The White Buttondown: William Holden, 1954


Our recent post on William Ivey Long led some presumably blue-shirted commenters to say they were reconsidering white.

Above is another compelling case for white by another show-biz gentleman named William. Actor Holden is pictured in a LIFE Magazine photo shoot from 1954.

Sometimes a white buttondown is all you need. Except for the times when a pink buttondown is all you need:

Annex - Holden, William_03

And here’s another thing to ponder. One of my favorite books on the history of menswear is Pearl Binder’s “The Peacock’s Tail,” written around the same time as these photos. And one of my favorite quotes from it is when Binder writes that in all cultures and in all eras throughout human history, “the neck has been the focal point of masculine self-assertion.”

Perhaps there’s yet another reason for the importance of collar roll. It adorns and accentuates the neck. — CC

30 Comments on "The White Buttondown: William Holden, 1954"

  1. John Bracken | January 16, 2016 at 6:05 pm |

    White is a staple in my book! Variety is always nice too!

  2. I have white, blue and pink all in rotation. A white one every once in a while is nice!

  3. I like white.
    I don’t understand why a white shirt is perceived as difficult to wear.
    Too much formal?
    But if is a button down is a sport shirt even if white.

  4. When it comes to shirts, white is right.

  5. Some people who post on menswear forums never leave their parent’s basement except for the occasional “selfie.” This leaves them with a ghoulish lack of skin tone. Thus, the avoidance of white.

  6. Cream or light ecru will work better for any gent, especially the pale among us. The Mercer cream oxford is a great shade. Better than Brooks’ ecru.

  7. Dutch Uncle | January 17, 2016 at 2:53 pm |

    Cream and light ecru look like white shirts that have yellowed in the wash.

  8. Referring to prior posts: These shirts have pockets in the 1950’s.

  9. That’s a damned handsome pink shirt in pic #2. I’m inclined to agree with Dutch Uncle, given enough usage my white shirts will probably approach a shade of off-white eventually.

    Oliver! I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy my Bermudian photo shoot last August, though to be fair I was in Bermuda…

  10. Is there really a contingent that eschews white OCBD’s? While I wouldn’t gambol in one, for everyday wear I don white as much if not more than my other colors. Nothing is more prepossessing than a crisp white shirt.

  11. Individualized offers a pima cotton oxford that’s a dandy shade of Ivory. More of a true white, than, well, the bleached white one sees most of the time. Great with tweeds and flannel suits.

    White shirts that fade over time so as to appear ecru look horrible. I’m not a fan of Ecru, but the Mercer cream is a unique shade. A lot like the Ivory.

  12. Good English is first of all a matter of correct syntax, and second of all a matter of well-chosen lexis. One would have expected “as much as, if not more than” rather than “as much if not more than” from a gentleman with WFBjr’s breadth of vocabulary.

  13. I am not convinced.

    The times when you can wear button down with no tie means it’s already a very casual setting. So why whear plain white?

    Not to mention that in our current culture, to most people the color white and black (or dark blue…) in and of themselves are considered “formal”; you can wear a white shirt and dark navy jacket and people will say “what’s the occasion” or some such.

    So no I can’t justify wearing white button downs. I’d rather wear a sport shirt instead or even a blue button with rolled up sleeves.

  14. @Vadim McNab

    Since when were Ivy afficionados concerned
    with the style opinions of “most people” in “our current culture”?

  15. Henry Contestwinner | January 18, 2016 at 2:36 am |

    White doesn’t flatter most Caucasians, so that’s part of why colored shirts are more popular nowadays. Still, there’s no substitute for a white straight-collar shirt for interviews, funerals, weddings, etc.

    A white button-down shirt can be good with a blazer, or worn casually, though as noted above, if you’re going casual, why not wear something colored, or even patterened?

  16. J.I. Rodale | January 18, 2016 at 4:41 am |

    White was favored by the aristocracy and the elite.
    Blue shirts (and later other colors) were chosen because they didn’t show grime, not because they flattered Caucasian skin tones.
    That is still the case.

  17. Ward Wickers, Wrinkled | January 18, 2016 at 8:04 am |

    I like white. White is nice.

  18. I open
    Up the paper
    There’s a story
    Of an actor

    Who had died
    While he was drinking
    It was no one
    I had heard of

    Tom’s Diner, by Suzanne Vega, referring to Mr. Holden’s demise.

    The shirts in those photos look great. I wonder if they oxford cloth, or instead pinpoint.

  19. The (great) James Baker still wears a white button down–yes, with suits. Including chalkstripe suits.

    Related aside: He was among the small choir of WASPy Ivy Leaguers (he and Schulz are Princeton grads) Reagan summoned to his side throughout the 80s. Take a look at pics of Baker, the Chief of Staff and later Sec. of Treasury. Button downs, club ties, tweeds, and sack suits.

    He was/is among that breed who can go from East Coast Ivy to tobacco chewing Texan to Western (Wyoming) rancher in a matter of minutes. Effortlessly. Because he’s actually all the above.

    Anyway, he wore and still wears button downs.

  20. Shultz, rather.

  21. @S.E. big J.A. Baker fan here. PBS aired an insightful documentary earlier this year. He was an inveterate champion of the 3.5in collar.

  22. NaturalShoulder | January 18, 2016 at 6:19 pm |

    I will look for the PBS documentary on Baker, as I am a fan. I do reach for white shirts more frequently in the warmer weather when I have some color from the sun. I had a former colleague who wore ecru shirts frequently and they looked terrible on him and I have stayed away. Maybe I will look at the Mercer cream offering for part of my next order.

  23. Taliesin you’ve changed how I see these photos, excellent connection. I mostly think of Holden in Sunset Boulevard, distinctly not an Ivy wardrobe but still quite stylish for 1950.

  24. @DCG

    Naturally I think of Holden in “The World Of Suzie Wong.” ; )

  25. Henry Contestwinner | January 19, 2016 at 1:37 am |

    J.J. Rodale, you are correct, of couse; what you pointed out is where we get the terms white collar and blue collar. I was thinking of the present more than the past. Even if we are not consciously aware of it, most people have a sense for the colors that flatter them, even the shades of the colors, and tend to chose them over those shades and colors that are unflattering.

  26. White oxfords are the best. Wear them with khakis, charcoal suit, blue blazers, sleeves down, sleeves up, tucked in, untucked, at Morton’s Steak House, at Panera Bread, driving your Morgan or your VW, sailing, tennis, and even as I do, working in the yard. I have three Gitman Brothers oxfords in rotation for that task.

    Cheers gents,


  27. Speaking of things white, this just in: “Portland Community College has designated April “Whiteness History Month” (WHM), an “educational project”…(during which) discussions will center on “whiteness as a social construct.”

    For those not in the know, Portland (OR) Community College thinks of itself as the Princeton of Multnomah County and lists among its distinguished alumni(ae) such luminaries such as Samantha Hess, “the owner/founder/professional cuddler, author, and the creator of the Certified Cuddlers Certification Program”.

    It is not anticipated that anyone will wear white OCBD’s to WHM’s discussions of “whiteness as a social construct” but if any Ivy Style followers live in the Portland area they might consider showing up in one to make a statement about solidarity with the positive attributes of whiteness.

  28. Señor Yuca | January 19, 2016 at 1:40 pm |

    Great photos. I’d sooner watch a Holden movie than listen to S Vega any time.

    And white button downs work perfectly as casual shirts.

  29. Henry Contestwinner | January 20, 2016 at 1:21 am |

    Just in case anyone wasn’t certain, “Whiteness History Month” (as mentioned by Mazama above) will not be a celebration of whiteness; it will be a denigration of whiteness.

  30. John Hansen | April 21, 2018 at 6:05 am |

    My dilemma nearly every day:

    Blue button-down or white button-down? Also khaki or british khaki?

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