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You Need This... I Promise

The Shirtwaist Dress

 

magazine tear of Audrey Hepburn jumping near a hedge wearing a shirtwaist dress

 

When people ask me, what do you do, or what kind of store do you have, or what types of clothes do you make – I usually say "oh, you know, very classic stuff." I like to think that we have many pieces that feel timely and of the moment… but we also, I think, make some of the very best bread-and-butter pieces – the ones I will always encourage someone to invest in. Those are the ones that feel timeless. And one of the best examples of this is our classic shirtwaist dress. You may already have one – especially if you've been with us for awhile – but you probably need another.

I have in my head all those scenes from Roman Holiday where Audrey Hepburn is bounding all over Rome – the memory is mixed up and it might actually be a true shirt tucked into a skirt, not a dress – the black and white makes it hard to tell! - but the idea is the same. There is a jaunty little kerchief around her neck and she is free-spirited and feminine and feisty, riding around on the back of Gregory Peck's Vespa. What is not to love? That movie was made in 1953 but the silhouette feels completely fresh to me, year after year. (We've been making ours since 2013!) There are even more wonderful photos of her from the Jump series from Phillipe Halsman, one of which lives on the board in my office. In this she has her dress wrapped around her criss-crossing her chest. It accentuates her tiny waist and is just the thing that makes that classic look more interesting.

It is often the simple pieces like this that give you the freedom to express your personality the most – which is why they make up so much of what we do. You can wear the Shirtwaist very straight-up – demure, pearl earrings, ballet flats – or make it more obviously retro, with a silk scarf in your hair and little kitten heels. It can look kind of English and Bloomsburyish, with a V-neck cardigan worn over it and ankle boots when it's colder outside. I have seen the chic twins behind Lizzie Fortunato wear it with funky sandals and their statement earrings. My last teenage daughter wears it with a big oversized sweater and sneakers. And of course it is easy and summery with a pair of Castañer espadrilles. The styling of these things usually takes some practice and confidence and knowing yourself. (Or at least hopping on Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration…!) But truly, the shirtwaist dress style is fantastic in its own right – nearly perfect, actually.

So every season we do it in a few new fabrics, or add some detail – a kimono-sleeve version last fall, one with a ruffle down the placket, a few sleeveless ones when it's hot outside. But the best thing we've done is offer it Made-to Order, along with our a few of our other classic shirts, where you can order it one of 40-something fabrics… black, brown, white, stripe, plaid, Liberty. You could go on your own Roman holiday and have a different one for every day. Or make it your everyday uniform – your house dress! This service is a bit trickier to offer online – we want to make sure you love the fit of the dress before you order one specially made for you – but after you've test-driven it, it's fun to make your own. Our very lo-fi version of couture.

If you don't love a full skirt on the bottom, or you have the legs and youth to wear something shorter – I love our Atelier Shirtdress for all the same reasons. It is easy, simple, sporty, one-piece dressing – perhaps not AS classic, but the same idea. A shirt, but longer. Grab some shoes and there you go. And then there's the Giulia Wrap Dress, a more grown-up, sort of ballerina-esque riff with that criss-crossed front that reminds me of the wrap styling on Audrey Hepburn . The skirt isn't as voluminous and the shape is more minimal, without a collar. I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't look great in it.

 

Ann wearing a black shirtwaist dress sitting in the grass looking downward
felt too silly jumping - the dress is an old Shirtwaist in black poplin, but similar ones here and here (or Made to Order)

 

It is embarrassing, but I can't think about Roman Holiday without that Vespa. One of my earlier dates with Sid was to go see it together at a small theatre downtown that showed classic movies. I was so head over heels that the idea of spending a date in front of a screen, rather than talking, seemed like a waste, but I went anyway. Obviously the movie is fantastic, but I walked away thinking … wow… Sidney has a Vespa too! Eye roll – sorry - I was barely 24 years old. He was in the process of buying it when we met, and it was exactly that… a process. The previous owner, a sweet older man, insisted on meeting him in a parking lot for several Saturdays to make sure he knew how to ride it before he would take the check and hand over the key. So it was a frequent topic of discussion. "Can I see you after I finish up with Eugene Vespa?" Writing this kicked up some memories, and I remembered this note on the back of a business card, tucked away in a little box full of photos and matches and other mid-20s ephemera: Ann, Muchos apologies for the beach, will explain later – have purchased tickets for V. Woolf if you and Meg care to – Right now in search of Eugene Vespa- will contact later -show at 8 O'clock. Sidney. I have no idea where he would have left the card… my apartment step? How did he plan to contact me? Did I sit in my apartment and wait for the landline to ring? What did the beach have to do with it? I am pretty sure it was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in that same Lower East Side theatre, and who knows what I thought after that depressing representation of love. I wish I had kept a diary. But I absolutely remember getting to finally meet Eugene and riding off with Sid on the Vespa… he was grinning ear to ear. There was certainly no helmet on my head (eek) and as for the shirtwaist dress… only in my imagination.

 

Two pictures: (left) Business card of Passaic County Auto Body Shop with blue, green, and red holographic stars; (right) Handwritten note from Sid to Ann
too bad the hologram on the card doesn't come through on the screen

 

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