In a world predicated upon hyperbole and myth, fashion lore has got one thing right: it’s hard to overstate the power of a perfect shirt. Slipping into such a garment makes you feel exactly like it looks – fresh, sharp and twice as smart as you woke up. As noted shirt-wearer Tom Ford once observed: “When I put on a white shirt, it’s the same feeling as getting into crisp, fresh sheets at night.”
TF is on the money – sheets and shirts have a lot in common: they’re best in cotton, with as high a thread count as possible. Invest in quality and a great shirt could last a lifetime. Or longer! The oldest example in existence is a linen shirt from a first dynasty Egyptian tomb at Tarkhan, estimated to date back to 3,000 BC. Even if your Jermyn Street number doesn’t go quite that distance, the best shirts are said to soften and improve with age.
Interestingly, until the 20th century, the shirt was underwear. Apparently, when collars first started peeking out from beneath men’s clothing they had comparable erotic connotations to a cheeky flash of Calvin Kleins today. Empress Eugenie set the trend for women’s shirts in Europe in 1860, when she began sporting the trademark camisa rosa of Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi. One hundred and fifty four years later, they remain a classic item – appearing in endless iterations across the seasons, and with an option for every wardrobe. Here are a few of my favourites.
If you’re looking for timelessness, opt for a classic white shirt in a slim cut of the best quality you can afford. The cuff should reach just past your wrists and you should be able to fit one finger inside your collar (not two). If you want white with a current twist, choose a shirt cut on the generous side with a neat collar and pair it with on-trend flats.
Topshop’s drape pocket shirt is a great buy. On a similarly free-and-easy tip, shirt dresses are a great way to sharpen up a casual wardrobe, and they’re versatile, too. (I wear mine when I’m on parenting duty and want to look less fractious than I usually feel in charge of small children.) Wear with leggings or tights to take the kids to the park and with bare legs and chunky heels for a night out. This jaunty gingham number from boohoo.com is a bargain at £18, but I’m dreaming of the MiH jeans frock.
If you want to spoil yourself, why not try a silk shirt? J Crew and Reiss have some stunning options at prices that may not be as prohibitive as you’d imagine.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, endlessly practical denim shirts are still au courant, although with a contemporary cut rather than the vintage, western look. This season’s chicest options are loose fit, in softest chambray.
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