Ask Me Anything: The Perfect Button-Down

28/06/2011 § 4 Comments

If there’s anything I might be able to help you with, drop me a line: contact@quitecontinental.net
The amazing Ms. Jenna Lyons* Image via Style.com

Dear QC,
I’m relatively new to your blog, but am thoroughly enamored with your looks for summer (chinos, oxfords, and the like). I was wondering if you have any tips for choosing the best fit for button-down shirts? Do you shop men’s, women’s or both? I’m a bit curvy and not sure where to begin, I’m afraid I’ll be swimming in a men’s shirt, but won’t get the same look in a women’s cut!

I’m a size 12 and pretty curvaceous, as I have a 40 inch bust. I’m a recent graduate from Saint Louis University, so I shop on a budget, with few splurges. My best friends are upscale resale stores and on occasion eBay, but I try to find looks in stores where I can try things on first, and then buy pieces at a discount elsewhere.

Any suggestions would be fantastic!

First, thanks for your kind words and asking for my help!  Ah yes, you have figured out that I almost always have buttons on my shirt.  (In fact, I’m wearing a button-down right now…)  Let’s first get you sorted and then offer a few tips to everyone else.  I should first disclose that you and I have opposite “fit issues” when it comes to shirt shopping.  While mother nature has blessed you with a womanly bustline that has me positively green with envy, I’m what some might call “athletic”…if they were being nice.  But I think that my experience hunting for a perfect shirt will lend itself nicely to your search.

Our first stop is Brooks Brothers.  With women’s shirts available in sizes 0 to 20, I’m confident you could find something here.  Their Classic Fit is the fullest fit available, isn’t darted and has a french front, but I’m curious to see if you might like going up a size or two and trying their more tailored fits — namely, the Tailored and the Fitted.  The darts on a larger size might add a nice bit of shape, whereas the Classic Fit might end up being a bit too blousy.  (Sidenote: the Miracle Non-Iron shirts are amazing, especially for travel, business or otherwise.  I took one with me on a trip to Cairo and it held up beautifully crammed in my duffel.  They’re also excellent if you hate ironing as much as I do.)

Next up, J. Crew.  Here, I recommend the men’s shirts over the women’s.  I’m an especially big fan of their Vintage Chambray Utility Shirt, and have been wearing mine nonstop.  Last summer I went to the Liquor Store in Tribeca to try out the sizing.  I fit into an extra small, but preferred the small because this is a shirt that is meant to be worn a bit loose.  Luckily, these shirts go up to an extra extra large, so I’ll confident you’ll be able to find something comfy and casual.  (The J. Crew women’s shirts go up to an extra large or a 14, which should work.  To be safe, I’d suggest the Perfect Shirt with a bit of stretch, as I understand from my more endowed lady friends that the single biggest issue with wearing button-downs is that annoying gap that tends to open between button holes across the bust.) (I wouldn’t know as my buttons aren’t taxed in the least bit.  They’re practically on vacation.)

Lastly, if you only get one oxford shirt, I want you to get a bengal stripe by Ralph Lauren.  I’ve got more than a few and they only get better and softer with age.  On the women’s side they offer sizes up to 14, but just in case you find the fit unsatisfactory, I might suggest purchasing the men’s shirt and taking it to a tailor to add back or side darts to tweak the fit and make it your own.  (Sidenote: Go to a menswear shop and get measured to figure out what size you are in men’s dress shirts, as they are sold by neck size and sleeve length.)

Good luck!  Do let me know what you end up getting!

A few tips for those with me in the — ahem — “athletic” boat:

  • For dress shirts, the Brooks Brothers Tailored Fit cannot be beat.  The darts are excellently placed.
  • Also try J. Crew men’s shirts in slim/extra small.  An added bonus for tall girls like me, the sleeves are usually quite a bit longer than those you find normally on a woman’s shirt.
  • Check out the men’s shirts at Wharf.  Made in New England, they are of excellent quality, are offered in a small and are meant to shrink a bit.  (Sidenote: I hear that Wharf is working on a line of ladies shirts, which I am sure will be very exciting.)

*Postscript: By the by, I am rather obsessed with Jenna Jyons, President and executive creative director of J. Crew.  She’s 6 feet tall, brunette, from California, and the heir apparent at J. Crew — how could I not be a fan? The lovely Kendall Crow posted a great interview of Jenna and Derek Lam at Parsons (their alma matter) on her blog that you should take a look at, when you have a moment.  I love how Lyons is so funny and down to earth, and greatly admire her personal sense of style — not to mention how well she handled the whole (ridiculous) nail polish gender controversy.

If there’s anything I might be able to help you with, drop me a line: contact@quitecontinental.net
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§ 4 Responses to Ask Me Anything: The Perfect Button-Down

  • noelani says:

    I had no idea Jenna stood so tall…I love her even more now. She has such a fabulous sense of style and brought J Crew back from the brink for me. Off to check out interview now…….

  • Fred says:

    Hi– no offense, but a button-down shirt refers to a shirt with collar points that button down, not any shirt with buttons up the front. That is just a shirt (or a dress shirt).

    • Mariah says:

      Hi Fred:
      No offense taken! Yep, you caught me — I am using the term incorrectly, but it’s pretty typical for women to refer to what men would call “shirts” in this way. You say “shirt” to a woman and it could mean a million things, saying “button-down” gets the field narrowed a bit. I also sensed that when the question was asked, she wasn’t asking only for shirts with buttoned collars.

      Thanks very much,
      Mariah

  • Rose says:

    I just discovered your blog via Tomboy Style and I’ve greatly enjoyed looking through your posts. Do you have any suggestions when it comes to tailoring men’s shirts to fit (smaller) women? What is the best process to follow (taking in the sides vs. darts etc.) when altering shirts? Are there any other small brands that you would recommend aside from what you mention above?

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