Material girl: how the classic women’s shirt was reinvented

tome open-back shirt

Powered by article titled “Material girl: how the classic women’s shirt was reinvented” was written by Lauren Cochrane, for The Guardian on Monday 13th March 2017 16.01 UTC

Crisp, either white or cornflower blue, the classic shirt is as at home in the office as it is at brunch. It’s reliable and safe, the Volvo of the fashion world. Or so we thought. Sorry to burst the bubble, but this spring that simple shirt you’ve had for ages, which goes with everything, just won’t cut the mustard.

The shirt is in this season, but not as you know it. The reworked shirt that has appeared on the spring catwalk has been transformed into something architectural and – quite frankly – weird. It’s wrapped around the body, stuck up over one shoulder, enormous and sweeping the floor. See Monse, the buzzy American brand worn by Amal Clooney and Lupita Nyong’o. Draped shirting and pinstriped cold shoulder designs are the label’s calling card. Or Marques Almeida, where shirts are part of a slouchy oversized aesthetic loved by millennials and up-all-night stars such as Rihanna. “The white shirt has preppy connotations, but it’s nice to see when out of context,” says the label’s Marta Marques. “We did an Oxford shirt with huge cuffs. I like that it is the same fabric as a classic office shirt but nothing like it.”

Vetements, Jacquemus, Finery, Johanna Ortiz and Ellery are also on the list. All have taken the shirt apart and rebuilt it. “I love to play with volume and unexpected details,” Kym Ellery says. “When added to a shirt, these concepts provide a new and artful twist.” Of course, the fact that those core design components are there – buttons, cuffs, collar and crisp cotton – means that this is a language we all know and can converse in, even if there’s some new vocabulary to learn.

Shirting stripe dress and coat both by Joseph; sandals by Fendi
Shirting stripe dress, £645, and coat, £1,895, both by Joseph; Sandals, £890, by Fendi; Photograph: Hedvig Jenning for the Guardian

Lisa Aiken, retail fashion director at net-a-porter, believes this is why the reworked shirt is a trend with legs (or should that be arms?). “The shirt is the fundamental part of every woman’s wardrobe, especially mine,” she says. “It can instantly update an outfit and makes simpler pieces in your wardrobe work harder to achieve an effortlessly cool look.” Rather than a Project Runway-style wacky design task, then, this is a trend that holds up a mirror to a schedule that no longer includes the time for a change of clothes. “The reworked shirt possesses a duality that can take you from desk to dinner,” Aiken says. “The styling options are endless. My favourite way to wear it at the moment is with high-waisted vintage denim and layered over a polo-neck top.”

Emma Farrow, head of design at Finery, says it’s all about treating an everyday item with the reverence and imagination more traditionally bestowed on something like a ballgown. “The shirt is a classic but it has been celebrated a lot more over the last few seasons,” she says. “It’s definitely a hero piece now.”

For spring, expect wrapping, knots and statement sleeves. “You have the limitations in fabric – striped, white, blue – but you can do so much,” Farrow says. “It’s taking something you know and making you excited about it again.”

The shirt is reworked. Time to do the same to your thinking.

Photographer’s assistant: Jessica Mellis; stylist’s assistant: Bemi Shaw; hair: Shukeel Murtaza at Frank for Mad Lillies, using Oribe; makeup: Martina Lattanzi at One Represents, using Nars Cosmetics; set/props: Holly Hmiddouche; set assistant: Liv Melton; model: Ana at M+P.

This article appears in the spring/summer 2017 edition of The Fashion, the Guardian and the Observer’s biannual fashion supplement © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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