What do Mick Jagger, Gianni Agnelli and Paul Newman all have in common? Quite apart from their joint reputation as three of the 20th century’s sharpest men’s style icons, they were all (at one time or another) enthusiastic proponents of the silk shirt.
Few pieces in a man’s wardrobe are more elegant, or indeed more storied. Spun silk has always been a luxurious choice of fabric, and back in the early 19th century, only the most wealthy of Regency dandies could hope to get their perfumed mitts on it. From the mid-1950s to the late 70s, it was a go-to for rock stars, musicians and bohemians, worn open to the navel beneath wide-lapelled gabardine suits, or mad checked jackets. It was the shirt of choice without exception for the Studio 54 and Tramp sets. And now, the slinky silk shirt has returned as the party animal’s choice for summer eveningwear.
Of course, a silk shirt comes into its own worn this way. Whether a pyjama shirt with cuffed sleeves and an open Cuban collar from the likes of Budd Shirtmakers on Piccadilly Arcade, or satin designs with club collars from Connolly on Clifford Street, there’s something unashamedly louche and attractively disreputable about it when worn after dark. On its own, tucked into a pair of pressed linen trousers with thick turn-ups, or styled with its collar spread over the lapels of a suit jacket, a silk shirt has no shortage of cool factor.
The silk shirt is cool to wear quite literally, too, thanks to its breezy composition – more than appropriate on humid evenings. If in doubt, try a short-sleeved camp collar number; there are smart designs out there from American shirtmaker Gitman Vintage, Scandi streetwear brand Our Legacy and designers Dunhill, Gucci and Saint Laurent, though these sit at the punchier end of the scale.
‘If you’re looking for something more casual, opt for a printed number and wear it with a pair of well-cut pleated trousers’
In navy, a silk shirt looks surprisingly understated and is easy to pair with summer suits or separates in tan or beige. In cream, it’s a louche choice beneath a dinner suit for a summer wedding. If you’re looking for something more casual, opt for a printed number and wear it with a pair of well-cut pleated trousers.
Of course, there’s also an elephant in the room. I’m willing to bet at least a few of you reading this are thinking, ‘but wait, aren’t silk shirts for women?’ Well, no – they’re not. Misconceptions like this feed into wider conversations around ‘gendered fashion’, which are outmoded at best and narrow-minded at worst. The idea of identifying certain wardrobe staples as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ in today’s world is both tedious and passé. If women can look sexy in tailored suits, men can look sexy in silk shirts. End of.
The key is simply to let out your inner Mick, and accept that for a silk shirt to work, you need to rock it. Roll up the sleeves, undo a good few buttons and swish about the dinner party as if you’re Elton John in an ostrich costume. You’ll look chic, feel cool and you’ll turn heads too. Just make sure it’s for the right reasons – your shirt might make you feel like Jagger, but, I’m prepared to bet, you almost certainly don’t have his moves.
Aleks Cvetkovic is The Jackal’s style columnist and is feeling pretty darn louche right about now