The simplest way to update your summer look is a white vest – just be careful what you call it

There is only one contender for the trophy piece of this season. The look that model Kaia Gerber wore when she opened the Prada show at Milan fashion week was also the first piece on to the catwalk at Matthieu Blazy’s debut Bottega Veneta show. Dua Lipa is wearing the very same item on the latest cover of American Vogue, while Bella Hadid is snapped in hers by New York’s paparazzi almost daily.

So far, so high fashion. Except that you can buy this look for around a tenner. This season, which in the real world is headlined the cost-of-living-crisis summer, the white vest top is fashion’s hero of the hour.

Let’s take a moment to get the nomenclature out of the way. This is the vest formerly known as a wifebeater. It’s mind-blowing that this name was used in fashion for so long. Until recently, calling a white vest a wifebeater was an almost affectionate shorthand, as if domestic violence were … amusing? Charmingly old-fashioned? How that was ever a thing I do not claim to understand.

But the point is: this is a vest, or at a stretch – if you want to sound American – a tank.

The price tag of a white ribbed vest has a lot to recommend it. As does the loungewear adjacency, which positions it as a crisp white shirt for warm-weather WFH. It is also the easiest way to do the underwear-as-outerwear trend, because (a) it doesn’t show your tummy and (b) it can be worn with a bra underneath, unlike the spaghetti-strap camisole. (It’s maddening how often the bra requirement, which is the difference between clothes being doable or not doable for so many women, is an afterthought in fashion.)

But this is fashion, so what really makes this a white-vest moment is that the silhouette works. The boxiness of a white T-shirt or crew-neck sweater was a perfect foil when trousers were flat-fronted and snake-hipped, but now that trousers and jeans have changed shape to be roomier around the hips and thighs, a fitted top half makes for a better balance.

The trouser shape I want to wear now, the kind which has a bit of space around the hips, is hard to work with an oversized shirt. This baffles me, as it looks really good on every single 5ft 10 supermodel, so what’s going on? Oh, wait …

Having always believed I was destined to be 5ft 10, I am still in denial about being 5ft 5½in. (OK, 5ft 5in.) Adding a belt to a shirt and a pair of Oxford bags looks breezy and effortless in Vogue – but scrunched and cluttered on me. It is no coincidence that Kate Moss, who as a 5ft 6in icon in the era of glamazon supers is the patron saint of everyone with delusions of grandeur in the height department, was an early devotee of pairing a white vest with jeans in her famous 1990s Calvin Klein campaign.

If your summer wardrobe feels tired after two damp squib pandemic summers, a white vest might be the missing link. It is steadfastly utilitarian but, styled the right way, can look bang up to date. Wear it with cargo pants and flatform sandals. Or with high-waisted trousers and a blazer – just add a gold chain necklace and swap the cross-body for a petite shoulder bag. Or go full 1990s by teaming it with denim.

A white vest shows that you have your priorities straight, as it emphasises comfort. It blurs the boundaries between private and public while being entirely wholesome. And it will be useful on holiday, whether on a Spanish beach with denim cut-offs or on a Welsh one layered under a jumper. In other words, it is perfect for this summer, right down to the price tag.