Ask the Bean: The Perfect Button-Down

October 21, 2007 • Magazine

Ask the Bean: The Perfect Button-Down

Ask the Bean: The Perfect Button-Down

Sun, 2007-10-21 09:00

Dear Bean,
I own half a closet-full of button-down blouses for work. However not a single one fits me perfectly and some make me look downright frumpy. I am an average Medium so I don’t see why finding a blouse that fits me and looks fashionable is such an ordeal! Can you please help me find a blouse that looks good and I don’t have to constantly readjust?

Desperately Seeking Shirt

Dear Desperate:

Oh, the neverending quest for that perfect button-down blouse—office appropriate, fitting, and hopefully gorgeous. I’m sure every woman in dress code shares in your button-down frustrations. But armed with style, knowledge and a bit of patience, I can guarantee you will discover this legendary find — maybe even several.

First off — you are not an average Medium. By just going off the size tags, your journey will be a very long one, not to mention not very fruitful. Are your shoulders broad or narrow? Is your bust line large or petite? How long is your torso? Are you a bit self-conscious of your mid-section or is it your proud point? There’s a lot more to size than just Small, Medium or Large.

Know your body and accept it for its less-than-perfect features and then look for a blouse that works with its attributes. If you have a longer torso, try to stick with longer blouses and tuck them in or wear a camisole underneath so you’re not flashing any belly—I don’t think your boss would approve of such things. For larger busts or broad shoulders, the tunic blouse is very flattering and doesn’t accentuate the upper chest area. Also look for wrap blouses, which slims the torso while completely eliminating the gap-button issue.

For petite body-types, fitted is always best. You don’t want to look like you bought your blouse in the men’s department. If you’re looking to add some body to your frame, look for a top with ruching in the front. Also a blouse with longer arms—reaching to the base of your fingers—gives the illusion of length; add some French cuffs to the look and you just threw in a touch of office class as well.

After you figure out your most-flattering fit, look for high quality. You might find a blouse you love, but that might not keep it from fading, shrinking or stretching after just a few washings.

Most blouses are made with cotton or cotton/polyester blends. If the shirt is 100% cotton, make sure the cotton is very good quality. High-quality cotton, like Pima cotton, means that the cotton fibers are very strong and the shirt itself almost feels like silk. It’s also very breathable and comfortable. Polyester is blended with cotton to avoid wrinkling, which is a fantastic attribute; however keep in mind that polyester has a couple drawbacks. Polyester shirts don’t breathe therefore are not nearly as comfortable as cotton, they absorb oil stains easily causing those not-so-flattering yellow armpit stains, and they pill in areas that rub against the skin like inside the collar and cuffs. So if you’re looking for the ease of an iron-free shirt, find one with a higher cotton percentage for comfort and longevity.

Take care of your blouses! Upon purchase, read the tag and follow its instructions to ensure that your perfect blouse will not need replacement after its first laundering. The label will also say if there are optimal brighteners in the shirt to keep it looking its whitest, or if it is permanent-pressed finish — if so, DO NOT BLEACH! Bleaching will cause the shirt to yellow and the effect is usually irreversible. Also, look for detergents that have a cotton symbol on the container. These detergents help prevent pilling.

Now take a moment before you toss all your blouses into the Goodwill pile. You might not own that “perfect�? blouse quite yet, but that doesn’t mean one or two of those “good�? blouses can’t be made use of prior to your perfect purchase. Just slip a vest, blazer, or sweater over it and you just made it part of a perfectly layered outfit!

Shopping Guide
1. BCBG Max Azria Stripe Shirting Blouse
2. Charles Nolan Silk Georgette Blouse
3. Craig Taylor Jet Set
4. Ellen Tracy Stretch Sateen Cotton Blouse
5. 3.1 Phillip Lim Pleat Front Blouse
6. Marc by Marc Jacobs Dot Print Blouse
7. McQ – Alexander McQueen Striped Harness Top

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