Made in Maine Series: Jill McGowan and the Great White Shirt

French's Point
Published August 28th, 2012

As much as fashion trends change, certain pieces in a woman’s closet always stay the same — like the black dress, the comfortable but sexy heels, and a fitted button-down shirt that shows off your curves without compromising your professionalism. In the past, I’ve found the toughest of these three to find is a quality button-down. Seems like most shirts are too frilly or boxy, or they’re poorly made and uncomfortable. Then I discovered Jill McGowan.

Portland-based designer Jill McGowan has built her reputation on a very simple concept: that women deserve the same fashionable, durable shirts that are the staples of professional men’s wardrobes. McGowan cut her teeth as a menswear patternmaker in New York City, where cotton shirts are built to last years if not decades. But the same is usually not true for women’s shirts, which cost more and fall apart after a season or two. McGowan saw an opportunity to use her menswear skills to design fitted shirts for women with the same attention to material, patterning, and construction given to men’s shirts. So in 1994, she launched Jill McGowan, Inc. in Portland. Her first pattern was for her Great White Shirt — a feminine, cotton button-down that remains the staple of her collection.

Today, the Jill McGowan line includes a variety of button-down colors and cuts with patterns like wavy pleats, sheer pinstripes, and white-on-white polka dots. McGowan also designs the occasional non-shirt piece, like the Faye cotton dress in Fuschia or black. McGowan sells in about 300 boutiques around the country, including her flagship store at 56 Main Street in Freeport where I’m pretty certain you’ll find the shirt of your dreams. Even Mt. Desert Island’s own summer resident, Martha Stewart, is a fan – she recently featured McGowan on her show Martha Stewart Living and blogged about the designer, too. When Ms. Martha deems your classic clothing worthy of her approval, you know you’re on the right track.