Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

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.

14 thoughts on “Easy and Elegant, A Perfect White Shirt

  1. Will add the white shirt to the pile of ironing….
    Love white shirts! Do you know the store Anne Fontaine – all white shirts for ladies – tres french and wonderful.

  2. BA- plain doesn’t rule out elegant (as you point out in Ms. Hepburn’s case.) Beau Brummel was a very plain dresser. Just perfect in every last detail. As I’m sure you are.

    Mrs. PVE, the store sounds perfect. I will have to sneak over, if they have an online presence, and furtively send a few Mrs. E.’s way. She hates it when I shop. Thanks for the tip.

  3. I love the look of a crisp white shirt but sometimes I wonder if I can carry them off without a sweater or very bright tie as I have such pale skin. White shirts definitely work better on a tanned complexion!

  4. BtC, that’s where the colorful scarf comes in. If you are very pale, get some color up near your face and you’ll pull it off. Even a sweater tied around your shoulders will work well, I’ll bet! And, of course, there’s Mr. Williams’ third coating…

  5. You might be disappointed to learn the bulk of my wardrobe is black and white. And the white shirt? A staple. The Brooks Brothers no iron has saved me many a day as I’m dashing out the door.

  6. This post is perfectly timed, as I only last week picked up two more perfect white shirts, as I can’t seem to have enough of them in my closet. They seem to work effortlessly with a cashmere cardigan and a long necklace for the office, or a dinner jacket and silk scarf for evening.

  7. [Edit]
    Hello Wendy,
    Dear readers, please provide your solutions. This is important! Elegant cuts should be available to all. And I should add: none of us is perfect. Me, as I’ve written, I’m part corkscrew.

    I think that Land’s End does a very good job with a quality garment. I once had a dry cleaner tell me that they had some of the best buttons in the industry.

  8. Love the white shirt. Audrey is the quintessential adorable. But, there is something to be said for ALL white. I like white wool in winter too, coats, pants, or coat and pant together. I really can’t get enough of white. White lightens, lifts, and refreshes. White is light. Every bit as good as black worn well. P.S. Martha Stewart had on a long white cotton shirt today. She is not a small lady, nor young (but very young at heart). It looked crisp and terrific. Maybe Wendy could email the show. Betty

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