Here's how women of all sizes will look great in this spring's blouses

Leslie, right, soft pink Cooper & Ella cold-shoulder blouse, $125, at Bloomingdale's. The look comes together with these wide-legged knit white pants. Monica is similarly styled in a floral blouse, Alfani, $69.50, at Macy’s.

In an episode of HBO’s hit show Big Little Lies, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman’s characters both wear blouses to a contentious meeting with their town’s mayor.

Witherspoon -- the salty, stay-at-home mom Madeline -- suffers through most of the encounter in a sweet, floral, capped-sleeved Kate Spade, while her attorney, Kidman's Celeste, wears a cream pussy-bow blouse.

As recently as last year, a preppy, suburban mom would have been portrayed on screen in the ubiquitous cardigan, pencil skirt, and ballet-flat combo. A navy, black, or hunter green sheath would have been the go-to choice for a lawyer.

But as blouses — in all of their ruffled and pleated splendor — reemerge this spring on fashion’s front lines, they are asserting themselves as a key piece in a feminine suit of armor both on screens and in stores.

“We are seeing a new twist on the classic blouse,” said Emily Evans, a New York style expert for Ann Taylor. “This season, look for statement sleeves, pretty back and shoulder detailing, and exciting necklines.”

In other words, the blouse is the new dress.

“Blouses are a part of the more structured look that is fueled by the return of separates,” said Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst for NPD Group. Sales of women’s tops -- a category that includes blouses -- were up 2 percent in the 12 months ended February, from $43.4 billion the prior year to $44.3 billion, according to The NPD Group.  “And they serve a dual purpose as they are both dressy and comfortable.”  

Blouse sales are benefiting from the fact that women need to stock up — they haven’t had many in their closets.

I know I haven’t.

That's because the dress has had us in its fit-and-flare grip for the better part of 10 years. And when it came to tops, it was all about the turtleneck, followed by a serious peplum obsession.

Athleisure ushered in the cool idea that a scoop neck or trapeze T — paired with a blazer or cardigan — could be the best friend of leather leggings or midi skirts. And despite all of its hard-to-wear qualities, the white shirt is back on the scene.

Now, with their petaled prints and cold-shouldered detailing, blouses are what I’m shopping for to wear with my high-waisted skinny jeans and A-line skirts.

Blouses first appeared  in women’s fashion in 1860, when France’s Empress Eugénie co-opted the Italian folk-hero Giuseppe Garibaldi’s deep-red, voluminous, round-necked, long-sleeve top as her own.

The loose-fitting shirt became known as the shirtwaist, and throughout the next century, it was a cornerstone of women’s fashion for its role in the blouse-and-skirt combo.

In the 1930s, blouses added a needed feminine touch to what were scandalously new high-waisted trousers. And blouses crept into high fashion again in the 1970s as a necessary underpinning of pantsuits and skirt suits. Blouses stayed around through the 1980s workingwomen era, and, in the 1990s, they were mostly sleeveless shells.

For their spring 2016 runways collections, Rebecca Taylor, Nicole Miller, Tibi, Alice + Olivia, Monse, and Diane von Fursteneberg featured a variety of blouses -- especially the cold-shoulder kind -- in a nod to the 1970s collections. And they have continued to hang around, albeit, off the shoulder. 

“It’s all about price-per-wear,” said Brittany McGinley, owner of women’s wear boutique Estate in Doylestown. “You can get several different looks.”

Even with all of the blouse-centric looks featured on the Instagram pages of trendy boutiques and trendsetters, it took Melania Trump’s appearance at October’s second presidential debate in a now-famous pink pussy bow to make us pay serious sartorial attention to this particular separate.

To celebrate the universality of this spring’s most versatile top — button-up or pullover — we mixed and matched versions of blouses on real women: Monica Burch, 43, of Pennsauken, a community-development market manager in banking; and Leslie Padilla, 45, of Newtown Square, CEO of her eponymous public-relations firm.

The verdict: Anyone can find stylish solace in a fun and funky blouse.

Feathered and fun

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer
Light and airy, this white blouse with its undeniably adorable capped, feathered sleeves gives Leslie an ethereal look. Paula Hian, $200, at Paula Hian. “This blouse gives you a casual feel, but you still feel dressed-up,” Hian said. “You can wear it under a jacket during the day. But then when you are going out, you can wear it with jeans or you can wear it with a skirt, and it really looks like you made an effort.” 
Bold stripes are everything

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer
Black-and-white stripes mean business, but with a full sleeve, this blouse is playful, work-appropriate, and good on Monica’s curves. Alfani, $65.54, at Macy’s. We paired this V-neck top with a pair of black, all-season stretch Devin trousers at Ann Taylor, $98. Who says full-figured ladies can’t rock a bold print?  
The cold-shoulder is every woman's friend

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer
Leslie is seriously springtime chic in this cotton-candy-pink Cooper & Ella cold-shoulder blouse; $125, at Bloomingdale’s. We tied it together with a pair of wide-legged trousers, Ecru, $180, at Posh Collections. Monica is cool and confident in a similarly styled floral blouse, Alfani, $69.50, at Macy’s, with white cropped pants, Ann Taylor, $69.50. An exposed shoulder is always flattering. 
Who doesn’t love a some pinstriped action?

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer
Leslie and Monica are ready for some tailored summer fun in these identical blue-and-white pinstriped blouses, Ann Taylor, $59.50. “The pinstripe is super slimming on any figure,” says Emily Evans of Ann Taylor. “The looser silhouette gives the look an in-fashion menswear feel, but the ruffle is undeniably ladylike.” 

Soft-spoken drama

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer
Monica’s hot-pink blouse will provide all of the pop she needs for the party. Vince Camuto, $89.50, at Macy’s. Leslie’s lacy, bell-sleeve blouse makes us take notice because it’s oh so sweet: Touché, $120, at Touché Accessories. “Bell sleeves, cloche sleeves, trumpet sleeves, fluted sleeves, they work on women of all shapes,” said Conni McDonnell, owner of Touché Accessories. “When people are speaking, their arms move with them. This detail gently peeks out under a blazer, and when you take it off, voilá, you are a feminine young lady again.” 
Black tie-splurge

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer
The delicate bows on this coral, cold-shoulder blouse are elegant and cocktail-hour-approved. Nicole Miller, $265, at Estate. Pants, Touché, $158, at Touché Accessories. “The bow detailing is about tapping into that inner sexiness,” said Brittany McGinley, owner of Estate in Doylestown. “When you see the bow, you want to know what happens when it’s untied. This comes right from the lingerie-as-clothing trend.” 
Ruffled and ready to mingle

Camera icon michael bryant / Staff Photographer
Monica is dressed for some out-on-the-town fun in a short-sleeve, ruffled pullover blouse, Ann Taylor, $59.50. Brunch anyone? “Pay attention to where the ruffle detail falls,” said Evans, noting that ruffles across the bustline work for very few. But, she added, “along the bottom, even if you are bustier, a ruffle brings balance to a look and complements any shape.”
Clothing and Accessories
Ann Taylor, King of Prussia Mall, 610-354-0770; Bloomingdale’s, King of Prussia Mall,, 610-337-6300; Estate, 53 W State St., 215-348-8250; Posh Collections, 103 E. King St, Malvern, 610-644-7220; Touché Accessories, King of Prussia Mall, 610-265-2526; Paula Hian, 106 Gay St., 215-487-2762.
Stylist: Mark Barksdale, Instagram: @romanwarriorstyle
Hair: Hector Rodriguez, 215-375-2470, Instagram: @hexulrod. Makeup: courtesy of Ursula Augustine, Ursula’s About Phace Rittenhouse,, 1700 Sansom St., #201, Philadelphia, 215-557-1562. Instagram: @uaphstudio