Your assignment: describe this tailored shirt for women.
Source: Corporette blog.*
Me, I'd call it a tailored shirt with buttoning cuffs, or perhaps a button-front shirt. But at some point in recent history, women's-fashion copywriters started calling it a button-down shirt. See here, here, and here, for starters.
I beg to differ.
My very first job, as a teenager, was in retail sales. Later, I wrote fashion copy for years. I learned all the lingo, from raglan to dolman to balmacaan to peplum. And I learned that a button-down shirt was this:
See the difference? I mean, apart from the tie. It's the collar that defines this style: its points button down to the shirt body. Hence, button-down shirt.
The women's shirt in the first photo? No buttons on the collar. Not a button-down shirt.
John Brooks, grandson of the founder of Brooks Brothers, introduced this style in 1896, calling it the "button-down polo collar shirt." According to the Brooks Brothers website, "His design inspiration came after attending an English polo match where he observed the players' shirts secured with buttons to keep them from flapping in the wind."
The button-down shirt—that is, the shirt with a button-down collar—really became popular in the 1950s, when it epitomized square, conformist style. Comedian Bob Newhart appropriated the term in a 1960 recording:
Today, a men's button-down (or buttondown) shirt is still a shirt with a buttoned collar, as distinguished from a spread collar, snap tab, forward point, etc. And some women's retailers maintain the distinction, too: for a few sticklers, "button-down" refers to a specific collar style. But even as true button-down shirts have fallen out of favor in women's wear, perhaps because their look is too fussy, the term has survived, now describing (inaccurately, IMO) any shirt that buttons up the front. Well, I ask you: what else would a shirt do? If it didn't button up the front, it wouldn't be a shirt; it would be a tunic or pullover.
Has anyone else noticed this peculiar (to me) semantic creep?
* "A fashion and lifestyle blog for women lawyers, bankers, MBAs, consultants, and otherwise overachieving chicks who work in conservative offices and need to look professional, but want to be fashionable."