Technically there are no pedants behind you.

Pet peeve time. This is a button-down, because the collar buttons down:

This, despite having buttons down the front, is not a button-down:

I know I’ve already lost this one — and I’d go so far as to say that “button-down” simply means something else to your average under-30 — but it’s a useful distinction and I’m not letting go.

(And if you’re about to say “Fine, what should we call them?”: Both are dress shirts, one with a button-down collar and one with a point collar. You can probably even call the second one just a “dress shirt” or even just a “shirt” if you’re not in company that means “t-shirt” when they say “shirt”. The ones that aren’t dress shirts but which still have buttons down the front are sport shirts, with a similar etymology to “sports jacket”.)

16 responses to “Technically there are no pedants behind you.”

  1. was there some debate on the points that you just made?! all shirts button down the front so why would someone think a ‘button down’ simply means a shirt with buttons down the front?! (if i’m understanding what you’re saying correctly.)

    “button down” means a shirt with a collar that buttons down at the tips. it’s a sad day when young men don’t know these things!

    (p.s. my mom was a seamstress and i’m over thirty!)

  2. I’m a girl, and my dress shirts don’t have to have buttons at all. What am I supposed to call my shirts that have buttons down the front?

  3. Yeah, that’s exactly why I’d thought the word worked the way I thought it did (i.e., anything with buttons down the front is a button-down). But, gosh! I had no idea there even *was* another usage.

  4. “Say what you mean” is great advice, I think. Following that advice is truly possible only when one uses language accurately. I, for one, applaud efforts made toward preserving specificity in communication, especially as our worldwide community relies more and more upon text-based means of the same. Given that we’re cutting communication down to its most elemental level – the words involved – it seems to me to be even more important now to use exactly the words we mean, and having terms and words confused with each other due to colloquial misuse doesn’t seem to help.

    Maestro, I say RIGHT ON. — Orson Bean, Sky and Telescope

  5. That’s just what it means to them. See here for an example — it’s not just kids using the wrong word, it’s a real semantic change.

  6. Well, what I wrote was to do with men’s shirts. I don’t know women’s fashion terminology at all, really. I can never even remember the even-odd size thing.

  7. To someone of my generation (read: I’m younger than 30), a button-down shirt is any shirt that buttons down the front. Most of us (except the fashion slaves?) don’t care about what the collar does/looks like when we name a button-down.


    This is interesting, though. I never knew this about “button-down.” I even looked it up in Webster’s Eleventh and what do you know!

  9. If you can find me a fundamental (name a language, say… English) word that doesn’t spring from a historical “colloquial misuse”, I’ll find you a smurf.

    The world has not just recently ‘gone to hell in a handbasket’. It has always been in the basket; you just got in recently.


    All that said, I love button-down shirts by any definition.

  10. You’d think so, but no! You wear a tie with a dress shirt, which can have a button-down collar, but usually has a point collar, like the other shirt illustrated above, or a spread collar, which is wider when it’s closed but is made the same way. The points of a point collar are stiff and even then often have plastic or metal tabs in them to stiffen them further so they stay in place.

    In fact, the button-down collar is much more casual, to the point where you usually wouldn’t wear one with a suit. That’s a historical thing — the reason the collar buttons down in the first place is so that it wouldn’t get caught by the wind and annoy you while you’re out riding your horse on your estate. (Which is also why button-downs are usually paired with sport coats, but that’s also because when you wear a shirt without a tie under a sport coat, the button-down collar stays in place a lot better than a point collar.)