I cherish my weekends. During the work week, my fiancée is gone early and returns late, and outside of our daily dog walks and once-weekly picnics (if you’re not picnicking once weekly with your significant other, reconsider your life), Saturday and – sometimes – Sunday are the only days we have to relax with a cup of coffee, our dogs, and a breakfast that isn’t a granola bar.
Every weekend, once I’ve had my coffee (decaf now, sadly) and am ready to start cooking, I invariably reach for the same garments: a comfy pair of shorts (or pants, if the morning is chilly), my Birkenstocks (say what you will), and a Big Shirt. And by Big Shirt I don’t mean an oversized gym tee. I mean a loose, oversized button-up shirt that I wear with the sleeves rolled halfway up my forearm. You may remember these from glorious 90’s moments such as this one:
Conversely, for a few years while I was in college, slim-fit shirts were the Holy Grail of menswear. At the same time that brands such as Band of Outsiders and Gitman Vintage were just getting popular on Styleforum, all my friends and I were constantly lamenting the unsightly ‘pooching’ effect you’d get around your middle when you tucked a ‘dress shirt’ from Express, or J Crew, or wherever into your ‘dress pants.’ Many things have changed since then, among them my own style, the relative tightness of your average shirt, and the knowledge of how the latter should fit.
The thing is, I’ve always been a t-shirt guy. I’m wearing one even now, although there’s a blazer over it, and a body-hugging button-up shirt just isn’t and never will be as comfortable. But a t-shirt just isn’t always appropriate, and when you want something with a collar, your recourse is the Big Shirt.
I have been, in many ways, groomed since birth to favor the Big Shirt. My mother is a painter, and many of my childhood memories involve seeing her in her own Big Shirt – either stolen from my father or purchased for herself – covered in paint, charcoal and wood chips. Similarly, my father chronically finds all clothing intensely uncomfortable, except for his selection of ancient and heavily-worn oxford cloth button downs. He wears them all the time, with everything – including under a sweater when skiing. As neither of them have ever been particularly interested in fashion or clothing, I never saw anything else. It should come as no surprise that the comfort I take in wearing a Big Shirt is both physical and mental.
My first Big Shirts were hand-me-downs from my father, and I still have them: pastel pink and pastel yellow oxfords from Polo by Ralph Lauren; even years after he gave them to me the shoulders are too big and the sleeves too long. They are, however, loose enough to be comfortable in the summertime, and offer just barely enough in the way of decorum so that if a friend comes over for brunch on the patio I don’t feel the need to change. I’ve also snuck them into the occasional casual outfit, usually secreted beneath a casual blazer or a heavy cardigan and paired with an equally casual pair of jeans or trousers.
I have a few other shirts I consider Big Shirts: one is a hand-me-down from my mother, one is a relatively new chambray workshirt from RRL, and the last is, similarly, a workshirt from Yellow Hook. The latter two are just about fitted in the shoulders, but cut loose enough through the waist to trick the wearer into forgetting they’re wearing a shirt. I’ve even tried to incorporate Big-Shirtness into the other aspects of my wardrobe, and one of my favorite shirts that isn’t for casual outfits is a Haider Ackermann women’s blouse in gold silk that is truly Big.
Speaking of, part of my love for the Big Shirt is due to its androgynous appeal – women and men alike look great in Big Shirts. Old Ralph Lauren ads are a truly great source of inspiration for oversized silhouettes, and the women’s suits of the 80’s are still fantastic. 80’s Armani and Versace advertisements are equally great, and all three brands showcase the elegance of billowy clothing – and of the Big Shirt in particuarly. I still love the look of billowing fabric and a cinched waist, and although trim-cut shirts are certainly still – and likely will be for the foreseeable future – very popular, there’s nothing better for a relaxed outfit than a Big Shirt.
You can, of course, head to your local Ralph Lauren outlet and buy an oxford a few sizes too big if this is an itch you’re interested in scratching, but 1) that lacks magic and 2) going to malls and outlets is a terrible experience. Instead, I’d recommend shopping Ebay or Etsy for old shirts. The key is really to find a shirt with a giant armhole and a pleated sleeve, because as much as we like to say that high armholes improve mobility – and they do – you’re much more mobile in a shirt that fits like a sack.
There are more than a few brands playing with bigness these days – popular names on Styleforum being Christophe Lemaire and Kapital – but if you’re sitting on the more classic side of the style spectrum, I’d suggest trying the vintage route first. Start with a plain white or blue oxford. Get yourself a narrow, over-long belt, then tuck your shirt into a pair of soft, pleated trousers; or wear it with comfy, worn denim; or be like me and wear it over a pair of beat-up hiking shorts. You just might find that what your wardrobe needs is a little bit of Big Shirtness.