Bruce Boyer And The Buttonless Buttondown

Everyone knows the buttondown shirt has been around forever. Well, we can at least trace its popularity to John Brooks (grandson of the firm’s founder) trip to England in 1896. He saw the polo players wearing this style collar, liked it, and started to manufacture it on his return home.

The buttondown was particularly popular from the 1930s on, when soft, attached collars were making great headway as more casual daywear than the customary stiff detachable ones.

Some dandies even went a step further and wore their buttondowns with a collar pin. There’s a wonderful photo of Fred Astaire, a great aficionado of the style, on his honeymoon with his wife Phyllis on their way to Hollywood in July, 1933. Astaire’s wearing a drape-cut, single-breasted Prince of Wales plaid suit, straw boater, and natty shepherd checked silk tie, and Brooks Brothers buttondown shirt — with a pin through the collar.

Today such sultans of style as Ralph Lauren have taken this idea a step farther yet by wearing the pin with the collar points unbuttoned. A nice touch of deshabille, to be sure. But I got to thinking and decided I’d do the designer one better. So I commissioned David Mercer — and Mercer & Sons is the best maker of the classic buttondown shirt — to make me a buttonless buttondown to wear with a pin. I ordered the classic blue heavy-weight oxford cloth to be made up with a buttondown collar, but asked David to leave off the collar holes and buttons.

The shirt arrived last week, I’ve had it laundered and am now wearing it both with and without a pin through the collar. It’s soft and as comfortable as can be because there’s no fusing. It also tends to wrinkle a bit, which I rather like and think suits me, and sort of echoes the longer point collars worn by Gary Cooper and John Barrymore. All in all I’d say the experiment was a success, and I look forward to Ralph copying the style from me. — G. BRUCE BOYER

20 Comments on "Bruce Boyer And The Buttonless Buttondown"

  1. Not sure I get it. Looks like a simple pinned point collar to me.

  2. I like that you ordered a customized shirt to wear a manner new to you, Mr. Boyer. Hat-tip to trying new things!

  3. Mr. Boyer,

    If I may be so bold, this post was an affirmation that great minds think alike. I have been wanting to do this very thing for years. Looks wonderful.

  4. Paul Winston also wears pinned straight-collar oxford shirts.

  5. I’d just like to mention that after reading this article, I searched collar pins on google, which lead me back to this site (specifically, to something posted in February of 2011 ). Upon reading the post, I came across this:

    “Of course if all your shirts are have buttondown collars, a collar pin doesn’t do you much good — unless you want to keep your collar unbuttoned but pinned, as some of the nouveau preps do. J. Press staunchly admonished me against this practice as I handed over my debit card. But according to Alan Flusser, whom I visited last week while on assignment for The Rake, there is historical precedent for this: namely Fred Astaire.”

    Who is the nouveau prep that Christian mentions? None other than our favorite, F.E. Castleberry ( in a photo that seems to be dated from 2010.

    Funny how things go around.

  6. Pinning a button-down collar works–if you are Fred Astaire. Otherwise, give it a pass; that photo of F.E. Castleberry illustrates what a bad look it is for most men.

    Having said that, I like what Mr. Boyer has done, but then again, it’s not a button-down shirt.

    dbd, I think “it” might show up better in person: it’s an Oxford cloth shirt, styled as a button down, but without the buttons or holes. Pinning it raises the dressiness, and I think Mr. Boyer looks great in this shot.

  7. 30% of J.. Press Oxford shirts sold during heyday were straight collar shirts styled with same collar as bd’s. They were worn plain with stays or with collar pin with stays removed.

  8. I like it. I see he went the the collar bar and not the safety pin. Any thoughts on the two? Also, can you get away with a collar pin and a blazer?

  9. Actually that’s a pin, which I think is more “trad” than the barbell kind.

  10. This is one part of the classic Ivy look I’ve never been able to get behind. Maybe it’s because my family’s British and I was raised with a heavy dose of traditional English style, but if you’re wearing a button-down you may as well be wearing a t-shirt. Fit for factory workers sure, but no those who would aspire to be well-dressed. Am I just crazy? Anyone else have a similar aversion to the OCBD?

  11. I’ve only ever worn real brass collar pins, if the pin is sharp and the collar has no facing the hole will self mend, otherwise the shirt will always have to be worn with a pin.
    I’ve owned straight collar shirts with the same collars as BD. I’ve had collars switched on shirts, button holes put on straight collars.
    Fred Astaire! WTF, we laughed at President George H.W. Bush for doing it, Someone once committed that,” It must be windy in Kennebunkport”. I still don’t like the look, but to each his own. Fred Astaire! 😉

  12. oxford cloth button down

    I never wear a straight collar shirt and tie without a pin, sports coat or suit. Opinions may vary.

  13. The only variable that makes a button down shirt such is a button down collar. Between manufacturers fabric varies and proportion and construction of the collar varies so these cannot be counted as among the variables that define the style. Therefore, I don’t understand how Mr. Boyer’s shirt is a button down. I would like to know what differentiates his shirt from a pointed collar.

    E.K – What makes someone well-dressed is both your opinion and also a determination based on context. When it comes to this style of shirt it is not an objective determination. In the UK button downs are predominantly associated with the casual, in the US they are not. In the US wearing one is considered well-dressed in most situations except maybe the courtroom or a wedding or black tie. In my recent trips to London I have noticed a strong trend toward suits worn with spread collar shirts without a tie. Traditionally in the UK this was considered not well-dressed, now it is.

    I can appreciate Mr. Boyer’s use of the pin here. I think the proportion and construction of the collar doesn’t preclude it from using a pin. While I would not do so (I think one needs Mr. Boyer’s or Astaire’s gravitas and confidence to pull it off and not look affected) it works out.

    Just don’t call it a button down because it is not.

    (This article has all the hallmarks of being able to rival the Styleforum Great Sock Controversy of 2012!)

  14. Bravo, Boyer!

    I recall the Fred Astaire photo with him wearing both the buttons buttoned and a collar pin. A bit too much for us mere mortals as noted by Henry.

    It is time for the long-point collar to make a come-back.

    Mark E. Seitelman

  15. A.E.W. Mason | January 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm |

    It’s a great look. I’ve been wearing a collar pin with button downs for about a year; read about it in “The Suit.” With plain, forward point collars I wear the pin and leave out the collar stays; gives you that Gary Cooper look. Great post.

  16. Roy R. Platt | January 31, 2013 at 7:03 pm |

    I still have two of the “dumbbell” style collar pins from the early ’60’s. (They are so old that they are 14k gold, as many collar pins and collar stays were back when gold was $35.00 an ounce.) I remember that people wore collar pins with shirts that had neatly finished holes in the collar for the collar pins. Are shirts still made with holes for collar pins?

  17. Bruce,

    Ralph will not copy you my friend. You are a stylish gentleman, but the buttons and button holes add the casual prep feel that Ralph is trying to achieve (and does so successfully). However, your shirt does look nice.

  18. The Pima that Mercer uses is reasonably hefty. The New England Shirt Oxford cloth is the beefiest of the “beefy oxfords” I’ve seen/felt in years. Ralph Lauren MTM uses New England Shirt.

    As is the case with a lot of the better off the rack and made to measure goods that fall under the Ivy category, the issue at hand (so to speak) is the quality of the cloth. A lot of it is sub par.

  19. Dickey Greenleaf | February 2, 2013 at 8:25 pm |

    I love you’re style Bruce, it’s always to the point, never subpar, cliche, and boring, you’re always looking sharp in you’re photos, #sharp. To the idiots, that means the man has a great sense of style, a great sense of Sartorialist exceptional, expressional, impressionable, and omnibus standards. Keen-eyed is the word that comes to mind, and in hindsight, we’re inspired. If I may speak for myself, meaning I’m inspired. I love you’re selections, from you’re shirt, to you’re tie, and to you’re jacket, all looks very complete. It all looks very complete, maybe you can comeback and do some more Forums, Q&A’s and discussions. Have Chris let you comeback and talk to us more. It’s been a pleasure, I havn’t tried this particular look yet, I’m leaning more toward the collar pin shirt, maybe I’ll experiment with that look first, and then go for the more aggressive, and expensive taste and style that you’re promoting, either way, my knowledge of style has been effectively enhanced, Thank you, Dickey, “Arrivederci”

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