The Great Debate: The Layered White Button-Down

The Layered White Button-Down: Gamine or Bad Dream?The Great Debate: The Layered White Button-Down(Source: Getty, Art by Tanya Leigh Washington)
The Great Debate: The Layered White Button-Down
Melissa Goldstein says Bad Dream
Don’t get me wrong: I love a white-button down. I think it was around the release of Clueless that I began to fully appreciate its potential. When Alicia Silverstone hit the big screen wearing a fitted black blazer paired with an argyle mini skirt, it was her iconic collared shirt that pulled the look together: a nouveau-preppy sartorial shot heard ’round my pre-teen universe.

Later, I realized the piece was far from trend-reliant—and that it has timeless French connotations, like a Chanel bag or Hermès scarf. It’s the sort of thing that real ladies splurge on because they know it is a forever piece worth investing in, and real ladies never seem to have that unfortunate deodorant-reacting-to-white shirt issue (how do they avoid that by the way?).

The beauty of the white button-down is in showcasing its crisp, perfect fit—with wide-leg trousers, leather minis, skinny jeans—the list goes on and the possibilities are almost endless. But make no mistake: they are not, in fact, endless.

Because when you stuff said button-down under a strapless black gown, you are stifling its silhouette, rendering it clunky, fussy, and ill-fitting instead of simple and elegant. It quells the best possible message a white shirt can send (classic beauty) and replaces it with something decidedly less desirable (school-marm). It is the visual equivalent of drizzling truffle oil on a chocolate pot de creme.

Naysayers will tell me I’m too closed-minded. They will hunt down surveillance footage of me watching the red carpet Oscar arrivals in 1998n and praising Sharon Stone’s maverick pairing of a white button-down from the Gap with a lilac Vera Wang floor-length skirt. In my defense, I will say that I was young and impressionable, but also that I loved the egalitarian nature of her fashion statement, and that I think the white-shirt-with-elegant-skirt combo is significantly more palatable than its cocktail-dress alternative. For what it's worth.
The Great Debate: The Layered White Button-Down(Source: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Europe, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images North America, Jason Merritt/Getty Images North America)
The Great Debate: The Layered White Button-Down
Katie Davidson says Gamine
Oh, I'm right there on the Clueless front: The satire was central to ‘90s pop culture—and my own identity. I aspired to be just like our preppy protagonist Cher Horowitz, what with her eloquent vocabulary and flawless wardrobe. In fact, I've had recent dreams in which I possess her computer-operated closet—the one that magically helped her get dressed in the morning.

I also recall that argyle-skirt outfit, as well as many other crisp button-down-focused ensembles our heroine models throughout—a testament to her sophisticated style. But let the record show that Alicia Silverstone’s character wore such blouses, impeccably buttoned all the way up to the collar (a trend we're currently seeing again), not just beneath blazers and mini skirts but under dresses as well. Granted, it wasn’t a red carpet gown, like Julia’s, or even a cocktail dress, like Olivia’s or Alexa’s, but it's worth noting that the fashion icon recognized the full potential of the classic garment.

Like many girls, I’m sure, there are days when I just need to glam it up; days when the only thing that will pull me out of my slump is to reach into the back of my closet and pull out my ball gown (okay, prom dress) and throw it on. It feels wrong that "fancy" should be destined to a one-night-only affair, just as a button-down shouldn’t be restricted to ordinary, everyday wear. Freedom lies in mixing the two: combining a simple garment with a glamorous one for a truly innovative moment.

Now, I’m not saying the formula is foolproof. I am, however, standing firm that there is something genius in balancing a menswear-inspired piece with an ultra-feminine one. I acknowledge the fact that there are kinks, both literally (with the fabric) and figuratively, that often need to be worked out. Still, I've witnessed moments when it all comes together beautifully (see: Olivia Palermo, above), and they prove that we don't need to be limited by convention. Because style is at its best when rule-mongers (including, it pains me to say, savvy fictional computer software) aren't dictating the matching.

While some may give this trend a failing grade, my feelings are best expressed by a Horowitzian truism: I think it's a promising "jumping off point to start negotiations."