Most of you have probably noticed a growing amount of men wearing their button-down shirts with the top button buttoned but without a tie. Known as the "buttoned-up" look, this trend refers specifically to guys who button all of the buttons on their button-up without wearing a tie. It's a look that's been in turns called a hipster fad, nerd-chic, a rebellion against the norm, an artsy statement, and a sin against fashion. You may be surprised to know there's so much going on behind what seems like such a simple fashion choice (I definitely was). Let me break down the all the various factors behind the look for you and give you my take on it.
First off, disregard the whole "sin against fashion" line. It's only being touted by old-fashioned people who believe that dress shirt requires a tie, which in this day and age just isn't true anymore. A lot of the older rules of fashion are being broken by modern trends, so don't worry about some old fuddy-duddy trying to lecture you.
The buttoned-up trend has its roots in the 70s and 80s rock scene as both a way of rebelling against the traditional requirement of a tie and characterizing restrained emotions. Director David Lynch later popularized the look as a form of minimalist formality. Since then, the look has had a modern resurgence among young men in England, particularly university students and young professionals. Now the trend has crossed over to the States. Many people still see it as a hipster trend, but it's been gaining popularity, as you've probably seen. Others call it a form of nerd-chic, which as far as I can tell just means guys with glasses who dress well while occasionally crossing over into stylish grandpa territory (think Q* from the latest Bond movies).
Some will claim that buttoning the top button of a shirt is uncomfortable and constraining on your neck. However, if a shirt fits you properly, your collar should have a little room and give so that a buttoned top button won't strangle you (after all, wearing a tie isn't supposed to feel suffocating).
For some examples of the modern buttoned-up look, check out these gray and blue-checked Oxford button-downs from Original Penguin. This royal blue striped shirt from Twillory showcases the style with a more formal dress shirt. Personally, I think that the buttoned-up trend is good for creating a look that's a little more formal while still maintaining a casual air. The straight row of buttons also creates a neat line that emphasizes the sleek lines of your shirt and figure. The effect is a look of precision that's not too formal. While the rumpled look can be attractive, it's also nice when a guy looks especially put-together and neat.
When to wear it: The buttoned-up look pairs well with slacks or khakis, or you can try it when dressing up a pair of jeans. It works for a day at the office, an outing with friends, or even a date. However, for more formal occasions or an important meeting at work, I'd stick with a tie. I recommend trying the buttoned-up style with shirts that have an Oxford collar or a semi-spread collar; spread collars and cutaway collars are really designed to be worn with ties and look a little naked without them. A quick warning: Make sure your shirt, especially your collar, is well-pressed or at least wrinkle-free when rocking this look. Since you won't be wearing a tie as an alternate focal point to distract from any wrinkles, it's important to create that look of clean crisp lines.
Of course, just like any trend, whether you choose to follow it is completely up to you. The buttoned-up look is necessary for looking cool or sophisticated, but it can be a fun trend to try out. Plus, it's long and varied history gives you a choice of reference point when asked why you're wearing your shirt that way (just try to avoid sounding pretentious).