Invented in the late 19th century for British polo players, the button-down collar is now primarily associated with the casual elegance of the US’s Ivy League, as epitomised by President John F Kennedy and his impeccably dressed brothers. In continental Europe, one man has done more than any other to popularise it: industrialist Mr Gianni Agnelli. The former head of Fiat’s button-down shirts added an air of nonchalance to his sharp tailoring. The reason is simple. Button-downs are less formal than poplin shirts and tend to be cut from lightweight cotton. They can be dressed up or down to suit any occasion. Wear one under a smart blazer for work (with or without a tie) or with a pair of rolled-up jeans and clean white sneakers for a considered off-duty look.
The grandad-collar shirt is one of those versatile basics that every man should own. Created in the 1920s when factory workers ripped the collars off their shirts so they didn’t get caught in machinery, the garment has always been associated with utilitarian style (Messrs David Beckham and Pharrell Williams are both fans). A collarless shirt is ideal if you want to stand out an inch, but not a mile. Try wearing it over a classic white tee with grey tailored trousers, or under a deconstructed blazer if you need to look a little smarter.
Nothing says summer quite like linen. Made from the fibres of the flax plant, it is the fabric of yacht owners, of aperitifs by the harbour, and long, balmy evenings in the redolent Italian Riviera. A white linen shirt is a great jumping-off point for your summer wardrobe. Colour is fine, but keep it subtle and opt for pastels. Somehow, linen doesn’t suit loud, vivid colours. For a refined take on summer attire, wear under a deconstructed suit. A word to the wise, though – don’t pair with a linen suit and panama, or you risk a full-on “man from Del Monte” mien.
Every man should have a crisp white poplin shirt in his wardrobe. It’s versatile, timeless and – as part of your morning-after armoury – can pull off the ultimate sartorial trick of hiding a hangover. As if this weren’t reason enough, it’s one of those staples that will run the gamut of human experience from job interviews to business meetings, weddings, funerals and everything in between. Made from plain-weave cotton, which means the threads cross over and then under each other, poplin is a smooth and durable fabric that’s silky to the touch. It looks particularly sharp when perfectly ironed. Take your lead from Mr Jon Hamm in Mad Men and have one stashed at all times in your desk drawer.
Formerly associated with Depression-era factory workers, chambray is now, more happily, a summer go-to. Made from a lightweight cloth that’s densely woven with white and indigo yarn (in shades that can range from pale to dark blue), chambray is denim’s nimbler, more breathable brother. It’s smart enough to serve as an alternative to seersucker, while being supple and soft enough to pair well with your trustiest pair of jeans for comfort. Enhance its lustre with a pair of turned-up chinos and suede desert boots and channel Mr Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Eggs optional.
Striped shirts were particularly prominent in the 1960s when they were adopted by legions of mods looking to break away from the simple and staid conventions of dress that had dominated the previous decade – a trend spearheaded by Sir Mick Jagger (he famously wore one for photographer Mr Jean-Marie Périer in one of pop’s most iconic images). They’re a perennial spring and summer garment that’ll add light-heartedness into any outfit. Make a subtle style statement by wearing it with a pair of black jeans or keep it smarten it up with a navy blazer and tailored trousers.