Not since Audrey Hepburn slipped into boys' shirts in the early '50s have oversized tops caused such a flap. Gentlemen may feel uptight about it, but their buttoned-down staple has been collared and altered by the opposite sex. Within the last few months, the big blouse has infiltrated the closets of the well-known here and abroad. Annie Lennox, Catherine Deneuve, Priscilla Presley and Stephanie Zimbalist have been seen swimming around in loose-fitting shirts, along with Catherine Oxenberg, Roberta Flack, Whoopi Goldberg and Angie Dickinson. As Charivari's Barbara Weiser says, "The big shirt has become a staple that will never die."

Fashion watchers say the appeal of big tops is their easygoing aura. According to Coty winner Willi Smith, "We're all a bit tired of looking like statements. Now with a big shirt, we don't have to. It's very unintimidating." In Paris and New York chichi models sport their big tops over skintight leggings. On cool summer days stirrup pants complete the look.

The floppy tops are being churned out in a kaleidoscope of neon and pastel patterns, ranging from florals and paisleys to Hawaiian prints. One particularly daring number comes from designer Danny Noble, who claims he was inspired to do big tops because his wife was always borrowing his dress shirts. Noble's shirts feature French cuffs and a racy split up the back to above the bra line. For fall Louis Dell' Olio at Anne Klein and Co. is going uptown with suede and cashmere. And in a kinky twist, Jean-Paul Gaultier has come up with big shirts that can double as dresses for men.

The biggest beneficiary, however, is the woman with a troublesome figure. "If you wear a big shirt, you don't have to worry about your hips," says West Coast designer Carole Little. "Even if you're heavy, it's a sexy way to dress." And Ginny Meinhold of the Leon Max design firm in L.A. agrees that it is a shape that hides a multitude of sins. Says she: "Anyone can find happiness in a big shirt."