Shirts. Everyone owns at least one. Show me a man who claims not to have a shirt in his wardrobe and I’ll show you a wingtip-wearing liar. The Egyptians wore them for cripes sake. Even those grubby sorts in the Middle Ages wore shirts (albeit to sleep in). The Georgians loved flouncy ones. The Victorians wore them while chowing down on pease pudding and saveloys.
Soldiers in the first and second world wars couldn’t get enough of them. Even the punks – that most subversive of historical style tribes – loved a shirt. Type, “The Sex Pistols’ into Google and you’ll stumble upon at last three pictures of Sid Vicious et al flouncing around in a ruffle, and that’s before you’ve even had a chance to scroll down.
The shirt is the definitive style unifier. Worn by prisoners, factory workers, white collar labourers, football pundits, politicians and members of the royal family alike, a pointed collar shirt in high quality white cotton can be worn as easily with a tux and a bowtie from Saint Laurent Paris as it can with a navy crew neck jumper and a pair of grey marl gym shorts. It’s the one item you absolutely, categorically must own.
A pale blue one can be useful too, and let’s not forget a wing tip collar for more formal occasions, hell you could even opt for a contrast collar and cuff if you’re feeling a bit Jordan Belfort.
The idea to write about shirts, so you know, came to me last Friday night, when instead of going out to drink my body weight in pinot noir, I decided to stay in and watch the entire second series of House of Cards on Netflix (with a bottle of pinot noir).
Perhaps it was the incredibly uninspired way in which Kevin Spacey was wearing his spread collar shirt and navy single breasted suit (I sincerely feel that Robin Wright’s stylist should be let loose on the boys - Claire Underwood’s wardrobe of power suits would’ve left Maggie Thatcher weak at the knees) or perhaps it was my anguish at the conservative way in which people in power have always been expected to dress, but it made me think - surely there must be a better way.
The designers agree. For Spring Summer ’14 the classic shirt has been given a bit of an overhaul. Traditional collars are still around, but they’ve been joined by granddad (Kenzo), Nehru (Giorgio Armani), baseball (3.1 Philip Lim), V-neck (Missoni) and fifties spread (Saint Laurent) styles.
Suits are being worn with T-shirts and in some cases under-layers are being discarded completely, with light summer scarves being worn under lapels to give tailoring the depth that a shirt would traditionally afford. The shirt – it would seem - is in a state of flux.
To embrace the shift yourself without looking like a scruff (or a fashion victim) invest in a one or two key pieces from Z Zegna or Emporio Armani. The former’s white cotton V-neck shirts look smart and chic worn with a fitted double-breasted suit, while Emporio Armani’s Henley style shirts in navy blue look immaculate worn under a deconstructed blazer in a tonal hue.
On the high street, look to COS, who are unsurpassed when it comes to producing unexpected shirt shapes, with everything from club to granddad to collarless collars on offer.
If that all sounds a bit scary feel free to stick with a pointed collar– just be sure to mix things up a bit with a textured fabric such as pique or linen. Nothing says 'I have no idea how to dress’ better than a shiny cotton shirt worn under an equally shiny single-breasted suit. Oh and ditch the tie, ties are SO 2012.