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What Is A Shell Top And How Do I Wear Said Shell Top?

what is a shell top
top: Joie (similar here), skirt: J.Crew, heels: J.Crew (similar here), purse: Aldo, earrings: House of Harlow, watch: Style & Co (similar here), bracelets: Argento Vivo (similar here)

What Is A Shell Top?

A shell top, or shell blouse, is a simple sleeveless, sometimes cap sleeve, slip-on collarless blouse. Shells can be made of any fabric including cotton, polyester, wool, or silk. I prefer shell tops to be made from cashmere, cotton, linen, rayon, silk, or a blend of these quality materials. Basically, skip 100% polyester shells. A few decades ago, shell blouses were often referred to in the context of sweater sets (hello ’50s) or bold jackets (hi early ’90s power dressing). Nowadays, in conversations with my clients, I often use the word “shell top” to reference any basic dressier sleeveless top that can be worn day to night. And as folks are dressing up again for the office — and after-office happy hours and events — shell tops are once again front of mind for their simplicity and versatility.

How To Wear A Shell Top

how to wear a shell top

When this post was originally made in 2014, shells were the perfect partner for a bold pant or skirt. The skirt or trouser would be striking in print, shape, or through embellishments. A shell blouse can still shine with a contrasting bottom, but these days I usually use shells to create monochromatic or minimalist looks. Often I use shell tops to complement an on-trend blazer. I am sure you noticed blazers expanded from the office to Instagram. Lastly, and this may go without saying, a shell blouse is practically essential for a pantsuit, statement suit, or skirt suit. Shells go with suits or other two-piece sets like peanut butter goes with jelly.

Where To Find Linen Shell Tops

what is a shell top
Banana Republic $60

When it comes time for summer, I adore a linen blend shell blouse. Ooo! Nothing looks more chic than a linen shell with denim (shorts or jeans) and a linen blend blazer. Here are my go-to sources for linen-based shells right now…

  1. Banana Republic
  2. Boden
  3. Gap
  4. Eileen Fisher

Where To Find Cashmere Shell Blouses

best shell blouses for women
One Grey Day $168

Finding a cashmere shell is harder than you think. Perhaps that is why you are here! There is not an obvious outpouring of cashmere shells, so I will let you in on my resources. Here is where I find my favorite cashmere shell tops…

  1. J.Crew
  2. Revolve
  3. Club Monaco
  4. Bloomingdale’s
  5. Nordstrom

Tip: Pair a cashmere shell with jeans or a tweed suit.

Where To Find Silk Shells

what is a shell top
Quince $39

I desperately miss the J.Crew silk tank shell that is no longer for sale. I was constantly putting it on clients. It tucks beautifully into higher-waisted slacks and skirts, and you can wear a bra with it. I much prefer a shell over a cami for this reason. Camisoles are sexy, but the barely-there straps make a bra impossible and that slinky fabric often shows nipples — a big no for most of my clients. Alas, that top has moved on, but I found other amazing silk shell resources to share with you…

  1. Vince
  2. St John
  3. Quince

Best Shell Tops

silk shell top
Banana Republic $110

The shell game is constantly changing, so I update this post every year with my favorite shell blouses right now. Below are my current favorite shell tops for you to pair with jeans, blazers, and more. Basically, whenever you have a pant you love and you don’t know what to put with it, just start shelling.

J.Crew Cashmere Mockneck Sweater Shell

what is a shell top
J.Crew $148

J.Crew Sleeveless Shell Top

what is a shell top
J.Crew $79.50

Eileen Fisher Organic Linen Jersey Tank

what is a shell top
Eileen Fisher $88 $61.60-$88

This linen shell top is also available at Nordstrom.

St. John Collection Liquid Satin Round Neck Shell

what is a shell top
St. John Collection $450

This liquid satin shell top is available at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Saks 5th Avenue.

Gap Modern Shell Tank Top

what is a shell top
Gap $24.95 $12

Theory Shell Top in Silk Georgette

what is a shell top
Theory $175 $131.25

sleeveless shell blouse

what is a shell top

joie silk blouse

Photos by Dayley Photography

Shell Tops From Years Past

I originally wrote this post years ago and update it regularly due to its popularity. I’ve left these photos below for nostalgic purposes. Whenever I update older posts, I love to hold on to a collection of images as a bit of a time capsule so we can watch how our style evolves.

Maria McManus Featherweight Recycled Cashmere & Organic Cotton Rib Tank

what is a shell top
Maria McManus $420

One Grey Day Talia Cashmere Tank

what is a shell top
One Grey Day $168

Boden Scoop Neck Linen Tank

what is a shell top
Boden $65 $52

Club Monaco Signature Cashmere Tank

what is a shell top
Club Monaco $159 $119

Splendid Wool Blend Rib Sweater

what is a shell top
Splendid $98

This wool-cashmere blend ribbed shell top is available at Nordstrom and Splendid.

BOSS Fasanara Rib Tank

what is a shell top
BOSS $248 $148.80

Vince Square Neck Rib Tank Top

what is a shell top
Vince $125

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