Do you consider your dressy button-down top a shirt or a blouse? Women’s clothing comes with many confusing and even conflicting names and definitions, making shopping for work clothes or formal wear quite difficult! For example, when you compare a blouse vs a shirt, what is the difference?
The main difference between a blouse and a shirt is that a blouse has more fullness at the waist, while a shirt can have any style so long as it covers the upper body. The term blouse refers to a top without full button closures, while a shirt can have any type of closure. “Blouse” also usually refers to women’s clothing, while “shirt” remains ungendered.
In this article, you will discover the key differences between a shirt and a blouse. You will find out where the word “blouse” came from and how it is used today. Finally, you will get tips on the most popular types and brands of blouses today!
Blouse Vs Shirt: Key Points
Check out this quick overview of the key comparisons between blouse vs shirt! For this comparison, you can consider a shirt to be the classic button-down popular with both men and women.
|Buttons||May have some buttons, may not.||Usually has a full line of vertical button closure.|
|Collar||Can have a wide range of collar styles derived from the history of women’s fashion||Can have a limited range of collar styles derived from the history of men’s fashion|
|Style||Comes in a huge variety of styles||Button-down shirts come in a limited range of styles.|
|Length||Length can vary dramatically depending on the style of blouse.||Button-down shirts do offer some variation in length, but not a lot.|
|Fullness||Almost always more full||Almost always more fitted|
|Formality||Varies a lot||Usually semi-formal to formal|
What is a Blouse Top?The modern fashion world typically refers to a blouse as a shirt that gathers at the waist and puffs out above the waistline. In contrast, a top is a generic term for any kind of women’s shirt. For this reason, a blouse is a kind of top, but the terms top and blouse do not necessarily mean the same thing.
Does that mean that any loose shirt qualifies as a blouse? Not necessarily. Based on current fashion trends, a blouse typically has a slightly fancier, more formal style.
You would wear a blouse to work, to church, or on an evening out. A baggy knit shirt or a peasant-style top will probably not get classified as blouses.
A blouse can come in many, many different cuts and styles, though. It can have long sleeves, short sleeves, or no sleeves. Collar styles can vary from a classic Peter Pan to a retro bow tie to a simple scoop neck. The type of fabric used also varies dramatically, though most blouses do feature thin, lightweight cloth that adds to the drapey, poofy style of this type of shirt.
Many blouses have several buttons or a zipper at the front of the neck as a closure. Others may have a sewn-in belt that ties around the waist to secure the shirt. Some have a discrete single button at the back of the neck, though this style usually features only in high-necked blouses.
That said, no one seems to agree on whether or not a button-down women’s dress shirt qualifies as a blouse or not. This more tailored garment sometimes gets classified simply as a dress shirt, since it lacks the characteristic poofy-ness of a blouse.
What is the Difference Between Blouse and Shirt?
Technically, the main difference between a blouse and a shirt is that a blouse will not usually button all the way down the front, while a shirt does. The word shirt also gets used in a non-gendered way, while blouse usually only refers to women’s clothing.
This slippery distinction does not always hold water, though, because “shirt” often gets used more as a generic term to mean any kind of men’s or women’s top. The truth of the matter is that retailers, fashion brands, and even different countries often use the words blouse and shirt to mean very different things!
For instance, Americans call pretty much every type of upper-body-wear a shirt, including a dress shirt, a sports shirt, and a polo shirt. T-shirts, blouses, dressy tops, and knit tops fall under the general heading of shirts in the States. In contrast, some countries around the world reserve the word “shirt” for a more formal button-down top for men or women.
Plus, the form-fitting and midriff-baring type of shirt often worn beneath a saree is also called a blouse, though it has a very different cut.
All of that goes to say that you will find helpful technical distinctions here, but plenty of people disagree on what exactly separates a shirt from a blouse!
Blouses and shirts may both feature buttons, but a dress shirt will more likely have buttons all the way down the front than a blouse.
A dress shirt for either men or women will have a vertical row of button closures running down the center of the front. Once in a while, you will find a loose, billowy women’s blouse that also features a row of front buttons, but more often you only find a few buttons at the throat or the back of the neck on a blouse.
If a blouse does have vertical buttons all the way down the front, they usually lie beneath a fabric placket that hides them from view.
Both shirts and blouses can have many different types of collars, but the types do not often overlap. For example, a shirt can have a button down, straight, tab, Windsor, or Spread Away collar, just to name a few! A blouse may have a rounded Peter Pan collar, a tie collar, a drooping Chelsea collar, or even a wing or shawl collar.
You may find it easier to think of this in terms of the difference between traditional men’s and women’s fashion. Most blouse collars get their names and appearance from a long history of women’s fashion. Every type of collar has its own interesting origin story.
This also holds true for many of the collars worn on button-down shirts, but these styles originated in men’s fashion. The Windsor collar, for instance, replicates the appearance of the Windsor Knot made famous in men’s ties by the Duke of Windsor.
So, both blouses and shirts often have collars, but most of the time, a shirt will use a different kind of collar than a blouse.
StyleBlouses typically offer more variation in style than button-down shirts.
Buttondown shirts do come in a widening line-up of varying cuts these days. For example, you can get a fitted, tailored, regular, classic, or muscle cut button-down.
That said, blouses come in a dizzying array of styles. You can find lace blouses, asymmetrical blouses with a high-low hem, and a low-cut sweetheart neckline blouse. Unique styles like the popular off-the-shoulder blouse and the open-fronted jacket blouse have started to gain traction in the fashion world recently, too.
Or, if you prefer a more conservative style, you can go with a high-necked or paneled blouse that will not show as much skin.
Blouses have more variation in hem length than dress shirts, but there is no one rule about how long either type of shirt should be.
Different style situations often call for different hemlines. For example, a guy on a day out in the town might wear a button-down shirt that hangs to his hips, while he would probably wear a neatly tucked-in, slightly longer button-down to the office.
Blouse length can range from midriff-baring to below the knees, depending on the type of blouse in question!
Blouses pretty much always contain more fullness than shirts. The technical definition of a blouse requires that this type of clothing billow out around the waist rather than nipping in with a fitted waist as many dress shirts do.
Once again, this distinction will not always hold up. If you think about a “regular” or “classic” cut in a men’s dress shirt, this boxy-style shirt often does bag out at the waist when tucked in! These shirts may even have a box pleat at the center back to add in extra fullness.
However, almost all women’s blouses contain extra material rather than clinging to the skin or using contoured seams to make the fabric contour to the body’s shape. This makes it safe to say that, in general, blouses have more fullness than most shirts.
A shirt often has a slightly more formal appearance than a blouse due to the tailored, form-fitting style most button-down shirts feature. Of course, this depends on how you choose to define a shirt, to begin with! For instance, a polo shirt does not have as much formality as an organza blouse with a nice bow-tie collar.
If you think of levels of formality in terms of where you would feel comfortable wearing a certain type of apparel, button-down shirts usually fit in at the office or workplace. They can look dressier when paired with a suit jacket or blazer or less dressy when worn untucked with a pair of khakis.
A blouse usually contains a fancier-looking kind of material, such as sheer chiffon, silk, or very light cotton. This makes it dressier from the get-go.
Blouses often blend in at many different settings, though. You can wear a blouse with a pencil skirt or dress pants at the office, or with jeans and a cardigan for a casual day out.
Though you can dress a blouse up or down, it always looks a bit more formal than a knit top or a t-shirt.
Why is a Women’s Shirt Called a Blouse?One possible reason why a women’s shirt is called a blouse is that this type of shirt has a blowsy or puffy appearance. The word “blowsy” used to mean loose or messy, just like how a blouse poofs out over the waist. People would say “she has blowsy hair” about someone with a frizzy bun back in the 1800s!
If you look even farther back in history, it’s possible that blouses originated in the loose peasant tunics worn by many farmers around the world. In this case, the name “blouse” may have stemmed from a French word meaning “short wool,” indicating a non-tunic-length peasant shirt worn by French farmers long ago.
People actually have not worn shirts for very long in the grand scheme of human history. Many ancient cultures wore a tunic-like garment that could be pulled over the head and shoulders and sometimes fastened with a pin or clasp. But the shirt as we know it didn’t make an appearance until the 1700s.
At the time, the shirt served as a symbol of a stylish gentleman who wanted fine linen between his skin and his outerwear. These garments also remained a status symbol because only gentlemen could afford to pay someone else to wash the shirts every day!
The open-front shirt came into fashion in the late 1800s and then reached regular people when things like washing machines allowed middle-class folks to start wearing garments that required frequent laundering.
The explosion of synthetic fabric clothing made ready-wear clothing even more affordable in the late 20th century, which led to the many varying styles of blouses we see in women’s fashion today!
Blouse vs Shirt Vs Top
A blouse is a women’s dress shirt, a shirt is a button-down shirt, and a top is a generic catch-all term for any shirt-like garment worn on the upper body. Once again, you will find a lot of disagreement about these definitions. For example, many people use the words shirt and top interchangeably, especially for women’s clothing.
Top more often refers to women’s clothing than to men’s clothing, as well.
In some cases, you will see “top” used to indicate less formal women’s shirts, while blouses have a bit more formality.
Camisoles, knit shirts other than t-shirts, and even lightweight sweater shirts can all be considered tops.
Another way to think of this is that a blouse almost always has a fuller waist, while a top can conform to the body’s shape more tightly.
What Makes a Shirt a Shirt?
A shirt can have many color, fabric, and style variations, but it will always cover the upper body. If a garment has a hem that hangs down past the knees, it will fall into the category of dress or tunic rather than a shirt.
Another distinction you can think of when separating a shirt from other types of clothing is that shirts usually feature lightweight material. Thick, heavy tops become sweaters or sweatshirts.
Ultimately, though, the world of fashion has a constantly shifting landscape. What makes a shirt a shirt today may well change soon when new fashions become popular!
Blouse vs T-ShirtYou can easily compare blouses vs t-shirts because a blouse has a light, poofy waist, and a t-shirt has a basic T shape made of knit material. Classifying blouses vs t-shirts is a lot easier than defining blouses and shirts in general! This is because t-shirts have a very distinctive style and appearance.
A t-shirt has a basic, rectangular t-shape made by the short sleeves sticking out from the shoulders. Traditionally this garment first saw use as an undershirt in the military but became so popular that now pretty much everyone in the world wears this type of shirt!
T-shirts usually have a much less formal appearance than a blouse. In part, this is because many t-shirts sport fun graphics and slogans today! The lack of formality also comes from the fact that t-shirts usually contain a supple jersey knit material that does not look as fancy as the silk or chiffon used in many blouses.
Blouse vs Button DownAs you have already seen from the section earlier in this article describing blouses and shirts, a blouse has a loose waist while a button-down often has a tailored waist. Blouses also often feature many different styles, such as off-the-shoulder or bow tie, while button-down always has that distinctive row of buttons down the front.
Button-down shirts serve as the classic picture of what a shirt is today. Both men and women wear these iconic shirts for formal or business casual events. Blouses usually serve as a part of women’s fashion and not men’s.
Blouse vs Shirt Men
When you consider blouse vs shirt for men, you won’t find a lot of information to go on because few popular brands market blouses for men.
Can men wear a blouse? Well, you should always wear whatever makes you comfortable! Certainly, fashion trends have changed before and will change again. Right now, though, you will not find many blouses sold as menswear.
Most Popular Blouse Brands
Many popular fashion brands offer a good selection of blouses for women, including Gucci, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, PopSugar, Urban Outfitters, and Lulus, to name just a few! No one really considers one particular brand of blouse more popular than another because blouse selection depends so much on your own personal style.
That said, you can check out these reviews to get an idea of the different types of blouses available to choose from!
Ann Taylor Ruffle Tie Neck Top
This cute, summery piece will brighten up any wardrobe! This loose-fitting blouse is made of 100% pink polyester and also has an adorable ruffled sleeve and a tie collar. Plus, you can easily throw it in your washing machine when you’re in a hurry after a long workday!
This type of blouse looks great with narrow dress pants or even jeans for a less dressy look. The thin material and short sleeves make it best suited to warm weather.
Banana Republic Blazer Wrap Top
On a more formal end of the blouse spectrum, this sleek and stylish wrap blouse would look perfect at the office or a formal event. With a deep V notch lapel collar, long cuffs, and a box pleat in the back, this wrap blouse will look trendy and feel roomy and comfortable at the same time!
The silky viscose rayon material that forms this fancy blouse does require dry-clean care. However, you could easily wear this shirt year-round to work or events by pairing it with a blazer, pencil skirt, or slim dress pants!
The main difference between a blouse and a shirt is that blouses more often serve as women’s clothing, while men and women wear shirts. You will also find a huge variety of styles within the world of women’s blouses, from color to style to material. Men’s shirts often have a more set style featuring button-downs in just a few more austere cuts such as slim-fit or muscle-fit.
You will find the terms shirts and tops used interchangeably to mean any kind of upper-body wear in many parts of the world. A blouse, in contrast, will almost always be a formal type of women’s shirt.