How the business shirt became a genuine style statement

When is a shirt not a shirt? When it becomes a statement to the wearer's ability to spot the fine details in everything from cut, texture, asymmetry – right down to the kind of thread used on the buttons.

Sure there's Gucci's lace blouses and Jeff Goldblum's next-level Prada bowling shirt aesthetic. But beyond that too, the classic button-down Oxford-inspired has become anything but basic.

There were the long cuffs at Alexander McQueen and tunics at Lanvin during fashion month earlier this year. Meanwhile British label palmer/harding, known for their women's shirting, have relaunched their menswear label, starting with a 9-piece shirt capsule on

​Cool stuff, new looks

For Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding, the capsule was about capturing the essence of the brand: cool shirting done in new ways.

"When we started we wanted to apply our creativity to a focused garment instead of starting a full on lifestyle brand. We felt it would be more rewarding to be experts in a specialty of design and then grow from there. Kinda like Burberry and the trench, we want the consumer to think of palmer//harding when they think of designer shirts," the duo write over email.

Both note a willingness among male consumers to think beyond the business shirt and "play with silhouette and proportion as well as fluid fabrics … men are breaking out of the old social tropes of masculinity and embracing their desires to peacock a bit more."

Tailoring today

This re-thinking of the shirt feeds into a relaxing of tailoring, and of attitude, in general. When even Goldman Sachs is ditching the suits, your shirting and tailoring needs to say something about the way we work and live now.

For his latest collection for Balenciaga, artistic director Demna Gvasalia showed what he called "tailoring for today's generation," that is, relaxed, oversized suiting and shirt-jacket hybrids. It was, he told fashion critic Sarah Mower, "what I want to wear myself."

For London designer Daniel Fletcher, a finalist in this year's prestigious International Woolmark prize, the re-interpretation of the shirt is a signal that men are more willing to experiment.


"I think men are more open to experimenting with what they wear now, gender boundaries are blurred, and men are having more fun with how they dress," he says.

Customer satisfaction, guaranteed

For example, the brand released a halterneck for spring/summer and Fletcher wasn't sure how it would be received. It sold out in two weeks.

Fletcher is best-known for his shirts. They might have a bow-tie, or a detachable collar. His striped silk pajamas style shirts have become a signature for brand.

Fletcher likes the versatility of working with shirting.

"There are elements which make a shirt what it is, a collar, cuffs, button down, placket, yoke, but all of these things can be easily adapted to make it into something new, as long as you keep one or a few of them there are endless possibilities," he says.

"Last season for example I took a classic striped Oxford shirt and added a drawstring to the hem, this meant it could also be given a blouson style and the wearer could change it to become a number of different styles."

Smart fibres

There's something else happening in shirting: fabric innovations. 

As Matthew Keighran, managing director (SEAPAC) for Hugo Boss puts it, 

"If a guy can get out of ironing – he will – improved easy to iron, wash and go textiles are big hits, as well as stretch and soft 'aloe vera' handle shirts."

Keighran says we'll continue to see innovations, particularly in cool/warm and technical fabrics, as well as silhouettes loosening up and becoming more oversized.

Not just a shirt...

Sam Kershaw, senior buyer at Mr Porter agrees there's a lot of cool stuff happening with the shirt right now. He lists The Row, the Olsen sisters brand, and BEAMS F as two highlight brands for shirting right now.

He agrees we're going to keep seeing a lot more variety when it comes to fabrication and cut in the always tricky "smart casual" genre (one where getting the shirt right means you've just about nailed the dress code anyway).

"Casual shirts do very well for us nowadays as dress codes loosen for men both at the workplace and in social occasions," he says, noting the success of chambray, denim, silk and corduroy fabrications. 

Mr.P, the brand's in-house brand performs well for shirts, as do more traditional shirting brands like Kingsman + Turnbull & Asser.

"With men's fashion being more experimental and daring, we are definitely seeing that being translated into shirting and tailoring. Together with smart casual being the new standard for office attire, shirting and tailoring are now available in more vibrant colours and patterns and applicable for people working in all arenas," he says.