The buttoned-up style works well with generously cut shirts of sumptuous materials - the richest cotton, the softest rayon, the plushest challis. Darker shirts offer a formality that makes a jacket expendable but the look is best when the shirt is paired with a full-cut jacket in complimentary color and weave.
A few years ago, a man who buttoned his top button would have looked like a jerk. Today, the same man is something else entirely. He is a cool jerk.
And who are these men? Bruce Willis, naturally. He buttoned up a black shirt at the Emmy Awards and wore it under an oversize black leather and suede jacket. He didn't win any award - except for being the best-dressed man there.
Who else are cool jerks? David Bowie, Jack Nicholson, Elvis Costello, director David Lynch, Cosby kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Stevie Winwood, and even William Sanderson, also known as Larry of Larry, Darryl and Darryl on Newhart.
But if anyone is responsible for the boom in the top button, it is Talking Head David Byrne, the coolest jerk of all. Time recently called him on its cover: "Rock's Renaissance Man: Singer, Composer, Lyricist, Guitarist, Film Director, Writer, Actor, Video Artist, Designer, Photographer." But he is also something else: Fashion Innovator.
Recently, when asked about his buttoned-up cool, Byrne said: "As I got older, I found it neater - not in the hip sense but in the sense of clean, crisp lines." But fellow Talking Head Tina Weymouth begged to differ, saying the idea wasn't Byrne's at all: "No, Lou Reed was the one who advised Byrne to keep it buttoned because he has a very hairy chest and arms." Whatever the reason, it works.
Rather than creator, Byrne is responsible for the buttoned-up renaissance, for this is actually the second coming of the cool jerk. Back in the early '60s, Bob Dylan abandoned his tie but kept his top button buttoned. "Bob Dylan was also big for wearing those tab-collared shirts without a tie," says Gene Sculatti, editor of The Catalogue of Cool. David Warner sported the buttoned-up look in Morgan. Rebels of all causes, the Rolling Stones rejected the ties that bind but kept their collars tightened around their Adam's apples. (Later, Mick Jagger adopted a much freer style and often had a hard time keeping his shirt on.)
The looser the times, the looser the look, and in the late '60s and early '70s buttoned-up men were definitely not the wild ones. When ties
reappeared in the late '70s and early part of this decade, they got decidedly thinner over time until they disappeared altogether, again.
Of the look, Sculatti says, "David Byrne and his followers look self- consciously nerdy. You see a lot of guys like that in Los Angeles. It looks very studied. To be buttoned up without tie seems real conspicuous, but I suppose that's the point."
Yes, now there exists a true sartorial oxymoron: nerd fashion for men. The buttoned-up look is being accompanied by such other cool-jerk developments as nerd glasses, black socks paired with black pointed shoes, white socks paired with clunky black shoes, the return of wing tips, short-legged "flood pants," oversize clothes, clunky watches and bolo ties. Today, the men who look the smartest resemble the men who are the smartest. Every day it's getting tougher to tell the cool jerks from the jerks.