Pulled together but casual, and luxurious without being flashy, a silk shirt is the wardrobe piece that just keeps delivering. There was a time when silk shirts were relegated to stuffy smart-casual office dress codes, but a new crop of brands like Stine Goya, SARK, and Casablanca are modernising the silk button-down. Whether it’s a La Perla silk pyjama set worn as a top or an Our Legacy modern update on the silk shirt, 2021’s silk shirts are the ticket for a post-lockdown world where, well, who even knows what the dress code is.
Before we dive in, some terminology. There are four different types of silk ― mulberry, tasar, muga and eri, with mulberry being used for 80 percent of silk fashion (it gets its name from the mulberry leaves the silkworms are fed). While silk is pretty much always on the pricey side, mulberry silk is the most expensive for its comparative rarity, with silk charmeuse coming in slightly cheaper because the silk worms aren’t fed mulberry leaves. The type of silk you buy will impact the way you can wash it. The Silk Association of Great Britain say mulberry silk is the only silk fibre you can put in the washing machine (at 30 degrees for a quick 45-minute spin); all other silks need to be dry-cleaned and stored in dust bags to preserve their quality. Lastly, one thing to look out for is the momme weight of silk. Basically, the higher the momme the more silk in your item. The average silk shirt has a momme of 35, and you can find the weight on the materials label.
With all this in mind, we spoke to 11 stylish people, from plus-size model Enam Asiama to fashion editor Jan Quammie to find out their silk-shirt picks. Read on for the best budget silks, the best statement silks, and the best plus-size options.
Best silk shirts under £150
For bassist Charlotte Watts, H&M’s mulberry silk shirt is the one for gigs in dive bars. “Now lockdown is easing, I’m already planning looks for when I’m on stage and a silk shirt has always worked — perfect with jeans or even boring black trousers.” Watts rates H&M because it’s “oversized, which is rarer for silk shirts,” along with its affordability (it’s only £79 for a 100 percent silk shirt.) Pleasingly, H&M’s silk can also be washed at home: Watts has the beige shade, and both colours of their silk shirt can be washed at 30 degrees in the washing machine. “I can also roll it up and put it in my handbag if I want an outfit change on the go,” Watts says.
Silk may be one of the most historically luxurious fabrics in the world, but writer and broadcaster Fleur Macdonald loves that she can wear this & Other Stories shirt on an any-day basis. Fleur rates the mulberry silk shirt for its “good quality and nice cut,” as well as the fact that in bright orange, “you’re unlikely to see other people wearing it.”
Though it’s a luxury fabric, you don’t need to spend big on a silk shirt. Brands like LilySilk (which is sold on Amazon) are just the ticket for supersoft, wearable, and affordable silk shirts. Fleur Macdonald rates the range of colours their Charmeuse basic silk shirt comes in — 11, to be exact, including red, blue, and green. “It means you can really experiment with colour with a luxurious fabric,” she says. LilySilk is also one of the only High Street brands to run sizing up to XXXL. An aside, after speaking to Macdonald, I bought one for a childhood friend last week and it went down very well, with my friend rating it as “one of the only plus-size silk shirts I’ve worn that actually looks good.”
If orange isn’t your shade, & Other Stories have a similar cut available, in white.
On the vintage trail is art director Zoe Doyle, who loves vintage silk for its sustainability benefits: “Perfect teamed with an oversized cardi or leather jacket, some faded charcoal jeans, and boots,” she says. This is a thrifty option in more ways than one — you can pick up a silk vintage shirt for as little as £40 on Etsy and eBay. When browsing online, Zoe keeps an eye out for Laura Ashley–style ruffles and 1960s prints.
Best silk shirts over £150
Fashion buyer Dana Thomas rates Parisian brand Equipment for the way it has “democratized the silk shirt, making it more accessible than ever to the everyday working woman.” Founded by Christian Restoin — husband of former editor of Vogue France Carine Roitfeld, the brand has made once-fusty silk an edgy wardrobe option. “Brands like Equipment have made the everyday silk shirt a wardrobe staple that can easily take you from day to night,” Thomas says. She likes to keep an eye on the Outnet sale — she says that “every season, you’ll find great discounted Equipment silk shirts there.”
The fact that silk can be worn as an everyday staple is a big deal for Miista wholesale manager Jean-Michel Beaulieu. He calls this white silk shirt from Our Legacy “a great addition to any summer wardrobe. I love the relaxed and slightly loose fit. It will lift any outfit, paired with denim or linen trousers.” Based in Stockholm, Our Legacy made its name experimenting with subtle updates to classics, and this shirt is its modern take on the button-down. And though this shirt is under the men’s category on the website, we spoke to the store to clarify, and it’s sold in the women’s department, too.
“’Silk’ was one of the first words I learnt in German on moving to Berlin where I started my perfume brand,” says Jess Hannan, who developed a taste for the fashion of neighbouring countries like Denmark. “The Danes are particularly good at silk shirts. For something unstructured that would look as good with your track pants as a suit, I like Malene Birger. They also have a silk-care detergent in beautiful packaging.”
“My post-lockdown mood board is very hard femme, Bound–slash– Mulholland Drive lesbian femme fatale and I think Nensi’s silk tops are very that,” says Megan Wallace, writer and editor at fashion magazine Hunger. “The silk shirt is very sheer, very sexy, like a luxe ’90s dream.”
Berlin-based stylist and fashion director of Cluster magazine Jan Quammie knows about new brands before they even hit the shelves. For silk shirts, she highly rates this tie-dye blouse by Casablanca Tennis Club. “It’s just so luxe and beautiful, from the print to the fabric,” she says. The shirts are made in Italy by French-Morroccan designer Charaf Tajer, and Quammie says that “the fit is perfect.”
Danish fashion brand Stine Goya rated well for its fashion-forward cuts. “I like how many patterns and characters the average silk blouse can have and how it can dress up a pair of knitted or linen trousers,” says Tahmina Begum, writer and editor of the Aram newsletter. Jessica Hannan, founder of perfume brand Apotheke, also loves Stine Goya’s silk shirts for their “instant energy boost on a Zoom meeting, and later, with white flares, gold jewellery, and a basket bag to a summer market.” Hannan is a true silk devotee. “A silk shirt is the ultimate femme power move,” she says. “Think of Joan in Mad Men or Gillian Anderson’s as DSI Stella Gibson in The Fall. When I have a big event with my perfume brand, like pitching to investors, I always lean into a silk blouse.”
London-based body-positivity advocate Enam Asiama loves wearing NYC-based brand Coyan. “They are a size-inclusive, fashion-forward clothing brand, which offer comfortable and lustrous organic silk clothing,” she says. Enam, who loves a silk shirt but finds they’re harder to source in plus sizes, says she wears Coyan’s tops and dresses, which she recommends as “staple wardrobe pieces” that can be “alternated for work-from-home, evening dinner, or daytime events.”
“Cat O’Brien uses her Victorian style and charm to create modern and uplifting silk shirts, bloomers, and corsets that speak to so many consumers of all genders,” says Jamie Windust, contributing editor at Gay Times. For those into the Bridgerton look, Cat O’Brien is the ticket for a nod to the era without the dress-up antics. Windust rates the brand’s clothing as “luxurious, beautifully handmade, and a real asset to any wardrobe.”
“La Perla’s silk shirt is my everyday luxury piece,” says art director Mia Birchall, who appreciates the versatility of this pajama item, which she treats as ready-to-wear. “It immediately elevates my outfit. During the day, I wear mine with flared jeans and some layered necklaces.” For says this shirt is worth the investment. “It’s so versatile, it’s really become a staple in my wardrobe.”
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