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How to dress like a grown up with Shane Watson: (Un)button trick to sex up your old shirt dress

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How to dress like a grown up with Shane Watson: (Un)button trick to sex up your old shirt dress

So how do you feel about shirt dresses?’ I texted my friend, a 50-something fashion editor. ‘Personally hate them, but they are very wearable,’ she replied. Short pause. Evidently she was considering the pros and cons: ‘What did you have in mind?’ 

What I had in mind was a dress to wear now (assuming the weather sticks around a warmish temperature) that looks good during the day (so not wafty with batwing sleeves), but not too pretty and girlish.

I was thinking of a dress to wear to work, out to lunch and on Saturdays, with flat sandals and bare legs, the dress I would like to have slung on at the bank holiday weekend, in fact — which is what got me thinking about shirt dresses in the first place. 

Because this dress shares some DNA with tailored shirts — it’s sporty enough to wear in casual situations and smart enough, dressed up with a chunky-heeled slingback, to wear to work and then on for a drink. 

Shane Watson shares advice on how to style and wear your shirt dresses. UK-based fashion expert says that they are easy to dress up and wear casually. Pictured: Victoria Beckham

As it’s long- or elbow-sleeved (key to its appeal), it’s a useful dress for those occasions when you don’t want to look undressed and because it buttons top to bottom (as all shirt dresses must, the ones that only button to the waist are ‘shirt-waisters’ and tip over into frumpiness fairly easily) it can be transformed by a quick one, two, three unbuttoning trick into a far sassier item. 

Some people like to wear a shirt dress undone over a camisole, but the unbuttoning I’m talking about is hem-toknee, or even higher. (This is what stops a shirt dress from being dull and plain. and a bit like something your teacher might have worn back in the 1960s — which is what my fashion editor friend has against them). 

The unbuttoning puts the swish and swing in a shirt dress and, if you’ve got good pins, you can unbutton until you get to midthigh, if that’s your mood, while not risking even a fraction of the exposure of a mini. 

A glimpse of leg when stepping down from a bar stool is all we’re looking for. This is the whole point of a shirt dress: it can look sensible and elegant or a bit French and undone (just add a messy bun and lipstick). 

Shane says that a glimpse of leg when stepping down from a bar stool is all we¿re looking for. Pictured: Amanda Holden

Shane says that a glimpse of leg when stepping down from a bar stool is all we’re looking for. Pictured: Amanda Holden 

The right — not dull — shirt dress is longish, looseish and flowing not starchy. Look for styles that are lean and waisted (ideally with a tie belt), but not too fitted. I like the ones Zara does every year. (I was slightly shocked to see Mary Berry wearing my go-to summer dress from a couple of years ago on BBC1’s Fantastic Feasts the other day, but it only goes to show, a good shirt dress is a keeper.) 

This summer’s version comes in two more chintzy but equally good-looking blue floral prints (£49.99, zara.com). Long-sleeved, of course. 

Queen Letizia visiting the International School of Music

Candice Swanepoel walks the red carpet ahead of the Marriage Story

Left: Queen Letizia visiting the International School of Music. Right: Candice Swanepoel walks the red carpet ahead of the Marriage Story 

Marks & Spencer’s threequarter sleeve shirt dress in a beige on off-white animal print (£39.50, marksandspencer. com) is a fraction smarter. 

But if you’re looking for a hardworking summer work dress, try Reiss’s linen-blend Emily — which is belted, not too structured and has just the right amount of loose and breezy (£188, reiss.com). It comes in a warm, soft coral or this season’s emerald green and looks like something divorce lawyer Hannah Stern might wear in BBC series The Split — which, if you haven’t seen it, is a good thing. 

SHIRT DRESSES: THE NEW RULES 

  • Avoid starchy fabric
  • Undo buttons at the hem
  • Keep sleeves long
  • Try stripes

Talking of smart, Cos’s silkstriped shirt dress in navy and blue (£135, cosstores.com) has potential for dressing up. If you like stripes, they work particularly well on an extralong shirt dress and Tommy Hilfiger’s red and white striped viscose shirt dress is a case in point (£170, uk.tommy.com). With a white bag and low white sandals, this one would take you to a summer party. 

For my money, a shirt dress needs a collar (they can look too utilitarian otherwise), but Zara’s navy and ecru bold print, belted shirt dress (£49.99) is an exception to the rule. If you don’t mind the side vents, this is a smarter party or even summer wedding dress. Just don’t wear it with high-heeled shoes; shirt dresses demand a sandal or a sneaker. 

Last but not least, a simple shirt dress, such as Hush’s seersucker stripe (£79, hush-uk.com), is a really useful holiday dress for all the reasons already mentioned, plus you can always wear it semi-undone over silky trousers in the evening. 

Hush also does a bright blue textured cotton, tiered shirt dress (£89) if you like a more voluminous, gathered silhouette. 

Great for whipping on and off over a swimming costume, like all shirt dresses. Pretty versatile.

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