While in the opera, Lola had a blouse “of milk” (Cavalleria Rusticana), the “chanteuse” of the “café chantant” was always urged to take off her camisole, in the most exciting unveilings (noone talked about strip-tease yet…). In any case, inevitably, it was a shirt or a blouse that was being discussed: that is, the article of clothing made of various types of cloth (a linen cambric or a silk cotton, from flannel to organdy, from madapollam to lace, from Dutch cloth to taffeta and batiste and so on) that once, long ago, women wore directly over their skin, beneath layers of clothing (one well known type of blouse was the one worn by Isabella d’Este, also known as Isabeau, the wife of Charles VI king of France, the ancestor of our “blouse”). Over time, the shirt “that dear friend that resolves all situations, strange, absurd, accomodating, lending itself to help us when the wardrobe betrays us” while having, at the same time, “many styles and cuts, running from the neck to the waist and even further down,” worn inside or outside of the skirt or the trousers, loose or with a belt, with sleeves and necks that — alongside the motifs before or behin — determines its style. So important that it is used in a wide array of sayings (I’d give my shirt, born in a silk shirt, to gamble away one’s shirt, to be left in shirtsleeves), or it has risen to the level of a symbol: in the nineteenth century, Red Shirts for Garibaldi’s volunteers, in the twentieth century, light blue for the Italian nationalists after the First World War, black shirts for the followers of Fascism, brown shirts for the adherents of National Socialism; and in some languages, such as Italian, the word for “straitjacket” is shirt, i.e., camicia di forza. For that matter, in 1945 the linen blouse with very short sleeves with dark hems (the same shade as her pants) worn by Babe Paley, known at the time as Mrs. Stanley Mortimer — the world’s best dressed woman — began a trend, and in September of 1946 these articles of apparel actually began a feminine “school.” “Three Hundred Blouses at the Luxembourg,” as the headlines of the time put it to describe the secretaries, interpreters, typists, stenographers, and taxi drivers from all over the world who had accompanied the delegates to the conference of Paris: the blouses worn by these young women were for the most part “men’s shirts,” worn with a tie. Years in which women’s magazines suggested “make yourself a blouse” (with a pattern produced by the Marangoni pattern-making school), even though there are still shirt-makers and custom shirt tailors who are willing to make perfect ones, especially for men, with spare collars and double cuffs (with cuff links): classical shirts, in solid color or pinstripes for daytime, white (very rare the colored variants) for ceremonial or for evening wear: from models with the greatest level of opulence, with lace, ruffles, and jabots, to the more sober models, with little pleats and ribbings. Because we must remember that the shirt has “always” enjoyed a role of special importance in men’s wardrobes: suffice it to recall how much fashion was influenced by “Robespierre” collars! Collars that in the twentieth century became soft, unlined, with long pointed tips (George Frazier, columnist of the Boston Globe, in an article on shirts claims that “the shape of the collar is the most important thing”), while its said that John Brooks once, while in England, noticed at a polo match that the players had their collars fastened down by buttons to keep the tips, while galloping, from slapping their faces. Brooks, after returning to New York, had the first shirt made of Oxford cloth with a “polo” collar, the now famous “button-down shirt.” And it was in the United States that we first those flowered “Hawaiian shirts,” which arrived in Europe with the first American tourists, who caused considerable numbers of ironic comments and indulgent smiles, even though the men of the United States like to wear oversized shirts with strips, check, plaids, which however exert a great influence on the women in the audience, to the point that Elizabeth Taylor used the style, with allure and seductivity, in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. And it was precisely this type of shirt, a few inches longer, made of flannel or other comfortable cloths, became the “practical companion for the night,” unisex, in one of those many revivals of fashions that recall paintings, illustrations, and films that recall bygone eras. And, speaking of films, it is not possible to overlook a number of scenes in which a youthful Lana Turner, followed by the far more “pneumatic” Jayne Mansfield and Jane Russell, imposed their look with their tight and partially unbuttoned shirts… And the magnificent Mexican shirts, and the Brazilian shirts, all flounces and furbelows, worn by Carmen Miranda (the older readers will certainly recall That Night in Rio), or films, in more recent times, with Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau in Viva Maria! A completely different style were, instead, the extremely simple shirts, almost always worn with classical pants or jeans, by the three symbols of style and elegance: Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy Onassis), and Audrey Hepburn, much like the shirts worn by another Hepburn, the great Katharine, who almost made it into her uniform. Years in which this item of clothing was created, and indicated, specifically for various occasions: that is, for the morning, the afternoon, the early evening, evening, for the city, country, mountains, beach, excursions, cruise ship, travel. Among the many variations on the theme, we can mention the “vareuse” (the name comes from the Breton word “varer”): a shirt made of rough canvas used by fishermen or, if made in a heavy cloth, and item of clothing worn in the army; and, in contrast, the little fronts made of lace, velvet, piquet, worn with cocktail outfits, and the many “tops” preceded by “body stockings.” Shirts, or blouses, with square, round, or oval necklines, pointed, “American-style,” polo-neck sweaters, capes, various stitches (like the cuffs), in white piquet (in the Crawford style) or from which long thin Modigliani neck emerge; besides there are also shirts with “glove” sleeves, adeherent, balloon sleeves, ham sleeves, puffy sleeves, long, short, and very short sleeves; with pleats, micropleats, macropleats, drapery, ruffs, jabots-simple, double, or triple; with flounces of crumpled lace; with interplays of buttons in various sizes and all sorts, on the front, the back, the sides; with “Lavalliere,” or “Verdi” ribbons, and ribbons in velvet or stain, popular in white, but to be worn “according to the mood of the day, and in any case always coordinating the color with the color of the outfit.” And in menswear, in the Fifties (Capri docet!) we see shirts with small white and red checks, to be worn without a tie, unbuttoned, with black linen trousers, and following those, the first pink shirts (a color that was previously considered to be only for women), which aroused just as much irony and smiles — and polemics! — as the “Hawaiian” shirts. In the meanwhile, women’s shirtmakers went absolutely wild, seizing often with both hands (from every style), borrowing from the peoples of the Andes, the Magyards, the Africans and Tyroleans, even though the “lovely” white or black shirt still continued to represent the basic item, with trousers, skirts, and cocktail outfits, along with the unisex sporty shirt in light-blue denims, grey, if not — in the more “value-added” styles — with the names of major designers, in cotton or white linen with tiny gold buttons with “monograms.” In 1947 it was written that “the blouse was meant to signify in a certain sense ‘novelty,’ while in fact it is nothing more than a continuous return of inspirations, styles, and outfits.” In effect, we could also repeat this in first years of the third millennium: since we see, for the summer of 2003, alongside classic shirts with stripes or checks of every size, a number of men’s shirts made of white cambric, sweater neck and shirtsleeve made for applied starched collar and doubled cuffs (which waiters used to use, for practical purposes, showing that they were always impeccable; or the mad pianist of the sit-com, whose shirts always used to “fly” in every direction); and for women, in the game of “dessus-dessous,” an elegantly named game of upside down, here we have the déshabillé blouse in black chiffon nero, fragile lace, very soft, very light crêpe chiffon “like a cloud,” a dust-colored muslin: translucent, fluffy, sexy, in the tradition of the greatest femininity.”