How has this now predictably unpredictable era affected your relationship with clothes? For some of us, the idea of now reaching for anything that doesn’t have an elasticated waist is unfathomable. Others are still living in workout gear – whether it actually makes it to a workout is besides the point. Even those of us who were preaching about the joys of dressing up at the beginning of this are starting to lose the will to make an effort (guilty! Remind me what a bra is again?).
Still, with lockdown 3.0, and video calls very much still on the cards, we might need to once again consider clothes in which you can face the world. Now what we need are clothes that deliver the comfort we crave, but with a touch more polish than we’ve become accustomed to. Well, good news, there is a solution: behold the unsung hero and ultimate all-rounder of the 2020 (and now 2021) wardrobe – the shirt.
Our favourite style crushes have already got the memo. During lockdown 2.0, Victoria Beckham suggested that her followers try the combination of crisp shirt under a sweater instead of a tracksuit and slippers (although she also styled out those). See also Camille Charriere in a butter-wouldn’t-melt La Veste gingham blouse with an oversized pilgrim collar, and Monikh Dale in a button-down plaid shirt that she's been repeat-wearing from R13. And of course, the perfect white shirt will always be in style.
Case in point: there is a photograph of Susan Sarandon taken in 1978, sitting on a desk in the Warwick Hotel in which she wears jeans and an oversized white shirt, unbuttoned and rolled up at the sleeves. She exudes the kind of enviably effortless chic – devoid of fuss and fanfare – that only the most confident, comfortable women possess. Pertinently, at a time when we are questioning our appetite for trends and clothes, the look feels modern. A reminder then of the enduring appeal of wardrobe classics.
I’m an evangelical convert to the appeal of the shirt. In the spirit of honesty, a confession: last year, still very much working from home, I lived in a Uniqlo striped men’s linen shirt for 48 hours. That time took in sleeping, work conference calls, a grocery run, a walk with a friend, and a Facetime date (one win for lockdown – simply undoing a button is now all the date outfit prep required). No, nobody clocked it (such is the power of accessories to change up a look). I can’t imagine I smelled my best, but what does that matter right now?
Needless to say, the appeal is in the ease; shirts imply you’ve made an effort – even when your morning routine hardly extends beyond getting out of bed. ‘There is nothing chicer than a beautiful silk shirt. When well cut, it will make you look instantly pulled together without giving the impression you've tried too hard to get there,’ says the sleepwear designer Olivia von Halle, whose silk pyjamas are special enough to double up as conference-call ready. ‘Generously proportioned cuts inspired by men's shirting work best for this and will deliver optimum comfort without compromising on style’.
It matters, too that they make an impact from the waist-up, and with their nods to the codes of workwear, a shirt suggests your head is still in the game. ‘It’s currently all about the top half of your wardrobe, so you can neglect the bits that lie beneath the webcam’s pitiless stare. And a shirt says “I mean business” more than a T-shirt,’ says Lauren Grant, founder of shirt line S.A.R.K, which is making a splash with its subversive prints. ‘In general shirts make you look and feel instantly put together, even when your washing is drying on the radiator just out of shot. But crucially they’re not too fancy – it’s not like wearing a cocktail dress to sit in front of a laptop clinking glasses with a blurry e-pal. A perfect shirt strikes just the right balance between “I care” and “I don’t care”’.
They’re also versatile. If cut generously enough, a man’s shirt can look as good as a dress (a Carrie Bradshaw-approved move) as it does with sleeves rolled up tucked into trousers. A languid silk shirt is an easy way to boost loungewear bottoms (wear with leggings for the ultimate high/low mix). Consider giving the ultimate classic – the white shirt – new momentum by wearing under a slip or over a printed T-shirt. The designer Rejina Pyo opts for short sleeved styles in zingy colours and prints. ‘Buttoned up they are great for daily catch ups with the team or Zoom cocktails with friends in the evening,’ she says. ‘Unbuttoned they are great to layer over a swimsuit for time in the garden or daily walks with your family’.
Tuck, untuck, tie, knot, button, unbutton – the possibilities are endless. Shirts might be the one piece you need to see out lockdown. And if you wear yours for 48 hours straight – well, I for one won’t be judging you.