growing a minimalist wardrobe: silk camisoles.

January 27, 2016

growing a minimalist wardrobe | silk camisolesIf you read enough about so-called capsule wardrobes, you’ll quickly come across mention of the indispensability of the silk camisole (adorable shorthand: cami). Today’s post will demonstrate that among other things, I do not read enough about capsule wardrobes. (Taking the long way around, etc.)

Let me back up:

Growing up, my mom made me and my sisters wear cotton camisoles underneath our turtlenecks in the wintertime (And tights under our jeans on the coldest days, but that’s a subject to discuss on another day.) I found wearing the camisoles (and tights) to be tantamount to torture. I hated them. They felt bunchy and, as I was prone to saying, “uncunchable.”

Cut to adulthood and can I empathize with my younger self. I’m not a terrific layer-er. Despite the fact that I’m frequently cold, I can be reluctant to putting on more layers. But instead of hating the humble camisole, I’ve come to really love them. A plain cotton camisole is usually thin enough that it won’t bunch, and with enough stretch added to the cotton, it stays neatly put. Sleevelessness cuts down on the all around discomfort, and layered underneath a button-up blouse or sweater, camisoles do, indeed, provide an extra layer of warmth enough to make the winter tenable when you’re not willing to go full-on long underwear. My mom was on to something.

But this winter, I’ve tried something new that’s making me rethink my camisole approach altogether: the silk camisole.

It started by accident. One night, I had worn these pajamas to bed and I woke up in the morning with an intense need for a doughnut. (Unrelated to wearing the pajamas, as far as I can tell.) After pleading with James to walk around the corner and scoop up a coconut-covered little honey for me, it became clear that if I wanted a pre-8 am sugar rush, I’d have to get out of bed and get it myself. 

And so, I did what any responsible adult desperate for a doughnut would do, and quickly threw on presentable-in-public clothes over my pajamas. From the moment I pulled a sweatshirt over my head, I was hooked. Underneath the sweatshirt, the silk tank top felt even better than it had on its own. It was silky and smooth and not the slightest bit uncunchable! Layering suddenly felt good.growing a minimalist wardrobe | silk camisolesI realize this might not be newsworthy for the more sartorially evolved readers—all you capsule wardrobe mavens out there. But it took me experiencing a silk base layer for myself to understand the hoopla. 

A silk camisole sounds so fancy. And what a versatile little thing to wear without anything on top of it at all! But for me, the real secret is the comfort found in layering: there’s nary a bunch to be found when wearing a silk camisole under a sweater. Everything slips and slides around in a warm little cocoon that’s the very opposite of suffocating and confining. 

I’m most hopeful that the silk will hold up fairly well. I’ve found that most of my cotton camisoles get stretched out and sad-looking after a year or two. With a little love and care, I’m thinking silk will stand up a little better. Yes? No? Maybe? Who’s already a silk camisole convert out there?

In case you’re in the market: Here’s a little list of other (non-pajama) silky options should you want in on the silky secret.

+ Brook There has a beautiful black silk chemise that looks like a very lovely start for a silk camisole collection. (Their discount code is applicable site-wide through February 2, ICYMI.) (Made in the USA.)

+ Cuyana has two nice options. The silk camisole is a little bit refined with all those straps—and could definitely pull double-duty as a special top all by its lonesome. The scoop silk tank is more casual, and slightly longer. (Made in the USA.)

+ Eileen Fisher scoop neck silk tanks follow the same classic lines as some of the others in this list; theirs comes with a bluesign certification for chemical, water, and energy usage.

+ Everlane has a number of silky things worth looking at, but the long length of their simple silk tanks look especially promising for winter layering. (Responsibly made in China.)

Other things:

+ If care for silk is a hangup, I’m happy to report I’ve been hand-washing my silk tank on the weekly since mid-December and it’s good as new.

+ If the price tag on silk tanks feels (understandably) steep, a second-hand search from a source like ThredUp might yield some nice results (as well as raiding your grandmother’s closet). 

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53 Comments

  • Reply Claire January 27, 2016 at 8:21 am

    The Everlane pajamas have been on my wish list since their picture landed in my inbox last year. I have a few silk tops that I wear and handwash regularly. It’s been a few years, and they seem just the same as when I first got them.

  • Reply Ellie January 27, 2016 at 8:38 am

    haha loved how a donut craving gave way to this discovery – may have to try silk over the normal kind now!

  • Reply laura January 27, 2016 at 9:48 am

    And if it’s silk long johns you need, pretty sure every single friend of mine in Maine swears by this L.L.Bean pair, which you can get at a steal at the outlet.
    http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/74879?feat=887-GN1&page=women-s-silk-underwear-pants

    Also, now I want a donut on my next mainland trip!

  • Reply Stella January 27, 2016 at 10:02 am

    I wear wool ones! They make a huge different on the long and cold winters we have here (Sweden), plus you can wear any fancy top over at work and still be warm and comfortable. Next one will have to be in silk though, or a silk/wool blend. Heaven!

  • Reply Melanie January 27, 2016 at 10:06 am

    I’m going to have to try the silk camisole because I hate wearing regular camis throughout the day. They are usually all over the place underneath my sweatshirt or sweater. They dip too low, bunch up, or I have to tuck them into my jeans.

  • Reply Molly January 27, 2016 at 10:31 am

    I have a set of those everlane pajamas as well. They were great the first time I wore them but after a hand wash, they don’t feel as great and I’m going to have break out the iron if I want them to look nice. Any advice on laundering?

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 27, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Oh man, the day I iron my pajamas! I’ve washed mine in cold water and hung dry. Is that what you did? I noticed they were slightly less soft after the initial wash, but they softened right up after I wore them for a bit!

  • Reply first milk January 27, 2016 at 10:36 am

    Ellen. Tebbits.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Your ability to recall specifics from children’s literature impresses me beyond measure. YES!

    • Reply Heather January 27, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      I was thinking that myself! Probably because I read it with my daughter last year. 🙂

    • Reply Genevieve January 27, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      Nicely done. Was thinking the same thing without the specificity (read: competent memory).

  • Reply Aimee January 27, 2016 at 10:47 am

    I always wear a cami under my shirt (even at home) because it keeps the air from going up my back and making me even colder during the winter months!

    I’ll definitely have to check out some of these silky little numbers. They sound divine!

    Aimee
    http://www.intherightplaces.com

  • Reply Mary Kate January 27, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Looks lovely! May layering camis since my high school days have always come from (this is embarrassing) The Limited. They’re cheap and fit well, but I have realized that I need a more grown-up option. Thanks for the recos!

  • Reply Lanen January 27, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Hello Erin! I’ve been enjoying your blog for years. I’m wondering if you know of any blogs similar to yours, but with a focus on simple, sustainable, masculine clothing. Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 27, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      Ah, not sure that I do! There’s A Continuous Lean, which might fit the bill! It tends toward luxury goods a bit, but has some really nice stuff on Made in America options, etc.

    • Reply Amanda January 28, 2016 at 8:37 am

      Hi there – you might also try Design For Mankind – it’s also a lovely blog.

      • Reply Erin Boyle January 28, 2016 at 11:42 am

        Agreed: though I wouldn’t say it has a particularly masculine aesthetic!

  • Reply Kelly Libby January 27, 2016 at 11:48 am

    I, too, hate layering!!! ugh. I’ve never tried silk camis, but I do swear by the stretchy little numbers from Gap (and even cheaper versions from Old Navy). I don’t know how they stay in such good condition wear after wear and wash after wash but they do season after season. I wash in cold and air dry on the drying rack. They give extra warmth, and i feel like everything is snug and kept together underneath my sweaters and shirts. The best part?? They offer in TALL!!!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 27, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      Oh man, I’ve had bad luck with my last batch from The Gap. They got stretched and threadbare within the space of a year.

  • Reply Vanessa January 27, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    I’ve been looking for this post for years! I got two silk camis from Express in college…oh about 10 years ago… and have worn them regularly ever since. I prefer silk to the cotton or nylon/poly options because they breathe better, are easier to layer without adding bulk, and they just feel better. I’ve found that adding a cami helps delay getting my suits cleaned, so that’s a bonus too.

  • Reply Caitlyn January 27, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Right now I use the $2 camis from F21 (still have them from college) for everything: sleeping, working out, under blouses.

    I really want a silk shirt or two to add to my wardrobe. I’m actually braving the capsule wardrobe concept, but as of now it just means actually building a wardrobe at all since I have thrown everything away. It’s tough, but I’m excited for when I finally have it together!

    -Caitlyn
    http://www.catonthemoon.xyz

  • Reply Caitlyn January 27, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Oh, also! I would love to see your suggestions for your favorite blouses. I’m looking for some quality pieces to add in.

  • Reply Elizabeth January 27, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Can anyone talk more about washing silk items? What do you do exactly? What soap do you use? Do you scrub? Has anyone ever tried washing machine? What about ironing? My silk shirt seems to get rumpled and lose some of its sheen with washing (by hand OR machine). Ironing seems to fix that, but takes forever since I’m so worried about ruining it with ironing…Any tips?

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 27, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      Hi Elizabeth: I mentioned that I hand wash my silk above, but maybe you’re more into crowd sourcing this answer? For what it’s worth, I use cold water, a mild detergent (I refill a bottle with Common Good detergent from our local grocery for washing this kind of thing at home.) I lightly agitate and hang dry after gently rinsing and squeezing out the water. Haven’t felt a particular need to iron, but I’d agree that ironing silk is something to be careful about (and when I need to, I iron it underneath a tea towel.)

    • Reply Vanessa January 27, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      FWIW I fill a sink with cold water and a bit of wool wash soap (NOT Woolite – I use a special wool wash made by my local craft store but I think The Laundress makes a decent one as well) and let it sit for 10-15 minutes, depending on how funky my tops have gotten. Then I agitate a little by hand, drain the sink, and rinse by filling the sink again and letting it sit for another few minutes before draining. Depending on the top I might roll it in a towel before hanging, or just squeeze gently and hang.

      I steam instead of ironing; I bought a handy little travel-sized steamer on Amazon a couple years ago for about $25 and now I almost never have to use my iron for anything 🙂 The steamer I got (this one: http://www.amazon.com/Conair-400-Watt-Dual-Voltage-Garment-Steamer/dp/B0062ACM7G/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1453920397&sr=8-7&keywords=travel+steamer) has a little brush on it so it sort of fluffs up the silk and gives it back some of that nice sheen.

    • Reply yuri January 27, 2016 at 5:02 pm

      I just wash silk things in the washing machine on a delicate or handwash setting, with cool water and very little (but regular) detergent. Silk dries fast so it doesn’t need much drying time, but I’ve never had a problem drying by machine either. If you can pull them out right away, they don’t wrinkle and you can avoid that slightly crunchy, rumpled texture. I’ve also sewn a lot with silk (and therefore ironed it a lot), and that’s never been an issue either. I tend to set it slightly hotter than the “silk/wool” setting, use a little steam, and pass the iron over the fabric fairly quickly. It’s not cotton, but I’ve always found that silk isn’t nearly as fragile as people seem to think.

    • Reply catie January 28, 2016 at 1:18 am

      i’ve had good luck washing silk {and everything else} with eucalan: http://www.amazon.com/Wrapture-Jasmine-Large-16-9-Oz/dp/B009MRLUE2 i found it a decade ago when i needed to wash something wool & never looked back. you use very little & don’t rinse it out {perfect for travel}. i find it almost renews the fabric. and the jasmine scent is so nice.

  • Reply Anna January 27, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    I currently go hunting for silk at the thrift store, and while I haven’t picked up any silk camisoles yet, I have found a couple of lovely silk dresses. I use Eucalan to wash them. It’s technically for washing woolens, but it’s a great, no rinse mild detergent for anything than needs to be hand-washed. SOAK is also a great choice, but most of my local yarn shops carry Eucalan rather than SOAK so that’s what I end up using.

  • Reply Lauren January 27, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    I just started using The Laundress. I wash in the machine, cold, on the delicate cycle and put the items in a delicates bag. Remove them as soon as the cycle is done and hang to try. The texture did change a bit on a few of my shirts but I was able to get them back to normal with a steaming – using the same steamer that Vanessa linked to above. It takes a bit of time but it sure beats the dry cleaning bill!

  • Reply Elizabeth January 27, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Erin, Vanessa, and Anna,
    Thanks so much for your helpful and detailed replies! I so seldom wear my (thrifted!) silk shirt because of how long laundering takes. Now I have somewhere to start. Thanks and cheers!

  • Reply Vera January 27, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    since I have seen how silk is produced I’m not going to wear it again.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 28, 2016 at 11:47 am

      A cryptic comment, but still interesting. Is yours an ethical response to the use of silkworms in production? Low wages to workers? I’ve tried to source options that appear to be thoughtful, but I’m interested in your take on the industry. So many complex factors to weigh. What kind of fabrics do you prefer?

  • Reply Genevieve January 27, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    YES. I tried to explain the other day to my boyfriend how good it feels in winter to have a layer of silk under a layer of nice wool or cashmere and he laughed at me. But it feels excellent. I have a bunch of plain silk camisoles in black and random colors bought over the years when they went on steep sale at J. Crew. I’m trying not to buy from them anymore, and to choose more environmentally sustainable and ethical options, so I really appreciate the suggestions above. The ones I have are quite long-lasting for my purposes. I was them (and everything I own that’s silk and relatively unstructured) by hand: just in a bowl with Dr. Bronner’s or dish soap, then hang dry. I tend not to iron the camisoles unless it’s summer and I want to wear them on their own. They do lose a little sheen over time but I don’t mind. They feel so much more luxurious and beautiful than a ribbed cotton tank top; it’s nice to look forward to putting one on in the morning. Now if only I can find a good source for replacing the nearly-all-silk panties I loved until the company, Zinke, went out of business–or learn to sew my own as I’ve been telling myself I would do for a while.

  • Reply nina January 28, 2016 at 7:18 am

    I also wash my silks (and wools) in the machine on delicates/wool cycle. if yoyu have access to a newer washin machine, they are actually often more gentle than hand laudnering. Washing bags are good too. It’s paramount to use a wool/silk detergent, because normal detergent contains enzymes that eat away at wool and silk. worst case shampoo works too!
    Plus both wool and silk can be hung to be aired out and doesn’t need regular washing unlike cotton or man-made fibres.
    I hardly ever iron my clothes – life’s too short for that! but i guesss that depends on whethe you can embrace the slightly rumpled look 🙂 Oh, and they hold up fine, despite being thrifted or hand-me-downs from grannie.

  • Reply Nina January 28, 2016 at 8:00 am

    Hmm, now if I could only find a way to get rid of the overwhelming moth ball smell, this is what I’d make from my grandmother’s old saris…

  • Reply Tracey January 28, 2016 at 9:50 am

    The washing silk note at the end of the post, and the subsequent comments with advice, made my day!! I have had one silk cami that I dutifully dry cleaned as instructed, but don’t wear too much because of the cost, and thus despite my love of it, haven’t purchased anymore. You guys have opened up a whole wonderful world of silk garments to me!!!

  • Reply Heather | Cedar & Bloom January 28, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Intriguing! I have been very tempted to get one of the silk Everlane tanks for my minimal wardrobe, but wasn’t sure that I would get enough use out of it to justify the cost. I never thought of wearing it under sweaters, but that sounds so comfy.

  • Reply Devyn January 29, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    How have I never thought to layer with silk instead of cotton? It’s highly possible you just changed my life! So excited to revamp my camisole situation 🙂

  • Reply Nicole January 31, 2016 at 12:09 am

    Does wearing the silk under a sweater cause static cling?

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 31, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Not that I’ve experienced!

      • Reply Nicole January 31, 2016 at 12:59 pm

        Thank you! I’m absolutely going to get a silk camisole and give this a try. I usually don’t layer for the same reasons. Can’t wait to see if this works.

  • Reply Gretchen January 31, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I’m loving this post! I too have avoided buying silk as I detest having to have my clothing dry cleaned. I love the idea of simply handwashing! However, I noticed that the washing instructions for the Everlane silk pajamas are to hand wash, however for their silk shirts they suggest dry cleaning only. Any idea why that might be?

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 31, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      You know, I’m not positive. I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that most people would balk at the prospect of a pair of pajamas that require dry-cleaning. But I’d also say that a lot of companies suggest “dry-clean-only” when dealing with delicate fabrics as a way of not getting into trouble due to user-error. I’d bet you could safely hand wash most silks with a bit of care and special attention.

    • Reply Vanessa February 2, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      I’ve handwashed my silk Everlane blouses and they’re fine.

      • Reply Gretchen February 6, 2016 at 10:40 pm

        Thanks for the input, Vanessa! I just received an Everlane silk tank this week and can’t wait to wear it.

  • Reply Pink Camellias February 6, 2016 at 3:22 am

    I wear a cotton camisole under every shirt. Most shirts today are NOT made to be worn without a camisole – most are a little bit sheer. I just feel better wearing a camisole – gives coverage where it is needed!

  • Reply Mara Robinson February 6, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Hey Erin,
    I am completely obsessed with your blog. I recently discovered it and have not been able to put it down. I love that your stories take me on a journey to a place that feels peaceful and helps me refocus on the important “stuff” in life.

    I am about to launch a brand called The Realigned ( @therealigned) and would love to collaborate with you.

    We are a new Australian brand revolutionising everyday luxury.. We design modern essentials In the finest fabrics (launching with a line of silk tops), minus the luxury markups, ethically made with a transparent story. We will be he first of its type in Oz.

    DM me on my Insta account.

    Warmest wishes all the way from Australia
    Mara

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 7, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      Thanks so much for your note, Mara! If you’re able to email me at erin@readingmytealeaves.com that’s a much safer bet for me than Instagram!

  • Reply Isabel February 29, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    I love this post. Also if anyone reading lives in the Seattle area we have second hand Eileen Fisher called Green Eileen. (There is also a Green Eileen in Yonkers.) Yay affordable EF silk tanks! Plus all the proceeds go to programs supporting women and girls.

    • Reply Jenn March 12, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      Thanks for this! I had no idea this store existed in Seattle! Love EF for silk and linen, but typically need to try it on since I like a more fitted look.

      They told me they get several hundred new items a week.

  • Reply Hannah March 7, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    What are your thoughts on what to wear under a sheer white silk shirt? Have you tried silk under silk? Most of my white shirts seem to be at least a little sheer, and I don’t love when camis are visible underneath – any suggestions?? Thanks, love your book and blog!

    • Reply Erin Boyle March 10, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      Oh dear, I’m probably the worst person to ask! As long as my bra is pretty, I don’t mind if anyone sees it 😉

  • Reply Vicki August 18, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    This story made me smile, especially the part about raiding grandmas closet. When my mother in law passed, I “inherited” her silk camisoles. Winter silk is the brand. Not a day goes by that I don’t wear them. Even on hot summer days. I even have long sleeved ones for winter! I had a nightmare someone stole them. Yicks! I was a non layerer but now I am a believer!

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