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The classic white shirt: A primer

Categories: beyond 9 to 5, tops


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a classic white shirt is a wardrobe staple. But where do you find a great white shirt? And how do you wear it once you’ve got it?

Simple. Let’s start with what to buy.

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Lands’ End Women’s Solid No Iron Pinpoint Cotton Shirt, $44.50

Classic doesn’t have to mean boring; white shirts come in a variety of shapes and styles. Choose one that works with your personal style. I’m partial to ruffles, but think also about a tuxedo bib, a tab collar, or a sleek tunic shape.

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Lands’ End Chambray Ruffle Front Shirt, $39.50 now $24.99

Look for a shape that flatters your shape. Not sure a classic button down will work for you? How about a wrap shirt? Or a sleeveless shell? If you choose a look you love, you’ll be more likely to wear the shirt.

Banana Republic Short Sleeve Wrap Shirt, $59.50

No matter what style you buy, check the fit, particularly through the shoulders and chest. You should be able to move your arms freely, and the placket should lay flat (no gaping at the buttons). You can always have the body tailored, if needed, and you can add a wee bit of velcro between buttons to hold the front flat as well.

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Carissa Rose Irina Princess Seam Shirt, $115

What’s the strategy for wearing the white shirt? Easy. For work, pair your white shirt with tailored pieces; tuck or belt for definition. Add a cardi or jacket for a more dressed up look. For weekend, wear your white shirt with jeans or chinos (or with long Bermuda shorts); leave the hem untucked and roll the sleeves for a more casual look.

J. Crew Frances ruffled tuxedo shirt, $89.50

After five, pull a Sharon Stone and wear your crisp white shirt with a beautiful cocktail skirt; add layered necklaces for a little more pizazz.

Your turn: how are you styling your basic white shirt? And where’s your favorite place to shop for the perfect white shirt?

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3 comments so far...

  • My favorite work white shirt is the Brooks Brothers no iron/no wrinkle shirt. I usually pair it with a bright or bold necklace to break up the white. On the weekends, I favor a short sleeve white shirt with fun accessories. I’m always on the look-out for good white shirts b/c they are so versatile.

    txelz  |  April 12th, 2010 at 6:22 am

  • No-iron shirts are the bomb, especially if you hate to iron. And since I seem to be the only person left in America who does NOT hate to iron, this probably applies to most of you.

    Hooray for no-iron shirts!

    Susan  |  April 12th, 2010 at 9:06 am

  • Great list!

    I actually say “all of the above”! I have white shirts with ruffles, 3/4 sleeves, short sleeves, tunic style, and button down. It’s such a versatile shirt, I can choose a silhouette and style for anything I want to pair one with.

    Heidi/Closet Coach  |  April 15th, 2010 at 12:33 pm