Is a white shirt a wardrobe essential?

Before we answer that perhaps we should define what makes something a wardrobe essential?

To me wardrobe essentials are:

  1. Those ‘go to’ pieces in your wardrobe that you know you will always look good in.
  2. The items you can easily dress up or down to suit the occasion.
  3. Items you can use to create a range of different looks

I recently found a lovely white shirt that has fast ingratiated itself into my collection and become one of my true wardrobe essentials!

Last weekend a friend was asking my opinion on a white shirt that she’d just bought and wasn’t sure about.   Immediately I could see the possibilities for this shirt!  Within a few minutes I was dancing round her bedroom as I matched her shirt with different items of clothing and jewellery.  I created 3 completely different looks!  Result one happy friend and one shirt returned to the wardrobe, labels removed and ready to wear!

Do you have a white shirt lurking in the back of your wardrobe? Maybe it’s got relegated to the back because you’re not sure it suits you or how to style it?

I would like to share my 3 tips for choosing a white shirt and some inspiration for how to wear this key piece.

1. White Shirt – Colour

It’s okay I haven’t lost the plot (well not entirely)!   The simple fact is that not everyone can wear a pure white shirt.   It can be too harsh for some people.

How do you tell? On some people it’s obvious, they look pale and drawn wearing white. For others it’s not clear.

The alternatives to pure white are:

  • Ivory
  • Cream
  • Ghost White (has a tiny amount of black in it)

If you think that you look tired or drawn wearing a pure white shirt, try cream.

Cream contains yellow and may help take away the harshness from the white shirt. If cream is overpowering then the in-between option of ivory may work.

Perhaps cream or ivory make you look a bit sallow? You may need ghost white or white with a hint of black to soften it.

If you are unable to find the perfect white for you, but still want that ‘must have’ white shirt, then partner with a scarf or necklace.

When you’re trying on clothes in a store I recommend coming out of the changing room to see the item in natural light.

Of course this may not be an option, particularly in shopping centres. Check the store has a no quibble returns policy (most do) and take the item home but try on in natural light before you rip off the labels and start wearing.

You probably think I’m being slightly paranoid? If so I recommend you read Amanda Platell’s recent article* which brought the differences in changing rooms into sharp focus.

shades of white

2. White Shirt – What Shape?

The basic rules for shape for a white shirt follow those of any other top garment.

It’s essential that the first step is to understand your body shape. Not sure? Check out my guide

Apple Body Shape

Skim but don’t cling. Show off your bust with a v or plunging neckline. Emphasize this with a statement necklace. Shoulder pads will add balance to your shape.

Pear Shape Body

Add volume to your top half with ruffles or detail around the neckline.   You will look great with puff sleeves to create more volume on your top half.  Shoulder pads and/or pockets over the bust are other good options to create volume.

Hourglass Body

A tailored white shirt with a v or scoop neck. Keep fabrics soft and not too stiff. Show some skin with your neckline if you are wearing a traditional shirt collar do not button up to the neckline.

Athletic Body Shape

Ruffles, cowls and ribbons to create volume.  You will look great with a high-necked white shirt.    Beware of materials being too flouncy, you need some structure to create shape. A white shirt that is slightly waisted will look great.

Inverted Triangle Body Shape

A more structured shape to avoid adding volume to your shoulders. Avoid full sleeves or shoulder pads, as either will add volume to your shoulders and bust area.   Look at ¾ length sleeves or an interesting cuff design, as both will draw attention away from your shoulders.

white shirt shape

  1. White Shirt Necklines

The factors to consider with your neckline are detailed in my post Don’t get hot under the collar.

Looking at the most common necklines for a white shirt:

Traditional High Stand Collar

If you have a more angular face shape a pointed style of collar will look great.  But particularly for inverted triangle body shape do not select a collar that’s too large.

If you have a more curvy face shape and bodyline then look at more rounded styles.

In other words you’re looking to reflect your face shape and bodyline with the size and shape of the collar.

Unless you are an athletic or inverted triangle body shape, leave the top button(s) undone to show some skin.

Pussy Bow Collar

This neckline comes in different shapes and styles.   Some can be worn in different ways.

Some pussy bow collar shirts have quite a high neckline and the bow needs to be tied to finish off the white shirt.

For others that also have a scooped neckline the bow can look great either loosely tied or in a simple half hitch. The simple half hitch allows the ties to just hang and create a vertical line, which will help you look taller

Ruffle neckline

Depending on the fabric and shape of the collar this can add volume to the top half, particularly useful if you have a pear shaped body.

An athletic body shape will also look good with a higher ruffled neckline.

For an hourglass figure where you want to show some skin leave the top buttons undone. Just be sure that the fabric has enough structure that it will not simply flop about if it is not buttoned to the top.

white shirt ruffle collar

Quite a lot to think about for something that sounds so simple!! But a white shirt is so versatile that it’s worth taking the time to get this right.

You will have a real ‘go to’ wardrobe essential.   To test this out I asked some friends how they’d wear a white shirt and these are their ideas:

  1. With a black leather skirt and a jacket for a glamorous night out
  2. Jeans, a jacket and boots for a dress down but smart office look
  3. With a tweed skirt and jacket for a slightly vintage style smart day look
  4. Mini skirt, opaque tights and ankle boots for a fun funky day look
  5. With the ultimate smart suit for a formal meting
  6. With a pencil skirt and stilettos for a glamorous day look
  7. Blanket coat and jeans, with a brimmed hat to get that Latin American look!
  8. Part of a layered look to show off your winter coat

It would be lovely to get your ideas on how to wear a white shirt, please feel free to comment below.

If you would like to find out more about how I can help you make the most of your wardrobe essentials, why not book your free discovery call now?

*Amanda Platell – Mirrors Never Lie