Wardrobe Staple: Crisp White Shirt

Today I’m introducing a new weekly feature – the Wardrobe Staple. Every week, I’ll cover an item that should be in every woman’s closet. These items are Wardrobe Staples because they enable you to create multiple outfits from them and offer a greater return on your investment. Most of these items are pieces that never go out of style, though there will be different ways to wear them based on current trends or the season.

I’m starting with an age-old classic that I bet most of us already have in our closets – the Crisp White Shirt. This is the standard button-down, long-sleeved blouse that today comes in hundreds of styles, cuts and fabrics to suit any body type. But you may be asking, “what’s with the ‘crisp?'”

I have a number of style icons – Audrey Hepburn, Diane Von Furstenberg, Gwen Stefani – but my greatest fashion influence is my grandmother. My grandmother has always been the most stylish woman in the room, even in her 80’s! Whether it is the beret on her head to survive winter fashionably, her penchant for mixing polka dots with neutrals so appropriately, or the classic wool beige coat with the fox fur that she wore when I was born (and that I was lucky enough to receive), my grandmother certainly knows how to put an outfit together.

One of the first things I learned from my grandmother was you always needed a “crisp white shirt.” And the crispness is key. Nothing deflates the look quicker than a wrinkled white shirt, unless of course it’s crushed silk! The crisper the white shirt, the more pulled together the outfit feels. Plus a crisp white shirt allows you wear the collar up, which I love to do with certain blazers. So get those irons ready!

The second most important thing is that the white shirt really is white. Though white shirts are very classic pieces that should be on permanent display in your closet, the shirt itself really shouldn’t be. Whites yellow and lose their luster really quickly, so this is an item that needs to be replaced frequently. I always suggest buying white shirts at discounters because it is an item that just won’t last.

If you are in the market for a new white shirt, here are some things to keep in mind while you shop:

So handy. Hold your hand under the fabric – can you see through it? If yes, just know that you’ll have to wear something under your white shirt, like a camisole or tank top. If it’s more opaque, then this shirt can be your base layer.

To tuck or not to tuck. Look for a white shirt with straight bottom cut. Most white shirts are cut more like men’s shirts, with the longer front and back sections for tucking in. A straight bottom cut gives you more versatility.

I see a pattern. In addition to the traditional white shirt, I’d also suggest getting a tuxedo style or subtle ruffle white shirt to change up your look. Or try a type of fabric with some texture, like cotton pique.

Once you have your white shirt and you’ve made sure it’s a crisp one (!), you have a foundational layer from which you can build your outfit. Outfit building starts with one piece, and from there, you can go hundreds of different directions. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Here’s our white shirt. This particular white cotton shirt has  a subtle tuxedo print that makes it a bit more interesting than the average white shirt.

In this example, the white shirt is the centerpiece. I’ve added a simple beige skirt as the supporting act.

The skirt has a herringbone pattern to complement the tuxedo style pattern of the shirt. The built-in belt of the skirt gives the whole outfit more texture and helps define the waist. I’d pair this outfit with:

  • opaque black tights to help elongate the leg
  • two-toned cream/brown heels match the colors in the skirt
  • a simple short necklace that floats on the collarbone

In this next example, the white shirt is the base layer. I’ve added dark-wash blue jeans, a skinny black belt, and a black and white scarf.

The white shirt helps the scarf really pop, and the white and black are nicely complemented by the dark blue jeans. I’d pair this outfit with:

  • metallic open-toed high heels with black knee-high socks or flat black boots, jeans tucked in
  • a stack of metallic bracelets on one wrist
  • if cool enough, a brown leather jacket to add some subtle color

In this example, the white shirt also plays a supporting role. A bit funkier version of the classic work suit, on top of the white shirt is a lightweight sweater vest with a black blazer with its own attached belt.

I like how the colors sneak out in unexpected places, like the green of the vest lining the blazer and white of the shirt popping out under the vest. The collar on the shirt is popped up to make it stand out a bit more. I’d pair this outfit with:

  • black wedge heels to make the outfit’s lines clean
  • a metallic necklace that floats on the collarbone

How does my grandmother wear her white shirt?  With a knotted scarf at her neck. So stylish!

How do you wear your white shirt? Share with us!


March 14, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . Wardrobe Staples.


  1. robes replied:

    cool story.


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