Discussing her personal style in an interview for Elle, famed raconteur Fran Lebowitz lamented the demise of simple, perfect, white button-down shirts. Baffled as to why her favorite model, a cotton dress shirt from Brooks Brothers, had been discontinued, Lebowitz rebuked: “Shirts don’t go bad, they’re not peaches.” It’s a sentiment shared by designer Althea Simons, one that prompted her to launch Grammar, her collection of subtle, thoughtful variations on the ultimate wardrobe staple.
The impetus was a fire at Simons’s NYC apartment building in 2016, which left her belongings—including her closet—in ashes. A self-described “white shirt fiend,” Simons immediately went on a hunt to replenish her supply. But “the places where I’d gone before either weren’t doing white shirts that season, or I didn’t like the two or three they’d done.” She wasn’t looking for a fashion statement; she was looking for an everyday basic that transcends trends. “The fire was this amazing opportunity for me to reconsider the things I wanted in my life. Not only material things, but how I wanted to live my life.”
A personal desire for the definitive white shirt—and a resolution to live with fewer, better things—inspired Simons to start her own brand. “I wanted to make things that people need rather than want, things that everyone needs in their closet. To me, nothing epitomizes that more than a white shirt.” Having gotten a degree in neuroscience before studying design, Simons approached her collection with methodical studiousness. Rather than creating fashion for fashion’s sake, she began by interviewing a diverse range of women about what they look for in a white shirt.
That research informed a shirt with a waist-defining tie, addressing the concerns of larger-busted women, and a shirt with an asymmetrical hem, to simultaneously accommodate those with insecurities about their backsides and those looking to elongate their legs. Other styles include a long tunic-shirtdress hybrid, with slits high enough for one to easily access pant pockets, and a billowy blouse with ruched seams, imbuing a typically masculine piece with femininity. Building on the sustainable practice of living with less, all of Grammar’s shirts are produced in New York City using natural shell buttons and organic cotton.
The name Grammar was inspired by The Elements of Style: “I liked that concept: a foundation for writing that you can play with and make your own.” White shirts offer the wearable equivalent, a versatile garment that endures time and trends. In many ways, it’s an anti-fashion fashion brand—the kind Lebowitz might appreciate. “A lot of things in our society, from the news cycle to the fashion cycle, are so sped up that, to me, luxury is being slow, enjoying things,” Simons observes. “That’s the luxury I want to provide: You can put this shirt on, not think about it for the rest of the day, and just feel good.”