getting down with the button-down

In my world, the dress shirt has always been a hot-button issue. From First grade till Eighth grade, I wore a starched, blue Oxford shirt day in and day out as Yeshiva uniform. Needless to say, I developed a bit of an aversion to the whole genre of shirting and would often say that that clean brand of chic spawned by Pheobe Philo’s Céline was just “not me.” Through the years I would admire how polished and cool my friends would look in collared-shirts while admiring from afar – my association with style-boredom scribbled boldly with sharpie on the notepad of my memory.

That is, of course, until this year – hence the title of this article. To explain how my newfound love of the button-down shirt came to be I would like to invoke the teachings of Gestalt theory explained in very fashion-friendly terms. The Gestalt effect is like when a designer creates a mood board before designing their collection and draws from disparate influences and visual inspiration to form the overall aesthetic; in my case collared-cool. This crisp Gestalt effect took place as three things aligned like a seam – I had just finished reading a sleek little book that changed the way I viewed personal style completely (more on that later), I’ve had limited time for dressing since my daughter Lily became my main focus, hence I started gravitating towards looks that are as quick as they are chic and lastly, I became fascinated (via Net-a-Porter) with the buzzy brand Monse. So I was very excited to see that the button-down was in fact the stand-out piece in many noteworthy Spring ’17 collections.

elizabeth and james s/s 2017

Now back to that book. The Cool Factor by Andrea Linett gave me a fresh perspective on how to dress and what I want to look like. My sartorial indulgences tended to be eccentric and ill-fitting for my physique. Impulse buys were always very trend-driven and not necessarily harmonious with how I actually viewed myself. In my head, I was Jane Birkin’s quirky cousin but in real life, I looked more like the cartoonish character Miss Frizzle. Let’s just say those Gucci redheads – the millennials’ answer to pre-Raphaelites – make it look sooo easy to fuse granny and geeky vibes, while in reality it ain’t.

So when this magical guide filled with whip-smart wisdom showed me how I could achieve that jean-jacket je ne sais quoi, I was hooked. I consigned a big chunk of my wardrobe and acquired some beautiful button-down shirts, suede baseball caps, a military jacket, skinny scarves to tie around my neck and, in lieu of an anniversary gift, a vintage-inspired signet ring. At about the same time, I was sifting through Net-a-porter in search of a candle and fell down the site’s inevitable glossy rabbit hole of product search and stumbled upon Monse, immediately taken by the brand’s artsy take on tailoring. After a bit more research (which revealed that clearly I had missed one of the most intriguing new designers in fashion due to my prior knee-jerk reaction to anything reminiscent of formal shirting) I learned that it was created by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia who had spent years on the creative team of Oscar de La Renta. The designers had a decidedly edgy vibe but also incredibly effortlessly polished appeal. After being imbued with this pinstripe inspiration (try saying that 5x fast), I was excited to see what they would have up their sleeves come New York Fashion Week.

j. crew / sies marjan / michael kors

The answer was, come September, Monse’s sleeves would have flair and, quite literally, flare. White-shirt inspired dresses seem dipped in a candied shell of sequins. The surprising contrast between the clean and colorful aspects of the look was as refined as it was fun. My favorite piece of the collection was a whimsical riff on the white, almost pirate-like shirt weilding dramatic wide-spread collar and sculptural cuffs secured with luxurious orb-like metal buttons. It was very rock n’ roll but also equally refined a’ la Carolina Herrera.

Another young label rapidly on the rise, Sies Marjan, also reinterpreted shirting in a very romantic way. Shirts were almost liquid, constructed  from delicately rumpled silk and an entirely different take on the white shirt was an entire look paired with a buttery fur stole. That elixir of elegance and buttoned-up cool was lapped up at J.Crew. Somsack Sikhounmuong took Jenna Lyons’ signature unexpectedly-chic combos to the next level by combining hyper feminine vibes: ballet inflections, a silky pajama top, luminous ostrich feathers with raw earthiness, khaki, denim, heather tees and, of course, throughout the collection the star was always the button-down shirt. There was in fact a ball gown tailored in it’s utilitarian likeness; and my goodness was it fabulous.

Monse S/S ’17

The Olsens gave a master class on easy, effortless elegance at both of their brands shows. At The Row, drama was created through shirting subtleties and at Elizabeth and James – which just opened a sanctuary of nonchalance amidst The (glittering) Grove in Los Angeles – the twins must have had Joan Didion in mind. Everything from the models (high cheekbones and soulful eyes) to the borrowed-from-the-boys clothing, vibed Didion’s ineffable blasé. At Derek Lam, the most lustworthy looks were anchored by a button-down shirt and, in fact, a leather ‘oxford blue’ collar (much like my uniform shirt of old) peeked out from the most indulgent-looking leather jacket-dress fit for a modern day Francois Hardy. Tory Burch chose to celebrate the white shirt in a more classic fashion; sporty colors mixed with Sixties influences and rich details (think CZ Guest meets Jean Shrimpton). The result may have been more self-explanatory, but nonetheless desirable. And finally, Michael Kors was all about the collar. Seventies spread collars, white collars, forward-point collars – the shirt got a lot of LOVE (quite literally in form of a smile-inducing navy sweater) in Kors’ sassy-yet-studied collection.

In conclusion, I have learned two things. Firstly, with a pocketful of nostalgia, I realized (post-runway analysis and Gestalt-style epiphany) that the same uniform shirt I thought was so unflattering and boring years ago could be a true hero-piece in it’s own right –that is, were it to be worn a bit disheveled in J. Crew fashion, with the right accouterments (a gorgeous hyper-femme skirt, a glittering gold choker, a Michael Kors bag, et cetera, et cetera.) could very well be a hero piece in it’s own right. And secondly, style is always better when styled off the cuff.

More from Malky Weichbrod on My Therapist Told Me To Write A Fashion Blog.

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