A classic white shirt adds versatility, functionality and elegant style to any wardrobe. Ageless, egalitarian and gender-neutral it has been the winning card on the clothes rail for many stylish women: from Lauren Bacall to Marylin Monroe, from Julia Roberts to Naomi Campbell, including Princess Diana, Patti Smith, Diane Keaton and Kim Basinger.
Considered a timeless wardrobe staple, it has endless styling options meaning it can be worn all year round, season after season. It can be light and floating, impeccable and austere, sumptuous and all-enveloping, tight and close-fitting. As the late Italian fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré used to say: “it sculpts the body by transforming itself into a second skin. Imputed with glamour and poetry, freedom and impetuousness, the prim white shirt turns out to have a thousand identities“.
A must-have for any crunchy-lady who always wants to look effortlessly chic.
How to wear the white shirt
Whether yours is made from crisp cotton or soft silk, the classic button-down version is always a win-win; it works well with a tuxedo, a pair of blue jeans, a skirt or a pair of shorts. However, in midlife, you might risk looking too stiff if you’re not able to give it a twist. To avoid the risk of looking boring and predictable, roll up the sleeves, add a scarf and go for standout details and fun silhouettes.
To optimize your wardrobe you might also consider the fitted and oversized style. The first one looks perfect on hourglass and pear-shaped figures, this style has usually darted fabric at the mid-section to accentuate the waist. Normally worn untucked, it can be easily accessorized. Also, it’s great when layered under another piece of clothing, such as a blazer or jean jacket, or over a tank top and shift dress. The oversized one is ideal for those with a tall, plus-size, or apple-shaped figure. It looks best worn over a skirt (short or long), leggings or skinny jeans. You can also wear it untucked, with an open collar and with the sleeves worn long or rolled up.
Whatever you choose, the most important thing is that as white as it can be, the moment your shirt gets grubby it looks terrible. Because of this, the turnover of white shirts is probably higher than other items in your wardrobe. So unless you have a special occasion (then look for brands that have a focus on tailoring such as Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani), don’t overspend on them. High-streets brands also do trim and tidy very well.
And when it comes to fabrics, seek out natural fibres such as organic cotton, silk and Tencel, which is crafted from wood cellulose. Once you find a style that suits you; then stock up. This is a staple that will never go out of date.
I like a cut that falls gently off the shoulder line with a roomy arm – says Sarah Harris, deputy editor and fashion features director of British Vogue-. I can’t bear a tricked out collar or a weird cut. If the cut isn’t oversized, then buy at least a size bigger, which looks more elevated than a schoolboy fit. And forgot the dry-cleaning bills and instead wash on a delicate cycle, and invest in a decent handheld steamer – far quicker and kinder to cotton than ironing, which can often leave an ‘ice rink’ sheen to collars and cuffs especially. Your shirts will thank you for it.
What if I am a plus-size?
If in doubt, remember the simplicity of the white shirt makes it a foolproof option when you just can’t decide what to wear. In case you are plus-size feeling uncomfortable wearing white, don’t forget the key to a flattering garment comes down to fit, not colour. “White does not make you look larger if you find the right pieces – says the American celebrity stylist Susan Moses to Real Simple Magazine – just as black will not make you look smaller if it doesn’t fit properly”.
When shopping for white shirts pick materials with substance and structure. Also, look for button-down shirts that have stretch and design details that create a shape like ruching, and wrapping. For an even more appealing silhouette, layer the shirt under a blazer, jacket or cardigan.
It is essential you understand how your body works and what you feel most comfortable wearing. In the end, comfort and confidence are key. You have more curves than the regular woman, and it is completely okay that you do. You just have to work at it and come up with fun and stylish outfits that complement your figure.
Above all, it’s usually the way the person wears it that makes a difference.