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Published: Sunday, 6/4/2006

Return of the shirtdress

Shirtdresses were almost a uniform for the moms on '50s TV shows, like June Cleaver. Shirtdresses were almost a uniform for the moms on '50s TV shows, like June Cleaver.

Sundresses, slipdresses, and shifts signal summer as surely as heat, haze, and humidity.

But the season s strongest comeback is the shirtdress.

Shirtdresses are so named because they borrow design details from a man s shirt, such as a collar, button front, and cuffed sleeves. Often belted, bowed, and even cap-sleeved or sleeveless, the garment became popular in the 50s and was a signature look for TV homemakers such as June Cleaver and Lucy Ricardo.

Top American fashion designers became smitten with the look in the 60s, elevating it to luxury resort wear for the monied, and eventually spring and summer staples for the masses.

With its defined waistline a big current trend loose fit, and ease of wear, the shirtdress tends to look good on women of all body shapes and sizes.

The freshest crop is more colorful and detailed and incorporates more luxurious fabrics than the all-cotton originals. Some are even glamorous, less something you d wear while whipping up supper than a hot look for a lunch date or a night on the town.

This shirtdress is updated with a ruffled skirt and a stand-up collar. This shirtdress is updated with a ruffled skirt and a stand-up collar.

From Armani Exchange to Banana Republic, more labels are trying their hand at the silhouette with their own twists, of course. Nieves Lavi and Diane von Furstenberg chose graphic patterns and rich colors for their silk styles. Charles Nolan jazzed up his navy-and-white pinstripe design with striped white cuffs and collar and a white leather belt. Ellen Tracy tailored an elegant deep red linen version with long, cuffed sleeves and a hemline that stops just above the ankles.

Chaiken spiced up its linen shirtdresses with long, braided tassel belts. Kay Unger and Carmen Mac Valvo eschewed color for black and white. Valvo s are decidedly day-to-evening-friendly, with lace trim and no back on his black taffeta shirtdress -- perfect for a cocktail party -- and a lovely lace pattern on the flared hem of a white linen-cotton design.

Dina Ellen in Shadyside is carrying a modernized cotton shirtdress by Free People with stripes and little flowers in shades of green and turquoise and crochet detailing at the shoulders.

It s really cute, said manager Cherie Sanders. It s a great little summer dress with sandals. It can be worn over long pants or cropped pants.

The shirtdress has endured, she said, because almost anybody can wear it.

And everybody likes a classic.

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