What Does Your Shirt Say About You?
Mr Leonardo Dicaprio in The Great Gatsby, 2013. Photograph by Bazmark Films/Warner Bros/REX Shutterstock
Buttoning up – or unbuttoning – your shirt is a style statement. The question is, what statement are you trying to make?.
“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him.” This is how Nick Carraway describes Jay Gatsby early on in Mr F Scott Fitzgerald's great American novel The Great Gatsby.
Style, too, is a game of gestures. How we style our clothes constitutes the commas, dots and dashes – the grammar and punctuation – of an elegant outfit. Coat collar up or down? Hat tilted to the side or straight on? And when it comes to shirts, do you undo one, two or even three buttons?
Jay Gatsby and his flighty lover Daisy Buchanan, as we all know, have a thing for shirts, specifically ones made in London. In the 1974 film adaptation of the book, Daisy (played by Ms Mia Farrow) is even reduced to tears by a particular shirtmaker: Turnbull & Asser.
For the following treatise on shirts, buttons, collars and their meanings, we could therefore think of no one better to consult than Turnbull & Asser’s head of design, Mr Dean Gomilsek-Cole. Scroll down to discover just when and where you might deploy an “air tie” and why Italy and Britain disagree on the matter of cuffs.
One Button Undone
One button undone is the standard, the statement for when you don’t want to make a statement and is now acceptable for formal business attire. “To have one undone is the trend in Mayfair,” says Mr Gomilsek-Cole. “An open-necked shirt worn with a suit says, ‘Relaxed but still on duty.’” Look out for the spacing between the buttons. If the first button is placed too high, the fabric can sometimes strain, and it can look stiff as opposed to relaxed.
Two Buttons Undone
“Having two undone means it’s the weekend,” says Mr Gomilsek-Cole. “It either says, ‘We’re completely relaxed now’ or ‘I’ve got to release my pheromones.’” As well as the space between buttons, the other details to bear in mind are the size, structure and shape of your collar. Generous collars work best with an unbuttoned look. A tall structured collar suggests off-duty finance guy, while a button-down collar with a generous roll to it has a younger, more casual feel. When a shirt is worn without a neck tie, the collar opening becomes the focal point, and so a collar that stands up proud against the lapel of your jacket, as opposed to disappearing down the side, is essential. This combined with a more generous opening creates visual interest in lieu of a tie and draws attention to your face. Two buttons undone is a far more seductive proposition; a deliberately dégagé look of undone elegance.
Top Button Fastened (aka The Air Tie)
At the other end of the spectrum is the zero-buttons-undone look, which strikes an androgynous note. “My wife is Swedish and I see it a lot in Scandinavia,” says Mr Gomilsek-Cole. For some, the air tie is a kind of pared-back modernist style statement, hence its popularity with architects. “You see them in White Cube at the weekend, dressed all in black with the buttons done all the way up to the top. It started out as a statement – ‘We’re not wearing ties, we’re not part of the establishment’ – but actually, it’s kind of the reverse now. It’s more of a statement to wear a neck tie than to not wear one.”
Perhaps being the exception that proves the rule, Mr David Lynch has made the air tie something of a signature over the years. The best way to work an air tie is with shirts by modern designers such as A.P.C., which tend to be cut slimmer and with smaller, unstructured collars.
Mr Gomilsek-Cole doesn’t have much time for the Italian affectation of leaving button-down collars undone. “If you have a button there, use it,” he says. “Otherwise, choose another shirt. I think it’s a statement, saying, ‘We’re rebelling. We don’t want to have our collars held down. We want to be free.’ Guys, get a life. It’s just a shirt collar. If you want to be free, do that in your life and your personality. I just think it’s a bit sad.”
What about the Pitti trend for friendship bracelets and watches worn with unbuttoned cuffs? “You wouldn’t see a proper English gent wearing all that gumph on his wrist,” says Mr Gomilsek-Cole. “If he wears a watch, it’s usually quite slim. All the bracelets is something that comes from Italy. They even have their double cuffs undone and hanging down the side. It’s all a bit of extra drama. British men are a little bit more understated. They don’t feel the need to be as flamboyant.”