Look of the Week: The Blue Shirt (Or, My Basics Vs. Their Basics)


I have an embarrassing affection for reading style manuals and guides. I don’t care who’s written them: Posh Spice, Diana Vreeland or Krusty the Klown, I think everyone has a potentially interesting take on getting dressed everyday. One thing these kind of books love to do is layout a list of basics that “every woman must have!” And, you know, it’s basically also always the same thing: a white shirt, black pants, a little black dress, a trench coat. I often wonder if everyone’s seen too many Audrey Hepburn movies when I see a list like this. (Though, don’t get me wrong, I love Audrey…I wrote about her in my mini-zine! I just think the Audrey fashion hegemony has made us a little lazy in the style department.)

I’ve always thought this was super-boring. And I’ll be honest, outside of black dresses — which as a former angst goth punk kind of girl, I’m practically genetically predisposed towards — I don’t own any of these prescribed basics. I don’t own a pair of black pants. (I do have a pair of black skinny jeans, but thy are raggedy and could never substitute for formal black slacks.) And I haven’t owned a plain white shirt in, well, forever. This is mostly because I am very practical — I actually do not own any white clothes at all, because it honestly seems like a massive pain to do a whole separate load of laundry for them, and I just don’t want to bother! That’s why I don’t own any white clothes and don’t wear white shirts. (I bought a Rodarte for Gap too ages ago, but alas, I decided to screw it all and threw it in the laundry with my darks…and that was the end of that.)

But one thing I’ve very into are blue shirts, which I guess you can say is my equivalent of the white one. I used to buy boys’ school uniform oxfords all the time — I liked the gamine factor of wearing boys’ clothes, and they always fit perfectly. They weren’t too long and the sleeves were shorter as well — and for some reason, they’re usually blue. For me, the definition of a basic are clothes that make me feel like myself — maybe not my most glamorous, elegant or fabulous self, but just solidly “me.” That’s what a boys’ school uniform oxford does, with its practical kind of jauntiness, which is why I always have one somewhere in my closet.

But I’ve branched out into different styles, like the blue linen tunic with pintucking. It’s a lighter, more feminine style — I think of this as my Provencale summer shirt, even though I’ve only been lucky to be in Provencal in the summer but once in my life. If winter and fall ever feel a little heavy and torpid, I wear this shirt and the loose, graceful fit and blue color make it like Ahhhhh. Weirdly, as I get older, this style of shirt veers a little close to “San Francisco matron,” so I end up wearing it only with sharp, rugged type boots or, yep, some kind of black leather jacket…it “de-matronizes” it in my mind that way.

My latest favorites, though, are bib-front type of shirts. I’m not even sure why I like them so much. Maybe because it’s half-bohemian, half-preppy, half-jejune, half-adult? I really like the idea of clothes that are neither here nor there in that way. It’s weird, because as I feel more grown-up, settled into my nature and confident in my choices, I appreciate a bit more ambiguity in what I wear. Maybe clothes are like the last stand against this. But it might actually be more the realization that the more I get older, the more I realize categories, strict dichotomies and either/or thinking are really irrelevant, and things are a lot blurrier — and there’s comfort in that. There’s no need to put yourself in boxes in order to protect ourselves against uncertainty and doubt. Those emotions will find you anyway — it’s just better to arm yourself with acceptance and confidence rather than stave them off with rigid thinking.


2 thoughts on “Look of the Week: The Blue Shirt (Or, My Basics Vs. Their Basics)

  1. love to read your thoughts on style! i’d be interested to know the other “basics” on your personal list, if you have such a list.

    1. oh yeah, i have others! some kind of jean (i’m lucky to work at home, so jeans are all i really wear) or structured pant, a boot and some kind of sharp jacket work nicely for me, and i think for a lot of people — styles are variable, depending on what suits your temperament and build. i also think leggings/tights and a short skirt or dress work really nicely for a lot of people, too, and break up the monotony. some kind of sweater, pullover or sweatshirt for casual days that’s substantial enough to be layered over the dress/skirt is nice to have, too. i also like to have a cardigan or some kind of wrap sweater-y thingie as well, for when a jacket feels a bit much or you just need something more comforting. i think tops are pretty variable depending on your body type and aesthetic, but i tend to make sure they work under both the jacket and the cardigan/wrap (and also will look nice layered under the pullover or sweatshirt.) i feel like if i just packed my basics, a few more tops, added a more casual shoe and a scarf or two, i’d be set for a nice trip, which is sort of my criteria for a set of functional basics!

      i love hearing about other people’s basics, though. i have a friend who swears by leggings and tunics or shorter dresses, and another who loves suits. and i definitely know more than a few women who just wear dresses all the time, and they look amazing. i knew a girl who wore a poncho all the time (it was like a very, very nice and beautiful poncho!) and it was just fantastic on her. it all suits their lives and their bodies really well, like a great template for them to build upon.

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