Lez Get Dressed For Work: One Of A Lot Of Posts About Button Ups

Because you deserve to be the best dressed homo in the office. 

Header by Rory Midhani

lez get dressed for work_640

Feature image via Pascal Pierrou

Last week, just to recap quickly, I gave you a lot of reasons about why I wanted to write this column. Based on your sweet and positive responses, it seems I didn’t need to spend so much time justifying it to you! I wrote like two paragraphs of actual suggestions, the main theme of which was “get some basics.” Then I got some emails that asked a very good question: what the fuck are basics? You didn’t say it like that actually.  (You also asked a lot of other questions which are now snug in a word document waiting to be addressed. So don’t fret if this doesn’t answer your question, I read it and I love you and think your hair looks nice.)

Basically, a “basic” is a foundational item that goes with most of the other things you own, can be worn in different ways, is comfortable, and fits you perfectly. It’s important that it fit you perfectly because every other part of your outfit relies on it for success. A basic is usually a standard, solid color, like black, white, brown, gray, navy blue, or whatever color makes sense with your wardrobe and the job you’re dressing for. If a basic isn’t a basic color, it is specified, like “neon basics.” Your basics are the building blocks for your outfit. A weekend basic might be cut-off shorts. A weekday basic is a button down. See? Sometimes fashions mags come out with “new basics for [insert current month]” and then try to tell you that you need something trendy as a basic part of your wardrobe. I call bullshit on that, because a basic should also be timeless, and that’s why I think you should invest in some high-quality ones. You can be trendy with the things you add to your basics — unless you have a salary that lets you update your basics according to what is in style, and in that case, know that I am jealous.

Today I want to keep talking about button downs, because that seemed to be a hot topic. Sometimes it can feel impossible to find one that fits you right, is affordable, and is well-made. Last week I mentioned Everlane and Madewell, but have you checked out the tops section of Uniqlo? For women’s shirts, I’m really impressed at how non-frilly and simple their button downs are, but they also come in patterns if your job allows you to wear fun things. They also come in linen, silk, and cotton, which are quality basic materials if I’ve ever heard ’em. And the best part? These are actually very reasonably priced.

this is basically a perfect outfit via uniqlo

this is basically a perfect outfit via uniqlo

The shirt pictured above is the Women Silk Long Sleeve Blouse, and is $49.90, which is great (in my opinion) for a nice silk shirt. Tucked into work appropriate pants and worn on its own or layered with a cardigan, crew neck sweater, vest, or blazer, this will look really good on you. If you feel that the way this shirt “drapes elegantly” is  too femme for you, they also have these really perfect Oxford Long Sleeve Shirts that are soft and thick and don’t have any of those frustrating dart seams that women’s shirts sometimes have around the chest. They also have narrow collars, so even though this shirt is very androgynous, the proportions are such so that you won’t look like you’re wearing your dad’s button up. The oxford shirts are $29.90.



If Madewell’s best most perfect boyshirt line is out of budget, another good option for androgynous women’s shirts is the Gap’s boyfriend shirt situation. I know, I know, everything about writing that sentence made me want to stab my own eyes out but it’s true: high quality, without awkward lady-shirt darts, long enough to tuck in but not tunic-y, these shirts are really good and super gay. They come in “shrunken” which is a little tighter and “fitted” which is a little more tailored.

boyfriend shirt via the gap

boyfriend shirt via the gap

Speaking of tailored, if you find that button down shirts gap over your bust or don’t button over your hips, you should get them tailored. I’d buy something that fits the widest part of my torso and take it to the tailor. I’d also get something that is machine washable so that one item doesn’t turn into a money-suck. Don’t be afraid of getting something tailored. Okay?

Another option for larger-busted workin’ queers is the pop-over. Do you guys know about popovers? It’s a shirt that doesn’t button down all the way, and they tend to be looser than button ups. So you can get one that fits your bust and tuck it into pants so that it’s not too flowy. J.Crew Factory Outlet has some good ones, and they are especially appealing if you can’t afford actual J.Crew (cool me either!).

this is a popover via J.Crew Factory

this is a popover do you like it via J.Crew Factory

So let’s say you work in kind of an “anything goes” environment and there are some people in jeans but you’re trying to make an effort to look nice without looking like you don’t fit in (apparently there are a lot of you dealing with this). Take the advice I’ve given so far as per button downs and apply it to a button down made of a less fancy material that is maybe a little more fashionable, like, say, chambray. Chambray button downs can be worn with the top button done and tucked into pants because they are thinner than denim shirts. Your silhouette will be professional, but you’ll look more casual than if you were in an oxford. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good chambray; my favorite one is actually from the Old Navy outlet store and was approximately $10 I think. To femme this look up, add a statement necklace over the shirt and wear a colorful belt. For a more masculine look, keep your belt brown or black and wear a chunky watch and some nice men’s or menswear-inspired shoes. This will look good with black skinny jeans, just make sure the material of your jeans isn’t too thin (oh don’t worry, we’re going to talk about pants A LOT very soon). I like to wear mine with salmon colored skinny jeans.

lizz, me, and the aforementioned chambray shirt. photo by vanessa friedman. also i've never made that face before in my life

lizz, me, and the aforementioned chambray shirt. photo by vanessa friedman.

Please continue to share your feelings in the comments and to send your lovely emails to [email protected]. Have a good day at work!

Header art by Rosa Middleton

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Gabrielle Korn

Gabrielle Korn is a writer living in Los Angeles with her wife and dog.

Gabrielle has written 95 articles for us.


  1. OMG about time someone wrote this article! Thanks for the advice about pop overs – being a C to D cup I struggle with full button downs unless I buy them a size too big which, depending on the shirt, has a tendency to make me look frumpy. I’m off to buy some pop overs tomorrow :D

    • Button downs and busts can be tricky as hell, but I’ve learned to love them as a 28GG. I do pretty well with Express’s button-downs–the ones with princess seams–but the other day that button right across the apex of my bust totally gave way and I flashed everyone in the grocery store. I added a hook and eye closure to another button-down to prevent that from happening: I just used a few stitches to place the closure right between the most important buttons.

      But you can also buy shirts for what is called the “full bust market”. Some of the styling is pretty femme, but not all the shirts have ruffles or poufiness. Here in the States, look at Campbell and Kate, Rebecca and Drew, or My Curvy Clothes. If you want to order from Poland, Urkye and Biu Biu are cheaper than the American options. I have a blazer from the Russian-based DD Atelier, and fucking love it. If you’re lucky enough to live in England, run to Bravissimo for all your booby needs. Googling around will get you a plethora of reviews for these.

  2. oh gosh, i love that striped oxford from uniqlo! totally want one. looks so effortlessly cool and put together. unfortunately we don’t have uniqlo over here (mainland europe) yet. meh. ):

    if you’re into that kind of an a-line cut shirt – similar to the cut of the uniqlo oxford – you might also like some of the button ups that carhartt put out lately like this one http://shop.carhartt-wip.com/de/women/sale/shirts/I013094/w-ls-alton-shirt or that http://shop.carhartt-wip.com/de/women/shirts/longsleeve/I013906/w-ls-poppy-shirt. no booby-darts! and they come in nice pattern like teensy tiny florals or plaid, cotton and flannel.

    already looking forward to the next post of this series!

  3. I love button downs but I never tuck them in- mostly because I have a super hourglass figure and tucking shirts in just seems to emphasis my T&A. I like the look of tucked in button downs but it feels like you have to be super skinny to make it look good.

    • Yep, that’s exactly it. I’d love to tuck them in, but I have such an hourglass figure that I just can’t. Also, sometimes is hard to find a button down that fits my boobs and hips and still fits my waist. Most of the time I have loads of fabric left around my waist, which is really annoying.

      • I was thinking the same thing about the hips+boobs vs waist earlier today and it makes me so frustrated!

        It’s not faaair.

    • Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. I can get away with tucking in my shirts sometimes (rarely), but only with a jacket or cardigan over the top to hide the shirt poofing out whenever my torso moves or bends at all. So like, anytime. I do not ever have my shirt tucked in when I’m riding my bike somewhere. Too much poof.

    • yeah i will literally never ever ever ever in my life be able to tuck ANY shirt into my pants. i feel self-conscious enough when i tuck loose-ish blouses into high-waisted skirts. i love the look but it’s just not gonna happen for me.

      but i rock a v-neck sundress like nobody’s business, so i guess you just can’t win ’em all! ;)

  4. I get most of my shirts from Campmor and Sierra Trading Post, both of which sell discounted clothes from outdoor companies that also make regular clothes. Columbia and Woolrich both make some nice casual-work shirts that actually fit over my 36DD chest without being huge everywhere else.

  5. This is perfect! I’ve never even heard of chambray before. I can’t wait to have enough money to freshen up my work wardrobe a bit. :)

  6. I’m about to start a blue-collar, physically-taxing job in a male dominated occupation. Any advice? My wardrobe will already be fairly androgynous, due to practicality. But I would like to make it clear to my coworkers (and any posible ladyfriends) that I dress in an androgynous or even masculine-of-center way because it makes me feel good and creates the delightfully queer appearance that I want. Your advice regarding officewear and linnen button downs might be useful on my days off, but what about when I’m at work?
    So any advice for us working-class queers?

  7. Loved this article, but hoping you all would expand this article into a series to include info for men’s button-downs, too, for more masculine of center folks who are a little too big and tall to wear women’s shirts but still have hips and such and can’t always afford tailoring. Or maybe there’s already a guide for that, I’m being lazy by not looking—but I can’t remember one in recent history.

    And totally agree, plus size options would be awesome to see!

    • That’s totally on my list! This is only the second article in the series and there are a lot of different things I plan on covering.

      • Sweet, after writing that comment I saw on Twitter that this was the first of many posts on button down and realized I probably commented too soon! Looking forward to the rest of the series!

  8. I love Oxford shirts so much I make my own. It started b/c My brother could never find any that fit perfectly so he asked if I could make him a few. Then i made myself a few. And now im on a quest to queer up Guayabera shirts.
    And yes! button downs are indeed for every body type.
    Btw, always cuff up your shirts. Never roll. Never.

    • What pattern(s) do you use? I’ve been thinking about trying this. I’m pretty curvy but also pretty petite, so I have a hard time finding clothes that fit right – so making my own is awesome (and fun). I love button downs but they are especially problematic because, boobs…

    • I have some minimal sewing and pattern-altering skills (well, not so much skills as willingness to fiddle with things until they turn out more or less like what I had in mind). If you figure out how to make a Guayabera shirt that fits someone with boobs but doesn’t look super femme, I would love to know how!

  9. The Uniqlo oxford shirts are absolutely delightful. Excellent quality yet not too pricy (and maybe most importantly always make one look on point.)

  10. I just bought a chambray shirt last weekend! It was on sale at TJ Maxx if anyone else was looking for one.

  11. nice new series! also, i am obsessed with button-down shirts.

    just one comment on terminology: generally, a collared (dress) shirt is called a button-up, while button-down specifically refers to the variety where the collar is buttoned-down (like in the first and third picture). this gets confused a lot. (see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dress_shirt)

    • Thanks! I used to confuse them until…I don’t know, a year or so ago. Button-downs tend to be considered to be slightly more casual, by the way. Vague fashion rules dictact not to wear button-downs with suits–they are better with blazers or something or by themselves in more casual work environments.

      (obviously y’all do you, etc.)

      • yeah, in (european) men’s fashion they are considered very informal and not-done as proper business attire, and should never be worn with a suit.
        however, i like to take/reject from these men’s style guides whatever the f*ck i want, and i think button-downs are great with a blazer or suit jacket. also, they are pretty perfect with bow ties.

  12. Thank you so much for this! Button down shirts are my go-to. Many other styles for work are just too frilly for me. I love that button downs can be feminine and masculine at the same time, or lean towards one more than the other if that’s what you’re going for.

  13. So I know this doesn’t seem to be the focus of the article, but do you have any recommendations for more femme options, with the darts and things?? I have been searching for a button up(down?) shirt forever because I think they immediately make you look classy and put together whether they are dressed down to be sexy or dressed up to look professional. I want one that actually fits me SO BAD. My problem is that I’m pretty petite but have big shoulders, anything I can actually move my arms in inevitably leaves me looking shapeless. I always feel like I’m playing dress up in my father’s clothes when I put on button ups…not sleek and sexy and powerful. Help?

    • Yes! The inside of my heart is made of femme options, so don’t even worry about that not getting covered at some point/many points. :)

  14. I was going to post something note-worthy, but then I saw the Milanos in the last picture. Now all I can think about are Milanos. Mmmmm Milanos.

  15. I’ve never looked at uniqlo before. I’ll have to check it out.

    I had the same feelings about the Gap boyfriend shirts. When I saw them at the mall, my first thought was, “Yay! Men’s shirts in women’s sizes! These are SUPER GAY!” Then I saw they were called boyfriend shirts and felt weird but bought one anyways.

  16. This post couldn’t be more timely – I’m starting my internship next Monday :) definitely looking forward to more posts like these!

    You guys, uniqlo is THE BEST. I swear by the UV broadcloth long sleeved button down shirt. Just bought one in every single color available because it is THAT amazing.

  17. This post couldn’t be more timely – I’m starting my internship next Monday :) definitely looking forward to more posts like these!

    You guys, uniqlo is THE BEST. I swear by the UV broadcloth long sleeved button down shirt. Just bought them in every single color available because it is THAT amazing.

    • I haven’t actually tried Uniqlo’s shirts but their easy wear leggings are what I’m living in right now. So comfortable!

      I love this post so much, I’ve been looking for shirts but women’s shirts have the dart I hate and men’s shirts are too big. I love love love the look of the Gap one but I’m definitely going to hit Uniqlo.

  18. God, I love my pink chambray shirt. It keeps getting shorter and shorter after I wash it, but I just keep wearing it. Oops. That’s what undershirts were made for.

    For a cheaper, more plus-size friendly option, I usually go to Old Navy or even Target because they will sometimes have some really basic options that are cheap and can be a little more effeminate in the print department, if that’s your bag. And then I just get the biggest size I can and look like I’m wearing my non-existent boyfriend’s shift, which, for wearing a gigantic men’s shirt, it can make me look surprisingly feminine, which I prefer. And just roll the sleeves up, that look’s in anyway.

    I’m not so good at fashion…

  19. As a short girl to other short girls: GET THEE TO THE PETITES SECTION! You have no idea how much stress has been removed from my clothes shopping experiences by simply trying on clothes that are designed to fit my tiny self properly. (I’m 5ft 2in, for reference.)

    The non-fitted “boyfriend” style shirts (and actual men’s shirts) look really bad on me because I need to buy such a large size to accommodate my boobs and hips. They’re much wider than my waist and they’re proportionally close together because I’m short, so I really need a very fitted shirt to fit my upper half correctly. A non-fitted non-petite size shirt makes me look a lot bigger around the waist and a lot shorter because the shirt is way too long.

    Like many of us, I’ve had my share of body issues over the years. Wearing shirts that don’t fit my body and make me even more self-conscious about my weight and height was the absolute wrong thing to do. The first time I tried on a petite, fitted button-up shirt I couldn’t believe how great I looked. For once, I didn’t look like a chubby hobbit. (Samwise is my bro but that’s not the look I’m going for.) And I also didn’t hate my (not really that big) boobs and (okay, it really is that big) ass as much because instead of making my life harder, they cooperated and looked pretty damn good for once.

    Moral of the story: Petite clothing looks flattering on petite laydeez, and being flattered feels good.

    • Ha! Samwise is my bro too. Also, this sounds like my life! Pretty sure I have even described myself as a chubby hobbit before :)

      I will second the petites recommendation too – for little folk like us (I am 5’1″), the proportions on regular size clothes are just waaay off sometimes.

      • I seriously wish every clothing store had petite sizes so we could always find clothes that fit, too – and without hemming every pair of pants or taking every shirt to the tailor! I was so excited about the first pair of jeans I didn’t need to hem. Trying on clothes in the store and seeing that they already fit you perfectly is a magical experience. :D

        P.S. I guess I should also mention that I know this might not be useful to those of us who don’t want to look even a tiny bit femme? I consider myself a Tinted Lip Balm lesbian (halfway between Chapstick and Lipstick) partly because I can pull off a femme look better than a butch look, and partly because that perfectly describes my level of Traditional Femininity. But I know not all petite-size ladies would be as happy with the petite-size clothes as I am, since they definitely tend to be on the femme side.

        I don’t know of any brands that offer specifically androgynous or masculine clothing in petite sizes, especially for curvy women, but if anyone has any suggestions that would probably be good to add to this discussion. Vera Wang (sold at Kohl’s) makes a variety of femme-but-not-hard-femme/androgynous-ish clothes in petite sizes, and since I’m a fan of her clothes I obviously have to throw her name in as a suggestion. Kohl’s are pretty easy to find in the US and their prices are good if you can wait for a sale.

  20. Can someone please tell me how to wear a button down shirt and a blazer together? The open collar situation always ends up looking really awkward and weird, and if I do up all the buttons it just looks wayyy too formal for a normal office setting. It’s very confusing.

    • My answer would be an informal sort of fun tie (knit or something), tied with a four in hand, open the top collar button after tying to loosen it a little.

      But if you don’t like ties I think a necklace under the open collar pulls things together.

  21. I’ve bought a number of button-ups from H&M, but I am madly in love with the shirts from Express. I’m a C cup but fairly petite otherwise, and they fit me perfectly, especially in the chest.

  22. Does anyone have any recommendations for superwide shoulders? (like 17″ across… most women’s fit are 15″ max)

    I’ve had such trouble finding a fit that doesn’t pull across my back, even if I get the largest size, and men’s shirts are not slim-fit enough. I’m a hard femme so I don’t really care if it’s men’s or women’s, I’ve just given up. But I dream of perfect button downs like all the time….

    • have you tried jcrew for men? their slim fit is seriously slim
      or really any brand with a more ‘european’ cut, like topman
      (i also do not fit in women’s shirts because i have shoulders)

  23. This article couldn’t be more appropriate as I lay here in my chambray shirt and black skinnies…

  24. God I love uniqlo for work clothes. Right now I have a specific work uniform, but before that pretty much 90% of my work wardrobe was uniqlo. It’s good quality and nice enough for work, but they also have more fun color options for someone like me who cannot stand wearing too much neutral. Bonus that they’re one of the only places in Japan where I can actually buy clothes to fit my too-big self XD

  25. I’m going to be student teaching next year, and I’m wondering what is appropriate to wear in the elementary school classroom. Most of the teachers are ANCIENT and therefore wear clothes that are a little too “mature” for my style. Any suggestions?

    • Elementary teaching isn’t super formal which is nice. If you’re a pants-wearer I would suggest lots of khakis and/or chinos with button up shirts. Sweaters, sweater vests, cardigans (not the stuffy “ancient” kind).

      You want comfy shoes but probably not sneakers, unless they are really nice sneakers. So ballet flats if you want something feminine, or loafers maybe?

      And again if you lean more feminine, skirts/dresses (to the knee or longer) with tights or leggings underneath could work.

  26. i didn’t even finish the article before ordering two oxfords from uniqlo in the desperate hope that this is finally going to be a shirt that fits my arms chest and hips all at once.

  27. What about buttondowns for people who are plus size? Can’t wear buttondowns because they emphasize my round stomach and end up making me look larger than I am and unprofessional. Help?

  28. Ok, I know there will be other things in this series, but will there be any more advice for busty ladies than “get it tailored”? I have an interview (it’s a three day long deal that they’re putting me up in a hotel for two nights for, so I even need more than one outfit, ugh) at a super fancy place in two weeks, but I am an amazingly broke-ass college student living 100% on scholarship moneyz, and I have noooo idea how I’m going to buy interview clothes. None of my old work clothes fit, because I lost like 15 lbs, but I’m still a 32E/F, so I have no idea what to do! In this time frame I don’t know how I’d possibly have time to go shopping AND get stuff tailored, and afford it. HELP PLZ. Also this series is really well timed.

  29. I have all the Gap Boyfriend cut button downs- in every goddamn color. When something fits you right: you need to buy ALL of them.

  30. A review of the uniqlo oxfords, in case anyone reads this far: I ordered two because the measurements made it look like it might finally be the shirt to fit me, but I’m 5’8″ and it was way too short. The lowest button was at my belly button and it just barely tucked into my shorts but wouldn’t stay if I moved around too much. I also have disproportionately large arms and the arms on this were too tight while the body was a little loose, as usual for me. The collar and shoulders fit perfectly. If you’re short and proportionate, give it a go, but if you’re tall and your arms are two sizes bigger than your chest, this is not the shirt for you.

  31. I am rather pear shaped and my hips are the widest part of my body, which is unfortunate because I can’t tuck in my Oxford / button up shirts without looking like, well, a pear. Tucking them out seems too informal (I intern in a business environment and although interns are generally allowed much more leeway when it comes to dressing, there are some unspoken boundaries that will make you feel out of place if you didn’t conform, eg not tucking in shirts). Advice?

  32. love this article! ill be going out in to the “professional world” very soon so I need all kinds of advice..im a college soccer player and all ive known is soccer shorts and cutoffs. im ready to put a look together and have some sweet and simple style!

Comments are closed.