Shirt dresses are often described as borrowing ‘elements from the boys’; popped collars, a button front and cuffed sleeves are often retained in the construction of a ‘shirt dress’. The androgynous fit of a shirt dress is deliciously unisex, with its un-waisted lack of definition, while looking preppy, formal and kind of ‘sloppy’ all in one look. Having become popular in the 1950’s after Christian Dior’s Post World War II ‘crinoline shirt dresses’ revolutionized women’s wear, the abundance of shirt dresses and its prevalence in both women’s and men’s fashion has only served to become even more popular than ever. While shirt dresses began as a movement against utility, government approved wear in the 40’s their existence today is not necessarily rooted in rebellion but more as a symbol of genderless fashion, where comfort is not limited to the opposite sex. Of course shirt dresses today often feature ‘feminine characteristics’ with a gathered waist or ruffled sleeves, but the end result is nevertheless rooted in this concept of ‘genderless fashion’. Speaking of which, fashion retailer Boohoo, has been upping the stakes and re-interpreting the shirt dress to merge the gap between men’s and women’s ‘wear’ . Not quite genderless, the Beatrix shirt dress features a striking ‘bell sleeve’ which was popular in the 1970’s paired with flares, although its actual existence predated the renaissance.
The ‘bell sleeve’ had a resurgence in popularity in the early 2000’s but shirt dresses that featured ‘bell sleeves’ were a relatively non-existent concept until fall 2016. Suddenly shirt dresses among other trends like ‘ruffles’ were re-invented and while shirt dresses had often been ‘lumped’ in the workwear category, designers like Victoria Beckham helped translate ‘shirt dresses’ or shirts into day-time wear too. Largely in Beckham’s case this was due to re-inventing the definition of ‘power wear’ and shaking off its ‘stiff upper lip’ image by matching shirts with slouchy bottoms, all while retaining the sartorial element of masculinity. Yet the concept of pairing a 1970’s bell sleeve in a fabric other than chiffon was an alien notion and Boohoo’s crisp bell-sleeved shirt dress brought new meaning to shirt dresses. The shirt dress is a typical shirt; the fabric is crisp and rigid with a neat concise collar bib, while the original dress has no gathered waist and sits just below the knee. But then BAM, the sleeves, the glorious bell sleeves appear and they are quite unlike any other shirt dresses you have seen before. The bell sleeve is not minimalist by any means and its rounded buttoned cuff demands attention.
The bell sleeves might be attention grabbing but the fact that they can be ‘unbuttoned’ means that it can be worn three different ways; worn as a skirt, worn as ‘sleeves’ or layered under another shirt, preferably one as shown here, in a contrasting but complimentary colour. The navy and white pin striped shirt is layered over the top of the Boohoo shirt dress, but a contrasting faux snake-skin effect slim belt helps create the illusion of a more ‘gathered waist’. Because the shirt dress can be worn outside of an office environment, fishnet tights -which match the striped shirts- and fishnet heels helps turn the shirt dress into a look that can be worn for post-office drinks or any event on your sartorial fashion calendar. Typically shirt dresses are paired with 1970’s style floppy hats and over the knee boots but a power combo that is not too dissimilar to the ‘double denim’ trend, helps diversify the ‘shirt dress image’. In other words styling shirt dresses has never felt more versatile and by pairing ‘fishnets’ the androgynous shirt dress becomes ‘sexy’, re-enforcing the notion that ‘sex appeal’ is not limited to gender but through construction of style. Indeed the ‘sexiest’ sartorial combinations are those that borrow elements from menswear and womenswear. rather than pigeonholing themselves into ‘one gendered category’.
For some the concept of ‘double-shirting’ as I like to call it is enough to make them judder; the traditional version of the Boohoo Blogger X Dress of The Month, complete with bell-sleeves might be enough of a statement on its own. While I have kept the bottom half the same, the unbuttoned bell sleeves, makes it appear as though it is an entirely different look. Worn with a belt and the dress is borderline feminine and worn without the belt teeters into masculine wear but whichever sartorial route you choose to take, the shirt dress will still make an impact. Without the bell-sleeves the shirt dress is ‘less showy’ but with the bell-sleeves- which can be left unbuttoned or buttoned- the shirt dress can be considered ‘dressy enough’ even for the snobbiest clubs, who seem to frown upon anyone who dares to seek entry, whilst still rocking a workwear or office look.
Other Ways To Wear A Shirt Dress
- As a ‘front’ skirt- button the shirt, including the collar and wrap around your mid-section to create a mid-length skirt. Best suited to the brave, who want to re-invent work-wear.
- As a jacket- similar to the ‘double shirting’ term that I coined, pair a long, ideally duster to mid-length shirt and leave unbuttoned, while a short mini shirt dress layered underneath adds impact.
- Mix Prints- pair a striped shirt dress with a micro floral blazer in the same colour bracket, ensuring that the jacket sits just above the hip
- As A cape- leave the shirt un-buttoned and drape over your shoulders like you would with a coat, to create a cape-like effect
- As A Jumper- find a sleeveless top in a contrasting hue and layer the shirt dress underneath, ideal for chillier days
- Underneath A Crop Top or Bralet- Find a crop or bralet in a neutral hue like black or white and layer it on top of your shirt dress, before pairing with knee high boots
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