Easy and Elegant, A Perfect White Shirt

Audrey Hepburn

I think this applies equally to both men’s and women’s closets — while I am a huge fan of mixing and matching patterns, there is a wardrobe staple that has to be mentioned as the foundation of a well-dressed person’s wardrobe: a perfect white shirt.

Some may find it “too easy,” clichéd, or even uninspired to choose a solid white broadcloth shirt when there are far dandier choices to be had — a veritable Gatsby’s closet of stripes, checks, plaids.

Maybe it’s my current obsession with a television show, of all things. AMC’s “Mad Men.” Take a look at John Slattery, as Roger Sterling. Crisp, right? Plays nicely against his silver hair and dark suit.
John Slattery as Roger Sterling
Here he is in civvies:
John Slattery as Himself
You tell me, but I think he looks better all pinned and proper.

John Hamm, who plays protagonist Don Draper, is equally well-kitted out in his spread collared, french-cuffed, perfectly pressed shirts.

Brian Williams has made the shirt his uniform.
Brian Williams
Now, the individual details are up to you. I happen to prefer a cutaway collar because it stands up better under a sweater or a jacket if I’m not wearing a tie. Barrel cuffs (two button for me) are convenient, but the french (or double) cuff shirt is about as elegant as you can get without resorting to formal wear. The downside for men is that we are required by “the rules” to wear french cuff shirts only with suits. Women have more options (including my favourite 3/4 length sleeve with the turnback cuffs.)

Selecting a tie is easy on the completely neutral ground of white. Everything works. But I prefer a metallic woven — the “wedding tie,” for example — with a charcoal suit. All the better to channel my inner Cary Grant. Or choose a solid navy grenadine to go with your navy double-breasted suit. High contrast can work wonders.

Women wear open necked shirts, for the most part. Perfect accessories pop when paired with the right white shirt. A colorful scarf, a triple strand of pearls, a diamond solitaire, a silver — or even velvet — choker.

And for casual wear during the summer, what goes better with your jeans than a white broadcloth or linen shirt? A tan, as unhealthy as it is. (Can men wear self-tanners without being self-conscious?)

Chosen carefully for fit and construction, white is always right. Ask Ms. Hepburn.

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