It may come as a surprise, but the button-down has its roots in athletic wear. On the polo fields of England in the late 1800s, players realized that clothing was throwing off their game: the traditional standard collars they wore flapped up and down to the point of distraction.
British tailors did some troubleshooting, and began making shirts for polo players with point buttons—the small buttons that allow collars to fasten to the shirt.
In 1896, John Brooks (of the American Brooks Brothers clothing dynasty) visited England and attended a polo match, where he noticed players wearing the button-down collar. He took the concept back to New York, and applied it to his family’s line of shirts.
These athletic origins strongly inform how we like to wear the button-down—a decidedly casual yet sophisticated style. While it makes a great frame for a tie, don’t wear it with a suit. Instead, loosen up and wear a button-down collar under a sports coat, a sweater, or by itself with khakis or jeans.