Photo: Getty Images


Shirts that don’t look like school uniform

Photo: Getty Images

Shirts and blouses are having a revival and Kerry Potter knows how to wear them without looking like a sixth-former

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By Kerry Potter on

Shirts and blouses can be tricky. For a start, what’s the difference between the two? No one really knows. Blouses are generally considered more feminine than shirts, with men not tending to wear them – unless they’re in Spandau Ballet and it’s 1981. And, for those of us who grew up in that decade, they’re indelibly associated with Margaret Thatcher, which certainly put me off for many years. What’s more, whatever you want to call these tops-that-aren’t-T-shirts, they tend to be a functional fashion purchase, rather than one that makes you giddy with glee. Part of this is the legacy of school uniform: when you’ve been forced to wear a tight, scratchy and – in my case – turquoise shirt for most of your teens, it takes a while to regain perspective. Then, as adults, we start to associate them with naff office attire, or worry that, when we wear a white one with anything black, we’ll look like a waitress (not that there’s anything wrong with being a waitress, obviously).

But it’s a good juncture to reassess the shirt/blouse/whatever, not least because you can’t go into the shops without bumping into one. The reason for this is, in a word, Gucci. The veteran Italian label is currently enjoying a moment in the sun as fashion editors’ most wanted. It has set the tone with its granny-esque blouses, vibrantly coloured and peppered with pussybows, ruffles, embroidery and sequins. For those of us who should probably spend that £700 on the mortgage instead, head to H&M pronto, aka blouse nirvana. I’m typing this while wearing a £14.99 pie-crust pinstripe one, which sounds terrifying but, when worn with a pair of battered boyfriend jeans, Birkenstocks and the top two buttons open, it feel less "lady", more "casual weekend lunch".

Do consider a pinstripe blouse – the streamlining effect of the vertical lines counterbalances volume-adding details, such as ruffles; a point worth noting if you’ve got big boobs. On that note, it is often thought that blouses and boobiness don’t mix, but it’s a matter of finding what works for you. Tips from my bustier friends include sewing in poppers to diminish gaping, leaving pussy bows or ties dangling loose and wearing them with high-waisted skirts/trousers to avoid billowing expanses of fabric. Investigate supermarket blouses from George at Asda or F&F at Tesco – apparently, they are often cut with generous space around the chest. And I’ve heard a rumour that Sainsbury’s Tu line this autumn will include Equipment-style pure-silk shirts at bargain prices, so keep an eye out for those.

Meanwhile, if you’re concerned about someone trying to order the lunchtime special every time you wear a white blouse, I would suggest a mandarin collar for a less starchy look. Try this one from COS and try on as many others as you can grab while you’re there – COS is my shirt-buying happy place, with its well-cut, impeccably detailed pieces. This brand is especially great if you’re looking for something wafty and long-line to go over skinny jeans.

Finally, how about embroidery? Hey, come back, I’m serious. It doesn’t have to be twee, as illustrated by the new trend for oversized mannish shirts peppered with pretty needlework. I’m after this floral one from Zara. In a similar vein, for a quirky designer piece at a surprisingly affordable price, check out Bruta on Artist-turned-designer Arthur Yates takes classic button-down shirts and embellishes them with hand embroidery and screen prints. They’re currently £90 in the sale; you’re unlikely to bump into anyone else wearing the same one and I can’t think of a cooler way to jazz up jeans. Plus there’s absolutely zero chance of anyone calling you Maggie.

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Photos: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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