The Differences between Formal, Dress, Sport, and Casual Button Down Shirts and When to Wear Them

Men’s fashion has certainly evolved over the years, and like any other trend, certain things come and go. These days, there are several different types of men’s button down shirts, and learning the differences – and when to wear each – can help you broaden your fashion sense.

The Formal Shirt

The formal shirt is sometimes referred to simply as a “tuxedo shirt”. It is usually a long-sleeved garment with a collar and buttons down the entire length of the front, and it is fastened with buttons or snaps. What’s more, some formal shirts have a button down collar, which means that the ends of the collar are fastened with buttons, and others do not. Formal shirts are most often worn under tuxedos and are considered the “dressiest” shirt in menswear. They are typically paired with black or white ties or bowties, which elude to the name given to extravagant parties and celebrations – “Black-Tie Affairs”. The Lawrence Hunt White shirt makes for a perfect versitle "formal" shirt.  It has a cuff link option for the dressier affairs, or can be buttoned, for less formal events. 

The Dress Shirt

A dress shirt, on the other hand, can be worn semi-formally or casually. It is most commonly part of a man’s business attire, and may have a variety of different collar styles, as well. Generally speaking, whereas someone may wear a formal shirt to a wedding or prom, the dress shirt is more appropriate for church, business meetings, job interviews, and an evening on the town. Most dress shirts are long-sleeved and they have buttons down the full length. A dress shirt with a tie and suit jacket is semi-formal; a dress shirt without a tie, whether or not it is paired with a suit jacket, is considered semi-formal.  Our favorite dress shirt for work from the Lawrence Hunt collection is The Cass.

The Sport Shirt

The differences between dress shirts and sport shirts certainly have some blurred lines, but there are a few simple ways to tell them apart. For example, a dress shirt is typically styled more conservatively, with stiffer collars and neutral colors. On the other hand, a sport shirt may contain bigger and bolder patterns, collars that are less stiff, and even epaulets and pockets. Some sport shirts are made from materials generally deemed “comfortable” such as denim, and still others contain blends of cotton, polyester, and other materials. Sport shirts pair well with jeans or slacks and are perfect for everyday casual wear.  The Lawrence Hunt dress shirt has some "sport shirt" qualities, in that it can be paired with jeans.  We think it is one of the most versitle shirts in that it can pull off a "sport" shirt and a "dress shirt" seamlessly.  Our favorite shirt to wear with jeans is The Woodward.

The Polo, Golf, or Tennis Shirt

These are variations of sport shirts and while they do contain buttons, there are usually only two or three located just below the collar. Polo, golf, or tennis shirts rarely have button-down collars, and they can range in color from neutral to bold and bright. They are usually made of cloth that is knitted rather than woven, which makes them incredibly comfortable. These garments are a great alternative to a traditional tee, and they provide much the same comfort and breathability.

Learning the differences between button-down shirts can help men make better decisions when it comes to choosing attire for nearly any type of outing or event. These tips and tricks should make the shopping process simpler and easier than ever before.


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