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The Many Joys Of A Classic Shirtdress

So let’s talk shirtdresses, my friends.

Many pieces can be called shirtdresses, perhaps not in the best of faith. Search online, and you’ll get some eyebrow-raising results.

Olive James Perse “shirtdress via The Outnet, Manoush ornamented dress via The Outnet, Marc Jacobs floral via MyTheresa

Because what you really want is your shirtdress to a) remind you of shirts b) be an actual dress c) possess chameleon super powers, shifting style easily with an earring here, a pair of shoes there. Simple, but apparently difficult to achieve.

Recently I determined, as one does, that I absolutely had to own such a thing. Here’s what I found. Perfect for a Northern California Sturdy Gal. Organic, even. By Eileen Fisher, via Garnet Hill. They were out of the Ink color online, but I called and, “Score!” You know that feeling, I know you do.

I’ve never bought Eileen Fisher before, but as Deja Pseu, Audi, and Sal have documented, they’re making some changes. Et voilà, in all its wrinkled glory.

Worn, those wrinkles look like a dress feature, as though there’s detailing in the minimalist, unstructured navy linen. I wear the dress with these shoes for fun.

Or with some old Wilkes Bashford slides. Wait, I meant vintage slides. Navy blue can take a lot of color, in primary – for preppy classic looks, or muted/burned for a little more edge.

This season Grandes Dames, Sturdy Gals and Artsy Cousins alike can find the shirtdress of their dreams.

Current|Elliot denim via Barney’s, Clark’s wedges via Zappos, topaz studs via Overstock, Marc Jacobs dress via The Outnet, feather earrings via Arden B. Elizabeth and James booties via The Outnet, Reiss shirtdress via Reiss, Roger Vivier pumps via The Outnet, Cathy Waterman platinum necklace via Ylang23.

The Sturdy Gal loves her denim, comfortable shoes, and earrings that leave her hair alone. She loves orange with denim – isn’t that why Mr. Strauss sewed his original jeans with orange thread?

The Artsy Cousin, in her I’m-urban-and-I’ll-cut-you mode, wears an aggressively military Marc Jacobs dress with booties and Steven Tyler-inspired feather earrings.

Our Grande Dame, as always, looks for fabric with a rich hand. She is thrilled to have found Reiss, and wonders why she didn’t know of them before. We’d tell her it’s because she refuses to learn how to use a computer, but she won’t listen, so let’s not bother.

I find that since I acquired a shirtdress I no longer fear the daytime event – not shopping, not brunches, not afternoon gallery lectures. Even better, this Sturdy Gal looks forward to accessorizing. One might say that the shirtdress is a perfect vehicle for the development of personal style. So much of the work of dressing is done, all that remains is recreation. Let’s have at it.

51 Responses

  1. I love this post because I am such a devotee of shirtdresses that I have trouble buying any other kind of dress at this point. Mine are usually a-line or full-skirted (I like to think I’m channeling Grace Kelly, haha) and almost always belted and I always feel awesome in them!

  2. Love the shirtdress! You’re right, it’s perfect for any daytime activity. I also find that I always feel so put together, with my denim shirtdress, black leggings and flats. Add some statement jewelry and I always get a compliment that day!

  3. I love shirtdresses…it must have something to do with my age. Maybe if I can find the photo of the Celine shirtdress that I wore on my honeymoon at Lake Como in 1982, I will post it.
    Since my figure requires structure, I would love to find a shirtdress with a fitted waist and a slightly flared skirt. I would usually go to Brooks Brothers for such an item, but their dresses are all unstructured.
    Any ideas?

  4. While I love me some denim, for once I prefer the Grande Dame look with the shirt dress. Nice…very nice, indeed.

  5. Do you wear anything (jeans, leggings) under the shirtdress, or just the shirtdress with bare legs?

  6. Love, love, LOVE the shirtdress! My mom called them shirtwaist dresses. I even love the teeshirt dresses.

    It could absolutely be the perfect article of women’s clothing.

    I wear mine with different belts, tees and tanks underneath, leggings, boots, sandals…..I may need another one…..or an intervention.

  7. I love shirtdresses. If I could, I would wear one every day. I am currently wearing out one from Target that looks far better than the $24.99 it cost me.

  8. i like your new navy shirtdress very much, and your espadrilles to go with. Now of course I find I really really need a shirtdress too!

  9. You perfectly nail the upside of the style, “no longer fear the daytime event,” it covers an immense number of occasions and events. And I love the Sperry sandals, they really have a great look.

    Sending you a smile,

  10. Your new purchase is very much ok. I like the simplicity of it, and something like can be worn everywhere by only changing the details!!

  11. I love shirt dresses and am desperately seeking same. Everything is too short, too unstructured or the wrong color. I may have to resort to making/having made. In the meantime, I do fear the daytime event.

  12. Ah, the perfect companion to those fabulous espadrilles from the car!!! What a great look!!

  13. Lisa,

    When my Mother taught me to sew (which I don’t any more) one the first things I sewed was a shirt dress, it had a nice small green and pink print.

    Now you have me thinking of finding a cute one to wear with wedges!

    Art by Karena

  14. I’m also a fan of the shirtdress, for all the reasons you cite, but the belted look is tricky for me, and I have to approach with care. I bought a (fairly heavy) linen one in black from Banana Republic last year — I’d love it to be an inch or two longer, but otherwise love its versatility, ease, and smartness. I sometimes wear it open over jeans and a t, sometimes with leggings and a cute flat sandal, and sometimes with tights and a heel. But it’s also easy with bare legs and kitten/low-heeled summer slingbacks. Scarf, earring, bangles, bags, necklaces — so many ways to change up a look. Fun post, thanks!

  15. I love these outfits, and I also love sweaterdresses during the winter! However, like the shirt dress it can be hard to find the ideal type.
    -semi-longtime reader, rare commenter :D

  16. I love this look, but my cupboard is bare right now. I think I’ll have to make one up soon…Your navy Eileen Fisher looks great. I’d like to see a picture of you in it!

  17. Lisa

    I am ALL ABOUT the shirtdress at the moment. I bought some lovely examples of the preppy take on these at Brooks Brothers this week. Oh how I wish we had BB in Australia. The shopping gods in Hawaii have been too kind, too kind.

    SSG xxx

  18. That is a terrific shirtdress. A good one is hard to find. I have a couple but I sort of hate them. I think I’ll go put them in my consignment-shop bag right now.
    Love both pairs of shoes with them.

  19. You had bet-ter be caaaare-fullll, wrinkled linen comes dangerously close to what we artFUL cousins swear byyyy.

    See me after school for artFUL cousin remedial work, no way would we show up in a military-derived ensemble, how would we be able to stack our Senegalese and Tibetan necklaces all down our front and around the neck with a button placket and epaulets in the way. And, really, nor would we cut you.

  20. I have a couple of shirtdresses. One is blue denim (almost chambray) and the other is black denim. They would be PERFECT if they were longer. I’ve really been honing in on the perfect length dress for me–and it is a bit below the knew or all the way to midcalf. I’m 5/8″ tall and not ultra slim. I find myself looking at dresses online and focussing on length alone initially. I purchased a dress this morning (it’s nice when free shipping is offered) that is a wonderful length, therefore worth trying on. And, I can return it to Neiman Marcus (two miles from my house) if it doesn’t work out.

    If ANYONE finds a longer length shirt dress online, please let us know!

    Lisa, I’m sure you look absolutely wonderful in the Eileen Fisher dress. None of her dresses seem to work with my body shape.

  21. On a tangent, because the very mention of a Daytime Event renders me numb, and wrinkles make me insecure, I will comment on those striped Sperrys. Tried to purchase a pair for my daughter from an online retailer yesterday and they were sold out in most sizes. (Except the pattern with the tiny signal flags, which was available in most sizes. Ah, the vagaries of design.) You certainly called the goodness of those shoes at the outset. Well done!

  22. Here’s something I figured out I could do with my version of a shirt dress – wear it over a printed tank dress. If you leave many of the top and bottom buttons undone, it’s a very cute look.

  23. Gorgeous – LOVE your new shirtdress. I have bought one similar in a dark denim chambray recently at a shop called Seed Femme here in Oz. So useful. X

  24. Very nice looks, and a very timely post…elder daughter and I are attending a tea tomorrow and a matinee at the opera (hello, Placido Domingo!) on Sunday. Shirtdresses will be worn.

  25. I like the denim option with the wedges, as well as the navy one with you wedge espadrilles. Great dresses!

  26. I have troubles with the belt.

    I’m not excessively fat, have a not-obese BMI, but my waist is not well defined and the belt on those dresses often wanders around.

    Every time I stand up after sitting I find myself adjusting the belt.

    I can understand that they’re wonderful dresses but I don’t think it works so well with my pear-shaped body type.

  27. I am a big fan of the shirtdress when it hits the right length. A bit tricky for taller women. My favourite feature is that they never seem to go out of style. There is always something you can do with them…jewelry, scarves, belts and the choice of shoes is never ending. Long live the shirtdress!

    Jeanne xxx

  28. Anna – We can all benefit from a little Grace Kelly now and again:). Land’s End makes has sold some full-skirted shrtdresses that I’ve thought about.

    Lori – Exactly! to that feeling of put togetherness.

    Belle – Ooh. Celine. I have loved Celine since well before Phoebe whoosiwhatsit got involved.

    Jan – Well thank you! Grande Dame, I find, is open to anyone with big visions.

    Danielle – I wear the dress with bare legs. That said, I don’t mind being pale and don’t do anything to tan whatsoever.

    Patsy – I love the term shirtwaist. So Claire McArdell.

  29. Sally – I hanker after your Land’s End version. Often:).

    Jenniefer – :).

    miss mindless – Target? Great find.

    That’s not my age – I was thinking denim or chambray when I found the EF, but all the ones I found online were either too short or too fussy.

    Ms. Bunny – Well there you go:).

    Blighty – Thank you! I look forward to all your adventures:).

  30. TPP – Were the PP ever to offer clothing, I’m thinking a signature shirtdress would be in order.

    metscan – Thank you!

    Mardel – I completely agree that most of what one finds is way too short. I like my dresses to differentiate themselves from shirts, clearly, thank you very much.

    Lara – Oh thank you! It’s fun, because the shoes are so festive I can go plain with everything else. Not my usual approach, but why the heck not?

    Karena – Aw. Maybe even a pink and green one:).

    Mater – You’re more than welcome. My mother wears her shirtdresses unbelted, and on her it looks just right. I do think long necklaces work well for that approach.

  31. Merced – Well hello! I agree that it can be hard to find the right type. I looked quite hard online. I do recommend Shopstyle, if you haven’t tried it. Does quite a good job of pulling different versions of styles from around the web.

    SewingLibrarian – How fun to be able to sew! What color would you do?

    Worthy – Exactly. Effortless, as though one ALWAYS looks stylish:).

    SSG – I can see this quite well. And Hawaii is a GREAT place to shop. I guess they figured out we all feel that vacation calories, like vacation calories, don’t count;).

    DaniBP – Ha! Thanks on the shoes. I so appreciate your color sense.

    Flo – I clearly need remedial tutoring. I’m more than open to it.

  32. Michelloui – What a shame indeed;). I am really hoping to get back to London some time in the next year or so.

    Susan – Ah. I like my dresses to hit right at the knee, or just above, and even so it was hard to find one that met my requirements. That Reiss dress seemed pretty long. Also, try Shopstyle, or Polyvore, to see what you can find online broadly. BTW, I’d never fit EF before. I got an XS, and it’s just large enough. I could have gone with an S and it would have been OK.

    Laura – Hahahahaha. These wrinkles are oddly comforting, I promise. And I will do my best to continue to improve my eye for good design.

    Mary Anne – :).

    rb – Yes. That’s a great idea. Audi at Fashion for Nerds always layers. She might even wear her shirt dresses with tulle underskirts:).

    Sarah – Thank you. Cream chambray sounds perfect for long summers.

  33. DocP – Thank you!

    Marieanne – I hope you had a wonderful day at the opera.

    Jen – Thank you very much.

    Hostess – Thanks – now, can you please help me get summer going around here?

    RoseAG – My mother, as I said above, wears shirtdresses without belts. Done right, they look very sleek and streamlined.

    Jeanne – It does feel good to have a versatile classic, in one’s favorite color, sitting in the back of the closet. Or the front:).

  34. You will look great in the shirt dress,have to agree with RoseAG not so good on pear shapes.

    Adore the sandels,now those I could wear! Ida

  35. Well, we now have the same dress, LPC. I was walking around my local up scale dept. store today and there was the shirt dress. It was on sale, in my size, waiting for me! I tried it on and loved it. Probably have not bought a casual dress in 5 yrs. So I guess I should thank you for sharing your dress purchase. I will be in Florida for a wedding this weekend and will take the dress for daytime wear.

    1. Susan, yes, that’s perfect. The pockets must look great on you, with your height.

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