 pm

    Reply

    Flo said...

    Ooooo, I am blown away by the covered placket Tyrwhitt shirt, pure elegance, not a button in sight. Just in case anyone else has gone nuts like I have, the price is insane as are the range of fabrics/prints/solids/stripes in this model, this looks like a really great shirt, and available from the store in NYC:

    http://www.ctshirts.com/womenswear/women%27s-shirts?q=usddefault|||||||||||||||&ppp=31&browse=Y#

  • 10/31/11
    2:10 pm

    Reply

    Duchesse said...

    The right brand is one that fits you! And the fabric feels “nice”, you know, just… nice.

    @kathy: Any order from another country (above the gift allowance) incurs customs tax and duties. When you return to Bompard the post office will provide a US customs form you fill in, supplying required documents. Send that to them and you will get your duties refunded. (Sorry cannot be more precise, I live in Canada. I import Bompard regularly. Occasionally have to make a return, but figure it’s cheaper than a plane ticket.)

  • 10/31/11
    4:29 pm

    Reply

    RoseAG said...

    You didn’t reveal whether you tuck these into your waistband or wear them out.

    I’m guilty of buying the no-iron Falconable brand from Nordstrom and wearing them, as a prior commenter suggested, as a jacket-top over a layering tank.

  • 10/31/11
    5:03 pm

    Reply

    The Preppy Princess said...

    You can imagine how much I enjoyed this one, from top to bottom. (No pun intended.) As long as I have lusted after The Consort’s Tyrwhitts, you would think I own one. Nope, not yet. You definitely show some great choices, I adore the J Crew blue and white, it’s such a good look.

    Sending you a smile,
    tp

  • 10/31/11
    5:09 pm

    Reply

    vintage_mck said...

    I have not tried the J Crew perfect shirts but my go to button front is the Non Iron by Brooks Brothers – There are three fits depending on your desired end result, and come in a variety of sleeve lengths – no poof either –

  • 11/01/11
    12:50 am

    Reply

    The Cape House said...

    These are always one of the hardest articles of clothing to find. They always seem hard to fit in the bust. The closest I’ve gotten is buying from J Crew and putting in extra little snaps.

    11/11/11
    3:25 pm
    Darlene said...

    @The Cape House, I would love for you to try a Campbell & Kate shirt. I adore button front shirts but always ran into the bust issue, so I finally created the shirt I wanted to find.

    11/12/11
    8:48 am
    Lisa said...

    Hi Darlene. Just FYI, if you wanted to do a giveaway for readers here, I’m on board. Giveaways and sidebar ads are the only commercialization I’m doing, so just let me know if that works in your plans.

  • 11/01/11
    1:29 am

    Reply

    Rachel said...

    My mum just bought me that CT shirt for work. In fact, all of my work shirts are from there I think, they are excellent quality, wash well, hold their colour and are not too expensive.

  • 11/01/11
    5:21 am

    Reply

    MAZL said...

    Loving the grey striped shirt. I buy Charles Tyrwhitt shirts for my OH on line and they are good quality. You can very often pick them up reasonabley cheaper on line than in the stores. Also if you can look at Marks and Spencer on line, they often have a range of shirts. The boys’ ones may fit you smaller ladies.

  • 11/01/11
    6:41 am

    Reply

    metscan said...

    I´m glad I´m not working in an office, if shirts are acquired.
    A shirt is definitely something I would never wear. If a jacket is required, a smart T under, is more to my taste.
    P.S. I have nothing against someone else wearing shirts, men in special ; )

  • 11/01/11
    10:01 am

    Reply

    Allison said...

    One wonders what is the point of that backless shirt? Under what circumstance would that be appropriate, or comfortable? Button front shirts were the bane of my working life; as I, too, have the broad shoulders. In the winter, I wore the close fitting T with a flannel shirt over, called it my professional lumberjack look. Paired with a fleece vest, it was very comfortable, of course that’s a pretty specific Seattle look….

  • 11/01/11
    10:55 am

    Reply

    Patsy said...

    OK, since when does button down, not mean button down collar? This is giving me a headache….I may have to walk up to Thomas Pink and buy something….

  • 11/01/11
    11:41 am

    Reply

    Ruth said...

    I love the blue flower Liberty print–but the cut gives me hives! It was poorly done in an otherwise nice shirt. The print has two lines going sideways down the front. This kind of print is not good for a ready made shirt where someone doesn’t take the time to line things up–a more random print would be much better. Am I just being too picky?

  • 11/01/11
    5:34 pm

    Reply

    Bonnie said...

    I wish I could print this and put it in everyone’s mailboxes at work. So many women need to know this. I wish that more people understood the value of a well-fitting shirt.

    http://www.glamkittenslitterbox.com/
    Twitter: @GlamKitten88

  • 11/04/11
    9:50 am

    Reply

    Queen of the Clean Up Parade said...

    Did you check our Rebecca & Drew custom ladies shirts? You order via bra size for a no-gap bust and custom fit. http://www.rebeccaanddrew.com/ I have a gift certificate from The Sister Who Does Everything Right but yet to use it. Fab post. I see you’ve copied my long white hair. That’s okay, so has Emmylou Harris. Rock on.
    Queen of the Clean Up Parade

  • 11/05/11
    1:13 am

    Reply

    Englishvers said...

    Nice selection. I fancy the first.
    I adore shirts. My favourites are from Workshop London on the Kings Road.

  • 11/05/11
    2:11 pm

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    Alice – Yes absolutely. I pinned one of the Thomas Pink’s to the Pinterest board.

    Mise – Well that’s good know. Since ordering them from here is probably going to require annoying customs stuff.

    Marie – I got the suckered shirt. Really lovely fabric.

    girltuesday – They were sold? Interesting.

    Marguerite – Yes. I like Brooks, and own one of theirs. For this job I’m looking for one step edgier, I believe. But I’m keeping my eye on Brooks.

    kathy – I am dreading the Brora customs kerfuffle.

    Jan – What, you don’t like Pirate Couture? :)

  • 11/05/11
    2:11 pm

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    DaniBP – Thank you so much. I think they look better on us as we get a little older. kind of like something we have to grow into.

    quintessence – I just got another one:). I love the lightweight fabrics they have best of all.

    T&C – Old Navy? Wonderful!. I will certainly take a gander.

    Mardel – Glad you share pickiness on these sorts of things. If I were 22 I’d wear that Acne shirt to a gallery opening. Opening indeed.

    Jen – As one does:).

    Sarah – My pleasure! We’ve got a Thomas Pink store here. Of course I will also look at my friend Naracamicie:).

    Jacqueline – Interesting. Had never heard of them. Thanks. I appreciate that you share your endorsements here.

  • 11/05/11
    2:12 pm

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    Yulia – Welcome to the comments! Shirt Factory, Their stuff looks good. I am all for Swedish goods.

    Tabitha – Who needs a waist when they have mile-long British legs? The stumpy among us have to persevere:). And thank you. I feel the same way about you.

    Susan – Thank you my dear!

    Mary Jo – Aw. I do enjoy this mutual support community. I’m now committed to more and more of my shirts falling AWAY from the body.

    Tricia – Oh thank you for these recommendations! You sound like a true expert, and I so appreciate the sharing. I had seen Ann Mashburn somewhere or other and then forgotten. I’ve pinned her to Pinterest however, so will be reminded from now on.

    Flo – They have a store in NYC? Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

    Duchesse – I agree, the fabric is key if you are buying in multiples. I have ordered a Brora sweater and am dreading the customs dance.

  • 11/05/11
    2:12 pm

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    RoseAG – It depends on the shirt and trousers that go with. The gray striped, for example, I’d probably wear tucked in, and the J. Crew lightweight suckered blue stripe, tucked out. I might have layered shirts in the old days, but now I fear it would turn me into quite the amorphous mass.

    TPP – And turns out the J. Crew is very lightweight. Like an old lawn slip. Lovely. Smiles back to you.

    Vince_Mck – Agree. My Brooks Brothers served me well.

    The Cape House – I have never had trouble with gaping – shoulders always trumped the bustline.

    Rachel – Good work mom! I just like that slightly wider stripe, and the gray and white together. Next level of polish IMO.

    MAZL – Marks and Spencer. Sigh. At least we have Old Navy, I suppose.

    metscan – I like to wear shirts under a v-neck sweater. If I’m wearing a jacket, I’ll wear a tee.

  • 11/05/11
    2:13 pm

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    Allison – Just an intellectual reference, I think. Certainly not practically wearable.

    Patsy – It’s the best solution.

    Ruth – I didn’t even notice that! Thank you.

    Bonnie – My pleasure. We live to serve:).

    Queen of the Clean Up Parade – Those shirts must be really useful for women where where bustline trumps shoulders. Thank you.

    English Vers – I’d love to see what you do with a classic button front shirt.

  • 11/06/11
    10:08 am

    Reply

    omelio said...

    ikhh Very Nice collectioN..:*

  • 11/06/11
    11:03 am

    Reply

    Laura said...

    My husband wears Charles Tyrwhitt. No idea they made womenswear. Swooning first, then shopping.

    11/12/11
    8:46 am
    Lisa said...

    I’m still thinking about the gray striped one. Had to do a check on my UK sizing.

  • 11/06/11
    8:23 pm

    Reply

    Andrea said...

    I have a closet full of lovely shirts: Charles Tyrwhitt and Thomas Pink, J. Crew and Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers and some custom made jobs. They’re all Beautiful, all beloved, and every morning when I open my closet I admire them and wish I had more occasion to wear them. But apart from a few weeks a year, I don’t. The modern office seems to be so cold that in winter I can’t even stand to have cotton next to my skin; a thermostat set in the sixties, where it’s comfortable for men, freezes my blood, and I need a knit to keep from shivering. Yes, even when I wear a thick wool jacket over the cotton shirt.

    It’s now November, and I usually wear some kind of knit top–a jewel-neck cashmere, silk-cashmere, or merino sweater–under a wool jacket that I hope gives me whatever authority the sweater takes away. I can’t have any authority if I’m vibrating in the blast of air conditioning all summer and inadequate heating all winter. If we’re all supposed to be saving energy, why is the air in every office building set to freeze a side of beef?

    11/12/11
    8:47 am
    Lisa said...

    I hear you. On the days I wear the button front shirts I tend to wear a cashmere v-neck over, without a jacket. In the extreme casual of my current office, it’s a good solution.

  • 08/12/12
    8:53 am

    Reply

    Anna said...

    Thank you for the very good tips on shirts. I got some ideas.

  • 06/02/14
    9:10 am

    Reply

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  • 07/19/14
    1:55 pm

    Reply

    authentic shirts said...

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  • 02/26/16
    1:15 am

    Reply

    funny-hoodie.com said...

    This is not any sort of inexpensive fabric we’re talking
    about either!

  • 06/14/16
    6:12 am

    Reply

    Pole Crastina said...

    It’s nice and I loved your collections. As you have mentioned that you have explored from Barney’s to J Crew and then after that you’re presenting these all show pieces. And from them I really liked the one from Charles Tyrwhitt. Actually, I’m a big fan of Tyrwhitt collections.

    06/14/16
    7:46 am
    Lisa said...

    I haven’t looked them up in ages, thanks for the reminder to try again.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] guide to button-front shirts offers several fabulous options, and also points out that my preferred term, […]

  2. […] I experimented with clothes. I bought a skater dress, reviewed different brands of cashmere and button-front shirts, wore corduroys. Come the new season, I hankered after that which was put before me — I followed […]

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