Here at Sugarmamma we love classic pieces, and nothing is as classic as the button down shirt. Whether it’s white, striped or printed, this is one of the workhorse items in your wardrobe.
Of course, not all button down shirts are created equal – Jennie Geisker knows this only too well. After struggling to find feminine business shirts for women while she was working in the corporate world, she decided to fill this gap in the market with quality, well-fitting, yet still feminine shirts. I talk to Jennie, who is the creative director and founder of The Shirt Muse, on what to keep an eye out for when choosing the perfect button down shirt.
Jennie says that when you’re buying a button down shirt (and indeed, any item of clothing), you must first consider fit for purpose. This means that what you’re buying suits whatever situation or environment you’ll be wearing it. The button down shirt that you wear at work could well be different to the button down shirt that you wear for the weekend. Think about where you’ll wear it and how you’ll wear it to make sure you choose the most appropriate shirt.
“Always look at where the sleeve seam sits, you want it essentially in line with your shoulder bone,” advises Jennie. Check if you can you move around in it comfortably (move your arms front and back), and if there is gaping around the bust.
Some women may prefer a tailored fit for work, while others go for a more relaxed fit for the weekend – it’s up to you. Jennie says that “if you are after a tailored shirt, it should sculpt your body – this is the most flattering shape. You want to show your shape without it being super tight.” This means that there should be no gaping around the bust and buttons, the shoulder seam should sit in line with the corner of the shoulder, and the collar when done up should not be restricting (there should be at least a finger space).
In terms of the shirt’s length, Jennie says that for a tailored shirt, it generally should end just below your waist. However, she adds that if you want to wear it tucked in go for a longer length or at least at the back; if you are after a shirt to wear untucked, one that finishes around the waist is best.
As for that dreaded gap at the bust which you may have had to pin in the past (or make sure you were wearing a nice bra that day), Jennie has found the solution – extra buttons and their precision placement on the shirt. “Our shirts have additional buttons so you don’t get those annoying gapes and awkward bra flashes,” she says.
Another important factor to consider when trying on your button down shirts is sleeve length. Jennie advises that the sleeve should finish “just past your wrist; if you want a corporate professional look, the cuff should stick out approx 1cm from your suit jacket.”
Cuffs are something you may not have considered before, but they add personality to your shirt. You can button them as you would normally for a corporate finish; or roll them up for a more relaxed, laidback look.
Another type of cuff you may not have heard of is the french cuff, which Jennie says is “a cuff that is double the length (of a normal button cuff) that folds back on itself and is fastened together with cufflinks.” While it is certainly a more formal shirt, you can still wear it casually with jeans or you can roll the sleeve up as you would a shirt with a normal button cuff. She loves French cuffs because “when you wear a french cuff shirt you feel more confident, it’s modern day armour,” and the fact that you can add personality to your shirt with your choice of cufflinks. #collarcuffscourage
Jennie says that “If you are after a classic white shirt I’d recommend buying the best quality you can afford in a natural fibre. This allows your skin to breath especially if you are layering with a suit jacket or cashmere sweater.” There are many cotton fibres to choose from – if you’re after a shirt that has a thicker, more durable cotton, Jennie advises looking for oxford, herringbone, twill or poplin cotton. For blouses or sheer fabrics, look for silks and cotton voile. If (like a lot of us!) you don’t mind sweating and hate ironing, look for a polyester shirt.
For business shirts, make sure the collar and cuffs are fused for business shirts – “you’ll know this by feeling the thickness and stiffness of the collar and cuff,” Jennie says.
You should have at least 1 white shirt in your wardrobe, but to add some interest “you can’t go wrong with a classic striped shirt or a floral print,” according to Jennie. Look for colours that suit your skin tone – Jennie advises that the best way to know this is to hold it up against your face, you will either pop or be washed out. Most people are either cool tone or warm tone – as you experiment and try different colours against your face, you’ll soon start to see what suits your skin tone.
How many button down shirts should you have? Well, it’s up to you, thinking of that fit for purpose mentioned at the beginning, but Jennie says that you should have at least one in your wardrobe. It’s one of those items of clothing that could be worn in multiple ways, from a black tie event (think Sharon Stone wearing her husband’s button down shirt to the Oscars) through to the beach as a cover up for your bathing suit.
If you’ve ever wondered why the buttons on men’s shirts and women’s shirts are on different sides, Jennie has the answer. “It’s a tradition that dates back to when women were dressed by others,” Jennie responds. She also notes that women’s shirt buttons are smaller than men’s too, but has gone against the grain with her designs and used the same or bigger sized buttons on her designs are they can make a great feature or statement.
It takes time choosing that perfect button down shirt, but once you’ve found it you know that you’ll have a piece of clothing that will take you places and will withstand the test of time. Check out The Shirt Muse for classic, timeless shirts, as well as pencil skirts and shirt dresses, for any occasion.
This post was written in collaboration with The Shirt Muse. The Yacht shirt is worn in all pictures.