The Button Down Shirt: Solving the Gaping, Bunching and Ironing Issues

Button Down Shirts

I can’t remember the last time I bought a cotton button down shirt. They’re just too high maintenance. Between the ironing, the poor fit (hello gape at the bust-line) and, if I do tuck, the fact that my shirt is determined to work its way out of my pants, making me look like a big balloon, I just can’t be bothered. Plus, my lifestyle hardly calls for shirts like this. I love the look, but hate the work involved. However, my husband, who wears a suit everyday, has a closet full of them. This is also why I tend to wear knits that easily fold in my drawers– my husband’s suits and shirts have taken over most of our closet space. There is something seriously wrong with this.

Anyway, for working women, the button down shirt is a staple and, over the years, many solutions have been created to make shirts wearable and bearable for the career gal. In today’s What am I Going to Wear to Work Tomorrow? I am here to give you all the tips to help you avoid a button down shirt tantrum.

The Gape

Oh the shirt gape. What the hell? It’s 2014 for God’s sake. Have we really not figured out how to solve this issue? This, mammograms and pap smears. Sure we can put a man on the moon and video chat with someone on the other side of the world but, no, we can’t make shirts fit or things to keep our lady parts in check more bearable. Why does just about every button down shirt gape at the chest for most women?

Over the years a few solutions, some DIY and some product based, have come along to help us with the gape. Here are a few to consider:

Fashion Tape: Have you ever used fashion tape? I’m not talking about double stick, I’m talking about true fashion tape. Seriously, you could use this stuff to hang a flat screen TV on your wall, it’s pretty tough and very sticky. If you have a shirt gaping problem try fashion tape.

A hidden snap on the placket: If your gape is less gape-like you can have a tailor add a very small snap in the placket of the shirt. I don’t think this trick will work with very large chested women because all it would probably take is a sneeze or outstretched arms when you yawn for that snap to undo itself.

A tank or cami: My solution was to always throw a cami or tank under my button down shirts. I always hated this solution because, invariably the tank would ride up and bunch. I spent most of my time either hiking up the tank to cover my exposed bra and the rest of it pulling the tank down around my waist. No, a cami or tank under a button down shirt is not the best solution but it is a good solution when there are no others available.

If you like the tank idea, but the hate the bulk and fuss, there are companies that sell half tanks that are designed to give you coverage without adding bulk. Plus size retailer Lee Lee’s Valise sells the Mollie that are cropped tanks that stop at the bust line, as does Arianne Lingerie.

Shop to fit your bust and take the rest in: When you shop for pants, the best way to get them to fit right is to fit the pants to your hips first and then take in at the waist because, typically, the hips are the widest part of the body. A similar solution to the shirt gaping problem is to buy a shirt in a size that won’t gape at the chest (if it is possible) and then take the shirt to your tailor to have it fitted elsewhere, like at the waist. Recently, I bought some chambray shirts. I had to buy a large for my chest size but could have easily fit into a medium everywhere else. Buying bigger and taking in is a lot easier than letting out.

Shirts that have a fake placket: Hugo Boss is a tremendous resource for me and my professional clients. Their clothes typically hit that right note of trendy, but not too trendy and perfect for the office. One item they make seasonally is their side zip mock button down shirt called the Bashina where the placket is fake and completely sewn shot. This shirt fits like dream and require not buttoning or gaping. Because of the side zip, they also shape closely to the body, minimizing the “coming untucked” issue.

Look for designers who think about the gape: If this is a huge problem for you and you don’t want to mess around with tape, looking for designers who specifically address this issue can be the answer for you. Check out The Shirt, by Rochelle Behrens, one of Oprah’s faves, with their no gape technology.

The Bunch

Does your shirt bunch up when you tuck it in? Not only is this annoying but it is uncomfortable. Sadly, the solutions to avoiding button down shirt bunch aren’t as extensive as fixing the gape but might still be helpful.

The military tuck- Have you ever noticed how military men always look polished and perfectly tucked? Well they have a little secret, it is called the military tuck. Basically, this is done by moving excess fabric from the front and back of the shirt and hide it in the side-seams. For step-by-step directions, click here.

The bodysuit shirt: About 20 years ago I had a button down shirt bodysuit from DKNY that I still dream about. Gone was the time wasted tucking in my shirt, looking unkempt or feeling uncomfortable. The bodysuit can be hard to find so scoop one up when you can. Unfortunately, those who need a bodysuit shirt the most are usually long-waisted women, who have long torsos) and, often, a body suit can be murder on the crotch for these ladies. It is important to find one that is long enough.

Alternative tucking solutions: Some other alternatives for tucking include tucking your shirt into your underwear. It does help, but there is a trick to doing it well. Tuck the shirt down around the outside of your panties and then pull up panties and then up into them. Doing this will save you from potential embarrassment of bending over and showing both London and France. Some, probably out of sheer desperation, have used safety pins to attach their shirts to their underwear too.  I’ve also heard of women tucking their shirts into their pantyhose.

Shirt garters: Not that I totally recommend this, but, I must touch on it, they’re called shirt garters, or shirt stays (not to be confused with collar stays) and are more often used in menswear.  I don’t think they will work with slim pants or fine fabrics, and you have to wear them with socks, but, if anything, check them out because they are mildly amusing and sometimes it’s just nice to know a solution like this exists.

The Shirt Tailor: Again, commonly a menswear product, the shirt tailor is a belt that goes over your shirt and under your pant or, in a woman’s case, her skirt.  The belt can fit up to a size 46″ waist and be cut down to fit.  It does seem a little bulky and uncomfortable but if your shirt not staying in really bothers you, a solution, I guess.

Shirt lock: Shirt Lock is made of a flexible nylon, hook on hook material that is worn over your shirt and inside your pants about 2″ below your waistline. Shirt Lock grips both the shirt and the pants, holding your shirt tails down and your pants up.  Unlike the other contraptions, shirt locks are designed for both men and women and is considered great alternative to suspenders, shirt stays, or the rubber belts.

Ironing

Here is another reason I don’t wear button down shirts, I hate, would rather sleep on a bed of nails, ironing.  I have my steamer and don’t mind firing it up on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, a steamer won’t work on clothing, like shirts, that need a good, firm press to look neat and crisp.   I don’t like dry cleaning my shirts for several reasons.  First, I feel like I am basically renting my shirts from the dry cleaner.  One wear and they are back to be cleaned.  Second, dry cleaning as often as I would need to clean my shirts isn’t good for the fabric, and, third, it’s an annoying expense I’d rather not bother with.  So, what are the solutions to getting your shirts wrinkle free and ready to wear without any hassle?

No-iron shirts: Most designers have smartened up to the fact that nobody is interesting in ironing any longer.  It isn’t 1952, wifey isn’t at home slaving over an ironing board all day.  Most companies make no-iron shirts.  They’re definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.  For the most part you can throw them in the wash and let them hang dry.

Non iron shirts to check out:

Laundering and sending out for pressing: With my husband’s need to wear dress shirts everyday, what we do is launder them in the washer, let them hang dry, and then, the shirts that need pressing, send them to the dry cleaner for just this task.  I guess we could just iron them ourselves but, a) my husband knows he didn’t marry a woman who would pick up an iron and b) neither one of us can be bothered.  With the amount of shirts he owns it’s nothing to send a few off weekly and have the non-iron shirts ready to go.

How to look stylish in a button down shirt

Lastly, let’s talk about how to actually look stylish in a button down shirt for work.  Now that you know how to keep it wrinkle-free, bunch-free and gape-free, what about how to wear it?  One thing I see a lot of women do is throw on a button down, a pair of pants or a skirt and walk out the door.  Total snooze.  These looks often need final touches to look interesting and to keep wearers from getting bored.  Using three ways that most women wear a button down shirt, here are three updated outfits to inspire you to up the outfit a bit.

Outfit #1- With a skirt

For a more business-causa work environment, where open-toe shoes are acceptable and you can get away without a suit jacket, a button down shirt looks great with a skirt and some finishing touches.  Here I took a 3/4 sleeve, no-iron shirt from Jones New York and styled it with a black and white patterned Boden a-line skirt.  To make this outfit more interesting, my first tip is to treat black and white prints and patterns like solid black, which means you can wear any color with them.  Secondly, I added a third pop color of cobalt blue, enhances the outfit and complements the pink.  With these fun printed sandals from Anthroplogie, a pair of pink and blue stud earrings from Bauble Bar and a cobalt handbag from Lucky Brand, the outfit gets an upgrade.

Outfit #2- With a pair of tailored pants

Another solution to keeping a button down shirt tucked is to not tuck it at all.  If the shirt is shaped enough and the right length this can work great.  However, this can get really boring, really fast.  Additionally, some shirts just don’t look good untucked.  When this happens, try belting.  Using the same no-iron shirts again, I styled it with a pair of grey J. Crew trousers, a common wear to work look.  To upgrade the outfit, I added a Tory Burch belt, an elegant pair of tan flats from Modcloth and a Kate Spade bag.  Finishing the look, I added a long, gold Stella & Dot necklace.

Outfit #3- With a suit

A suited look with button down shirt and no excitement is as basic as you can get.  However, in the more conservative world, few women have a lot of room to stray to far from this formula.  The key to upgrading these types of outfits is found in the accessories.  Here, using a long sleeve, no-iron shirt (because 3/4 sleeves can be very uncomfortable under a suit), the Reiss suit of a jacket and pants gets elevated simply by adding a third color, very versatile green.  With this color pop, a Banana Republic necklace and Steve Madden handbag, the outfit gets some flavor. To elongate the legs, I matched the shoes to the pants with a pair of low navy Elie Tahari pumps.

Do you have any tricks, tips or secrets for keeping your button down shirts gape, bunch and wrinkle free?  I’d love to hear them!

  • Suzanne

    I’m so relieved your wrote this article!!! So many experts recommend a white shirt, but the bust gaping, poor fit and constant ironing made me ban them from my closet years ago. High maintenance is RIGHT! Ain’t nobody got time for that! I hate to iron too and if Bridgette says she doesn’t have a white shirt I don’t have to have one either.

  • NA

    Any suggestions for button downs for the very long-waisted? I can rarely even tuck a button down into my pants to begin with.

  • Justine

    Some brand suggestions (that I haven’t tried myself): Bradamant Bodysuits and InStyle Essentials button-front white shirts featuring TrioFit Technology. TrioFit fits by bra size and used to be known as Rebecca & Drew.

    For those who want to DIY grip strips at the waistband, apply puffy paint or urethane seam tape. I haven’t tried these methods so I don’t know if they flake off or peel off, or if they actually are permanent.

    Thanks for sharing the military tuck! I hadn’t seen it before.

  • I’m with you on hating ironing! My solution is to look for 100% polyester soft drapy shirts. I’m quite comfortable wearing man-made fibres (I know some aren’t), they machine wash, dry really quickly and don’t need ironing. I don’t really like the stiffness of a proper cotton shirt and I don’t need to be that formal for work, thankfully.

  • Ava Stone

    I cannot tuck in my shirts due to a very short waist. I look like a park ranger if I do! I love Body suits, but find most of them nowadays are –well, let’s just say suggestive, revealing and/or not for public! I bought one from Victoria’s Secret but the waist and crotch area was too long, so the shirt was still bunchy and baggy. Can;t get a smaller one because my boobs would not fit. Any suggestions? How I wish body suits were everywhere like they were in the mid 90s!!

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