The white button down was a staple of 1990s fashion, and it appeared frequently throughout the decade. It appeared in many forms as it got dressed up, dressed down, rolled and tied. Want this look? I’ll also share how wear the 90s white button down.
Let’s break down why the 90s white button down was so loved and so popular!
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90s severe minimalism and the white button down
Much of the 90s, especially the early 90s, was a reaction to the opulence and over-the-top-ness of the 80s. The 90s brought in the rise of Scandinavian-inspired minimalism, which focused on “essential” pieces that could be easily mixed and matched. Clothing was often solid colors with an emphasis on black and white. Minimalism has never quite gone away, though it’s waned back and forth in popularity.
To learn more about minimalism, let’s turn to Calvin Klein, one of the biggest designers in the 90s to spread the gospel of minimalism.
Minimalism is not about abandoning pattern or print. I see minimalism to be a philosophy that involves an overall sense of balance, knowing when to take away, subtract. It’s an indulgence in superbly executed cut, quiet plays of color tones and clean strong shapes.Calvin Klein
Though minimalism persists today, it’s important to discuss what made the minimalism of the 90s distinct. In her book I Love Your Style, Amanda Brooks notes that the 1990s incarnation of minimalism was defined by strict and often severe lines. Unlike later softer looks, 90s minimalism was austere and disciplined. The severity of minimalism, Brooks notes, requires both high risk and high reward.
The white button down was the perfect wardrobe staple for the severe minimalism of the 1990s. Though, it’s worth noting that it was also worn throughout the previous decades. I’d argue it didn’t have as big of an influence as it did in the 90s, however. It encompasses everything the minimalist look is about. Clean lines, a bit uncomfortable, put together almost to a fault. Even when worn casually, the white button down still seems a bit stiff and stuffy in a stylish way.
Three styles of the 90s white button down
When reviewing 90s images, I narrowed down the life of the 90s white button down to three looks. Of course, there could be more but these are what I saw to be the three main looks throughout the 90s.
Casual: White Button Down with Jeans
One of the most popular looks for the white dress shirt in the 90s paired it with casual jeans. With this look, the button down was often a relaxed or oversized fit. When I worked at Express in the 2000s, we were required to have an outfit with three pieces, so my managers would love to see the belts that often completed the look. The belt was a great way to show off waistlines and create a more polished look.
If I could say anything about this look, it’s almost as if someone took comfortable casual and made it severe. To me, not much looks comfortable about this look. We see a bit of harshness with this look. A lot of clean lines, ironed tops, tucked in to not-too-wrinkled jeans. To authentically recreate this look, avoid any sort of softness like a half tuck. Also, choose leather or vegan leather accessories that create a high contrast.
Keys to getting this look:
- Choose a button down that’s either relaxed or oversized fit.
- Opt for medium wash straight or bootcut jeans with a mid-rise.
- Pair the clothes with minimal accessories with a belt that stands out but not too much.
Casual but tie it up the 90s white button down
Another look that dominated the 90s was the tied up white shirt, which was often paired with jeans. We saw this look in movies, on the street, at concerts. It’s significantly more daring that just the above look. However, it has a similar polish. The tie of the shirt is just right. The jeans are still a straight mid-rise. Not to mention, the toned stomachs of the ladies who wore this look!
Accessories are, again, pretty minimal with some understated jewelry or the classic leather belt.
Keys to getting this look:
- Choose an oversized white button down that’s easy to tie.
- Pick a medium wash mid-rise or high rise jean.
- Go for minimal accessories like a leather belt, watch or patch on the jeans.
90s white button downs as evening wear
Honestly, when you think about it, the white button down as evening wear is one of the most over the top concepts. It’s taking this basic, seemingly boring essential item of the white button down and elevating it to a whole other level. Here, we see clean lines, crisp whiteness and high contrast between the top and the bottom of choice. Many women chose to pair the white skirt with either black dress pants or skirt for the highest of contrasts.
For this look, the 90s white button down was often worn significantly unbuttoned, creating a deep v-neck look that elevated it to evening wear. Sleeves can be rolled up and the collar popped.
Keys to getting this look:
- Pick an oversized button down that can be unbuttoned into a deep v-neck.
- Don’t suffer–get some boob tape to keep the shirt in place.
- Go for a high contrast skirt. Black and white was a popular choice!
- Roll up those sleeves and pop the collar.
Recreate this look
These three looks with the 90s white button down are all actually pretty simple to recreate with just a few pieces. These pieces can be bought new, but it’s worth mentioning that since these are classic pieces, they can often be found in the thrift store or secondhand. Using the keys above, finding pieces in any budget should be easily doable. These pieces are also probably in many closets already!
I also have a Pinterest board dedicated to this look for more ideals.
- J.Crew HATCH classic white button-down shirt ($178)
- Levi’s Wedgie Straight Jeans ($98)
- French Connection Inu Satin Faux Wrap Midi Skirt ($44)
- Madewell The Essential Wide Leather Belt ($58)