Much unlike many a magazine editor who recommends you buy all sorts of crap that they most likely got for free, your Jezebel staff doesn't get jack shit (other than books, unsolicited). And that's how it should be. But on our own time, in our personal lives, we still buy stuff. So this is Worth It, our daily recommendation of random things that we've actually spent our own money on. These are the things we buy regularly or really like, things we'd actually tell our friends about. And now we're telling you.
I wear a lot of button-up shirts. I like their versatility: professional enough for a meeting, dressy enough to wear out at night. Don't get me wrong, I like the breeziness of dresses — especially in the summertime — but come fall, for me it's all about pants, a buttoned shirt, a cashmere sweater, a big scarf, and a blazer. Occasionally I swap out the pants for a pair of tights and a skirt. When it finally gets too cold for a blazer, I submit to an overcoat.
I've always been a shirt person: when I was about 8, I distinctly remember a classmate telling me to undo the top button of a particularly beloved short-sleeved boys' shirt.
"You look like a businessman," sneered my classmate.
I left it buttoned. And I kept wearing that shirt until I grew out of it.
You might think a shirt is a shirt is a shirt, but there are many things to be particular about. A shirt is one of fashion's most mature technological forms: in my opinion, in order to qualify as a button-up shirt or "dress" shirt, a garment must have a collar, a placket and buttons, a yoke, cuffs, and a pleated back — and really nothing else besides, except perhaps pockets. The elements are so few that their particular arrangement within the design thus takes on enormous weight. A shirt's entire appeal could depend on nothing more, or less, than an unfortunately placed dart, a cuff that has two buttons instead of one, or a sleeve placket that is of the wrong depth. I am of the opinion that there is basically a perfect ratio for collar depth and spread, an ultimate angle which the collar points should hit, and that it is up to designers to hew as closely to this ideal as they can. If you want to be creative, go make a dress. Shirts matter to the millimeter, as anyone who's ever sewn one would know.
Personally, I reserve nothing but the most profound contempt for those clothing manufacturers that try to foist upon women pathetic, neutered, shrunken reinterpretations of button-up shirts. These garments invariably have skimpy little tails that are too short to tuck in, so they sit there on top, Lois Griffin-style. These shirts mock your efforts to tuck them in by popping out as soon as you so much as raise your hand to get a book off the shelf or make a cup of tea. They have tight sleeves, parabolic side seams that approximate some first-year design student's entirely theoretical notion of the female body, and deep darts at the bust and back to ensure the shirt hews as tightly as possible of the wearer's physical contours. Sometimes they are even cut in stretch fabrics. These so-called shirts often have, horror of horrors, collars that are not designed to close atop plackets that only have buttons up to about the sternum. I am talking about monstrosities such as this. I resent these ladies' shirts and all the assumptions their manufacturers make about women and what we want in a piece of clothing. I don't want some painted-on trompe l'oeil piece of poly-cotton-with-2%-spandex masquerading as a shirt; I want a real shirt, that I can tuck in if I want, a shirt in a fabric with a good hand, a shirt with buttons that I can choose to do all the way up. There's almost nothing sexier, in my opinion, than a woman who's undone the top two or three buttons of her shirt at the end of a long day, but what some clothing brands don't get is that the entire illusion depends on there being buttons, and a wearer with the will or whim to undo them.
You know what clothing manufacturers mostly have the good sense not to fuck around with? Men's shirts. If you tried to sell a man a shirt that didn't button the whole way up, he'd laugh at you. The problem, however, with buying men's clothing is that it is often sized for, well, men: broad-shouldered, long-armed, barrel-chested men. (Another problem is the occasional funny looks from sales assistants a woman may get for poaching on the Y chromosome's preserve, but having shopped for everything from men's shoes to men's cardigans to men's dress pants for years — men's pants have pockets, you guys — I've gotten used to that static.) But one company that does high-quality, understatedly designed, and well-made men's clothing, in a pattern block that suits women, too, is the American brand Band of Outsiders. (Band produces most of its women's clothing in Italy and its men's in the U.S.; you can read more about its sourcing and production here.) I bought my first Band shirt last year, at a sample sale — while Band of Outsiders men's shirts start at around $230, which is well beyond what I can afford, they were all going for $35 a pop at the sale — and found it quickly became the shirt I reached for more than any other in my wardrobe. More than my previously beloved hidden-placket shirt with the Nehru collar from Jil Sander's men's collection for Uniqlo. More than the cream 1970s YSL that I've turned threadbare at the elbows. More than the wing-collar, mustard-colored 1940s men's shirt in heavy, draping gabardine that I love with a good pencil skirt.
My blue Band of Outsiders tuxedo shirt looks smart on its own or under a cardigan, tucked or un-tucked, buttoned or un-buttoned, sleeves rolled up or down. It looks great with dress pants, killer with denim shorts, and preppy in just the right way under a second-hand Pendleton blazer. Best of all, it looks fine whether or not I bother to iron it. I wear it at least a couple times a week. I wore it this summer as a beach cover-up. I wore it on the teevee. Twice. I wore it in a rainstorm. You guys, I'm wearing it right now. It is made of soft 100% cotton, and it is just about the best shirt I've ever owned. The buttons are in all the right places. So much about a shirt depends on the collar, and this collar fits perfectly, without constricting. And the collar is neither outlandish and spread nor wimpy and undersized (though, in a perfect world, I could have stood for a touch more interfacing). The French cuffs feel luxurious. The flat-felled seams spell quality. The tuxedo ruffles are a nice, subtle detail at the bust. The tails are deep enough that when this shirt is tucked in, it stays tucked.
Now, obviously, not all brands are for all people. The clothes we wear and find flattering are as individual and idiosyncratic as our bodies — and if you have boobs, these and any men's shirts are obviously not the shirts for you. If, on the other hand, the bust darts in most women's shirts function as little more than big arrows pointing observers to your lack of a bosom, any shirt off the Band of Outsiders' pattern block will likely make you feel pretty great (their women's shirts, sold under the label Boy by Band of Outsiders, are in my experience cut pretty similarly through the torso to their men's shirts). Band makes slim-cut shirts for rangy, narrow-shouldered men and slender women: they don't do plus-sizes (which is a real shame, because the plus-size market is notably deficient in options for quality tailored clothing). And of course, there's the matter of price. Honestly, I would not pay $300 for this or any shirt; that's not something I can afford. Nor would I have paid $480 for the men's suit pants I picked up at the same sale, for $75. But, obviously, that's the beauty of sales. I know the minute I see another Band of Outsiders shirt in my size at a similar discount, or in a second-hand store, chances are good that I'll buy it. Band of Outsiders isn't still making the particular tuxedo shirt I bought, but its sizing block is consistent across its various styles. If you've been looking for a real shirt, it can't hurt to try one of these on, just to see.
Band of Outsiders men's button-up shirt, $230 at Opening Ceremony
Worth It only features things we paid for ourselves and actually like. Don't send us stuff.