It has long been a permanent fixture in the boardrooms of financial institutions but now the button-up business shirt is manspreading its way from the square mile to the high street – making the “boyfriend shirt” a must-have fashion item.
In the new Netflix Beckham documentary, Victoria Beckham endorsed the trend by choosing an XXL white shirt to wear for her at-home interviews.
Just as her husband’s 00s buzzcut inspired hordes of his fans to pick up the clippers, this time around the Beckham effect is causing trendspotters to seek out collars and cuffs for their autumn wardrobes. Proof of the rise of the boyfriend shirt can already be seen in retail figures. A spokesperson for John Lewis says sales of its £45 relaxed cotton white shirt have quadrupled week on week.
At Jigsaw, cotton poplin shirts with side splits and scooped hems are “flying off the shelves”. The creative director, Jo Sykes, says: “For years we were trying to persuade customers to try a larger and more ‘manly’ type of shirt. Now we can’t keep hold of them.”
Kaia Gerber wears white for the Valentino show at Paris fashion week in July. Photograph: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images
Couture fashion shows are normally known for glamorous gowns but at the Valentino show in July it was an image of Cindy Crawford’s daughter, Kaia Gerber, in an oversized toothpaste-white shirt that went viral. “If you buy one new thing, make it a white shirt,” declared British Vogue shortly afterwards.
Unlike, say, Audrey Hepburn’s slicky fitted white shirt in Roman Holiday, 2023’s iterations come undone and supersized. On TikTok, users suggest buying a white shirt one or two sizes larger than your usual in order to achieve the oversized aesthetic.
“It’s a style of shirt women have always wanted but couldn’t get,” says Levi Palmer, a co-founder of the London based brand palmer//harding. “It’s why in the past they resorted to stealing their boyfriend’s shirt.”
A white shirt by the British brand With Nothing Underneath. Photograph: PR image
Palmer and his design partner, Matthew Harding, prefer to use historical menswear references rather than female to create their signature volumised shapes. He describes a big white shirt as a “stability garment”: “Our customers like them because it means they don’t have to overthink getting dressed in the morning. It’s like uniform dressing but this time with more individuality.”
Men’s shirting is also the inspiration behind the cult British brand With Nothing Underneath, set up in 2017, which boasts fans including the Duchess of Sussex and Akshata Murty – a third of its sales are driven by white shirts, with a £95 “Boyfriend” style a continuous bestseller.
“I was frustrated with an underserviced women’s shirt market,” says Pip Durell, a former Vogue stylist, who recalls resorting to using men’s shirts in shoots to achieve a baggier silhouette. “I wanted to bridge that gap and give the sort of middle offering that men have always had – quality shirts at an accessible price.”
Uma Thurman at the Oscars in March 2022. Photograph: Valérie Macon/AFP/Getty Images
Champions of the big white shirt say part of its appeal is that it is a trend for all age groups. It’s why you’re just as likely to see it in a LinkedIn profile shot as you are on the red carpet. At the 2022 Academy Awards, both Uma Thurman and Zendaya channelled Sharon Stone’s 1998 Oscars outfit.
Surprisingly, it even still appeals to millennials, a generation who consider ironing obsolete. Palmer says the trick is to hang a shirt up when wet, then stretch it out.
“The majority of wrinkles drop out that way. I prefer it to a starched look. It has more of a nonchalant effect.”