Archive for December, 2011

A truth universally acknowledged

Heather Emerald stretch poplin, J.Crew

I am sure this person has problems. It just seems like they must be really, really different than any of my problems.

A Reader Writes:


I was in my closet yesterday, lamenting the fact (yet again) that I had nothing to wear, when I had a startling realization. It was that I had all these stupid button down shirts occupying prime visual real estate, so I would walk in the closet, glare at them, then walk out again. My husband thinks button-up shirts are the epitome of stylishness and thinks that I look “more dressy” in them. I have a few that I like (mostly the silk ones) but the rest pull and gap and are just unattractive. However, I can’t seem to ditch them entirely because they can look okay on me with a cami underneath and with the shirt unbuttoned almost to the waist. And the sleeves rolled.  Who am I kidding? That’s not the sign of good-fitting clo, is it?  Maybe they’ll migrate to the upstairs closet until I can get around to a total purge. But isn’t one white button shirt acceptable?

 -Veronica, New England
Dear Veronica (not your real name):

The short answer is yes: one white button shirt in your closet is acceptable — if you wear it.  The long answer is, dude!  Why not get rid of everything you don’t wear (surely someone out there can give your button-downs a loving home — women’s businesswear is always an especially appreciated clothing donation).  Why keep clothing around that just festers resentment and guilt through your entire closet?  Well, because of fashion rules, that’s why.  It’s a maxim dilemma: how much do we stick with the “clean your closet and only own what you really wear” maxim– what if that leaves us only old hoodies and jeans from college. It would keep us in a rut that could be saved by embracing the dressy clothes, collecting basic pieces, and breaking out our potential frump cycle.  Is a single white shirt an answer to this? A crisp one?

Um how bout not?

Every single person absolutely needs one of these in their closet. Except you don't.

I’m not going to hate on all white today: I’m talking specifically about the long-sleeved, all-season, poplin or other classy-ass fabric you need to iron: the BLOUSE. Some of them are called Oxfords.  If anyone is still reading along here, I’d love to know if you have one.  I don’t think I have since 1992: the same year  my mom got me a blazer from the Gap for Christmas because it looked so “Collegiate” to wear with jeans. Yet, it is a “maxim” that everyone needs one. So much so that  Entire Articles like this one: The Classic white shirt: a primer*  are premised on the assumption that everyone must and will have a White Shirt — it’s just a matter of  finding the proper one for you.

The idea seems to be that a Tailored White Shirt can go anywhere — dress up or down — match anything in a pinch. Okay, maybe. But does it look good? Are you happy in it? Does white make you look sick and bloated? And really, isn’t it a little bit presumptuous to insist that everyone wants to squeeze into some boxy, preppy, wrinkle-prone remnant of Early 20th Century Men’s Tailoring? Personally I find them binding and impossible to keep tucked in (even if I wanted to tuck in — not a great look on us “apples,” honestly). It feels fussy to pull a sweater on over them. And I get that structured pieces give a body shape — seriously I dig that — but I don’t like structure too close to my body like that. It bugs, and it doesn’t look all the great on me.

How about you? If like “Veronica” you are debating whether you should hang onto old button-downs — (or keep feeling guilty because you don’t keep looking for the Perfect White Shirt ) — I offer this quick quiz to help:


1. Are your normal, everyday polo shirts sometimes too casual for the nice jeans you want to wear with patent leather shoes?
2. Do you LOVE accessories — in fact have so many scarves, belts and chic chunky necklaces that you wish you had more coordinating tops to wear them with?
3. Speaking of belts, don’t you hate it when your shirt won’t tuck in, and no one can see your super cute belt? Do you tuck your shirt in to show off your butt? (There is potentially one person reading this who might).
4. Do colors — even taupe, gray, camel, and pale blue — make you nervous?
5. Is your name Clive Owen?

If you answered yes to any one of the above then yes, I get it. You go with your bad white shirt. If you are still rolling your eyes, though, then you’re with me. And you have my full blessing to put the white shirt in the (literal or theoretical, if you don’t really have one) pile of WHATEV clothes.  And seriously,  another year from now I might be ready to argue that the “collared blouse” ideal is so over it might actually be dated.  I will keep a close eye on the continuing tenure of Secretary of State Clinton as a fashion benchmark on this particular point.

But back to Veronica: you’re not off the hook that easily, my friend! Keep looking for comfortable, versatile wardrobe basics that will “dress up” those fabulous New England businesswoman-professional outfits of yours  — AND  “dress down” for a pizza-and-movies date night.  And how about those tricky Saturday events, like bridal shower for someone you barely know in a restaurant you’ve never heard of ? What if a white cotton Oxford would be PERFECT for that? I don’t care, but I will suggest these:

If you genuinely like the “collared blouse” style, Boden has this washable rayon/silk blend  in a flattering cream color. Even better they have it in green, cadet blue, gold, pewter and scarlet!   But my personal fave tops are strategically-draped knits in a well-grounded (but still interesting) color. Easy to layer, don’t have to tuck in. Other ideas?

Sweet, easy, comfy classy

Silk Flower Top in Pewter, $88 at Boden


Peacock Blue Pleated front knit top, Merona for Target, $16.99. Also available in white.

Now isn't this better?

Slub cotton tiered tee in "Shade Blue," also known as "Gray."

*If you are going to quote Jane Austen as is done here, keep in mind that she is usually joking.

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