The shirt: a woman’s best friend

The shirt: a woman’s best friend

Tamsin Blanchard explains why a well-cut top can be the key to a great wardrobe.

Tamsin Blanchard explains why a well-cut top can be the key to a great wardrobe.

For as long as I have been writing about fashion (and that’s more than 25 years – I have deep frown lines to prove it) there has always been one piece of clothing that never dates: the shirt.

Here’s why…

The magic moment

Ever since 1988 when Peter Lindbergh photographed a group of new faces – among them a bright-eyed Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz and Christy Turlington – on a sunny Malibu beach, the white shirt has been shorthand for effortless cool.

Back then, Lindbergh put the models in identical white shirts so that their personalities (not to mention their inordinate natural beauty) were the focus rather than their clothes.

It was such a bold statement. In a decade of big designer fashion, the idea of a white shirt was a wonderfully democratic one. All you needed was a great pair of hoop earrings and the right pair of jeans and you looked the part.

Enjoying timeless style

The same could be said today. The shirt doesn’t have to be white (stripes, prints and a colour to suit your complexion means you can have a whole wardrobe of shirt options), but you need one that fits well.

There’s nothing worse than buttons that gape across the bust or a shirt that’s too tight across the shoulders.

  • If you are flat chested, go for a puritan look with ruffles and lace trim. Tuck this shirt into a high-waisted skirt.
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  • If you have more of a voluptuous shape, avoid anything excessive around the bustline, forget pie crust collar details (yes, Princess Diana’s favourite style is back, though still an acquired taste), and undo the top few buttons.

A cut above

The shirt might be an item of clothing that we’ve stolen from the boys, but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t have it cut to fit our curves.

The traditional Jermyn Street men’s shirt maker Thomas Pink now has a significant women’s shirting business, with everything from silky sheer numbers to ones with frilled fronts perfect for a smart dinner.

Try a simple silk shirt with soft lapels and no cuffs for work, and a classic cotton Oxford shirt that your other-half might try to borrow.

Shirts vs blouses

Purists among you will be keen to point out that a shirt without a cuff is not a shirt at all but a blouse. And I’d probably agree.

The main difference between a shirt and a blouse is that shirts were traditionally made by tailors – by men, for men. They were designed to be worn under a tailored jacket, the collars to stand above the lapel (with a tie at the neck), and the cuffs poking out from below the sleeves with those fancy cuff links.

A blouse has darts, doesn’t have a stand-up collar, and is more well, blousy than a shirt. It might have a bit of smocking at the top of a sleeve or on the yoke or fancy buttons, or a pussy bow at the neck.

Blouses were made using dressmaking techniques, by women for women, using softer, drapey fabrics and with a looser cut.

It’s nice to mix the two, the tailored and the dressy.

Working the shirt-dress look

One of my favourite ways of wearing a shirt is the shirt dress. This is my win-win choice for easy one-piece dressing – a shirt where you don’t have to decide what to wear with it, whether to tuck or untuck, and that gives you a really great silhouette quite effortlessly.

  1. Boden has a great one with a super flattering fit and flare shape and a grosgrain belt that has a fifties Audrey Hepburn elegance about it.
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  3. Or if you are after something a little more modern, how about taking inspiration from the label of the moment Balenciaga? The ultimate cool shirt-dress is straight up and down, a little like a night-shirt, in bold stripes and asymmetric sleeve lengths, one long and one short just in case you are not sure whether you are blowing hot or cold. I kid you not.

Do you own a favourite shirt? Let us know how you wear it in the comments section below.

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