Why Men’s Shirts Make Me Feel Like A New Woman

Photo: Courtesy of J.Crew.
Remember the days of denim leggings, prairie skirts, and waterfall cardigans? What about the ones dominated by blanket scarves, one-shouldered dresses, and low-slung harem pants? If you’ve ever strapped yourself into a bondage mini that pinches your skin just so, attempted to rock a skirt with an oddly positioned peplum, or took part in the jelly-shoe revival (even though you swore you'd leave those to kindergarten you), you know the lure of a questionable fashion trend. And if, like me, you’ve ever caught a glimpse of yourself in a shop window and taken a few seconds to register that the reflection staring back is in fact you, then chances are you’ve strayed a little from dressing as you please.

What’s "fashionable" is, of course, completely dependent on personal interpretation. But most trends have a short and rather unkind expiration date, meaning the jumpsuit you bought two months ago could now be reasonably damned by anyone who observes the merry-go-round of seasonal fashion. When it comes to formulating a go-to wardrobe, having to constantly field mixed signals about what’s in, what’s out, and what you definitely can’t wear for your body shape can chip away at our love for experimentation. Often, instead of wearing what we love and what makes us comfortable, we end up in wild pursuit of the ever-elusive "capsule wardrobe" — resulting in achingly long searches for the right little black jacket, or the perfect pair of jeans — when all we really want to be doing is kicking back in the very clothes we’ve convinced ourselves we shouldn’t wear.

Recently, my friends have started to become braver about their wardrobe choices. Fashion that was once "off-limits" has been reintroduced into their everyday apparel, and this devil-may-care attitude to dressing is serving them well in embracing their true selves. Wearing what’s right for them, not just because something is socially acceptable, or mass produced at certain times of the year, has been a boon for their self-confidence. Lumberjack shirts that once languished in the back of the closet have come out in force, while others have found the willpower to toss their all-black wardrobes and start wearing neons. Holding on to our fashion identity means that when we look into our closets in the morning, we’re happy in the knowledge that we chose those garments for ourselves because we love them — not simply because we were seduced by the trendsetters.
Photo: Courtesy of Rag & Bone.
My antidote to fast fashion comes in the form of men’s shirts. For a number of years, a good chunk of my wardrobe has been occupied by a large and unruly collection, procured from charity shops, rummage sales, and my brothers' closets. I have navy oxfords, pinstriped linen, and any number of blue button-ups, which have brought solace whenever I’ve felt like my sense of style has gone awry. If dressing for the day becomes a chore, I throw an oversized shirt over a pair of leggings, and can leave my apartment in 10 minutes flat. And while I’ve grown older and evolved in my style and tastes, my love for these oversized garments has remained constant, regardless of what has once trended.

It's precisely because oversized shirts have become so ubiquitous that they’ve been all but overlooked. The wearing of men's shirts was perfectly commonplace long before it became a trend. Music festivals are usually full of pretty young things sporting shirts with rain boots, while magazines are filled with celebrities, each stepping out in her boyfriend's tent-sized shirt and a smile. As oversized shirts make it back in the spotlight, thanks in part to brands like Celine, Rag & Bone, DKNY, Givenchy, J.Crew, and a host of up-and-coming designers, the return of the outsized top reminded me why I fell in love with them in the first place. From crisp dress shirts to banker's stripes, from chambray cloth to Hawaiian prints, there's now a style for every moment and way of life.

When I was younger, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was that drew me to men’s clothing, nor work out what magical quality resided there that couldn’t be found in women’s fashion. Men could get by with a beautifully cut shirt and little else, I understood, but what was the equivalent for women? Little black dresses that could only be worn once, or a denim jacket that must never make it past summer? Women, I realized, had to constantly update their wardrobe to look sharp and relevant — or whatever look was the order of the day. The challenge was to be taken seriously, but to preserve a sense of individuality, all the while showing that you cared about the clothes you put on your back.
Photo: Courtesy of Céline.
Shopping the men’s department made me realize that women often miss out on price and quality, too. I love the thicker thread count that's found in high-quality cotton men's shirts, and the knowledge that the warp and weft will give me twice as much wear as flimsy tees from bargain stores. So, too, did the acquisition of men’s threads lend me a new sense of self. Everyone's clothing is freighted with meaning; and when I sling my men's Lacoste blue shirt around my shoulders (bought for a mere $1.50), I make myself live up to the confidence, posture, and stride of its former owner. Above all, fashion’s androgynous moment actually makes me feel more in touch with my femininity. The loose-fitting seams, thigh-grazing hemlines, and fluttering shirt tails make me feel more of a woman now than ever before.

By sticking true to what I find comfortable — and remembering it in times of temptation — I’ve found ways to dress for the different circumstances in my life. I no longer worry about styling myself for my "portfolio career," whereby holding down a variety of jobs used to mean worrying about different dress codes. As a writer, I can kick back and type in a shirt and jeans, but when I go to work at my job in charity, I can put on a smarter shirt with cigarette trousers. Where fast fashion once failed me, my beloved oversized shirts have never let me down — and that’s why they remain the cornerstone of my style.

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