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We Need to Talk About These Goddamn Shirts

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Meet this summer’s most inescapable and possibly sinister blouse.

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For the past hundred years or so, a button-down shirt was just a button-down shirt. It had buttons, and it was a shirt. Pretty much everyone in the universe owned one. They weren’t, like, amazing, but they were fine, and particularly useful if you were a businessperson or went to Catholic school. For everybody else, they covered up the parts a shirt should cover up, and that was that. They were shirts.

That is, until about six months ago, when something very odd began happening to shirts. Brands you can’t afford — brands with names you probably don’t even know — started doing things to shirts that didn’t really need all that much improvement in the first place.

Things like slashing out the middle part of the arm for no apparent reason. Or turning these on-the-shoulder shirts into off-the-shoulder shirts by pairing up the buttons wrong. Or adding so many ruffles that it stops being a shirt altogether and just becomes the bottom half of a flamenco dancer’s dress that’s made out of Brooks Brothers fabric and costs $650.

In short, what started as a good idea — well-tailored blouses in cool, architectural silhouettes — has morphed into a phenomenon so unwieldy that it’s almost impossible to find a regular shirt without 55 non-functioning knots attached to it anymore.

And as of a few weeks ago, I had just about had enough. It seemed as though ever since these shirts — The Shirts, as they will henceforth be called — came to be, society had only gotten worse, and if it wasn’t The Shirts’ fault, then maybe they were at least a symptom of something deeply sinister.

Because at this point, The Shirts are no longer confined to expensive department stores. Their derivatives have invaded our Zaras, our Ann Taylors, and even our Forever 21s, which means that for the next six months and possibly longer, you will be surrounded by Shirts as far as the eye can see.

But how do you know, when you’re scanning the crowds of that one cool flea market where everybody wears weird jeans and furry shoes, whether someone is wearing a shirt or a Shirt? Here are a few key elements they all must share in common:

  • The Shirt will be made of either 100 percent cotton or poplin (which is essentially thicc cotton).
  • The Shirt will be an unassuming color traditionally associated with business, such as white, light blue, or, if it’s an advanced Shirt, white and light blue pinstripes.
  • The Shirt will be asymmetrical.
  • The Shirt will be referred to by the brand as “shirting,” or perhaps more specifically, “luxury shirting.”
  • The Shirt will give the vague impression that somebody has wrapped you in a picnic blanket.
  • The Shirt would not look out of place on a lady pirate.

Of course, as Shirts are inherently extra, they often include even more bizarre qualities not included in the above list. Below is a complete taxonomy of Shirts, and yes, more than one of them costs upwards of one thousand dollars!

Buttons That Don’t Match Up

AWAKE Japanese Wrap Shirt, $515; Monse Asymmetric Striped Top, $1,290; Loewe Oversized Asymmetric Shirt, $890

One (or Twelve) Too Many Ruffles

Rachel Comey Spark Top, $414; Self Portrait Striped Frill Shirt, $410; Alexis Armelle Striped Top, $396

Structure, But Somehow Also Slouchiness

Balenciaga Striped Swing-Back Blouse, $855; Caroline Constas Gabriella Off-The-Should Striped Top, $395; Zara Multiposition Striped Shirt, $49.90

Ties That Don’t... Really Do Anything?

Stylekeepers One Shoulder Top, $98; Johanna Ortiz Leticia Pinstripe Off-Shoulder Wrap Blouse, $995; Ann Demeulemeester One-Shoulder Asymmetric Top, $540

Seemingly Arbitrary Cutouts

3.1 Phillip Lim Victoriana Embroidered Blouse, $475; Rosie Assoulin Cutout Gingham Seersucker Top, $995; Monse One Shoulder Top, $1,090

Fake Corsets and/or Egregious Rouching

New Look Petite Lace-Up Corset Top, $20; Stella McCartney Washed Cotton Blouse, $695; ASOS Corset in Gathered Stripe with Knot Detail, $58

And Finally, This:

Sandy Liang Cromwell Ruffled Poplin-Paneled Open-Knit Cotton Top, $325

I like to call this shirt Shirt Zero. It is the Shirtiest, least-connected-to-reality shirt I have ever seen, and I hope whomever owns it cherishes it forever.