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Blouse vs Shirt: What’s the Difference?

Women’s fashion can be confusing, and part of the problem is that there are so many terms for similar clothing items. Often, people use these terms interchangeably even when they mean slightly different things. You might instinctually call some tops, shirts and others blouses, but do you really know the difference between womens fashion tops


If you thought that a shirt and a blouse were pretty much the same, you’re not alone. It’s common to see either term used. But these different types of womens shirts have distinct origin stories and long histories.  



Let’s break down the difference between shirts vs blouses, the types of shirts and blouses available, and how to style them. 



What’s a Shirt? 

When it comes to modern shirts, you might think of anything from dress shirts to womens t shirts. But the ubiquity of the word shirt is what muddies the waters. In fact, despite their names, a t shirt, and a polo shirt aren’t true shirts in the traditional sense.


And where you’re from can influence whether you think a particular item of clothing is a shirt or something else. For example, Americans consider most tops to be some kind of shirt, whereas others consider a shirt to be a button down top with a collar and sleeves with cuffs.  


A true shirt is more accurately called a button down shirt. People often think of this type of long sleeve shirt as a dress shirt. These shirts tend to be more fitted than blouses, and there is not a lot of variation in length. Most of the collar options for shirts stem from historical men’s fashions. 



What’s a Blouse? 

Although we often use the term shirt very broadly, we’ve learned that shirts are actually a pretty specific set of tops. However, blouses include a much wider range of tops. Women’s blouses can be:


  • Fitted at the waist or with flowing, loose folds
    • Made from many fabrics, including knits
    • Can have no, some, or a full length of vertical buttons
    • If there are buttons, the buttons are on the left
    • Buttons are often decorative, not functional
    • May not have a structured collar and may include a variety of necklines


    The origin of the blouse traces back to France. First worn by workers, women eventually adopted this loose fitting upper garment. To this day, the blouse is considered a more feminine article of clothing and can flatter every body type because of the variety of structures and fits available. 





      Types of Blouses 

      Because of the enormous variety of feminine blouse styles, the possibilities are nearly endless. Some common types of blouses include:


      • Asymmetrical hem blouses 
      • Tunic style blouses
      • Lace blouses that can function like an outer garment
        • A long, billowy white blouse

        In addition, blouses can have a range of necklines from high-necked to off-the-shoulder or even strapless. They can be sleeveless, short sleeve, or long sleeve in various materials, from cotton and linen to knits. Traditionally worn by a woman, a blouse can go under another top or sweater or even function as a blouse jacket.  






        Types of Shirts 

        Although shirts tend to be more fitted, the shirt vs blouse line has blurred over the years. Despite more specific structures, there are many different styles of shirts. While the men’s shirt was long the standard, designers have been creating women’s shirts for years that follow the shirt structure but are more tailored to a woman’s body shape. However, many women like to style men’s shirts to get the shirt structure, but in a looser and more flowing format. In addition, the formality of shirts has relaxed over the years, meaning you can now find:



        • Sleeveless shirts with collars and functional buttons
        • Short sleeve shirts like camp and aloha shirts
        • An oxford shirt with a longer hem and distinctive oxford cloth, rather than a cotton shirt or blend
        • Long sleeve shirts from tuxedo to western shirts

        There are as many ways to style both blouses and shirts as there are varieties. Let’s look at how to choose a womens blouse or a shirt to style it to your advantage. 



        How to Choose a Blouse or Shirt 

        Both blouses and shirts can provide a more elegant choice than a simple t-shirt top. But when deciding blouse vs button down, you might struggle with which option will give you the look you want. Generally, button down shirts have a more formal feel, and you’ll often see them with a pencil skirt, suit, or trousers. All genders often wear shirts in business or work situations. However, many people do not consider blouses a genderfluid item of clothing in the workplace yet. As a result, you’ll often see women wearing blouses as part of their business attire. 


        But both of these fashion tops have moved out of the workplace, and you can commonly find them as part of everyday wear for all genders. In fact, both shirts and blouses can look amazing when paired with more casual clothing. Some fabulous combos include: 


          • A sleeveless blouse with wide-legged pants and a pointed heel


          Because blouse fits can nip in at the waist or flow down to the hips, you can choose something more fitted that draws attention to the waist or something looser for comfort. Interesting necklines, from crew neck to no neck at all, can draw the eye to the upper part of your body.  


          Shirts can provide clean lines and balance to an outfit. Tucks and other types of sewing can create a sense of shape in women’s shirts.


          Conversely, you can opt for a shirt tailored for male presenting bodies with more room in the shoulders and little to no flair in the waist and hip area.  


          Both blouses and shirts are versatile tops that can be at home in both the boardroom and the living room. In fact, part of the fun is finding interesting combinations and trying new styles!