ALTHOUGH I may stray now and then, I stick to basics for everyday wear. Charcoal faded Levi’s and an oversize fisherman sweater or my favorite Mother Denim jeans topped by a slouchy cashmere crewneck are interspersed with tights and long-sleeve T-shirts for workout days. Because I’m usually cold, I throw my Patagonia fleece jacket over whatever I have on. But last week, bored by my usual repertoire, I looked into my closet and locked eyes with my newly acquired Brooks Brothers white and blue button-downs. What a no-fail solution to the question of what to wear when working from home—or cautiously going out and about as more of us get vaccinated.
A white shirt, in particular, is the equivalent of O-negative blood—it goes with everything else. But why stop there? Pretty patterns, striking stripes and colors, such as khaki and orchid, are on offer, even more so as we make the transition toward spring. Silhouettes are more relaxed, too—and embellished like those from Alex Mill and Simone Rocha. And if you think you’d like to try a leather shirt, there’s that, too.
Finally, what enters my decision of what to buy is whether it’s machine washable or not. Most of the ones we’ve picked are. See our choices below.
LEFT: The print on Stacey Bendet’s Alice + Olivia Willa Placket Top ($295) features the company’s cute cartoony mascot—a woman’s face with big black sunglasses and red lips. MSNBC anchor Nicole Wallace has worn this silk blouse several times, but she’s not the only one. I also spotted Doris Kearns Goodwin wearing it on a news show. What do you call a shirt that can be worn by a 49-year-old as well as a 78-year-old? A winner.
RIGHT: You may not be able to travel but you can always dream. Channel far-flung places with Alice +Olivia’s Wanderlust Top ($330) in a old-fashioned postcard print featuring famous monuments around the world, along with palm trees and swimming pools.
LEFT: Audrey McLoghlin, who launched label Grayson in 2019, focused on creating a tailored shirt that had a lived-in look. She called her design, “The Hero,” an apt name for a top you can throw on in a hurry, wear with just about anything and look polished. This black Hero Buttondown ($148, Anthropologie) fits that description. Plus, the back is long enough to cover you rear end.
RIGHT: Alex Mill is a new-to-me label I’m liking for its mostly easy-on-the-wallet prices and designs. Case in point is the brand’s cotton Easy Ruffle Shirt ($110, Shopbop), which tweaks the menswear style with a curved hem and a feminine frill on the cuffs and collar.
LEFT: One of my all-time favorite shirts is covered in blooms in a Liberty London print. This Ruffle-Front Shirt in Liberty Libby Floral ($82.99, J. Crew) with a band collar and rows of ruffles around the bib is just as charming and mood-lifting. Plus, get 30 percent more off with code SALETIME. Note that’s final sale.
RIGHT: I used to think that Cos’s line of wardrobe essentials was just a little bit on the dull side. But in the last couple of years I don’t know whether it’s me or the designs have changed to be more colorful and contemporary, but the basics looks more appealing, like this cocooning Oversize Tailored Shirt ($99). Psst: it’s selling out quickly.
LEFT: I love the Dennis Basso beige leather jacket I bought at a sample sale, encouraged by our own Nancy McKeon to be less practical and not pick black! So, how pretty is this pink Faux Leather Shirt ($59.99 Mango). Think of it as a fling, not an investment like similar but spendy shirts from more haute brands.
RIGHT: I haven’t totally broken up with my dry cleaner, but our relationship is not what it once was. Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve become more attached to my washing machine. Even though I adore my light pink Everlane Clean Silk Relaxed Shirt, my next purchase will likely be its Washable Silk Relaxed Shirt ($110). The Everlane site notes that the latter is “less sheer and more durable than our other silk, which means you can wash it right alongside your other clothes,” but tumble dry on low. Though they both say “relaxed,” the washable version looks more so.
LEFT: More boho than button down, this Johnny Was Tatiana Blouse ($250, Neiman Marcus) with its eyelet detailing makes us nostalgic for more carefree times.
RIGHT: Another Hero Buttondown ($138, Anthropologie) from Grayson, this one is in a refreshing plaid for spring.
LEFT: You can’t beat the exuberant print of Boden’s 100% Silk Shirt-Surf, Parrot Paradise ($170), it also comes in seven other patterns, including a more subtle ivory-and-navy polka dot, as well as black, white and navy. It looks as good with jeans as it will later on with white pants.
RIGHT: Never underestimate how cheery a red-and-white combination can be. The slightly puff shoulder on Alex Mill’s Bobby Striped Cotton-Poplin Shirt ($95, Net a Porter) rescues it from being predictably preppy.
LEFT: Designer darling of the moment Simone Rocha goes for romance in her clothing. Think tulle and pearls and flared shapes and flounces. Rocha’s charming Puff-Sleeve Blouse ($520, Farfetch) with peplum hem can also be worn as a jacket over a camisole. Like the look? You may be able to score something similar for a lot less when the Simone Rocha x H&M collaboration —a special collection of womenswear, menswear and childrenswear—launches March 11. It will be available on the H&M site and in select stores.
RIGHT: Insouciantly slouchy, cool-girl brand R13’s Oversized Striped Cotton Buttondown Shirt ($345, Intermix) reinterprets the classic. Wear it with the sleeves scrunched, the hem partially tucked in and a few buttons at the neck undone.
LEFT: Joie’s Taormina Short Sleeve Silk Top ($278) starts with the idea of the classic button-down, then changes it up with upper-arm-camouflaging (to the elbow), fluttery sleeves. Note to self and anybody else who’s interested — it’s already sold out at Saks.
RIGHT: Come much warmer weather The Bo Boyfriend Embroidered Buttondown ($98, Anthropologie) is generously sized enough to wear over a bathing suit. The shimmery stripes seal the deal to wear over just about any bottom of your choice.