In the past the topic of wearing a button down collar with a suit has come up multiple times in conversations with friends. Most recently last week while out and about in Philadelphia. My friend, a third year law student, is looking to bolster his wardrobe for the career he is about to begin. So understandably, this is a topic he has been pondering on. I have also been thinking much on the subject while reading Jesse’s tell-all on OCBDs over at Put This On. Jesse also wrote about wearing a button down with a suit, but I slightly disagree with him, as I am more of a proponent of the combination.
My friend said that he had heard that it is not appropriate to wear a button down with a suit, but he did not seem convinced either way. So I went into my usual diatribe in favor of the pairing. I don’t remember the word for word but the gist was as such (with a few things added and/or taken away):
A button down shirt, whether it be oxford cloth or not, paired with a suit is a fine combination. It is traditional and it is American. The button down collar as we know it, although originated by Brooks Brothers and thus sold primarily to the upper class, is now a shirt that transcends socio-economic boundaries. It is a combination worn by our fathers, our father’s fathers and some of the great men’s style icons like Gianni Agnelli and Fred Astaire; Fred would even wear them with a double breasted jacket. Legends.
I would imagine the reason you heard that the pairing is unacceptable would be one of two things. First, the source was not American, but probably from Europe or elsewhere where the combination would be much less prevalent or non-existant. Second, perhaps the person was thinking in terms of formality. The button down collar is the least formal dress shirt, which one could argue is too casual to wear with a suit, especially a more formal suit like one with pinstripes. Sound logic, I suppose. But this is America we’re talking about and Americans love button down collars. Shit, I even wear a button down with a tux sometimes.