The new white shirts that push all the right buttons

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As a child, I had an irrational fear of buttons. Yes, buttons. Cardigans were OK but I refused to wear shirts. 

At school, I wore a skivvy until year 5, when shirts and ties became mandatory. I had to grin (more grimace) and bear it until year 12 and have not worn a button-down since.

Over the years I have tried multiple times to embrace shirts. By the time I reached 20, I just accepted I was not a shirt person. On the plus side, I’d never have to iron any.

But in the past 12 months, a number of designers and retailers have started selling the most un-shirt-like shirts I have ever seen and, voila, I’m an overnight convert.

Hurrah! I could finally project that #girlboss vibe in something other than a blazer and a T-shirt, even though this is still my go-to when I’m feeling casual/lazy/pre-menstrual.

And while my shirt (r)evolution began with a Scandinavian retailer last spring, a vast number of labels are re-engineering the humble white shirt in time for winter.

Chief among the independents leading the charge is emerging designer Anna Quan, whose National Designer Award entry showcased an array of deconstructed shirting.

Quan says the exaggerated sleeve is what sets this year’s shirts apart from seasons past.

“Shirts are the beginning of every great wardrobe. My philosophy has always been about making everyday dressing special. Shirts are great for this because they can be dressed up or down and layered as well.”

While the traditional collared shirt can be layered in numerous ways – under a knit being one of the most popular looks – forgoing the buttons or collar opens up the door to new possibilities. 

Try wearing a fitted style under a slip dress, or a raw-edged hem variation, untucked, with leather leggings or cropped jeans. And if you’re feeling adventurous, a long-line shirt worn as a dress with thigh-high boots looks ridiculously chic.

Other styling ideas include wearing two shirts layered one over the other, or tails knotted with a high-waisted skirt or jeans (hint of midriff optional).

Morrison designer Kylie Radford recommends layering with a turtleneck underneath or a cropped wrap vest over the top to accentuate the trend of waist cinching.

Relative newcomer White Story, founded by Myer family descendant Fiona Myer and stocked at David Jones, has seven “core essentials” plus seasonal pieces in its all-white shirting range.

Myer says the range is about “stripping back the clutter” in women’s wardrobes by focusing on the white shirt as a building block piece, with an emphasis on embellished or deconstructed collars and cuffs. 

She said this season’s trends reflect an influence of French bourgeois in cottons featuring grosgrain, drawstrings and pleating, while voile styles have luxe velvet trims. 

“[This season] reflects an androgynous, oversized aesthetic by day, while night reflects a mood in transparent voiles mixed with velvet trims, pleating and contrasting button detailing.” 

Though many of the deconstructed styles ooze femininity – Dion Lee’s one-shoulder shirt and COS’ range of wrap shirts come to mind – Quan said the inspiration for her style came from wearing a boyfriend’s shirt.

“I made it a little oversized, made the sleeves a little longer, added a french cuff and a silk trim for a little colour and a luxe feel. I replaced traditional flat cotton poplin with a subtle diagonal cotton twill weave for a subtle textural element. I find that little things can make a big difference.”

Amen to that.

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