Tops for spring and summer: What to look for?

Yesterday on Angie's blog post I asked about tops for spring and summer, and she suggested I bring the question over here. 

I am fond of the "unstructured structure" look. Slouchy and oversize looks really tickle my fancy. Don't get me wrong. I also love a good tailored fit and that is never going to change. But especially for summer, a loose, flowing, oversize top or a loose crisp boxy top sounds really appealing. 

In theory. 

Here's the trouble. I'm having a tough time finding any that actually flatter me, personally. 

In winter, I could wear oversize sweaters (like the big Gap sweater) with a turtle or funnel neck or with a scarf to cover the neck area. 

The effect of that neckline was to provide a bit of structure. A slim cut sleeve also helps. 

But in trying on tops and sweaters recently, I found that when the neckline was looser (as most of them are) or when the cut was boxy (even if the shirt had a crisp fabrication and a collar) I just looked....lost and overwhelmed. 

I tried on a bunch of tops at Cos and came away quite disappointed, because nothing really worked on me. 

This is especially a problem in summer, when a regular tailored button down is too hot for me in our climate. I did buy some sleeveless cotton shirts last year (tailored fit) and although they were more figure flattering and practical than anything else I was able to find, I felt a bit frumpy in them. They just didn't feel all that current. 

What styles should I try? What might work for me? 

Below, a few of the things I tried at Cos (not all tops) -- none of which worked on me. <insert sad face here>

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Isis replied 7 years ago
    What about sleeveless and unstructured like this blouse featured in Angie's blog yesterday?   The sleeveless aspect defines the shoulders and might seem more structured.....
  • Mo replied 7 years ago
    I would look for tanks so your shoulder line could add structure to your frame.  Like my Vera Wang (Kohl's) lavender tank. 
  • Sveta replied 7 years ago
    This is a good question and I will watch this post for ideas. I think the key is to get "unstructured structure' going on like Angie calls it but I am not clear how to keep this from being just unstructured and big.
    I think we need a tutorial from Angie!
  • Diana replied 7 years ago
    I love nice, flowy, silky tops for spring and summer.  I don't think you have nearly my problem with sloping shoulders that I do, but I can tell you that none of the tops you've shown here would work for me because of that.  I like to have shoulder structure above all else.  (and neckline structure helps too, but I personally need lower necklines because of my short neck.)  I'm beginning to realize that a dropped shoulder line does not generally work, hence sizing up regular blouses to become slouchy is not really a good idea for me. 

    You might want to try looking at something like this, which is a sleeveless top with shoulders that are not cut in at all.  This makes a wider, straighter line across the top to add structure.  The neck/shoulder embellishment helps too.

    I also like this new style of cap sleeve, which is similar to the one above but with a bit more sleeve (cut like a dolman):

    Or maybe all you need is some shirt lapels to add a touch of structure:

    I have this one (and it's from joe fresh so you should be able to get it in canada):
    worn here:

    I like drapey cowl necks too:

    The last one is actually really similar to my H&M top that I am wearing here to give you an idea of how it looks on me.

    ETA: As Mo says, if your shoulder line is strong, tanks that reveal it look good too!  (they don't work for me at all because my shoulder line is not strong at all.)

  • Thistle replied 7 years ago
    I think Mo and Isis both have good ideas. I really think the key is perfect fit through the shoulders so the rest of the unstructed bits look intentional.

    I have been struggling with this as well so it looks intentional and flattering rather than sloppy.
  • Parsley replied 7 years ago
    That first top in your pictures is one of the ones I bought at COS!
    In fact, if you look closely in my new profile pic, I'm wearing it!
    I like that neckline on me, but I can see how it might not work with your shorter hair and graceful neck.

    I don't have any answers off the top of my head, but I'll keep my eyes open for ideas for you.

  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Oh, so helpful! Thank you!

    Parsley, I just adored that top!!! LOVED it. But it looked pretty awful on me, I have to say. It wasn't just the neckline. The whole thing just sort of hung in a really unflattering way. 

    I can't wait to see it on you! 

    Diana, these are all very interesting and helpful suggestions. But sort of in the reverse way, if you know what I mean. The only shape that would work for me particularly well, in all of these, is a shirt with lapels. 

    My problem with the tops I showed was not in the shoulders. My shoulder line is actually really strong. My shoulders are about 39" around. Technically, that makes me an IT, though visually, I'm not, really -- or at least not strongly. 

    Still,  cap sleeves are not great on me. And because of my bony chest and longer neck (and short hair) low necklines, cowls, low Vs...anything like that is a poor choice. And that is most summery tops! 

    The tops I showed just had too much fabric around the middle for me, or an unattractive neckline for me (or both). 

    Boatnecks can work well (despite my shoulders) if they are structured enough. (I don't mind emphasizing the width of my shoulders). And crew necks are usually good. And collars. That's why I risked trying some of these. But no luck. 

    Mo, I'm also beginning to feel, at my age, that tanks are not the most appropriate. My arms are fine (although we'd better not discuss my elbows!)  I don't really know what it is. I just feel a bit underdressed in them, somehow. 

    Of all the tops so far, the one that Isis linked to looks most promising. Modest V neck, sleeveless, but a sort of asymmetrical cut. Now, if only I could wear that colour!  :)  
  • rae replied 7 years ago
    Hm... thinking on what you've liked wearing this winter, I'm remembering high crewneck pullovers, turtlenecks, scarves... my first instinct is to look for those kinds of things in knit linen or silk. The crewnecks can be sleeveless, and maybe the turtlenecks and scarves can be subbed with a drapey cowl for summer. Then you can keep your signature silhouettes but get some better airflow.
  • rae replied 7 years ago
    Ooh, these look kind of interesting, too. Sleeveless and collared, but in a linen blend and fun colors. Would that feel less frumpy than the fitted cotton ones?
  • Diana replied 7 years ago
    Oh, I see!  Would a flowy peplum top work?  Less volume through the body...;context

  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    You guys are the best! 

    Diana, something like the second one might work. The first one, never. See how it looks on the model? She can't fill it out. The low scoop neckline looks pretty awful on me. Particularly at my age. I think I could "get away" with low Vs and scoops as a younger woman, partly because I was a bit fleshier then, and partly because it just seems more expected for a younger woman to expose skin. But is becoming borderline uncomfortable for me, in addition to unflattering. 

    The second one, while it would be more figure flattering, is a bit feminine for my style preferences. This seems to be an issue that I'm running into. 

    Rae, the Gap top you linked to is very much like my favourite top from last summer. But yeah, it did feel a bit frumpy, somehow. Or not frumpy, exactly. Just not wow. And since I can't wear toppers in the summer, the top needs to make more of a statement, you know? It's tough! 
  • Glory replied 7 years ago
    This is a tough one because our spring will be short and we will be into the hot weather. Have you considered the light weight button down camp style shirts? Or perhaps a gauze flowy shirt. I am going to keep an eye out for you because SOON I am going shopping - as soon as I finish purging.
  • Peri replied 7 years ago
    Oh Suz, you made me go measure my shoulders! Ack...42 inches around! What does that make my body type...does Angie have a Lovely Linebacker on the list? 

    I am also boobylicious, yet small otherwise...34D, 126 lbs. Tops are really hard for me, especially summer ones. Why so many cap sleeves, please someone tell me?? They really make my shoulders look huge. Even without that, I've never met a woman who is all " oh I loooove cap sleeves, they are just so flattering."

    Good luck with the search! I'm on a major hunt too.
  • Ruby Tuesday replied 7 years ago
    I'm thinking woven t-shirts with a crew neckline and interesting details Suz similar to these (and available in Canada) in your colours but perhaps no the right sleeve length. not your colours but creates a statement as well as looking relaxed and comfortable. I think this may be what Angie describes a modern elegance.

    This sleeveless one has a shallow v neck and a lovely cocoon shape. This could be both a statement or a canvas depending on the styling

  • Ruby Tuesday replied 7 years ago
    Looking at the Cos photos I wonder if the length is part of the problem, I personally think a shorter length when combined with a boxy fit may be easier to style when layering is not an option.
  • pil replied 7 years ago
    Suz, these are probably wrong for one reason or another but the necklines are a bit higher.
    Although the agravation of tariffs just occurred to me.
  • Inge replied 7 years ago
    I'm not sure how warm it gets in your neck of the woods in Summer, but how do you feel about long-sleeved shirts with a relaxed fit? I love cotton, silk or linen shirts, slightly oversized even when it's really hot outside (you can wear them tucked, untucked, semi-tucked...). Actually I love the extra coverage in the heat. To me it feels more cool then direct sunlight on my skin. And I noticed Angie mentioned something very similar this week (about preferring long-sleeved tops these fabrics in hot climates).

    I know you love shirts, so that wouldn't be too much of stretch, right. I just had a look on the J.Crew site for some examples of what I mean:
    (I have this one in a bright green and an aqua blue and wore them all the time last year > it's a more relaxed vibe than a tailored button-down, especially because the linen crinkles, but perfect for a relaxed polished look I think)

    You would rock the striped version too:

    And an example of a sleeveless style, with higher neckline, I think would look great on you:

  • Parsley replied 7 years ago
    Here's one that would look great on you:

    And I LOVE this peplum top for you:

    Not totally sure about the necklines of these, but maybe?

    Do any of these look promising?

  • Gaylene replied 7 years ago
    Hey, Inge, you just wrote my post for me! The J Crew site has been a good place for me to find summer tops. And I've never had a problem dealing with them when ordering from Canada.

    I have a couple of the linen shirts that you linked to and recommend them without reservation. I also like their linen T's for summer; they look just a bit more polished than cotton T's

    Here's my links--I think we may have duplicated a couple for Suz ;)

  • Inge replied 7 years ago
    How funny, high five Gaylene!-)
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    WHOOT!! You nailed it. Now how is it that I can peruse these sites (or stores) and not actually see what is right in front of my eyes?? This is a huge help. Thank you. 

    Glory, Peri - the two of you had me chuckling. I think I need to do a purge, too, before I can truly shop, Glory! And Peri - oh lovely linebacker! If you are taller than I am, that shoulder measurement is not large. I'm only  5'4". But it sounds as if you are more of a true IT than I am. And if you ask me, it's good to be an IT! 

    Julie, I really like the tops you linked to. I wish I had seen them in the Hobbs I visited in London. Although you are right - I may have done and overlooked them because not really in flattering colours for me. But you have the idea, exactly. 

    Pil, we have an Ann Taylor in Toronto, and I really like those options. So I am going to look. They do ship to Canada now, but through the dreaded Fifty-One, a company I will never order through again! So it will have to be in person shopping, or perhaps wait for my trips to the US. I am coming to the states for a few days in early July. Yay! 

    Inge, I do like shirts, you're right -- and they suit me. But in the hottest six weeks of our summer, I honestly find long fitted sleeves too hot. Even when I roll or scrunch. I need something looser under the armpit, if you know what I mean! I live and work without air conditioning. Having said that, not every day is blistering hot and we certainly have about six to eight weeks of warm but not killer hot weather where I will gladly wear a linen button down. 

    And I love the ones you linked to!! I also adore the silk, but wonder if it is practical for me. 

    Parsley, I love that peplum, too. It's the one K can shop was wearing last night, and I am going to order it and give it a try! 

    I also love some of those other tops and think they could very well work for me. Thank you!

    Gaylene, thank you - those linen Ts look amazing! I love the sort of silkscreen print one (navy and white) and the dolman sleeve one. They're perfect!! 

    Okay, here I come, J. Crew. And best of all -- I have a gift card there right now! 

  • texstyle replied 7 years ago
    Suz, I can really relate to a lot of what you've said. I don't have a long neck in particular but it's not short. I've lived in v-necks for so long (and v-neck oriented button downs) and I'm having trouble finding another neckline that works for me. I also I feel like I am starting to want a bit more coverage. I never thought I'd embrace bermuda shorts (and I still roll them up some) but now I feel a bit odd in my 7" chinos unless I'm just kicking around at home or hiking, etc.

    I also have strong shoulders - and I used to like boatnecks, but haven't tried them lately. I wonder if there are any mid sleeve (elbow sleeve) boatnecks that might work? I did buy three slight scoop neck semi-loose and very soft knit tops from Talbots last year with elbow length sleeves and I really enjoy those. They are my "dressy" tees. They are just fitted enough in the bust, shoulders and arms to feel non-frumpy, you know?  The have a wide band at the sleeves that really works to keep some structure.  I also found a couple of "trapeze" or "a-line" style tops last year that I liked. Both had a somewhat fitted top and then sort of an A-line from the bust so it was a combination of fitted and not. One was a white tee shirt material from Ann Taylor with gold buttons down one side and a slight scoop neck, the other was a printed sleevess from Talbots and very comfortable but I found it a bit "spare" on top and had to use fashion tape to keep my bra straps from showing. I only wore it a few times so far but did get compliments on it and will wear it again.

    I've looked at this one recently and considered it:

    Or something like this in fuschia?

    Here are things maybe to look for:
    1. Elbow sleeve soft knits with scoop necks or boatnecks (these don't have the same wider sleeve band I mentioned);catId=ca
    2. A-line, Swing tee or Trapeze tops (various necklines/styles out there I think) I looked around but couldn't find much today
    3. Gauzy tops that you can layer over a light, not tight camisole.
    4. Extra light cotton lawn button downs
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Texstyle - I LOVE trapeze tops. When they were popular in the 90s I had three silk ones that I absolutely adored. They worked beautifully for me. They had either collar necklines or mandarin or just a simple modest V (each was different), buttoned down the front, were fitted in the bust and swung out. I wore them over straight skirts just above the knee and felt totally fab in them all summer long. If I could find some tops like that (if they would come back into style) I'd be in heaven. 

    Okay - off to peruse your links!
  • texstyle replied 7 years ago
    I do hope there will be some available this season. Look for "swing top" as well when you search - that's what I did last summer.

    Here's a modern take on a muscle tee that isn't bad in shape (to my eye). It is a juniors though (I order juniors sometimes).
  • Joy replied 7 years ago
    Suz, I'm so glad that you started this thread.  As a close body double, I have the same problems finding summer tops.  After many mistakes I've given up on drapey and most knits.  The neckline must not be scooped or open, but at least come close to touching my neck, preferably at the sides.  Short sleeves look worse than no sleeve, but the armholes need to be high with structure.  I wear lots of less than ideal tops because the perfect top hardly ever shows up.
    I've not tried a trapeze style, but that sounds promising.  I'm hoping for some silk tees with sleeves that will look right. Pil's first AT link is what I'm thinking of, but it may be too hot for much of our summer.. I layer my denim vest over tanks for structure and coverage.  
    Last year I found a couple of Classiques Entire sleeveless silk tops at the Rack that worked well, especially with drapey silk clams.  I'll try to find a photo.
    They came to the neck but made a narrow V and had some flare at the bottom. Eileen Fisher tops also usually give good coverage and have some bottom flare, but they vary.  Maybe Angie will find something.
  • Aida replied 7 years ago
    Suz, I am thinking button-up sleeveless tops (like the one I showed here) or high necked type tanks, and breezy linen things (either sleeveless, button-up, or tees) that are fitted to the shoulder would work well for you in truly hot weather. My weather is a lot milder, so I really enjoy boxy linen or cotton button-up shirts on warm days.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Aida, I think you are right. It is just incredibly difficult to find the right things, as Joy attests. Joy, I'm sorry you have the same problem, but glad that I'm not crazy for thinking it's difficult. 

    I hope others reading this will realize that we *all* have fit challenges. I know sometimes it appears that those who are slimmer have an easier time, and it is probably true -- to an extent. But tops I used to take entirely for granted when I was larger (or younger) are simply out of the question now -- and I still live in this climate of extremes, where the obvious solution (a button up shirt) isn't always comfortable. 
  • Aida replied 7 years ago
    I totally agree Suz. In a sea of flimsy summer wear, structure and high necklines are rare; I hear you on the fit issues changing, as well. Quite honestly, I am so happy I live in a place with mild weather because hot weather stresses me out to no end. I hope you can find some good tops!
  • Tanya replied 7 years ago
    Suz, would silk be practical for you, especially if it is washable?  I have found last summer that nothing works better than a loose, drapey, silk blouse.  Basically like a sleeveless version of the Equipment shirts:

    I have just purchased a knock off version from VS:;Catalogu

    Also, BR had a bunch of styles last summer, mostly collarless  that were some version of it.  I got a couple and many other YLF-ers did.  This year they have these, but I am sure they will have more options later:

    and some nice looking woven peplums:

  • Angie replied 7 years ago
    I hear you, Suz! We wear very similar tops! I am all for high necklines and unstructured structure.

    Sooooooooo opt for wovens with some sort of shirt collar. Tuxedo shirt at J.Crew with the butterfly collar gets my top vote. I LOVE IT!!!. Sleeveless shirts are a great way to go for when it's hot.

    Crew necks with banded bottoms - NOT loosey goosey . That's been the big problem here. I vote the "Tippi" sweaters at J.Crew. They come in wool, cashmere and linen knits - to cover all seasons. I have all fabrications and love them throughout the year.

    The Nordies sleeveless blouse that Isis linked to is another goodie. Is has a structured V-neck and shoulder line.

    Silk tees. I will be after those next, as soon as it is warm enough to wear them.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Oooh, Tanya, the Equipment one almost looks like my beloved trapeze tops the way it fits the model. I wonder. Is the VS one similar? (Or maybe it hasn't arrived yet?) I think washable silk would work for me just fine. In the past I have loved wearing it. 

    I loved those BR tops. But in Canada you could only get them in two colours, neither flattering to me. I'm going to hunt for similar things, for sure. Or maybe do my shopping in early July in New York! Sales should be on by then...
  • Peri replied 7 years ago
    Hi Suz,

    No, I'm not much taller. 5 ft 5. Lovely Linebacker it is!
  • Angie replied 7 years ago
    We posted at the same time. HAHAHAHA!!!
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Angie, thank you for weighing in. That J. Crew tux shirt is gorgeous. Pricey, but it sounds worth it. And I will try the Tippi while I am at it. One problem is we have no J. Crew in Kingston and I'm not sure on sizing. Should I go with 0 or 2 in these tops? (My Ann Taylor shirt is a 0; I usually wear a petite 2 in the fitted shirt at BR. My Brooks Brothers shirt is a regular tailored fit 2).
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Peri, you are an IT and can be proud of it!! I personally think a strong shoulder line is a fine thing in a woman! (Well, I pretty much have to say that, don't it?) 
  • Angie replied 7 years ago
    Hmmmm. Not sure. I take an XS in the Tippis and they are roomy. I have the tux shirt in a 0, and it's roomy. I wear the BB non-iron tailored shirt in a 0 and it's also quite roomy in the waist, but fitted on the shoulder and chest. Petites do not work in length for me AT ALL.

    Soooooooooooo, how about the Tippi is an XS, and a 0 in the tux shirt?
  • Gaylene replied 7 years ago
    Suz, I just wanted to chime back in to encourage you to try ordering from J Crew if you haven't tried them yet. I've always had a good experience and their personal shoppers really can be helpful at sorting out sizes. My order usually arrives within a week or so and returns are dead easy. I've found that my BR and J Crew sizes are usually the same, but, like any company, specific items can fit large or small.

    And I second Angie's recommendation for the Tippi sweaters in linen and cashmere. They are some of my favorite workhorses. You might also be interested in the feather-weight cashmere--super light and soft for summer, but they do have a tendency to pill. I use a sweater comb on them, though, so its not really a problem for me.

    BTW, I bought the indigo screen print linen top earlier this spring. I wash it in the machine and hang it to dry. It fits well and is really versatile.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    I think that's probably right, Angie. I might need a bit bigger in shirts than one would think due to my shoulders. 

    Thanks for the help on this! 
  • Aida replied 7 years ago
    If it helps Suz, my broad shoulders require me to size up one in the Tippi sweaters (which I adore; I wear a M in that cut and a 4 in most of their button-ups). Sizing up gives it fabulous drape for me, at least!
  • Tanya replied 7 years ago
    Suz, the VS shirts have just arrived and I took the photo of the cream one in XS for you ( got the black as well).  It is a bit sheer but nothing I can not deal with it.  The label says "dry clean" but in the past I have washed their other silk ones and they were fine.  There was a bit of change in the texture, but I personally did not mind considering the hassle dry cleaning would be.  And, btw, the clearance section has the same shirt in fuchsia :)

    I hear you on the BR shirts.  However, if you try them on and know your size, but you can not find right color in Canada, I am sure many of us from this side of the border would not mind shipping  you some shirts.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Tanya, you are so sweet! Thank you! I like the shirt a lot! And I must check that one out! I agree with you about washing. I always wash my silk tops in the hand wash cycle and cold and nothing has been ruined yet. 

    Also, very sweet of you to mention ordering for BR. If it comes to that, I might give a shout. But I do get down there now and again, so I should be okay!

    Aida, thank you - that sizing info is super helpful! 

    Gaylene - guess what? They don't have my size in the indigo print top. Boo!! It is so gorgeous! But it's helpful to know you find their sizing similar to BR. I think I can wear a 0 regular at BR .
  • DonnaF replied 7 years ago
    Please, I need a tutorial to help me link!  How about an entirely mesh sweater (body and arms) with a cami or tank underneath?  I, too, feel too exposed in tanks.  I just bought a Michael Kors mesh sweater from Nordies (sold in petites and regular).  Actually, I ordered a 2nd because I wanted to see if sizing up looks sloppy or merely oversized.  The mesh keeps it cool but modest.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Donna, that's a really good idea. In addition to everything else, I love the look of these. Totally worth looking for. I might even check out H&M for a cheap version to try it first. That's where I got my linen sweater last year and it works surprisingly well. 

    Linking is a cinch with Greg's new icons! See the little greyed list of icons on the left top where you are typing? The one on the right that looks like specs is actually a chain. Highlight the area of text you would like to become a link. Then click on the chain. A box will come up. Cut and paste your link. You have to make sure it doesn't include the http part twice or it won't work. And voila! 
  • Ariadne replied 7 years ago
    Quick drive-by post - the top Isis linked to, the Vince Camuto one Angie recommended, is available in white or ivory or something like that at The Bay.

    What about this?  Is the neckline too open/sleeves too wide?  The colour is eally pretty IRL.  It's a saturated vibrant pink, somewhere between fuschia and hot pink.

    I can't wait to check out all the links in this thread when I have more time.
  • Lyn D. replied 7 years ago
    I.S.W.Y.M. about the pictured items not being just right for you.
    I can picture you in something more structured- like sleeveless shirts with collars- these can be looser fitting and left untucked for volume but still would suit your frame and style better.
  • DonnaF replied 7 years ago <= Did that work?  This is the all-mesh sweater I mentioned.  I ordered my regular size, and a size up will arrive on Wednesday.  I have to figure out whether this will stretch out (heeding Shannon's warnings on this type of sweater), and whether a larger size will make ME look oversized per one of the reviews.  I just know it is cool and breezy and doesn't make me feel like *I* am on display as body con is not my style.   
  • Jules replied 7 years ago
    Reitmans has done some mesh sweaters this year, one style is quite similar to the one just above with hi-lo hem, another has shorter sleeves but comes in a taupe and a lighter neutral. I am assuming they have Reitmans in Ktown :)
  • Parsley replied 7 years ago
    Suz, would something like this work for you?
  • replied 7 years ago
    I second the J. Crew suggestions.  My straight figure likes their slim fits, high necklines and collars.  For spring I really like the silk Blythe and silk popover shirts that I think were mentioned here already.  With the sleeves rolled these can be quite breezy and the drape of the silk helps me to not feel swallowed up in the oversized fits. 

    For very warm summer days I have a couple of their silk, high-neck sleeveless shirts that I love from past seasons.  I haven't seen any great ones yet this year (the Sera top was really wide) but I would keep an eye out to see if they get any in this summer.
  • rachylou replied 7 years ago
    Hmm. My first thought was "poet blouse", although a google search on the term doesn't really turn up what I had in mind. I was thinking banded, blousey sleeves and not a collar, but a placket neckline... if that term can be used that way. Kind of like the pics below.

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