When it comes to classic fashion, the white shirt — clean, crisp and timeless — is hard to beat. The book "The Classic Ten"...
When it comes to classic fashion, the white shirt — clean, crisp and timeless — is hard to beat.
The book “The Classic Ten” by Nancy MacDonell Smith places the white shirt among the Top 10 wardrobe staples. And no less a fashion arbiter than Carolina Herrera has made it part of her uniform. While her runway creations might offer a riot of color and silhouettes, she will always be found taking her bow after the show in a white shirt and black skirt (she’s said that she buys the shirts at Banana Republic).
Liliane Richa, a personal shopper at Dillard’s at Ohio’s Beachwood Place mall, has about 12 white shirts in her own wardrobe at any given time.
“They are so versatile, and they offer so many different looks,” she says. You can flip the collar up or wear it flat, for example. For daytime, you can wear them on their own or under a jacket or sweater.
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But also, as Richa recalls, “Remember when Sharon Stone wore one to the Oscars with a formal full skirt?”
Audrey Hepburn famously wore a man’s white shirt tied in the back to show off her tiny waist, but we have more options now.
While white shirts always have been a crucial part of a woman’s wardrobe, the infusion of stretch has rocketed them even higher on the list of go-to items.
Stretch has also made them more of a stand-alone piece — especially when they can be worn over pants or a skirt, without being tucked in.
“A white shirt has a much neater look if it has stretch,” says Dixie Lee Davis, director of Saks’ Fifth Avenue Club. “And it stays neat and smooth from morning ’til night.” So, women can look as fresh at the end of a day as at the beginning, which isn’t the case with a lot of clothes we wear.
Gailmarie Fort, an image consultant at Nordstrom at Beachwood Place, says the enduring appeal of the white shirt is simply this: “It’s fresh, useful and modern.”
Keep this in mind when buying a white shirt, which can range in price from $20 (at H&M) to $200-plus for brands like Ralph Lauren: White doesn’t stay white forever, so be prepared to buy some new white shirts when your old ones start to wear at the collar or get dingy. The good news is that this makes it easier to stay in style, as shirt silhouettes are constantly evolving.
The tips on buying and caring for white shirts come from Davis, Fort and Richa as well as our own experience.
Buying a white shirt:
• If you’re petite, make sure everything about the shirt is in scale to your body. You don’t want oversize collars, overly fussy details, too-wide lapels, too-long sleeves or too long of a tail on the shirt.
• If you’re busty, make especially sure that the shirt buttons in the right places so it doesn’t gap. Buxom figures should stay away from ruffles or extra details on the upper part of the shirt.
• For a slimming effect, especially if you go in at the waist, slightly fitted shirts are better.
• If you have an undefined waist, though, the blousier look might work better.
• If your tummy pooches out, a blouse that’s ruched on the side can disguise it.
• Vertical white-on-white stripes are very slimming.
• Check how see-through the shirt is when you try it on.
• Also check that all seams are sewn smooth and flat; if they bunch or there is an extra wrinkle, the shirt will look cheap.
• If white doesn’t enhance your complexion, add a pop of color with a necklace — say, bold turquoise, coral, jet-black or bamboo beads. Or add a scarf, cardigan or jacket.
• If you have a favorite white shirt, that’s fine, but try new styles, too — pintucks, darts, piping, colored buttons, bell sleeves, three-quarter length sleeves. All will update the look.
Caring for your white shirt:
• In general, it’s better to wash your white shirts than to have them dry-cleaned. You must, of course, wash only with other whites.
• Never use bleach; it will probably yellow your shirt.
• Pay extra attention to the collar. Put some dishwashing liquid or stain remover on it to get makeup off.
• Wash in cold water and let them hang dry, especially if the shirt has stretch in it. Or place briefly in the dryer.
• Be aware that even if you line dry your shirt, some may shrink after washing.
• Put white vinegar in the rinse water the first time you wash a white shirt. We’ve heard it helps it stay whiter.
• If you have a problem with underarm stains, tape or sew some shields there to make the shirt look fresh longer (Garment Guard strips are $11 for five pairs at Amazon.com).