The Front-Button Gap

Front-button shirts and blouses are a wardrobe staple for many women. Like front-button dress shirts for men, the women’s garments present issues of fit that require thought and attention.

If the shirt has a collar and is to be worn fully buttoned, the fit of the collar around the neck is an important consideration. A collar too big will make the wearer look like a little boy wearing grown-up clothes that are too big for him (consider Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live for this effect); a collar too small will find itself straining around the neck or unbuttoned to provide some relief.

A second issue is the lay of the shirt down the front. Curvy women in particular may find it difficult to find shirts that do not gap around the bustline. Look for garments with shorter distances between buttons (i.e., more buttons) to minimize the extent of any gap; also look for placement of a button at the largest part of the bust (a design detail that is maddeningly difficult to find).

050017 oh no front-button gap blouse InStyle REV

While celebrity model Alexa Chung looks adorable channeling Diane Keaton in Annie Hall in a photos spread in the April 2017 issue of InStyle magazine, the clothing selected for her just doesn’t fit. The above photo exacerbates the front-button gap issue with a striped shirt, which pulls across her bust and displaces the stripes for a visually distracting effect.

Some shirts can be worn open over a tank or camisole like an overshirt, eliminating the front-button gap.

Another fix would be to add a scarf , tie or vest (the latter two choices, a la Annie Hall) to cover the front-button gap. This can be an effective way to salvage a blouse or shirt that is otherwise not wearable.

050017 oh no blouse w tie InStyle April REV

A second photo from the InStyle shoot pictures Chung in an ensemble that closely imitates a most iconic Annie Hall ensemble with a tie. But whereas Keaton’s costumes were fit to her body (check the shoulder seams in stills from the movie), here the shoulder seams of the shirt are too wide and the underarm seams of the shirt pull out from the vest, for a most unflattering effect. Add to that the pants that drag on the pavement, and this photo, like the one above, goes into my Oh No! file.

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Button-Front Shirts & the Busty Woman

In the March 2015 issue of Lucky magazine, a reader asks:  “How can I get button-downs to fit correctly? If you don’t know what I mean, ask any woman with large breasts.”

0315 white shirt 0315 Lucky REV

The editor who fielded the reader’s question responded by consulting with another editor at the publication. Their response: “If a button-down’s gaping or straining in any way, you’re wearing it too tight. This doesn’t mean you have to go with a shapeless men’s shirt–it’s a button-down moment, so there are many cuts right now. ” So far, so good.

The recommendation continues: “There are purposely slouchy, rounded-back ones, and T by Alexander Wang makes them slim and straight, rather than hugging the body.”

0315 T by Alexander Wang cropped short sleeve poplin shirt model 5-11 size 2

Here’s the only T by Alexander Wang button-front shirt in the designer’s current on-line collection. It is cropped, and available on the designer’s web site only up to size 6 (the model pictured is 5’11″ and a size 2). The cropped and unfitted top is decidedly not a look for a woman with large breasts — assuming a size 6 would accommodate her chest, the shirt will stick out in front in a most unattractive manner.

The advice continues: “Then there’s long in back, short in front, which is just–a thing now. If ever there were a season to find your ultimate shape, it’s now.”  No example or picture of this style is provided, but the cropped shape above seems to be a related style.

The editors’ response does include an illustration, a picture of a model wearing a plaid button-front shirt over a white tee (and under an army jacket). As lovely as she is, a sample-size model is not one who can provide perspective on the issues unique to large breasts.  In the picture the shirt is buttoned only at the top button and does not demonstrate correct fit at all. This provides no solution to the reader’s issue.

0315 white shirt 0315 HB Michael Kors shirt REV

The type of blouse styling to which the reader more likely refers is exemplified by the classic front-button design Michael Kors white shirt pictured above in the March 2015 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.  The shirt is pictured on a model with long-waisted proportions, tall and slender with a modest bust.

The issue with button-front shirts is that they have a strong propensity to gap when buttoned over large breasts.  The reason for this is a flat garment design is not meant to accommodate the dimensionality of full breasts.  Going up a size or two (or three) may well not resolve this issue.

One important factor in finding a shirt or blouse that does not gap is selecting a design that has buttons spaced so that the garment buttons at the biggest part of the breasts, in line with the nipples. This placement will vary from woman to woman — this is a matter of an individual’s height and body proportions.

The necessary button placement to avoid a gap can be difficult if not impossible to find.  The larger the spacing between the buttons, the more likely the garment will gap, as there is more opportunity for it to pull while being worn. The more closely spaced the buttons, the more likely a gap will be minimized. However, there is a secondary issue that arises with a garment with front buttons, especially with closely spaced buttons:  the buttons themselves bring attention to the front seam and, with that, to the wearer’s chest.  One mitigating suggestion I might add:  Blouses with soft bows attached and scarves draped over the front of a blouse or shirt can help mask the issue.

If you are busty and want to wear a button-front shirt buttoned, the shirt must be tailored to your shape with darts and seams that accommodate your shapeliness. A straight cut, like that of the Michael Kors shirt, will probably require significant tailoring to make it work for you.

This is one time that engaging a tailor to custom-make a garment may be the best, albeit not inexpensive, solution if you have a large chest and simply must have a classic button-front shirt.