What's the Difference Between a Button-Up and a Button-Down Shirt?

iStock.com/LightFieldStudios
iStock.com/LightFieldStudios

As you probably already know, collared shirts with buttons running down the middle are typically referred to as either button-ups or button-downs. Some people have a strong preference for one term over the other; others use them interchangeably, believing (erroneously) that they’re synonymous.

Last November, model and author Chrissy Teigen took to Twitter and asked in a poll, “Is it a button up or button down?” Of the 220,000-plus respondents, 66 percent said button-up, and 34 percent said button-down. On the other hand, button-down appears to be the more searched-for term overall, according to Google Trends.

So which one is right? As it turns out, the two terms actually refer to two different garments. The button-down shirt came to be in the late 1800s, thanks to British polo players. Their uniform typically consisted of flannel pants, a wool sweater, and a long-sleeve shirt—all in white. It looked pretty snappy, but the players quickly became irritated by their collars flapping in the wind as they rode around on their horses.

According to Charles Panati’s book on the Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, “Players routinely asked seamstresses to batten down their collars, and two buttons became the most popular solution to the problem.” This was called a polo collar at the time, and the style was soon popularized by John Brooks, whose father founded the Brooks Brothers clothing line. (Oddly, polo shirts as we know them today were actually made for tennis, not polo.)

This is all to say that button-down shirts have buttons attached to the collar, while button-up shirts do not. Here’s where it gets a little confusing, though: All shirts with buttons can be called button-ups. However, only some button-ups (the ones with buttons on the collars) can be called button-downs.

A man in a button-down shirt
A man wearing a button-down shirt
iStock.com/azndc

As Megan Collins of Style Girlfriend explained it to the Today show, it’s kind of like how “an apple is a fruit, but not all fruits are apples.”

If you ever get mixed up, just keep in mind that the collars of a button-down can be buttoned down. As for their sartorial differences, button-down shirts are less common these days, especially among women's styles. They also tend to be slightly more casual than shirts with free-flapping collars, according to Collins.

If ties aren't your thing, but you're still trying to win style points, you should stick with the more versatile button-up shirt, according to Mainline Menswear.

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Why Do Students Get Summers Off?

Iam Anupong/iStock via Getty Images
Iam Anupong/iStock via Getty Images

It’s commonly believed that school kids started taking summers off in the 19th century so that they’d have time to work on the farm. Nice as that story is, it isn’t true. Summer vacation has little to do with tilling fields and more to do with sweaty, rich city kids playing hooky—and their sweaty, rich parents.

Before the Civil War, farm kids never had summers off. They went to school during the hottest and coldest months and stayed home during the spring and fall, when crops needed to be planted and harvested. Meanwhile, city kids hit the books all year long—summers included. In 1842, Detroit’s academic year lasted 260 days.

But as cities got denser, they got hotter. Endless lanes of brick and concrete transformed urban blocks into kilns, thanks to what was known as the “urban heat island effect.” That’s when America’s swelling middle and upper class families started hightailing it to the cooler countryside. And that caused a problem. School attendance wasn’t mandatory back then, and classrooms were being left half-empty each summer. Something had to give.

Legislators, in one of those if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em moments, started arguing that kids should get summers off anyway. It helped that, culturally, leisure time was becoming more important. With the dawn of labor unions and the eight-hour workday, working adults were getting more time to themselves than ever before. Advocates for vacation time also argued (incorrectly) that the brain was a muscle, and like any muscle, it could suffer injuries if overused. From there, they argued that students shouldn’t go to school year-round because it could strain their brains. To top it off, air conditioning was decades away, and city schools during summertime were miserable, half-empty ovens.

So by the turn of the century, urban districts had managed to cut about 60 schooldays from the most sweltering part of the year. Rural schools soon adopted the same pattern so they wouldn’t fall behind. Business folks obviously saw an opportunity here. The summer vacation biz soon ballooned into what is now one of the country’s largest billion-dollar industries.

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Where Did the Term Brownie Points Come From?

bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

In a Los Angeles Times column published on March 15, 1951, writer Marvin Miles observed a peculiar phrase spreading throughout his circle of friends and the social scene at large. While standing in an elevator, he overheard the man next to him lamenting “lost brownie points.” Later, in a bar, a friend of Miles's who had stayed out too late said he would never “catch up” on his brownie points.

Miles was perplexed. “What esoteric cult was this that immersed men in pixie mathematics?” he wrote. It was, his colleagues explained, a way of keeping “score” with their spouses, of tallying the goodwill they had accrued with the “little woman.”

Over the decades, the phrase brownie points has become synonymous with currying favor, often with authority figures such as teachers or employers. So where exactly did the term come from, and what happens when you “earn” them?

The most pervasive explanation is that the phrase originated with the Brownies, a subsect of the Girl Scouts who were encouraged to perform good deeds in their communities. The Brownies were often too young to be official Girl Scouts and were sometimes the siblings of older members. Originally called Rosebuds in the UK, they were renamed Brownies when the first troops were being organized in 1916. Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who had formed the Boy Scouts and was asked to name this new Girl Scout division, dubbed them Brownies after the magical creatures of Scottish folklore that materialized to selflessly help with household chores.

But the Brownies are not the only potential source. In the 1930s, kids who signed up to deliver magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal from Curtis Publishing were eligible for vouchers labeled greenies and brownies that they could redeem for merchandise. They were not explicitly dubbed brownie points, but it’s not hard to imagine kids applying a points system to the brownies they earned.

The term could also have been the result of wartime rationing in the 1940s, where red and brown ration points could be redeemed for meats.

The phrase didn’t really seem to pick up steam until Miles's column was published. In this context, the married men speaking to Miles believed brownie points could be collected by husbands who remembered birthdays and anniversaries, stopped to pick up the dry cleaning, mailed letters, and didn’t spend long nights in pubs speaking to newspaper columnists. The goal, these husbands explained, was never to get ahead; they merely wanted to be considered somewhat respectable in the eyes of their wives.

Later, possibly as a result of its usage in print, grade school students took the phrase to mean an unnecessary devotion to teachers in order to win them over. At a family and faculty meeting at Leon High in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, earning brownie points was said to be a serious problem. Also called apple polishing, it prompted other students in class to shame their peers for being friendly to teachers. As a result, some were “reluctant to be civil” for fear they would be harassed for sucking up.

In the decades since that time, the idiom has become attached to any act where goodwill can be expected in return, particularly if it’s from someone in a position to reward the act with good grades or a promotion. As for Miles: the columnist declared his understanding of brownie points came only after a long night of investigation. Arriving home late, he said, rendered him “pointless.”

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