Summer shirtwaists

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A well-fitting shirtwaist is a godsend in summer. Red seersucker dress

I’ve been treating myself to some ‘new’ dresses on Ebay this week. 

It started when I spotted this gorgeous vintage seersucker dress. Seersucker is a great fabric to wear in the heat, because the crinkle in the fabric makes it stand away from your body. This dress, which is rather like my old school uniform, or a 1940s nurse, has a number of little features that lift it above the ordinary: a bias placket, bias cuffs to the sleeves, interesting buttons. And it’s my shape – a slight puff at the shoulder, v-neck, tiny waist, full skirt that comes below the knee (believe me, the general public would not benefit from a view of my chubby legs). I’m also a sucker for stripes and for other forms of vertical detailing, such as buttons. 

Close up

When it arrived, in double-quick time from the US, it proved to be absolutely perfect – it could almost have been made for me. I changed out of what I was wearing straight away and wore it for the rest of the day, aired it overnight and wore it the next day too. It’s brilliant and I will definitely be copying it. The generosity across the back is noticeable – this is something that has suffered in fashion since the 1990s, as manufacturers seek to shave off ease everywhere and save themselves money. There are few modern dresses (without stretch) where you can hug yourself without strain. 

Plaid shirtwaist

Wearing it made me also remember what a fantastic thing a shirtwaist is in summer. It covers your arms a bit, so there’s no need for a cardigan, and a fullish skirt allows lots of air to your legs. Getting one exactly this shape is not so easy, however, as it is really a 1950s shape, so when I spotted this blue and brown plaid 1950s one in my size, I bought it straight away.

Pink linen Orvis dressI then had a think about which companies in the past have produced dresses that I like, and remembered Orvis. I love Orvis clothes – it is one of the few companies that has retained its quality in the rush to commoditised fashion – and I regret every Orvis item I’ve ever let go. I therefore looked on for Orvis dresses and found these two in linen, in my colours, and again with nice detailing such as pintucking and shell buttons.

blue linen Orvis dress

My experience of Orvis linen is that it’s superb quality – these dresses normally retail for around £120 but I got them for around $35 each, working out at about £33 with shipping. 

Brown Orvis jumperBlue Orvis jumper

I also plumped for this microfibre ‘jumper’ dress in two colours, to wear in-between seasons over a poloneck or teeshirt, with autumn coming up. My Orvis microfibre full skirt is still going strong after 17 years, so I have faith that these will be in my wardrobe for some time to come.


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