Plagued by “blouse gap” while working as a DC lobbyist, Rochelle Behrens had to avoid the awkward wardrobe malfunction. She found little luck with short-term solutions to closing gaps at the bust line—safety pins, double-sided tape, and metal hooks—and, before long, she sought a more permanent fix. After just one prototype, the Capitol Hill regular finally discovered the solution: Dual buttons placed on exterior and interior plackets. With that plan and her corresponding patent on the technology, she launched The Shirt, dedicated to confident, gap-free versatility, in 2008.
“I had tossed the idea around for a while, and discussed it with friends, but The Shirt’s official launch was certainly a defining moment for the business,” the DC-based designer recalls. “I decided to send a sample to The Oprah Winfrey Show, and within 24 hours, the show’s producers called me back saying they loved it.” Her big break was on the horizon: The producers said they’d have The Shirt on set in three days for filming, in time to be featured as one of the show’s fashion “must-haves” for 2011.
The trend-spotting media queen was onto something, as were the thousands of women who bought Behrens’s creation that year. The Shirt’s original button-down design features a tailored shoulder, slim-fitting arms, a versatile hemline (long enough to be tucked in but short enough to be left out), and that placket of precisely placed buttons. Shirts are sold according to bust measurement (in inches), which is key. “One of the beauties of the product is how straightforward the sizing is. There is no complicated algorithm of bust to waist to height,” Behrens explains. “Because the shirt fits across the bust, it will fit you everywhere else without needing a size up, which enables our customer to wear her real size—something she rarely gets to do.”
Ranging from fine stretch cotton sourced from Italy to sumptuous silks, The Shirt now offers three seasonal collections a year. More than 40 styles are produced almost entirely in New York City’s Garment District. “I split my time between NYC and DC, and though I do all the design, sample work, inspiration, photography, and production out of the NYC studio and factory, The Shirt was really born out of my experience working in DC. Who here doesn’t wear button-downs?” Behrens says with a laugh.
She aims to please Washington’s powerful, put-together women. “Our customer is young, urbane, professional, and modern. She cares about fashion, but also about simplifying her life and not overthinking getting dressed for work in the mornings,” Behrens muses. “To go from day to night looking polished the entire time is important, so we choose [to make our shirts in] fabrics that don’t wrinkle very much and that can withstand an entire day.”
Inspired by a recent trip to Southern Italy, her spring collection features blouses in shades of jade and dusty rose. A new bicycle-print silk shirt also lends a casual, carefree spirit. “Our customer wanted loose, languid silks and prints that could replace all the other shirts in [her] wardrobe that were fun, but never fit,” the designer explains.
And since women cannot survive on tops alone, her collection now includes fitted shirt dresses. “Women are not one-dimensional, and they love dresses for work and weekend. The Shirt Dress was a natural extension,” she says.
The newest offerings make a statement, but Behrens still has a soft spot for her original design. “I really love the new silk bicycle shirt. But if I had to choose one must-have piece this season, it’d be the perfect white shirt,” she reveals. “It’s an enigmatic, impressive piece that every woman needs in her wardrobe. And I love that it’s menswear reinterpreted, because it empowers women and shows that all are equal.”