“Bond. James Bond.” Those three words bring to mind the sophisticated image of a crisp, white tuxedo shirt and immaculately-tailored black suit. “Top. Chic top.” Three more words that, these days, conjure the same image for women’s wear. Today’s tuxedo-inspired shirts for women are licensed to thrill, providing women an equally style-savvy opportunity to enjoy this agent of change. Versatile and classic, tuxedo shirts are working the runways and working as appropriate attire for everything from black-tie soirees to backyard barbeques.

“The tuxedo-inspired top is everywhere,” asserts Sean Krebs, renowned style expert. “These days the top is definitely more feminine and certainly more modern. The choices are abundant; everyone from Philip Lim to Banana Republic to J. Crew is offering them this season. The key is to find one that it is semi-sheer with subtle details.”

According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™, the average woman owns more than 10 dress shirts and with newer and more stylish versions hitting the market every day, one can expect that number to rise.

Where Most Clothing is Purchased
  05Q3 06Q3 + / –
Chain Stores 18.6% 23.4% +4.8
Specialty Stores 16.0% 18.6% +2.6
Dept. Stores 28.3% 21.9 -6.4

“I have noticed lots of crisp white shirts, but I thought it was just because I was in the market for one, and not necessarily due to the return of the tuxedo influence,” considers Shari Horowitz, a New York-based fashion stylist. “I think every woman needs a great, classic, crisp, white cotton shirt in her wardrobe. It’s an item that works with anything from casual to dressy, from classic to trendy, and is ageless.”

While the look may be ageless, the current trend does have a definitive starting point, according to Patricia Pao, a retail expert and founder of The Pao Principle, a New Yorkbased consultancy. “We can look back to five years ago when Christian Dior presented his collection and started cutting his suits tight, chic and tailored,” she observes. “The trend was embraced by women and the women’s wear market responded. Now the look has trickled into chain and specialty stores and its perfect compliment is the tuxedo-inspired shirt.”

The trickle-down effect appears to be working for chain stores, which enjoyed a nearly 5-point increase over the same period last year as the shopping venue where most clothes are bought. A lesser, but respectable 2.6 point increase was seen in specialty stores. Responses to the Lifestyle Monitor survey indicated a defection from department stores, which declined a significant 6.4 points from the third quarter of last year as the venue where most clothing is purchased.

Should you be looking to avoid the stores and augment a blouse you may already own, it’s quite easy to transform that basic dress shirt in the back of your closets into a black-tie worthy creation, says Joyce Perhac, Executive Director of the Home Sewing Association, a trade organization. “Transforming a basic dress shirt into a fabulous, one-of-a-kind garment is really just a matter of finding the ornamental elements you prefer – like ruffles, buttons, trims, ties or cuffs and sewing it on to the shirt for a unique and personalized statement. These blouses look great on their own or worn under a jacket with the collar and cuffs prominently displayed.”

“It’s totally versatile,” agrees Krebs, the style expert. “It looks as great with skinny jeans as it does with a tulip skirt or black slim pant. If you’re adventurous, and have the legs to pull it off, pair it with leggings and knee-high boots.”

Adventurous is a word that most women do not employ when it comes to wardrobing. When asked how much they keep up with changing styles, only 10 percent of female respondents in the third quarter of 2006 stated that they stay on the cutting edge of fashion, down from 14.6 percent in the third quarter of 2005. According to the Monitor, almost two out of three women stated that they were either slow to change or rarely change their wardrobes; with the greatest decline, unexpectedly, among women aged 16 to 24.

Nevertheless, there is an interest in the new evolution of shirts and that will only continue, according to Pao, the retail consultant. “Due to the proliferation of straight pants as a favored bottom for women, we are seeing women pay great attention to their tops, so the tuxedo trend in tops will only go forward. And thank goodness, the pants that we will be seeing will be higher waisted and very wearable for women.”

That just may be a welcome consideration for many women; according to the Monitor, 56 percent of female respondents stated that they considered current styles unflattering to their shapes. But never fear, tomorrow’s tuxedo-inspired shirts should be helpful to women of every age, body shape and lifestyle.

“Tuxedo tops with a wrap tie or soft drape can be very figure flattering,” Perhac observes. “These blouses offer a more polished and feminine appearance and feel more grown up from some of the fashions we have seen in previous seasons.”

“The tuxedo-inspired top’s positive attributes are many. It can easily take you from the office to dinner with only a quick change of accessories, it’s timeless and it always looks chic,” promises Krebs.

In true Bond fashion, the tuxedo top is certain to inspire sequels. As we move into 2007 and beyond, look for tuxedo-inspired tops to shake up tailored silhouettes and to stir the imagination with its timeless and sophisticated appeal.

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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