Wardrobe essentials: first layer tops

This is the third article in the Wardrobe Essentials series.

First layer tops are those worn next to the skin or over the undershirt. They come in all different shapes and fabrications. Fit is important here, especially through the shoulders and bust, as are colors (flattering, preferably, as they are close to the face). Other considerations include the neckline, sleeves, overall length, fabric, and details.

Essentials – first layer tops

Neckline
First, pick a flattering neckline. Consider its width, depth, and shape. Then think about compatibility with other layers. If there is a collar, does it look good worn on the outside of the sweater or jacket? Or will it tuck neatly into the neckline of your jacket or cardigan? No one really wants uncomfortable and unattractive bunching at the neck.

Sleeves
Length and width are important here. Long sleeves keep your arms warm and are the easiest to handle in multilayer dressing. Three-quarter and bracelet length sleeves show off the wrists, and look and feel more cool. Short sleeves and sleeveless are great options in the warmer months or for those who feel warm year-round. (I envy you. I am on the other side of the spectrum – often wearing long sleeves even in the summer.)

In terms of width, consider how you will wear the top. If you’re going to wear it under a cardigan or a jacket, the slimmer the sleeve, the less fabric will be bunching around your arms. Many tops for the warmer months have billowy sleeves. Ideally, they should not end up in your food.

Overall length
We all have length preferences, so think about how you’re going to wear the top – tucked into the pants/skirt or untucked? If untucked, will you wear it with a skirt or a pair of pants? Your preferred lengths are likely different in each case.

Fabric
What are your best fabrics to wear? Woven fabrics can be drapey like rayon challis or silk crepe for those of us with many curves, or more firm like cotton poplin for those with straighter lines. In knits, the choices range from tissue-weight jerseys to heavy double knits.

Details
Up until now, we’ve been making practical choices to stay cool or warm, using fabrics that flatter our body lines, and making sure our tops played well with other layers. But details… this is where your personality really comes through.

Maybe, like me, you are a minimalist whose idea of intricate detailing is a contrasting collar and cuffs. Or maybe you put ruffles, shirring, and piping into the same garment and look for something else to add. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.

Let your personality show in the details, whether they are big floppy ruffles or a stiff narrow pleated ribbon, wide contrasting bands or just a touch of topstitching, a colorful embroidery design or a tone-on-tone monogram. There is something for everyone.

Next in this series will be a closer look at pants and skirts.

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