new essentials: the soft white shirt

white shirt alternatives for those who can't do "crisp"

A few months ago, I posted about one of the oft-declared “must-have” wardrobe items, the Crisp White Shirt, and how for many of us it’s a non-starter, despite its iconic status. Some find a button front difficult with a fuller bust. Some women feel that white is too stark with their coloring, and others find that crisp and tailored don’t mesh with a more laid-back style.

But there’s a gap in my wardrobe that only a white or off-white shirt will fill, and I haven’t given up the search for my own best version of a white shirt. Over the weekend I happened to try on the blouse on the left and it came home with me. It’s very lightweight (rayon challis), drapes nicely, is machine washable, and will be a great option for warm weather travel and for those venues when a tee feels too casual. The neckline is a little low on me, so I’ll wear mine with a camisole. On the right, a silk style with a zipped neckline that can be adjusted to suit your preference. (I have a similar blouse in black, purchased a couple of years ago, and love that feature.)

Below, a few more Soft White (and Off-White) Shirt selections. Collarless and banded collar styles seem to be popular now, and I’ve found these can be easy to layer under jackets and sweaters.

Do you like your white shirts crisp or soft?

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  1. samantha4blair
    May 17, 2016 / 2:52 am

    Soft….I think.
    Hmmm, maybe crisp too!
    Can I have both?? :oD

    I am on the lookout for a new white shirt, so thank you for this timely post!

  2. May 17, 2016 / 4:26 am

    It depends on a couple of factors. I love a crisp white shirt for office apparel. With a suit, the crisp white shirt looks great.
    The crisp white shirt also looks fantastic with jeans too. But…….
    The same shirt has a way of inching up out of the top of both jeans and skirts, making me look like that girl in grammar school class photos–the one who’s slightly askew appearance because the shirt tails are sticking out and the shirt was buttoned wrong!
    My favorite white shirt is a soft white t shirt that is fitted. Old Navy Perfect Tee. At $7.00 per, this is a great shirt. The length is longer so it stays tucked. The short sleeves are a proper length. The gauge of the cotton is just right. I love these tees.
    And, because I am a natural slob, spills just happen, I don’t purchase pricey whitie shirts!

    • Linda Boardman Kerr
      May 18, 2016 / 3:41 am

      I love a crisp white button down or T. My problem is the same as Catherine’s. I tend to spot them, no matter how hard I try. So I go the Gap or Old Navy route as well. For button-downs, I buy brand new small men’s button downs on Ebay from places like Jos. A. Banks– spotless and smooth. The last one was under $15.00 and I don’t care if it buttons the other way, it looks beautiful!

  3. Roxann
    May 17, 2016 / 4:33 am

    Soft, absolutely! How does the shirt that you purchased, the Rosie, run for size? The online size chart sounds as if the line may run small, but the style looks generous. Any advice? Thanks, I love your blog; it’s well-written and I admire your style.

    • Susan B
      May 17, 2016 / 5:25 am

      Hi Roxann, thanks so much! The Sales Associate at the store seemed to think it might run small too and suggested I try both the small and medium. I went with the small, which had a neater fit through the shoulders, and skims but doesn’t cling. If I’d wanted a more oversized fit I would have sized up.

  4. May 17, 2016 / 5:49 am

    Crisp has its place, but so does soft. Crisp is more day; soft is more night. Crisp is cheerful, soft is sexy.
    The best dress shirts (especially crisp) are from Anne Fontaine. I went into their Lyon store with four female friends, leaving our sole guy outside. He couldn’t believe we stayed in such a tiny shop, which on top of it sold only white shirts, for over an hour.

    • Susan B
      May 17, 2016 / 6:00 am

      Taste of France, I love Anne Fontaine shirts, but they are all too long on me. 🙁

  5. Lori McKee
    May 17, 2016 / 6:35 am

    I love the look and IDEA of a crisp white shirt but I find I avoid wearing mine. I think it’s because it creeps up on me. I’m not very busty – I’m not sure what the problem is. I keep thinking crisp shirts need a little self tie belt or something INSIDE, to keep them staying down.

    I’ll have to check in to these softer shirts. Great idea!

  6. susanburpee
    May 17, 2016 / 6:45 am

    I love the look of a crisp white shirt. But it seems that I’ve admired it hanging in my closet more than on me, lately. Partly because after sitting for a while it’s no longer crisp.. and I hate wrinkles. And partly the collar issue: up or down, inside or outside of your jacket or sweater. Than I found a soft white shirt (with some pattern on it) from Equipment last month and I’m loving it. Partly because it has no collar, and partly because it drapes so nicely (and softly) and doesn’t look messy after wearing it for a few hours.

  7. May 17, 2016 / 8:50 am

    I love a crisp white shirt and have just discarded mine as it is no longer as white as it should be…I might try a softer version with more drape or a linen one for summer. hope you will keep us informed about your new shirt and how it is performing for you and if you love it after a few months.

  8. Bronwyn Shaffer
    May 17, 2016 / 8:59 am

    Love the look of a crisp white shirt but find them too restrictive to be comfortable in. Hadn’t thought about a pop over style blouse in white but now you have me thinking.

  9. rukshanaafia
    May 17, 2016 / 11:01 am

    I still eschew white but love collarless and ‘grandad’ fine cotton shirts in any colour – they are much easier to iron and look ok when a bit creased . In hot weather I use them as jackets . My one cream shirt is silk crepe – wonderfully soft and any creases hang out eventually ( sooner with a bit of steam !) .

  10. Pamela
    May 17, 2016 / 12:02 pm

    I no longer wear anything “crisp” and enjoy a softer, more casual look. However, I do look better if the piece has some structure. Occasionally will find a well made blouse or top that fits these requirements, but not often. I have several similar to those you’ve shown in this post and love them, especially if they have options to increase or decrease the vertical center neckline opening. Very comfortable and nice for layering.

  11. Weezie Fitzhugh
    May 17, 2016 / 12:07 pm

    Soft, soft, soft! I love the idea of a crisp shirt, but with my short neck and large bust I look like a mini refrigerator in one. I am a 14-16, so sizing up means a 1x. I am too hot-natured to wear a cami underneath anything unless it’s snowing outside, so my white shirts (preferably drapey rayon or knit; I have plenty of linen) must not be sheer. Any suggestions?

  12. Terri G
    May 17, 2016 / 12:34 pm

    Most definitely soft. And not-quite-white. The crisp ones just don’t work for my shape; they make me look bulky. A soft shirt that skims and moves with me is just right. I love that you’ve challenged this wardrobe staple and redefined it as something that works for everyone.

  13. May 17, 2016 / 6:49 pm

    I’ve found that anything soft and drapey just doesn’t work for me. I like things more fitted and tailored…with a small frame and bones the soft and drapey just overwhelms me! My favorite shirt is last year’s crisp long white shirt from The Loft (with their jeans which are my all time favorite!)

  14. May 17, 2016 / 8:17 pm

    I love the idea of a crisp white shirt, but I’m not built for it, so the drapey one is for me. Rayon challis is a lovely soft fabric that I enjoy wearing.

  15. Linda Boardman Kerr
    May 18, 2016 / 3:43 am

    Don’t forget the power of BLEACH, on the shirts that can take it! Done with care, it works wonders!

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