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Linda Evangelista photo: Peter Lindbergh for Vogue Italia

I’ve never been able to get excited about the white shirt. It was part of my school uniform and frankly looked best after the class had signed their names all over it, on the last day of term. Remember that? Then as a fashion editor, the white shirt became one of the items ‘every woman should own’, and I didn’t. To me, the Lovely Blue Shirt with its complexion-enhancing properties has always had the edge. But, recently, I’ve changed my tune. First step: blue and white stripes for summer (courtesy of Banana Republic’s Dillon stripe shirt, HERE) and then the transition to plain white is a doddle.

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Photo: Peter Lindbergh

I’ve been wearing Hobbs’ Maddie shirt (it’s a bit like a men’s dress shirt with a pique bib at the front, available HERE) with my old denim jacket and cut-off jeans. Though I do like the ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it appeal of a white shirt and Levi’s 501s.

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On the Ageless Style tour, I opted for the Courtroom Nigella vibe and wore the white shirt under a smart black coat/dress. Hobbs also has a couple of longer-line styles (available HERE), while Jaeger has a neat tunic style with a stepped hem (available HERE) and J.Crew’s Thomas Mason collection is ace.

Here’s how to wear a white shirt and not look basic (Tip: under a denim jacket so there’s still a lovely blue element):

Alyson Walsh; That's Not My Age;
Photo: Dvora@Fashionistable
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Accessorize like Alice Carey. Photo: Ari Seth Cohen
Patti Smith 1975 Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989 ARTIST ROOMS  Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00185
Make like Patti Smith and add a black tie or bow

How do you wear a white shirt?

38 thoughts on “How to wear a white shirt and not look basic

  1. For me it needs to be: 100% cotton (though linen is also nice), oversized, long-sleeved and turned up ABOVE the elbows, accessorised with either necklaces or a headscarf, worn with jeans, Birkenstocks and bright red lipstick. Not that I’m in any way particular about what I like… 😉

    1. I always roll mine up above the elbow too Carole :)…it just seems to look better (and feel more comfortable) that way! I live in my white shirts in the summer. I even wear them over maxi dresses as a sort of jacket.

  2. This season is the first time I’ve gotten excited about wearing a white shirt. I’ve always loved them on other women but felt I was too short-waisted and busty to make them flattering. However, with drape being key, I’m enjoying the half-tuck white shirt with my cropped denim flares. I love your combination of the white jeans and denim jacket. I also love the pieces you showed as possibilities.

  3. I’ve never felt 100% comfortable in a white shirt either though I have one because “every woman should”! I love your look with white jeans and denim jacket though. I will have to try that!

    Elaine @ Following Augustine

    1. No I never feel comfortable in a white shirt either Elaine. Perhaps it’s something to do with the old school uniform as Alyson says! There are some good ideas here though so perhaps I’ll try again. I a basic one and an oversize one in my wardrobe. Next time I’ll roll up the sleeves….

  4. I own loads of white shirts although white doesn’t do me many favours near my face. I used to wear them with the red lippie but now I am older and my lips are thinner it doesn’t work anymore… ditto heels (bad back!).. sigh…… Now I tend to layer mine under V neck cashmere or silk jumpers as the collar and cuffs elevate a simple outfit – add decent jeans and nice boots and a nice scarf or bold necklace – done. However, I HATE ironing the bloody things!!

  5. I like a cream shirt as well as a white one and I favour wearing mine with a pearl necklace plus silk scarf around my head or neck (depending on my mood). Some may call this outdated or lacking in ‘edginess’but it works for me. Love your blog Alyson.

  6. I’ve wasted a lot of cash over the years on ” perfect” white shirts that turned out to be anything but. I now only wear them under knitwear, cuffs and buttoned collar on display. Apart from anything else I’ve ruined too many through a love of cooking ( Indian) and wine ( red). There is no perfect fix for a turmeric stain. This year I only bought blue, always wear an apron in the kitchen, and am much happier thanks.

  7. Last week was a week of firsts: first trip to Topshop in almost 40 years, and the first ever purchase of a denim jacket – said jacket and I have been inseparable and collecting a lot of positive comments. Interestingly I feel I can now wear a white shirt with it! Previously I felt they made me look very too booby & box-y and drew attention to my ‘swimmer’s shoulders’ – never a good look. I’m going to try out some of the ideas in both this post and the comments, just to look again at things I ‘didn’t think I could do’. Ditching age has repaid in confidence, thanks Alyson – clothes and fashion is fun again for the first time in years….

  8. White is pretty unforgiving on me – so I did go with your ‘lovely blue shirt’ mantra – and a few cream silk shirts. I do have one white shirt I love – big, very fine cotton and definitely for wearing with jeans.

  9. @AUD… Turmeric stains are removed by hanging your stained clothes in the sunlight. Even old stains can be removed. At least 4 or 5 hours though. That’s what we do in india☺️I wear a lot of white and I also cook a lot -Indian!

    1. Thanks! Will give that a go. Although it may be several years before we get 5 hours of sun in Glasgow. This blog is great. Style tips as well as practical tips in one go!

      1. Aud, have you tried a soak in hot water and oxy bleach? I’ve removed all kinds of stains on cotton that way…sometimes it takes a long soak (a few days) but it usually works eventually.

  10. A well made white shirt should be included in everyone’s wardrobe. I have them in both 100% cotton and silk. Add heels, flats, pearls, an optional scarf and an outfit is complete. On a hot summer afternoon, I roll up the sleeves to just above my elbow or higher and the white shirt turns into a summer white shirt. Add nice cut jacket on top for cool nights/days. Susan

  11. I always feel ENORMOUS wearing a white shirt, (being short of neck and gifted with boobs), oversized just makes me feel like a whale, fitted just makes me feel constricted and lumpy………….hooray for navy blue, that’s what I say! x

    1. Sharon,
      This was like reading a description of myself! But this year I’ve invested in two white linen shirts from Boden – the longer length style – which I wear open over a simple vest top, sleeves rolled, when it’s hot. Leaving them open means there’s some float and drape and, being tailored longer at the back than at the front, they get around that problem which busty ladies can have, when the front of a garment always sits higher than the back – with these it looks intentional, because it is. They do it in navy blue, too! x

  12. I love a white shirt – I wear neat fitting ones under jackets; for summer days, loose, rolled sleeves, worn with jeans, sandals, my Jacqui O sunnies, bright lipstick and a straw hat.

  13. I wear them LONG………….lately I have spied MEN wearing TUXEDO type shirts for daily wear with jeans.ARI does this……..I LIKE the LOOK and think I might LOOK for a TUXEDO MEN’s shirt to ADD to my wardrobe.Sleeves rolled up ALWAYS!

  14. I won’t embarrass myself by admitting just how many iterations of the “perfect” white shirt hang in my closet, nor that I’m always shopping for one even more perfect. I wear them pretty much all the time—alone, under blazers and leather jackets and cardigans, tied at the waist atop a maxi dress, tucked in with pencil skirts and boots, in hotel rooms as a pajama substitute, out to dinner with silk pants and heels, on casual days with boyfriend jeans and sneakers. They flatter my complexion and serve as a perfect backdrop for accessories. But, yeah, ironing them all can be a drag. Then I discovered the American brand Frank and Eileen, which makes permanently wrinkled button-down shirts that manage to look incredibly chic and cool not at all sloppy. Their white Barry shirt is my latest favorite.

    1. I’ve just had a look at their website. I’m feel an order coming on. Thanks for the recommendation.

  15. I love, love, love the white shirt. I have a few in the wardrobe. But I like men’s white shirts best of all. If not, then Gap boyfriend. Pet hate…women’s shirts that are so tailored they gape unless you are built like an ironing board. Right up there with spray on jeans and women’s jackets with no inner breast pockets. White shirt, tanned skin, silver jewellery. Stop.right.there.

  16. Wearing uniforms to school was a way of life for me. But I’m at the opposite end. I love a decent white shirt. Mine, I like a bit fitted with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. I have to say, though, that photo of you with the white jeans, white shirt and denim jacket. I am soooo stealing that look from you! It looks supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Sorry to quote Mary Poppins, but it just does!

  17. I think Cos shirts are fabulous! Just as edgy as Oska, but cost far less. I have a few and always get compliments.And they wash!

  18. Funny to come across this post as I wore a basic white shirt on Monday which I will feature on my post on Friday. When I pulled it from the closet I didn’t think it would work, but it did!

  19. I don’t remember NOT having a white shirt in my wardrobe, from the time I was in Jr. High. I like wearing mine with the sleeves casually rolled up. I normally wear either a 10-inch chunky turquoise necklace or a 22-inch, antique, turquoise, cloisonné necklace and silver earrings, in the summer. A white button-down is always a great layer piece under a crew neck or v-neck sweater, any time of the year. Besides jeans, there’s nothing else that’s as timeless, yet up-to-date chic.

  20. Love white cotton shirts, hate to iron them, so I don’t. Ever. My secret formula is for hacked Wrinkle Release.
    Water: 4 cups
    Any fabric softener: 2 oz
    Pour each into a clean spray bottle, shake and you’re ready to eliminate those pesky cotton shirt wrinkles. Just spray liberally on your cotton shirt, pat, shake and let dry. Works like a charm! You’re welcome XO.

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