shirt tales


It began when I had a feeling after two years in the working world, my college uniform of jeans and a T-shirt wasn’t quite it. I probably didn’t think of as it as big deal then, but I see now that for a while I was looking for a new uniform, without much sense of direction.

I had a shirt custom made in Thailand in 2008. I liked how it fitted perfectly at the shoulders and in the arms, but didn’t love it, and fell out of love with shirts for a little while. Maybe shirts weren’t for me, I thought.

A year later, I bought a white shirt again, this time in a lovely, oversized cut. But I didn’t feel as satisfied as I thought I would after I brought it home. Something was off. A day later, I went back to the shop, and exchanged it for a shirt in blue and white striped cotton.

This time, I got it right – white shirts make me feel like a waitress, but blue shirts offer the same crisp charm without the starchiness and service staff connotations. I was pleased. As the need to dress more smartly happened more often, I reached for the shirt more and more. Blazers are the best way to look sharp in the office, but a shirt is more practical in hot weather. And I am rarely out of jeans so they are the easiest way to dress up an outfit – perfect smart casual combination for work.

I thus began on a slow shirt bender – from one blue shirt in 2009, to nine this year.

So what do I like? I like a small-ish, neat, stiff collar. No Peter Pan collars. Homespun-looking materials (no more silk for me!). Pale, dreamy shades, subtle prints. No florals. White shirts really do not favour me. Thick buttons, at least 3mm. Neatly finished buttonholes. Machine-washable. No darts at the torso.

And now, I’ve hit 10, with my new baby from Carven. I fell in love when I saw it online and knew it was a must for my shirt collection, and decided not to wait for the sales when NAP decided to offer free international shipping.


You can’t tell from pictures, but the cotton is so soft it’s almost like tissue, with heft so it’s not sheer at all. Beautiful tucked in or out, sleeves buttoned or rolled. I love things that remind me for school uniforms, but there is nothing coy or kitsch about this one.

What I like about this uniform is that it wasn’t a case of me falling in love with an image of someone else, and trying to shoehorn myself into a particular look. It began from a need, and evolved over time into love – the comfortable sort of love that endures.

Tell me, how did your uniforms come about?


Kali said…
That's a nice uniform tale! I own a couple of shirts for meeting days at work, but I haven't found out which fabric or cut suits my style just yet, so I barely wear them outside of these formal occasions. I guess it's all about finding the characteristics that suit you.

One of my "uniforms" are oxfords. When I realized I didn't like high heels after all, I went to my favourite shoe store (Minelli), tried on almost all the flat shoes they had, and there was a special chemistry about oxfords. I now own 2 pairs and there is an extra one on my sales wishlist. I've never felt that much at ease in a pair of shoes. Maybe that's the feeling when you find a uniform element...
hannah-rose said…
Perfect! I have 3 blue shirts - one navy, one chambray and one printed and I want more.... Like the Patti shirt by Acne, my friend has it and it's amazing! In an ideal world I'd like it in the beige and the navy colour - perfect with cigarette pants and sandals, as all shirts should be worn!

I don't really rate equipment that highly, how are you with equipment? My favourites are acne and thomsen for shirts.. oh and your carven one is beautiful too :))

Maja H said…
I'm still on my shirt search I suppose - I bought two reasonably priced oversized shirts this summer and absolutely loved them, but they shrunk the the wash so much that I can now only wear them tucked in with the sleeves rolled up. I did realize that I like oversized shirts though, so that's a start at least :)
miss sophie said…
button-down shirts are definitely part of my wardrobe essentials! i had a tailor make a few button-down shirts for me in China, but never wore them. then i discovered steven alan shirts about 5 years ago, and i've had a good stash of them ever since. they're easy to wear, appropriate for work, and make getting dressed in the AM super easy.
"like tissue, with heft so it’s not sheer at all." sounds perfect, and it's especially a hard combination to find. I like shirts and I should make more of an effort to wear them. I've learned to avoid "crisp" broadcloth fabrics, I'm more comfortable in twill or oxford cloth. Button placement can be an issue with me, so far it's something I catch onto after wear. I hate when the 2nd button buttoned is too high, and unbuttoned it is too low. Just got rid of a purple shirt for this reason.

My default (work) uniform is black tee, black pants, and cardigan. (Now I want pullovers go figure) My uniforms came through the trial and error of realizing what I'm most comfortable in.
lin said…
Kali: I wear them almost every day to work unless it's too hot.

I like oxfords too, but not the classic type; more like a cross-breed between an oxford and jazz shoes. I think they "finish" an outfit better than a pair of ballerinas, even though I still depend on my ballerinas a lot.

hannah-rose: I've probably said it too many times, but I love blue shirts, and almost all my shirts contain some element of blue in it. I was very sad that the pajama shirt from Acne's Snowdon blue collection sold out in my size.

I don't like Equipment much either; to begin with I find that I don't wear my silk shirts (I have 2) that much, unless I want to tuck them in an smart way, because they tuck so beautifully. I don't think Equipment shirts are worth the price but I suppose they're popular because they offer such a great variety of colour in simple cuts.

My favourite shirts are from APC, the men's ones in size small. They have a great narrow but slouchy fit. Best cheapie buy would be Uniqlo's linen shirt this year.

Maja H: Oh dear, how did they shrink?

I took ages to figure out what types of shirts I liked, even the length of the shirts.

miss sophie: Why didn't you wear the ones from China? For me, I think it was a mistake to custom make a shirt when I hadn't yet realised what works best.

Pret a Porter P: I hear you on crisp shirts; the vibe is all wrong on me, never mind the way they rumple.

I read somewhere that the best spot for the second button on a shirt is on your chest bone...which for me falls somewhere an inch below the collarbone. Ever since then, I've started paying attention and it's helped my figure out what's off about a shirt.
Sue said…
Aah - a lovely tale of how your uniform came about. I still love the Paul Smith one - I take a peek in the Paul Smith discount outlet near me every now and then to see if there is anything similar. The new Carven is lovely and I can imagine it's beautifully soft - I think I know what kind of fabric you are talking about and from the photos. I'm not sure if I have a uniform apart from not overly busy, jeans and a top for summer, jeans and a jumper for winter. Can't get simpler than that. Sometimes, I think to myself - I must try harder.
Alexandra said…
That Carven shirt is perfection! I'm stalking NAP waiting for the UK sale to start!!! You can't go wrong with a button down, I love simple denim ones for day and my silk Equipment ones for evening. Cos also do great ones and I've got an Acne one from their Snowdon Blue collection on my wishlist!
Lindsay K said…
Well you know how much I adore Carven. I purchased that Carven shirt right before Thanksgiving. I kept looking at it on NAP, but NAP's buyers didn’t buy my size in the shirt (The story of my life!). I ended up having one of my favorite boutiques order it for me. I’m in love.

I used to only buy shirts out of necessity because I’m a hard fit. I’m also particular about fabrics, button placement, collars etc. Having a bespoke styles made at Charvet and finding an amazing tailor that could create exactly what I wanted were turning points. Bespoke has definitely worked best for me for shirts.
Anonymous said…
You're right, that is a great way to recognize that something is right for you. It takes time and experimentation, just as you describe. This is why all those "mistakes" that frustrate are really very valuable. How else can we start to narrow down what we do want. I guess paying close attention to the mistakes is key.
Just like you, I have my guidelines that immediately make something an absolute no or a maybe, requiring closer inspection.
For shirts my details are a feminine collar, either smallish or biggish or, my favorite, peterpan - so glad we won't be fighting over those rounded collars. ;) Plus no darts anywhere, beautiful seams inside, and the rest comes down to the feel of it, the care it requires and whether I need it. I have 3 white shirts (2 of which are identical), 3 blue shirts (2 of which are identical) and one brownish shirt. I have a few other tops and blouses, but my shirt collection just consists of those 7, which only amount to 3 different styles between them. Yeah, you could say I do uniform. :)
Anuschka said…
I just found your blog and I'm a fan already :)
miss sophie said…
i didn't wear the ones i got made because i got the wrong style entirely (darting, wrong color fabric, etc)! yours are lovely. especially love your APCs.
Eileen said…
I love your collection of shirts and the fact that they derived from personal need. It's far too easy to follow what other people have and what I like about this blog is that you have your own voice.

My uniform of cotton dress and flats or a blousey top with skinny jeans is also derived from practicality and knowing what works for my body type. It is also derived from what I usually see of Sofia Coppola and Kristen Dunst wearing (my fav style mavens)
Ammu said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ammu said…
Beautifully-told tale.

This morning I reached for one of my Brooks Brothers shirts after weeks of wearing only dresses. BB shirts are my staples - like you, I decided not to buy any white ones, and for the exact reasons you mention. I own shirts in light blue, buttercream, light green, and blush pink.

I have been mulling over getting a shirt with a Peter Pan collar for a while, but can't quite commit. All my shirts have sharp, small-ish collars and buttoned cuffs that I usually roll up.

That Carven shirt is gorgeous - love the small, contrast collar. I have been such a fan of the brand, but haven't picked up any shirts yet. Mostly because my wardrobe of six BB shirts already feels pretty complete. Your photos are awfully tempting though!
lin said…
Sue: Your uniform sounds awesome to me, I wish I could incorporate jumpers into my wardrobe but sadly I concede defeat to the weather.

Usually, forcing myself to try harder doesn't make me all that much happier about my outfit. I think the best ideas (on dressing) happen quite unexpectedly anyway!

Alexandra: A little part of me wishes I had the discipline to wait til the sales, I'm pretty sure it'd still be available then. I wish the more of the Snowdon collection was still available...

Lindsay K: !!! Hope to see the shirt make an appearance some time on your blog! I was really happy that the shirt fit me perfectly; I actually tried it in the local Carven boutique to make sure, but ordered it on NAP because it's cheaper, bizarrely.

editor: Even now, I am surprised by the mistakes I make.

It took me to long to realise it was the darts in shirts that bothered me; and now it's the first thing I look at when I see a shirt.

I love a uniform but I often wonder whether I want more than one of the same has that worked out for you?

Anuschka: Thanks!

miss sophie: Thanks! Sounds like getting stuff custom made is far tricker than we'd expected.

Eileen: Thanks! I've figured out by now my body type is nothing like the girls I admire though, so it's always a bit of a challenge not to get too carried away by what I see.

Ammu: Thanks!

I had a top with a Peter Pan collar and while it's very cute, I think it doesn't suit me; it looks gimmicky on me, if that makes sense.
lucent imagery said…
I'm still working on my summer uniform which is long and too hot for my liking in Australia. I love my cooler weather uniforms consisting of jeans, button up shirts, a blazer, loafers and a scarf. That's where I feel most like "me". Love your blog! I haven't visited before and am keenly reading your posts on NZ given we're considering going there this year.
lucent imagery said…
Oops here am I saying I don't like Australian summers and I just realised you live in Singapore! I've spent about two weeks in Singapore and loved my time there.
lin said…
lucent imagery: two weeks is a lot of time for Singapore! when i have friends and relatives visit i always have mild anxiety that they might get bored here.

i spent all my life here in singapore and the hot humid weather still drives me crazy.

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