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Packing for a summer trip to Europe, with game-changing tips from Samira Nasr.
Greetings from Sardinia, where I am currently on vacation with my family and friends. Work on this week’s letter started in Los Angeles before my departure and was tested in transit from LAX > LHR, with six days in London before packing up for Porto Rotondo on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda – a trip that’s proving to be a perfect try-out for today’s star category: jean shirts.
Like many letter themes, this one snowballed. First, the head of fashion at Instagram and children’s book author Eva Chen posted a carousel of summer looks that included a denim shirt so good, I DM’d her immediately. “Vintage. Thrifted it when I was twenty-two,” she wrote back. Then Victoria Beckham showed ombré button downs with extra-slouchy sleeves in the prettiest, inkiest indigo for Resort (below). When Harper’s Bazaar’s Samira Nasr shared a close-up of a Phoebe Philo-era Chloé shirt (this letter’s Jean of the Week), I was sold. The subsequent chat Samira and I had was motivating. “If you find a good chambray shirt, even men’s, lemme know,” she wrote. We agreed, good ones are rare and often expensive. I said I’d try my best.
What constitutes a great jean shirt? First, let’s establish that it doesn’t have to be denim. Chambray, a fabric that’s woven like denim with a dyed warp yarn and white weft yarn, counts. Samira, a woman who knows jeans and frequently wears them in orbit with fashion’s highest houses, has a rule: No business-type buttons on the collar. “If you wear denim, you love freedom. Button-down collars are not about freedom,” she said.
Most jean shirts today are inspired by one of two traditions: Workwear or classic Western. I prefer the workwear ones with durable shirting buttons (v pearly snaps). The vintage Levi’s shirt I’m including in his letter is here to provide guidance on what to look for: Two front pockets, a contrast top-stitch, an honest wash, a fabric weight that’s substantial but also light enough to tuck in to jeans (no cropped tops), and a reasonable price… It’s a tall order. I’ll start at the top.
Of all the shirts I tried – a dozen, plus – this one is my favorite. Soft and sturdy, it checks all of the boxes listed above and the color pairs nicely with both white jeans and dark denim. I like the larger pocket size and the way the placket curls a little. For a day in London, I knotted a handkerchief around my neck and moved right into dinner without needing a refresh.
For the guys: Todd Snyder’s Italian Denim Overshirt is a great option and similar in style. I tried it for myself and would have kept it if the shoulder proportions were scaled a bit smaller.
Though it might not feel like the natural choice for an island holiday, in rocky, rugged Sardinia a jean shirt makes sense. This one from Madewell is cut from 100% cotton selvedge denim. On a boat day with my daughter, it totally delivered. Who cares if it gets wet? The long sleeves were great sun protection. Olive oil drips at lunch, SPF all over, etc. I washed it when I got home. So fine and carefree.
Sizes of this shirt are limited – I’m wearing an XS. The Madewell Camp Shirt is another one I recommend for the short sleeves (roll them, it’s cute), price (under $100), and size availability, including Plus.
LEVI’S: Vintage Capital E Jean Shirt
I couldn’t do a roundup of jean shirts without mentioning this one, which I bought in 2014 and believe to be the gold standard. The shape of the collar – pointy with a 70s flip; the authentic, high-contrast distressing and odd bleach spot (there when I bought it); the nod to peaked Western pockets, without the pearly buttons. Take notes. Should you go looking for a shirt like this, there will be a test.
This one is a collaboration between Gabriela Hearst (who is still the creative director for Chloé, until September), and the upcycled, locally-made East London Vintage (E.L.V.). Full disclosure: It’s made of deadstock linen, not denim or chambray, but the design is in definite jean territory. See how the patchwork shapes flatter the body’s contours? And look, it’s also 50% off…
Jean of the Week: Samira Nasr
“It’s one of my favorite shirts of life – old Phoebe Philo-era Chloé,” Samira Nasr, the editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, told me over DM after posting this picture. “The front is one wash and the back is another that matches one side of the button plackets. I fell in love with it the minute [Phoebe] showed it, but it was like $800 back then. I patiently waited for it to go on sale and paid $400, which was still more than I could afford, but it is one of my favorite items of clothing and I can’t imagine life without it.”
For clarity, Samira sent me photos of the front and back of her incredible Chloé, which revealed not just a careful patchwork construction, but a ghost-y wash effect nodding to traditional, Western-shirt shoulder peaks and pockets. “I live in it,” she said. “I’ve worn it to fancy things and I wear it to the beach. I think I’ve even slept in it.” Sweet dreams, no doubt.
P.S. If a jean shirt of any kind from Chloé is what you’re after, the label’s “Dempo” Classic Denim Shirt is currently 40% off.
P.P.S. Samira recommended I look at the shirts from the Japanese label 45rpm, and the Dungaree work shirt is now on my wish list.
I’m still on holiday and headed back to London in a week. Know a great place to shop for vintage jeans there? I’m always asking and love your recommendations. Thank you for reading, shopping, sharing, commenting, liking, and sending in questions. Your participation is everything.
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