Privilege Blog

Hunting For An Elusive Item Of Clothing – The Standalone Top

In the days when I worked, my wardrobe was easy to put together. Set.

Wardrobe X = [(tees x jackets) + Armani pants = formal work] + [(tees x jackets) + nice jeans = casual work] + casual jeans + house trashwear + exercise gear + little black dress. (Not to mention the old ball gown waiting in the back of closet for some imaginary event).

Now that I’m mostly at home, well, let’s see.

Wardrobe Y = [yoga pants x tops = in house and actual yoga] + [casual jeans & khakis x tees = can leave the house at least] + nice jeans + even nicer jeans + little black dress. (Old ball gown still waiting in the back of closet for you know what).

Here’s the problem with Wardrobe Y. It is topless. For all intents and purposes. My old tees used to look good only because a) I wore a jacket over them b) I was younger and my waistline more defined.

Time for the next step in Wardrobe Y optimization. The wardrobe for a life where you have lost your job may be lost, but not your wish to look pulled together. Standalone tops required. Jackets become sort of a pain in the neck. How do I know? Because I’ve been wearing this, every time I have any desire to make a showing of any sort.

Because until it got hot I wore my Naracamie shirt all the time.

What is your favorite standalone top? The one you can throw on over jeans to go shopping, for lunch at a good restaurant? For an early dinner, outside, with white wine, goat cheese and honey? For me, it’s a tunic. I’m tired of holding in my stomach. If it’s going to thicken, okay, I suppose. I concede. But I don’t have to parade that little pudge all over the known universe.

I went hunting for tunics online. We have the <$100 contenders from J. Crew and J. Jill. Not quite enough panache to carry off what I'm envisioning.

We have the $100-$200 contenders from the Tunic Queens, Lilly, Milly (was $245, on sale down to $145), and Tory (was $345, on sale down to $162). I’ve liked pieces from these designers before, but this year, not so much.

Various other contenders in this price range, include Tahari, a line called Johnny Was, and my favorite, Geoffrey Parkinson. (Was $225, but on sale down to $129).

And yes, net-a-porter has a host of tunics to look at, but they were all either too froofy, too long-sleeved, too expensive. or the wrong color for me. Women in their 50s should not wear anything named “baby doll.” Even if it’s just a silhouette. You may find something perfect.

I found perfection online at Brown’s.

A little houndstooth for ironic classicism, a little global sophistication, some navy. What could be better? For £295, or $430. Ouch.

When the answer to an online quest is Dries van Noten, most of us have to switch strategies. If the envisioned solution doesn’t exist, we have to enter the real world. One thing I’ve found is that dreaming is the stuff of, well, dreams, but you have to be prepared to throw everything aside and deal with what is. Keep your vision in mind, sure, but focus on a solution.

Time to hit retail-on-the-ground. See? That isn’t so bad.

Lace tunic, Laundry, by Shelli Segal. And all this time I thought it was Tory Burch:).
J. Crew striped, belted, J. Jill White, buttoned
The Tunic Queens, Lilly Pulitzer, Milly via Nordstrom and ShopStyle, Tory Burch,
Tahari flowered via Saks, Johnny Was multicolored via Neiman Marcus, Gregory Parkinson low-necked via Barney’s

Dries van Noten via Brown’s

55 Responses

  1. That first white tunic is just stunning.

    I also have "at home" clothes now – I shudder if the postman catches
    me wearing them.

    Hmm I recently bought the surf blossom shell from J Crew, it's very forgiving, it comes in pewter grey but I pushed myself to try the yellow – a tad garish I admit!

  2. Oh Goodie! LPC is going shopping. Can't wait to see the future related posts.

  3. These two fine ladies hook me up tunic-wise:

    Roberta Roller Rabbit
    Barbara Gerwitt

    Two thumbs way up for both.

  4. I always pick up very good pointers from your clothing columns. Turns out I have much the same problem – only I love jackets *but* it gets much too swampy for them. I turn to acquiring the jackets exactly because just a top has no authority and at 5 ft tall and in my 60's I feel I need a little of that. Don't think I am built for a tunic, though.

    What I do wear when I want to make an impact is a thin silk not-quite-sleeveless top in a glowing yellow orange. I wear this over some moderate priced designer dress I made into a skirt. Deep midtones of teal, etc, with a bit of the yellow orange. Ochre woven wide strap heeled sandals and small abalone type clip on earrings that echo my eye color. People – both men and women – literally stop me on the street and tell me how pretty I look. Something about this outfit. Casts a golden glow all over my skin. Never feel my age – 61 – and don't think I look it in this getup. Would be happy to have many more of these tops but of course I can't find them.

  5. The white top is lovely I'd buy that in a heartbeat!
    I like that you are prepared for the ball…I am decidedly ill prepared.

  6. I have been thinking about this very thing for quite some time, but I didn't have a name to put on it. Thanks for the impetus to solve this dilemma, hopefully before autumn, when I am happily back in more structured sweaters.

  7. I LOVE your go-to top! These days, if I want to escape from my lazy "uniform" of sports shirts + jeans, I find myself wearing a cotton/silk top that's very similar to the Milly, but with 3/4 sleeves, in black with small white polka dots –or other similarly more feminine tops.

  8. Ooh, yes, real shopping! I think my "arty cousin" mesh top is quickly becoming my stand-alone favorite, and I only found it during brick-and-mortar shopping…it wasn't/isn't available online anywhere.

  9. Happy retail hunting! And yes, tunics rule, and there are many to choose from right now, rather than the less-flattering-to-a-certain-age baby-dolls that predominated the last year or two.
    Notice how irresistible your blog is?! — Even as I pack and get ready to catch ferries, then planes, I'm having to check in and comment on your post!

  10. You hit the nail on the head with this post. I have a couple of tee shirt and tissue thin cardigans and vests I use to cover tees in hot weather.(instead of jackets) I also have a tee shirt tunic by Velvet in a peasant blouse shape. (wish I could find more of this one). For a more festive occasion I have a white tunic and I just purchased a See by Chloe "peasant-ish" blouse. Compounding my hot weather style woes: I refuse to bare arms. Can't wait to see what you unearth. xo,jools

  11. The Milly and Tory Burch ones are my favourites. I always like a stand alone top to be colourful, white is dodgy, although I love it, I always spill things down myself, so like patterned tops!

  12. Tabitha – Thank you. I think color can be good, in the standalone category.

    Black Labs – Great resource! Thank you.

    Patsy – More great resources. I particularly like the Barbara Gerwitt. She does custom work, looks like. Maybe I can get her to do a sleeveless one or two.

    Amanda – That would be a good parlour game. Taking famous quotes and adding, "Except, perhaps, to bed."

    Ms. Givens – Yes, I think it has some of your dash.

  13. Tunics are too often lumped in the bohemian category, but they can look sophisticated in the right pairing. They are my go to top for the hot weather paired with white jeans. They don't have to be over-sized and shapeless, a slim, but floaty cut is very flattering for a lumpy middle.

  14. Vildy – OMG your impact outfit sounds just beautiful. The colors!

    Hostess – Thank you. And my ballgown is 30 years old:).

    phunt – Happy to be of service.

    Buckeroo – I love 3/4 sleeves too.

    Deja – The real world still serves it purpose, luckily for those of us who are not sprites or faeries…

  15. I agree with Amanda. Baby dolls belittle women whatever her age. I no longer work in an office and I had to revolutionise my wardrobe which is still not a task completed. I love net a porter but as you say it's too costly. In my area we have lots of outlets and I think that in H&M, Zara and some other shops you can get really excellent stuff. It's sophistication that is required..and the euros. You may want to take a look at my recent post inspired by Claudia Cardinale on No prices mentioned. It would be discouraging to continue reading.

  16. Oh I like a tunic top, though I prefer a shorter style but I tend to live in t-shirts/jersey tops paired with a lightweight jacket in summer. I'm quite partial to a classic shirt or pussy bow blouse too. All worn with jeans, of course!

  17. You know what I like. Home, village shops, horsy activities, hair dressers= 3/4 sleeved cotton tees, with a open neckline. Going to town+ all the different places you mentioned ( not so many of those ), well, the Elms. I only have one " ball " outfit, but no events in sight. Btw., the cargos are ok worn up or down. Great, that I can keep my phone in a lower pocket. Your white top is the one I really like most of the ones shown. You can very well wear a tunic with capris !

  18. Mater – I'm honored. Have a wonderful time on your trip.

    VA Gal – Thank you. And I'd forgotten about Peruvian Connection. I'll have to check up on them.

    Jools – I will keep everyone posted. I have a feeling this is going to require a few days of searching.

    Looking Fab – Patterns are helpful many places:).

    ANon – Yes! Slim but floaty! Exactly.

  19. Dear LPC, I absolutely love your white tunic top, it's gorgeous. It sets a very high standard for all other tops. I shall be dreaming about your top tonight – oh no, that came out wrong and now sounds pervy… but you know what I mean..Bx P.S. liked your story about the boy who got a bean in his ear.

  20. I like your white top by far more that the others. Perfect with a pair of pearl studs and a single pearl strand bracelet.

  21. I fully understand your dilemma! As a retired elementary teacher, my wardrobe was full of styles that were versatile, but in a casual way. Retired 7 years, and now out of my sixties,
    I find fashions for my circumstances difficult to locate. Upon once again achieving goalweight status with Weight Watchers two years ago, I determined that I would not wear anything with a completely elastic waist, and that I would try to find something that would give the impression of a waistline:). Your tunic, however, is a really nice piece, and it would certainly add a special touch.

  22. Privilege's post has reminded Miss J how desperately she needs work tops. She's been skating by on T's under jackets for too long. Some nice options here… thanks.

  23. I know this dilemma; I like jackets, but for at least half the year, it's just too hot to be practical. I'm kind of tall, so I love tunics, but don't rule out white blouses, longer ones with beautiful cuts can go just about anywhere. And I do love you go-to top!

  24. Now this is what they must have meant when they said "the new math", it's so much more fun than that old math!

    As someone who is in a similar situation, we know of what you speak. When at home our tops are primarily polos in the summer and turtlenecks in the winter, with your basic button-down tossed in for good measure. When it comes to going-out-apparel, it can vary widely… and wildly.

    Your go-to top is outstanding, very chic. We can't wait to hear the results of your expedition and investigation, knowing there will be good post fodder in those travels.


    PS: Maybe we all need to get together for a "Serious Party Frock Sock-Hop" or some such thing so our ball gowns see the light of day. Or night.

  25. Try Boden – but make sure it is the US site, not UK. They actually have a drop down menu for tunics and in general have lovely clothes with dressmaker details.

  26. I love jackets – they do complete an outfit. I try to look for tops that provide a focal point for an outfit, since I trade my jacket for a white lab coat at work. That said, in hot weather, sometimes the best stand alone top is. . . . a dress.

  27. Brilliance. Per usual. My fave these days is a Lands End tunic that has kept its integrity, shape and easy breezy linen cool.

  28. Maggie – I will take a look.

    That's not my age – I used to live in tees…

    Metscan – I think you have the height to carry off a lot of looks.

    Blighty – Anyone with boy children gets to sound pervy, it's in the rules. You'd like my best friend with boys too.

    Belle – Thank you. Yes, I agree about the bracelet. Completely.

  29. Nellie – Congratulations on your goal weight!

    Miss Janey – You're very welcome:).

    Town and Country Mom – Good reminder on the white blouses.

    TPP – You're on. Ball gown slumber party? I go to bed early these days:).

    Loretta – I will take a look. Thank you.

  30. DocP – Ha! You are right. I don't know why I am so much more comfortable in pants. Perhaps I will consider a dress.

    TBS – Thank you. Land's End, huh? OK.

  31. I Love tunics!
    Some of these are really nice. I agree with you tho; I get sick of jackets and a go-to top is hard to find.

  32. Love the white top–gorgeous perfection.

    I'm going to make a tunic this summer, if it kills me. I'm testing in a simple fabric, then I'm going to do white linen with heirloom lace/beading/entredeux/something handsewn/accenty stuff.

    I'm so picky that ultimately, I benefit from a good tailor more than anything else. It's how I was raised–I draw it and someone makes it, and it's not snooty in my upbringing (which wasn't snooty) but exacting and happy-making. Only now that I'm an adult who can operate a sewing machine with some competence with small children for whom I have sewn for years, I can't find a tailor locally whose sewing skills I like as much as my own!

    All that said, Brooks Bros has had a couple of okay tunics, and they're inexpensive. I really like Jules Reid, but it's pricey. I probably like her best right now–Tunix looks a little like what everyone has, whereas Jules Reid is uniquely stylish.

    I think you're onto something with your categorization of women and personal styles (the Grande Dame, the Arty Cousin, etc.) and I think if you're considering writing a book, you should bank on these style designations, as opposed to writing solely anecdotally (not that there's anything wrong with that). I used to love those Chic Simple books, and your designations remind me a little of that sort of thing, but more sophisticated and tongue in cheek.

  33. I've finally had time to spend some time on blogs and I am so very glad I started with yours.
    Here in Texas, jackets and long sleeves are not even a consideration for me. Too, too hot! I've found a few tunics I like but wish there were more with a bit of a waist. Plus, sleeveless just isn't working for me.
    At least I know someone else is having the same problems!

  34. I can so relate to your top issues! I haven't adjusted to my slightly squidgy middle, yet. The summer tops that are working best for me are buttondowns or tunics (just a couple of each so far), but I think the key is fabric that lacks the cling of those old tissue tees. It's hard to find fabric with enough structure that is still soft and comfortable to wear, though. I'm looking forward to reading about your finds!

  35. I like to wear all the type of clothes very much and I like to wear special designed clothes as well. The picture of tops you have shared over here are really very nice and they all are just superb.
    yoga clothing

  36. Looking forward to what you find. Arms are an issue as well as tummy for me. Living in the north of England, I find wool cardies (cardigans) are v. useful. 'Fraid mine are the v. boring kind, however. Functional more than fashionable. Yoga pants either haven't made it here or I'm not prepared to wear pretend sporting clothes, not sure. Jeans, slacks, long-ish skirts – my legs aren't wondeful either. Maybe I should just go straight to the burka and be done?

  37. Save finding a realistic solution for other times; that Dries is phenomenal and I loved it as soon as I saw it pop up on Browns. It is a classic, so wearable and will serve you well. To say, 'buy it,' is to miss the point of the post but the top is too perfect.

  38. DvN, sigh. I'm with you re jackets- it's about clutter on top. One piece just looks better on me.
    Love the Day Birger et Mikkelson tunics on Net-a-porter. I've found a perfect boutique with tunics/kurtas made of beautiful Indian fabrics, about $90 each. Anything like that near you?

  39. hi lpc,

    well since you are interested, my favorite go to top is a white shirt. i know it seems too hot in the summer, but it's not. i roll up the sleeves real high and leave an extra button undone and it goes with everything from shorts, skirts and jeans. sometimes i tuck the front into my jeans and try and look all hipster. i can wear this with flip flops and cowboy boots. now if i were going to a fancy restaurant i would probably just throw on a summer shift or dress and sandals. but i don't go to many fancy restaurants. i do not have a ball gown but i want one b/c you have one. one of my fav ball gown looks is a white shirt tucked into a big long skirt. so maybe i just need a big long skirt. see, you've helped me already!


    ps ~ i'm sick of all my t's too b/c of the gut thing.

  40. Bought a white linen blend tunic this spring from Chico's (I know, lots of their stuff is scary!). This one is very plain with interesting black buttons and 3/4 sleeves. It has been the perfect topper.


  41. I'm tired of holding in my stomach…But I don't have to parade that little pudge all over the known universe.

    Move here. A Milwaukee roll is perfectly normal and even desirable. Who wants a woman who doesn't eat or drink beer?

  42. Maureen – It's heartening how many sources for tunics have popped up here.

    Agatha – I have thought of having mine lace tunic simply copied a few times in some other fabrics for me. Thanks for the vote of confidence on the High WASP gal crew:).

    Pearls – I'd be stumped by the Texas heat, I think.

    Murphy – Yes, structure and soft. So far I haven't found anything, but I am continuing the search.

    Shelly – Nah. That's why the Scots are so good at cashmere:).

  43. Anon – I may well. Or, I saw a new Dries in a store here that I loved. I might wait to see if it goes on sale:).

    Duchesse – There are lots and lots of Indian stores, over across the Bay. I am considering having something made.

    Gardener's – I bet you look great. And the white shirt with ballgown is one of my favorites too. I just saw a post somewhere with the NY editor of Vogue in a black button down and long skirt where she looked fabulous.

    see you there – Chico's? Who knew?

    gold digger – Ha!

    Anon – Thank you. Yes, I have seen tunics at Eileen Fisher too.

  44. I just got the Jules Reid Montauk in blue ikat and really like it. Perf with summer whites. Annnd…it just made it into the July Town & Country…XXOO

  45. my go-to top would be a collared buttondown shirt. any number of the j. crew varieties fit me to a T. iron or not ironed, jeans or black pants, it always seems to suit me well.

    i love your style, LPC, always have. any tunic with a belt option is my personal favorite. that way you won't get lost in all the fabric–but i guess that is your point :)

  46. I have the Asian embroidery Johnny Was top in the middle. I receive a zillion compliments whenever I wear it. It's beautiful!

  47. I seldom wend my way here, but I always enjoy it when I do. My suggestion is to look in the bathing suit coverup dept. These are tunics by another name. Linen, ikat, et al–very nice, some of them. And–strangely–sometimes cheaper than a comparable top.

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