“The Little Black Shirt”

Saint Laurent shirt in Washed Black Silk Satin $1650
Photo: saintlaurent.com

We all know the delights of a perfect white shirt. But equally indispensable, if not more so, is its black counterpart. All the things that make the “LBD” iconic apply to the black shirt. It is versatile and readily obtainable at all price points, in endless varieties, made of different fabrications, and available both long-sleeved and short-sleeved. In the warmer months, it is a viable alternative to a jacket.

CO Collection’s Short-Sleeved Covered Placket Shirt in Black Cotton, $425
Photo: co–collections.com

The black shirt is an ideal blank slate and has the potential to look completely different depending on how you chose to wear it and what you put on the bottom: jeans, a leather skirt, shorts, Bermudas, bicycle shorts, trousers, an evening skirt. And of course, it looks great paired with something white.

The Row Sissa Shirt in Organic Black Cotton, $1750
Photo: therow.com

It can be accessorized to the hilt or worn minimally, tucked in, or with the shirttails out. It can be fancy or plain; sporty or dressed up; prim and proper or seductive and alluring.

Lui Organic Black Cotton Shirt, $185
Photo: thefrankieshop.com

The bottom line is that fashion is all about shape, silhouette, and proportion and black is the most effective and dramatic way to depict this. Black in all its forms is inherently chic and couture-like regardless of its usage.

Giambattista Valli Fall 2021 Couture
Photo credit Niemeyer courtesy of the Giambattista Valli

While black did not necessarily dominate the recent Fall/Winter 2021/2022 Couture runways in Paris (there was plenty of white and saturated color), some of the most striking designs were done in black, and yes, there were a few shirts seen on the runways. At Giambattista Valli, a sheer black chiffon shirt was worn with pleated trousers and shown beneath a dramatic black cape.

RVDL Ronald van der Kemp Fall 2021 Couture
Photo credit: Marijke Aerden

Ronald van der Kemp’s Fall 2021 Couture collection was produced using scraps of fabric, and materials that were found in his studio. Number 5 was a collarless black silk button-down shirt shown with textured black trousers accented with chiffon ruffles. Since founding his eponymous demi-couture collection in 2014, Ronald has brilliantly used materials that already exist (cast-offs) rather than employing new fabrics. Long before it became almost the norm, he was intent on disrupting fashion with his sustainable practices.

Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture
Photo: vogue.com

Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia excels at elevating wardrobe basics, and he put this formidable talent to great use for his couture debut. About half of the dramatic 63 looks were done in head-to-toe black. Number 35 was comprised of a black satin wide-sleeved popover top cut like an overshirt, worn with full legged black trousers; a dramatic voluminous black satin stole was thrown over the arm.

Alaia Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

The House of Alaia is long associated with black. The uniform of the late Azzedine was a black Chinese suit. The Alaia Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear runway show, held in Paris last week, was the first with Belgian designer Pieter Mulier at the creative helm. Naturally, black-figured prominently into the lineup. While much of it was body conscious and sexy, passage #3 was a primly buttoned-up black shirt and abbreviated wrap skirt shown under an elongated jacket.

Tonne Goodman
Photo: zimbio.com

One image that has remained indelible in my mind throughout the years is Tonne Goodman attending the 2010 CFDA Awards. The esteemed longtime Vogue editor was the recipient of that year’s Eleanor Lambert Award. For the occasion, Goodman wore a Michael Kors Collection black silk button-down shirt (unbuttoned just ‘so’) and black sequined evening skirt with train. The effect is formal yet easy. What more could you want? It could not look more modern.

Michael Kors Collection Fall 2021 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: vogue.com

FYI, Michael Kors is also a fan of the black button-down shirt. They have appeared repeatedly throughout the designer’s collections, standing on their own or shown underneath a coat or jacket. The first outfit in Michael’s Fall 2021 runway show, held in Times Square, was a silk black button-down shirt worn with black trousers; a perfectly tailored white wool coat was thrown over the shoulders. Perfection!

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. Another great article! Makes you feel like you’re front row…Thank you, Marilyn

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