Your shirt doesn't have to stop at the second button.
I'm a Persian-American Jew. As such, I have a long, frought history with the prospect of opening up that second button—or, heaven forbid, a third. It was always common among other Persians—I couldn't tell if they thought it looked good, if they wanted to show off chest hair, if they were more comfortable like that, or if it was simply some masculine ritual that made us feel connected.
My sister didn't like it though. Back before I bothered developing my own taste, my sister told me it was wrong. Actually, she went further—I said I never liked a visible undershirt, and some of my undershirts were visible even when my shirts were fully buttoned. My mom and my sister both insisted that was wrong, and any amount of undershirt was always superior to any amount of chest. Well, I've learned, now how very wrong they were.
With no shade to the guys who like visible undershirts, fully buttoned shirts, fully open shirts, or ties, and with a bit of shade to George Costanza... The severely unbuttoned shirt is something special, and it's okay to embrace it.
Themes to look out for:
- Breathability, both just for practical purposes, but as a vibe.
- The spectrum from smart, clean, or classic to sleazy, colorful, or luxurious.
- Chest hair, or chest muscles, or whatever other viscerally masculine thing is being exposed. (Or: is the intended vibe androgynous or femme, or something more complex?)
- Necklaces. An open shirt can frame necklaces in a really great way.
- How different fabrics sit. Structured cotton. Gauzy linen. Drapey rayon and silk. Drapey knits. Which fabrics serve which effects?
- How far do you open the shirt?
- What's the collar style? Camp collar, spread, button down, what? Is it a popover? Does that effect how you wear it?
- How are you going to wear it? A blazer with a runaway collar? Silk shirt and silk pants with velvet slippers? A dinner jacket and an undone bow tie? All good options, really.
And the one major thing you want to avoid: looking like a creep, or like an actual sleazebag. I'll call it "The Jerry Buss Principle." I'll get into it later.
It feels appropriate for me to start in earnest wtih a fellow Persian. Milad Abedi loves the runaway camp collar. Like my friends and I, Milad really doesn't mind showing off some chest hair.
Severely unbuttoned shirts with camp collars are fun. Before I bought my first camp collar, I thought the natural cut of the collar with all the buttons done up would make the most sense. I was wrong. A shirt that smoothly folds over itself, especially in a soft rayon... it just feels right.
The same breathability is reflected on the right. Even though Milad is wearing a dinner jacket, a full eveningwear rig, undone buttons and a stiff-looking drink show us he's relaxed. The smile says he's happy. He's comfortable.
Milad shoots Oskar with a runaway camp collar below, showing that chest hair is far from necessary.
Chris Burandt, above, and Christian Grech, below, show the luxurious side of the severely unbuttoned shirt game. Obviously, the silky shirts are just fantastic, and good cotton ages nicely too.. But what does the low buttoning add?
For one, even though the shirts are layered, the low buttoning help draw attention to the shirts. Maybe this is paradoxical: the shirts are farther from the face, less shirt is visible... but of course your eye is going to be drawn to a shirt worn like that.
It also effects the important aspect of visible breathability, which clearly helps Christian live his life traipsing around the Mediterranian, ostensibly working as an architect, surrounded with friends like Bas and Martin under the sun. Don't you want to be a character in that story?
It also helps represent "lazy luxury," a phrase often used by Dom Kennedy, below. The vibe of being too rich to give a fuck. You're not even going to bother to button up your shirt all the way. It's draping perfectly well on its own, it's not like you bought a shirt in some peasant fabric.
Finally, as I'll discuss in further depth below, the severely unbuttoned shirt helps frame necklaces nicely, which is convenient when you have fancy gold jewelry to show off.
Now, I'm going to take a step towards the "smart" end of the spectrum. Simon's knit shirt above fit perfectly into a classic wardrobe, with a blazer and trousers, while just feeling that little bit more relaxed.
@g_tandre shows the same below.
Monsieur Tandre, a French menswear enthusiast, really loves to let loose. He uses an odd French hashtag, #freementitties, to represent his unbuttoned shirts, apparently a toungue-in-cheek reference to the Free the Nipple movement. He is joined by @bienluienapris, below.
Spencer prefers some degree of vintage, milsurp, camo, and denim. He also likes that partial runaway spread collar, and I gotta say, so do I.
Ethan Wong, as you might have heard, is also interested in vintage style. He's written extensively about the "severely unbuttoned shirt."
The Jerry Buss Principle
Let's take a break for a bit of anti-inspo. The portrayal of Dr. Buss on Winning Time (by the incredible John C. Reilly) really frames everything that can make an otherwise good look creepy: an old fat overconfident white guy clinging too hard to the 70s (well, the 70s are good), and aggressively hitting on women half his age. He wears bad shirts open too far (not to body shame, but he unbuttons them to a point that draws attention to his gut). So look in the mirror and ask, "do I look like Jerry Buss? Am I about to act like Jerry Buss? Will I look better if I do up another button or two? Will I give men everywhere a bad name if I talk to any women looking like this?"
For comparison, Quincy Isaiah's Magic Johnson (note, the real Magic Johnson was not contacted about the show) unbuttons his shirts as well. Does it look better because they're not unbuttoned as far? Because he's a better-looking man? Or does Jerry Bus look worse because he's describing Magic as an asset?
Of course, there are plenty more awful examples. Naturally, it can be taken to a pretty funny extreme:
Dennis Reynolds of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is both an incredibly vain character and a sexual predator. Here, his obsession with glam rock and his obsession with his own looks combines with Charlie's poor skills with a sewing machine and the poor taste of both to hilarious effect. Obviously, the look isn't serious, but think of it as teaching "corny sexuality." It's overt and it's sad. Color balance also plays a role in what makes it so bad; his pale chest is contrasted by the heavy makeup on his face and the shiny silvery spandex.
HBO's recent slate also exposes the gray area in Doug Renetti, Jake Johnson's character in Minx.
Doug Renetti is obviously younger and more conventionally attractive than Dr. Buss. That doesn't mean he's not a sleazeball. He's a pornographer who approaches the innocent Joyce, and gets her involved in his seedy business. Now, they end up developing sex-positive feminism together... in a way that sometimes makes him a creepy hero, sometimes exposes his bigotry, and sometimes makes him feel genuinely wholesome. He's a little too problematic for a protagonist in a feminist dramedy, but he's clearly intended to be, on balance, a good guy who just has a lot left to learn.
So should you dress like Doug Renetti? Well, you're not a pornographer. And you do have a modern understanding of feminism, don't you?
Alright, let's get back into the good.
- The Going Out Look by Ethan M. Wong. This album feels inconsistent to me in a lot of ways, but the "severely unbuttoned shirt," as he calls it, is featured heavily.
- Lazy Luxury by Dom Kennedy.
- How to Dress for Summer by Christian Grech.
- Stoffa x No Man Walks Alone (overview on Die, Workwear!)
- GQ's somewhat confused article, An Appreciation of Jerry Buss’s Winning Time Shirts.
- The Menswear in Elvis (2022) by Ethan M. Wong