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As menswear’s arrow hurtles irresistibly forward, we’ve reached a moment in which the coolest thing to wear is an item we’ve worn all along. Shirts are in. Not necessarily loud-printed, short-sleeved shirts (although those maintain) but what we once called business shirts: shirts with cuffs and tails and buttons and collars. These decorate countless spring/summer 2021 collections, and even serve as the basis of a clutch of excitingly esoteric new brands.
“I love wearing them and always have,” says Charles Sébline, founder of shirtmaker Sébline. “They're easy and accessible — shirts are so versatile, you can dress a look up or down with a shirt, wear the same shirt to get married or to go to the beach, with cut-off jeans or a pinstripe suit.”
Sébline, who came up via the atelier of Yves Saint Laurent and admits to a “stripe addiction”, makes shirts with a kind of tumbled, Riviera elegance. They are at once scruffy and subdued — the kind of the thing you’d wear to tend to a Languedoc-terrace barbecue — and at the same time the main sartorial event. His collection comprises a number of shapes, such as the half-placket pull-over, full-length kaftan or chest-pocketed safari. And though it is not shirt-exclusive, his shorts are cut from the same fabrics, in prints to match.
Sébline describes the shirt as the “antithesis of fast fashion” and an “antidote to trends”, and though he may not echo the wording, that same spirit is what led British designer Luke Walker to establish his brand, LEJ, six years ago. Like many men that lived through the sartorial swagger of the early 2010s, he’d spent years wearing fine tailoring, shirts, proper shoes and so on, but when the time finally came to casualise, he couldn’t find the same high-quality construction in softer clothing. So, he made it.
LEJ offers impeccable pyjamas, denim and knitwear, but shirts are the crux of the brand. Cut from breezy silks, linens and cottons, they are typically finished with chest pockets and point collars in the 1970s tradition, resulting in an easy loucheness. Many of Walker’s female friends wear his shirts. “I think because of the of fabrication, it becomes more open,” he explains. “I'm not using really heavy 13oz twills, I'm using 70g cotton voiles in soft pinks, so it's not necessarily super butch.”
Sébline and LEJ speak to a wider insouciance that’s gradually permeating menswear. There was a suggestion that as the epoch of maximalism and logos — “streetwear” — dissipated, there would be a reversion to classic menswear, and that’s almost true. But really we’ve ended up with a fusion of the two: labels like Husbands (Paris), Drake’s (London), and Bode and Aimé Leon Dore (New York), all of which demonstrate that there is a new-found eclecticism to the way stylish men dress — and a new elegance, too. Currently, the shirt, in its many forms, sits at the centre of a Venn diagram of cool.
Even the leading-edge fashion brands of the moment have found room for the shirt. Examples feature in the latest collections from Gucci, Dior and Jacquemus. And even at more avant garde labels — including Ludovic De Saint Sernin, Martine Rose, Craig Green — the humble shirt takes centre stage. Good news, considering there’s every chance you’re wearing one right now.
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