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.
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.