Layering a sleeveless knit pullover or “shell top” over a button-down shirt was an extremely popular combination ten years ago. Just to be clear, I mean layering something like the Chelsea28 Textured Mixed Knit Shell below over the white poplin shirt. The visual effect is boyish and preppy. 

I think the drop in popularity might have been related to the shell tops and shirts being a lot more fitted back then than they are today. This caused a little discomfort. And the tightness of the shell top made the shirt creep up, which is annoying. You often found yourself pulling the whole lot down. 

With today’s fashionable fluid and oversized fits, the combination is a LOT more comfortable to wear. First, you don’t need to wear a button-down shirt that is tailored at the waist. And second, the boxier cut of the shell top makes the layers looser and more forgiving all over. The updated combination looks and feels fresh.

Furthermore, you can use all sorts of items as the shell top layer. A leather shell top like the one here is a great option, as is the peplum version of that style. The V-neck is especially flattering on a shorter neck and larger bust. And don’t feel that you have to stick to a high contrast white shirt for the under layer. By all means throw in a blue shirt, a patterned shirt, or create a low contrast with a black, grey or ink shirt. Using softer blouses instead of crisp, stiff shirts is another way to go.

The three combinations below show more variations on the shell top, all of which are layered over a fluid white shirt. The first is a chunky cowl neck cropped sweater shell. The second a loosely knitted and distressed muscle style sweater shell. And the third, a roomy diagonal sleeve sweater. A sequined or lace shell top are more fun options.

Sleeveless Cowl Neck SweaterRodarte Knit Shell TopEsprit Soft Floral Sleeveless Sweater

Many of my clients are wearing the updated shirt and shell top combination and enjoying the increased comfort factor. They might not wear a button-down shirt on its own, but are happy to wear it with the additional layer of a shell top. Using soft silky blouses are equally popular for the underlayer.

It’s a super combination to wear to the office with trousers, leather pants, or with jeans for a more casual vibe. It looks fab over a pencil skirt with heels too. The wrinkles of the shirt don’t show through to the roomier fit shell top, and it’s brilliant not to have to wear a tailored button-down shirt. The best part of all: no more tugging to pull the layers straight. 

I used to wear the fitted version of the shirt and shell top combination many years ago, but tired of the look. Now that fits are fluid, I’m back to wearing it. The Chelsea28 Textured Mixed Knit Shell was a recent purchase at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, and I enjoy wearing it over a fluid white shirt with relaxed blue boyfriend jeans, white skinnies, black cigarette pants, or a black lace pencil skirt. The combination feels fresh for my style, and is excellent for our current mild Fall weather. 

Over to you. Do you enjoy layering shell tops over shirts? Have you tried using different pieces as the shell top? Do you use a shirt or a blouse as the soft layer? Or is this combination too preppy for your liking.