The classic masculine button-down has this season been given a feminine twist. Spring/summer catwalks introduced shirting with new architectural proportions: strict peplums or sculptural, cut-out details tied up with ribbons. “Mensy” shirts were chopped into a severe crop and decorated with asymmetrical ruffles.
What was once just a building block of a woman’s wardrobe has been remade as the focal point. “The great thing about shirting is that it goes with jeans, and jeans are probably the most modern, functional garment that ever existed,” says designer Jonathan Anderson whose six-piece JW Anderson x Net-a-Porter capsule launched last month.
The collection elevates shirting to new levels: pieces include an off-the-shoulder, loose top with a sweetheart neckline and superfine spaghetti straps, and a one-shouldered pinstripe bustier with a sculpted peplum. For the designer, taking a timeless piece as a basis for a directional collection makes the pieces easily wearable. “I wanted to propose items customers would be able to combine with their actual wardrobe,” says Anderson.
Elsewhere this spring, there are loosely-tailored tie-waisted versions at Joseph and balloon-sleeved styles at Céline. For Sarah Rutson, vice-president for global buying at Net-a-Porter, shirting’s renaissance is no surprise. It’s the “backbone of a woman’s wardrobe”, she says. The site’s shirting category offers styles from 106 designers, and that’s only likely to increase, with shirts a feature on the AW16 catwalks, seen at, among others, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi and 1205.
This month meanwhile sees the launch of MatchesFashion.com’s shirting collaboration with Joseph Altuzarra: an exclusive five-piece collection born out of the fact that the designer’s shirt-dresses were forever selling out on the site.
This new focus on the staple is great news for shirting brands too. When Central Saint Martins graduates Matthew Harding and Levi Palmer founded their label Palmer Harding in 2012, they homed in on shirts as they felt it was good to have a niche. “Rather than trying to build everything at once, specialising in one garment allowed us space for constant refinement,” says Harding.
Palmer has a degree in pattern-cutting from Dallas University — and the duo’s technical skills have led to the nickname “the shirt boys”. Palmer Harding has a list of rules for its shirting: cotton only; collars must have two types of interfacing; and each seam has 18 stitches per inch, with most constructed with French seams, for softness. (Many of their pieces are created via draping fabric on the model, with the shirting elements added in afterwards.)
Their four annual collections include a variety of shirting interpretations, each referred to by a model number. Such has been the popularity of number 96 (introduced in 2013, pictured below), they have struggled to keep up with orders, and there is often a long waiting list for the shirt. Its appeal is obvious: crafted from five metres of fine German cotton, the top is a classic button-down with long sleeves and big cuffs, which gives way to a vast, asymmetric maxi length. “It’s a very dramatic piece and it creates a massive silhouette,” says Harding. “But at the same time, it’s just a cotton shirt.”
The button-down has come a long way from its humble origins. “In the past, the gentleman’s shirt was relegated to being worn as an undergarment. Unless you were fighting a duel, it really wasn’t on display,” says Kristina Rate, who founded her London-based Belle Epoque label in 2013. Her first collection was comprised entirely of white shirts inspired by the actress Lauren Bacall. “Today, it’s a powerful fashion staple — it’s the most-worn piece of clothing by both sexes.”
Whereas the classic white shirt will always sell, this season is all about the statement. “We’ve always loved a woman in a white shirt,” says Tome’s Ramon Martin from the brand’s 25th Street studio in NoMad, a tiny New York neighbourhood nestled between Chelsea and Flatiron. The studio is a big, white, open space with all-day sunlight and sky views, where everything from the designing to pattern-cutting and fittings takes place. “It’s an inspiring space to be in,” says co-founder Ryan Lobo.
Alongside its ready-to-wear collections which always includes shirts, in 2014 Tome launched a collaboration with the charity Freedom for All. The White Shirt Project is a twice-yearly capsule of around three shirts, with profits going to the charity’s efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking. “We see the white shirt as a metaphor for a clean slate,” says Lobo of the collaboration.
Women are at the forefront of the Tome brand: whether it’s the female artist they take inspiration from each season (past choices have included Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgeois), the women in their six-strong atelier, or their clients. They are mindful of ensuring their collection has a democratic offering, and take on board feedback about everything from design to price points. “We ask them, ‘Would you wear this? Do you like this colour? Would you put this on?’ ” says Martin. “‘Would you buy it? And pay $ 500 for it?’ We enjoy learning about what inspires women and, practically, what satisfies them.”
For brands like Tome, it’s shirting season every season. “A blank page for a writer is an opportunity for just about any inspiration, and maybe the white shirt allows the same thing,” says Martin. “That white page allows our customer, our woman, to create whatever she wants of herself.” The shirt then allows for renewal. “They’re everyday heroes,” he concludes.
Second photograph: Cecilie Harris
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