Shirts vs. Blouses: What Are the Differences?

Shirts vs. Blouses: What Are the Differences?

3rd Aug 2023

Shirts vs. Blouses: What Are the Differences?

Blouses may be one of the most popular tops for women, but how do they differ from a typical shirt? 

At Backdoor Gallery, we sell a wide range of clothing for women, so we get this question a lot.

That’s why we put together this blog post identifying the differences between shirts and blouses.

What Is a Blouse Top?

In the world of modern fashion, the term “blouse” usually refers to a women’s top that gathers down at the waist but then expands up from the waistline.

A potential explanation for the term "blouse" used to describe a women's shirt is its resemblance to a blowsy or puffy appearance. In the past, the term "blowsy" denoted a loose or untidy state, similar to how a blouse extends over the waistline. Interestingly, back in the 1800s, people would describe someone with a frizzy bun as having "blowsy hair."

By delving further into history, we can speculate that blouses may have originated from the loose peasant tunic tops worn by farmers worldwide. In this context, the term "blouse" might have derived from a French word indicating "short wool." This could refer to a non-tunic-length peasant shirt worn by French farmers in the distant past.

Alright, what about the term “top.”

“Top” is just a general fashion term for any kind of women's shirt, a blouse falls under this category, but “top” and “blouse” don’t necessarily imply the same meaning.

For example, this navy blue and white iris floral top

Does this imply that any type of loose women’s shirt can be considered a blouse?

It's not always the case.

According to modern fashion trends, a blouse generally exhibits a faintly fancier but more formal style.

A blouse finds its place in work settings, religious gatherings, or evening outings. Loose knit shirts or peasant-style tops don’t typically fall into the category of blouses.

However, blouses encompass a wide array of styles and cuts. They can feature short sleeves, long sleeves, or even no sleeves at all.

Collar styles vary from vintage Peter Pan to classic bow tie to basic scoop neck designs. The fabric used in blouses also varies significantly, although most blouses employ thin, lightweight materials that contribute to the flowy and voluminous nature of this shirt type.

White blouse

Many blouses incorporate several front buttons, tassels, or a neck zipper for closure. Some may include a sewn-in belt that wraps around the waist and ties secure the blouse. Occasionally, a discreet single button can be found at the back of the blouse’s neckline, although this style is more common in options with a higher neck to them.

Black boho blouse

That being said, there is no consensus on whether a button-down dress shirt qualifies as a women’s blouse. This more tailored top is often usually classified as just a dress shirt, as it doesn’t have the characteristic puffiness associated with a blouse.

So, Is a Blouse Just a Button-Down Shirt?


Blouses typically have a loose waist, whereas button-down shirts almost always feature a tailored waist.

Furthermore, blouses also offer a wide range of styles, including off-the-shoulder or bow tie designs, while button-down shirts consistently present a distinctive row of front buttons. We’ll dover more details about the different types of blouses later on.

Button-down shirts represent the timeless image of what a shirt signifies in contemporary fashion. These iconic shirts are worn by both men and women for formal or business casual occasions.

On the other hand, blouses predominantly play a role in women's fashion rather than men's.

So, while both are “tops”, button-down shirts represent a bit more in terms of reality, whereas blouses tend to be a bit more specific.

That said, if you’re keen to add blouses to your wardrobe, you still have plenty of options from which to choose.

Let’s look at why.

Peach blouse top

Shirts vs. Blouses: 14 Ways They Differ

In case you still have any confusion over the difference between a shirt and a blouse, we’ve come up with 14 ways in which they contrast.

1. Button Placement

The primary technical distinction between a blouse and a shirt lies in the buttoning mechanism.

Typically, blouses won't feature buttons that go all the way down their fronts, while a shirt does. Additionally, the term "shirt" is non-gendered, while "blouse" typically refers to women's clothing.

However, this distinction can become blurry as "shirt" often serves as a general term encompassing various types of tops for both men and women. Usage of the words "blouse" and "shirt" can vary among retailers, clothing brands , and even across different countries, resulting in different meanings associated with each term.

For example, in the United States, the term "shirt" is used broadly to encompass different upper-body garments, such as t-shirts, blouses, dress shirts, sports shirts, polo shirts, knit tops, and dressy tops.

On the other hand, in some countries, the term "shirt" is specifically reserved for formal button-down tops intended for either men or women.

Furthermore, the term "blouse" is also used to describe a form-fitting, midriff-baring shirt commonly worn under a saree, although it features a distinct cut compared to other types of blouses and shirts.

2. Fabric

Shirts and blouses can differ in the type of fabric used. Shirts often use sturdier fabrics like cotton or denim, while blouses may incorporate more delicate or lightweight fabrics such as silk or chiffon.

3. Style

Shirts and blouses can differ in overall style.

Shirts often have a more casual or utilitarian aesthetic, with clean lines and a focus on practicality.

Blouses, on the other hand, tend to offer a wider range of styles, from romantic and flowy designs to tailored and sophisticated looks. Blouses can incorporate details like ruffles, lace, or pleats to enhance their style.

4. Formality

Blouses are generally considered more formal or dressy compared to shirts. They are commonly chosen for occasions that require a more polished or elegant appearance, such as business meetings, special events, or evening wear. Shirts, on the other hand, are often associated with casual or everyday wear, though certain styles of shirts, like dress shirts, can also be worn in formal settings.

5. Silhouette

Shirts often emphasize a more streamlined and structured silhouette, whereas blouses may offer a looser or more flowy fit. Blouses can have features like peplum waistlines or gathering that create a more relaxed or feminine shape.

6. Detailing

Blouses often feature additional decorative elements and embellishments like lace, embroidery, pleats, or pintucks, while shirts usually have simpler and more functional designs without excessive detailing.

7. Length

The length of shirts and blouses can vary. Shirts can come in different lengths, from cropped or waist-length to hip-length or longer. Blouses, on the other hand, are often longer and can extend past the hips or even feature a tunic length. This longer length adds versatility and allows blouses to be worn with various bottoms.

8. Fullness

Blouses often offer more fullness or volume compared to shirts. Blouses can have gathered or pleated details around the yoke or waist, creating a looser and more relaxed fit. In contrast, shirts tend to have a more fitted or tailored silhouette with minimal added fullness.

9. Neckline

While both shirts and blouses can have different necklines, blouses are more likely to have varied and intricate necklines such as keyhole, boat neck, or sweetheart necklines, whereas shirts commonly have simpler necklines like round or V-neck.

10. Collar

Collar styles can vary between shirts and blouses. Shirts commonly have structured collars, such as point collars or button-down collars, which provide a more tailored and classic look. Blouses may have a wider range of collar styles, including Peter Pan collars, Mandarin collars, or ruffled collars, which add femininity and variety to the design.

11. Sleeve Length

Shirts and blouses can differ in sleeve length options. Shirts may offer more options for long sleeves, short sleeves, or even roll-up sleeves, while blouses may showcase a broader range of sleeve styles like flutter sleeves, bell sleeves, or cap sleeves.

12. Buttons

Shirts and blouses can differ in the placement and number of buttons.

Shirts typically have a full button-down front, often extending from the collar to the hem, allowing for versatile closure options. Blouses, on the other hand, may have a partial button front or decorative buttons, with the focus on aesthetics rather than functionality.

13. Cuffs

The style and design of cuffs on shirts and blouses can vary. Shirts may have more structured and traditional cuffs, while blouses may feature ruffled or more decorative cuff details.

14. Occasion

Shirts are often associated with more casual or everyday wear, while blouses tend to be linked to dressier or more formal occasions. Blouses may be chosen for events like parties, office settings, or special occasions, whereas shirts are typically worn in casual or relaxed settings.

The 10 Types of Blouses

Now that we have a clear, well-defined understanding of what blouses are, let’s look at the 10 most common types of this popular top.

1. Button-Up Blouse

A Button-Up Blouse is a classic style of blouse that features a front closure with buttons running down the center. It typically includes a collar and cuffs, resembling a button-down shirt. This versatile blouse can be made from various fabrics and is suitable for both formal and casual occasions. Its timeless design allows for easy styling and provides a polished and put-together look.

  • Pair it with high-waisted trousers and loafers for a sophisticated and polished office look.
  • Style it with a denim skirt and ankle boots for a chic and casual weekend outfit.
  • Combine it with a leather mini skirt and heels for an edgy and fashion-forward ensemble.

2. Off-Shoulder Blouse

An Off-Shoulder Blouse is a trendy style of blouse that exposes the shoulders while covering the arms. It features a neckline that sits below the shoulders, often held in place by elastic or smocking. This fashionable blouse offers a flirty and feminine look, suitable for both casual and dressy occasions. It's a popular choice for adding a touch of allure and showing off the shoulders.

  • Pair it with high-waisted denim shorts and sandals for a trendy summer outfit.
  • Style it with a flowy maxi skirt and wedges for a boho-chic look.
  • Combine it with tailored trousers and heels for a chic and fashionable evening ensemble.

3. Peplum Blouse

A Peplum Blouse is a feminine style of blouse that emphasizes the waistline with a flared or ruffled fabric at the waist. It typically has a fitted bodice and a peplum detail, creating a flouncy and flattering silhouette. This blouse style adds volume and a touch of elegance to any outfit, making it suitable for both formal and casual occasions. The peplum design offers a chic and fashionable look.

  • Pair it with skinny jeans and ankle boots for a stylish and balanced silhouette.
  • Style it with a pencil skirt and pumps for a sophisticated office attire.
  • Combine it with high-waisted shorts and platform sandals for a playful and flirty look.

4. Wrap Blouse

A Wrap Blouse is a versatile style of blouse that features a front closure where one side wraps across the other and ties at the waist or side. It creates a flattering and adjustable fit, accentuating the waistline. This blouse style often has a V-neckline and a crossover design, offering a sophisticated and feminine look. The wrap blouse can be dressed up or down, making it suitable for various occasions.

  • Pair it with wide-leg trousers and mules for an effortlessly chic and modern outfit.
  • Style it with a midi skirt and strappy heels for an elegant and feminine ensemble.
  • Combine it with denim jeans and sneakers for a comfortable yet stylish casual look.

5. Ruffled Blouse

A Ruffled Blouse is an elegant style of blouse that incorporates ruffles or frills as decorative elements. These ruffles can be found on the neckline, sleeves, or front of the blouse, adding texture, volume, and a touch of femininity. Ruffled blouses can range from subtle and delicate to bold and dramatic, allowing for various styles and occasions. They are often sought after for their romantic and playful aesthetic.

  • Pair it with a leather skirt and ankle boots for a combination of edgy and feminine style.
  • Style it with tailored trousers and pointed-toe flats for a polished office look.
  • Combine it with high-waisted jeans and block heels for a romantic and trendy outfit.

6. Sleeveless Blouse

A Sleeveless Blouse is a versatile style of blouse that lacks sleeves, providing a more open and breezier feel. This blouse exposes the arms and shoulders, making it a suitable choice for warmer weather or layering under jackets and cardigans. Sleeveless blouses come in various necklines and designs, allowing for different looks ranging from casual to more formal. They offer flexibility and can be easily paired with different bottoms for various occasions.

  • Pair it with a statement midi skirt and heels for a sophisticated and dressy appearance.
  • Style it with denim shorts and sneakers for a casual and relaxed summer outfit.
  • Combine it with wide-leg trousers and a blazer for a chic and professional look.

7. Tunic Blouse

A Tunic Blouse is a longer style of blouse that typically falls below the waist. It often features a loose and relaxed fit, providing comfort and ease of movement. Tunic blouses can come in various sleeve lengths and necklines, and they are versatile enough to be paired with leggings, jeans, or skirts. This blouse style is known for its casual and effortless look, making it a popular choice for everyday wear.

  • Pair it with leggings and ankle boots for a comfortable yet stylish everyday outfit.
  • Style it with skinny jeans and ballet flats for a relaxed and effortless casual look.
  • Combine it with a belt and tailored pants for a more structured and polished ensemble.

8. Sheer Blouse

A Sheer Blouse is a stylish and alluring style of blouse that is made from lightweight and transparent fabrics such as chiffon or lace. It offers a delicate and ethereal look, allowing a glimpse of the skin beneath. Sheer blouses can be designed with various necklines, sleeve lengths, and detailing, making them versatile for both casual and formal occasions. They are often layered with camisoles or bralettes for modesty while adding a touch of glamour and femininity to an outfit.

  • Pair it with a lace bralette and high-waisted trousers for an alluring and elegant outfit.
  • Style it with a pencil skirt and a camisole for a sophisticated office-ready ensemble.
  • Combine it with denim shorts and sandals for a playful and feminine summer look.

9. High-Low Blouse

A High-Low Blouse is a trendy style of blouse characterized by its asymmetric hemline, with the front being shorter than the back. It offers a unique and modern twist to traditional blouses. The shorter hemline at the front gives the wearer easy movement and a relaxed feel, while the longer hemline in the back provides plenty of elegance and drama. High-Low Blouses can be found in various designs, necklines, and sleeve lengths, making them versatile for different occasions and styles.

  • Pair it with skinny jeans and heels for a modern and trendy everyday outfit.
  • Style it with a pleated midi skirt and ankle boots for a fashionable and edgy look.
  • Combine it with tailored shorts and wedges for a chic and elevated summer ensemble.

10. Bow Tie Blouse

A Bow Tie Blouse is a sophisticated style of blouse that features a bow tie or necktie detail at the neckline. It can showcase a large decorative bow or a smaller necktie, adding an elegant and refined touch to the blouse. This style is often associated with a polished and feminine aesthetic. Bow Tie Blouses can come in various designs, necklines, and sleeve lengths, making them versatile for both professional and dressy occasions.

  • Pair it with wide-leg trousers and pumps for a refined and polished office attire.
  • Style it with a pleated midi skirt and ballet flats for a charming and feminine outfit.
  • Combine it with denim jeans and ankle boots, accessorized with a statement belt, for a chic and trendy ensemble.