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May 2017 Release Us From the Tyranny of Elevated Shirting

In a difficult year, collared shirts built to look breezy and undone feel like maximum effort.

A woman wears a light blue blouse, possibly backwards, that gaps at the back.
Elevated shirting on the street at fashion week.
Photo: Timur Emek/Getty Images

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You know the look: A woman on the street, wearing what at first seems to be a classic collared shirt, but on closer inspection is actually a clinging feat of architecture. The collar slips off one shoulder without causing awkward scrunching at the other; the front is held together by a single button fastened to the wrong hole; a stray sleeve that emerged seemingly out of nowhere wraps around the waist. It’s undone but confident, the definition of chic.

We’re living among a flood of “elevated shirting,” and more specifically, a wealth of button-downs refashioned to look like crisp bed sheets that tangled themselves around you just so over the course of the night. They did not end up in a weird ball wedged between the wall and mattress, but on your back.

For spring 2015, the models at Jacquemus walked the runway wearing wet hair, light smiles, and all manner of white collared shirts twisting apart at odd angles. Monse wowed editors, buyers, and celebrities with a debut collection for spring 2016 that centered on luxurious, deconstructed shirting, and soon women like Selena Gomez and Sienna Miller were wearing those looks on red carpets and talk shows. The trend dovetailed with our love of off-the-shoulder everything, cementing its staying power.

Two models wear matching white collared shirts that fall off the shoulder and pinstriped skirts.
Models on the runway at Monse’s spring 2016 show.
Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Right now, you can shop versions of reworked shirting (which often come in pinstripes, as though to make absolutely clear which sartorial tradition is getting a revamp) from Johanna Ortiz, Kaelen, Off-White, Balenciaga, and Zara. We have reached peak elevated shirting. We have summited the Everest of button-downs.

That being done, I hope we can now retire them, possibly forever.

These shirts are the equivalent of the myth of the French girl, whose unstudied style and nonchalant attitude are extolled in article after article, year after year. They’re the equivalent of “no-makeup makeup” or a Glossier ribbon. To be clear, I still think surprising shirting is chic, and I continue to click on every one of these French lady stories, because I’m writing from inside the cultural black hole of hoping I can dupe everyone into thinking my most polished self is the result of absolutely no work.

Models stand side by side wearing deconstructed white shirts.
Jacquemus’s brand of undone shirting.
Photo: Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/Getty Images

But at the tail end of 2016, the pursuit of projecting effortlessness through complex design and styling maneuvers suddenly feels wearying, if not downright disingenuous. Because this year hasn’t been easy. People the internet over agree that 2016 has been the worst year ever, and that’s probably not true, but it sure as hell has been a trying one. Therapists, for instance, have noticed a post-election uptick in complaints of heightened anxiety among their patients.

Is it fair to funnel my own neuroses into an attack on clever button-downs? Doubt it! Could we instead read them as a subversion of menswear looks, or a punk dismantlement of the status quo, or a knowing manifestation of one’s mental unraveling? Probably! Man Repeller did a great piece on how to style your button-down in unexpected ways this past May, and I liked its DIY spirit a lot.

When I think of how I would wear one of these shirts, though, I see myself pulling and picking to make it sit as though I breezily tossed it on. Right now, it feels easier to let some effort hang out.