when must-haves are no-go’s…the white shirt

Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly

Sources: AudreyGrace


They never fail to suck me right in…those wardrobe “must have” lists and articles. And while I’ve found that they might be helpful overall for building a capsule wardrobe, there are always a few items on every list that are “n/a” (not applicable) for me; either they don’t work for my body, my style or my life. Perhaps you’ve had the same experience. I thought it might be fun over the next few weeks to take a few of these and explore alternatives.

Part 1 – The White Shirt™

Who doesn’t admire the chic and classic “crisp white shirt?” I spent years figuratively banging my head against walls trying to find a CWS that worked for me. Being big-busted and short-waisted meant that tucking in was challenging at best, impossible most of the time. Not to mention the bust-gaping issue. Even when I found a shirt that worked with my measurements, wearing it untucked often looked sloppy or frumpy. Not to mention the creases that are an unfortunate by-product of “crisp” fabrics after sitting at a desk for a few hours.

Maybe you too love the look of a white shirt, but like me find the classic woven iterations don’t work with your shape or are just too stiff. Or perhaps you find that stark white doesn’t work with your complexion. There are some options that can play the part a classic white shirt, and may be better ensemble players in your wardrobe. (My current version is a longer crinkled white linen in a shape similar to this. Less formal, but suits my style)

Another option is to look for classic styles in silk or jersey fabrics. These will drape nicely, and often can be worn untucked.

If you’re willing to move a little further beyond the most classic, try a tunic, v-neck, tie neck, or collarless style, and even soft colors like ivory, nude and ballet pink.

Do you have an alternative version of a white shirt? Or will only the classic do?


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  1. cade
    January 21, 2016 / 7:26 am

    A white shirt has always been and always will be in my wardrobe. So what if it has some wrinkles in the back after wearing it all day? I know many who do not like themselves in a plain white shirt and that’s quite all right, but a classic white shirt is by definition white just a the LBD is black.

  2. Mary
    January 21, 2016 / 8:30 am

    Phew! Thanks for standing up and voicing this, it’s a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes. My friends love ’em but I have kept silent about not being able to work a CWS. Till now. It’s a combo of being big-busted (though being slightly long-waisted doesn’t help) and the colour – the shaping makes my trunk look huge, and the glaring white magnifies it. Awful look.
    Plus the ultimate no no is the “crisp” element = they invariably need serious amounts of ironing. I stopped ironing years ago. It’s a life choice and my world is better for it . I scrunch-test EVERYTHING, if it doesn’t pass it doesn’t even get to the fitting room.

  3. Susan W H
    January 21, 2016 / 9:46 am

    I’m a slow learner. Years of experimenting and wasting money on white shirts (or any button down shirt) and trench coats have finally taught me that these items just don’t suit my body. Since the women’s versions don’t come in neck sizes like the mens, I rarely find a shirt that fits or looks good at the neck or collar. When I was younger and thinner I occasionally found a passable shirt, but I never felt right in it–for the same reasons mentioned in many of the comments. Thanks for this post. I agree with Duchesse–shirts aren’t designed for most women’s bodies.

  4. Babette
    January 21, 2016 / 12:33 pm

    As I matured and my body shape shifted I discovered size 12W and 14W or 1X. I also discovered Lafayette 148 NYC which seems to understand women’s bodies better than most designers. I love wearing their crisp whit sleeveless shirts under Eileen Fisher black jersey tunics. I don’t think black looks good next to my face. My uniform has become black slacks, white crisp blouse and black jersey tunic. I have approx 8 Lafayette shirts of various styles, 6 varying styles of black slacks and 8 or so varying styles of black EF tunics or pullovers. I augment the daily uniform with occasional skirts and accessories, scarves, shoes, jewelry, purse etc. So much easier to get out the door to have a signature style.

  5. glendakstyle
    January 21, 2016 / 4:58 pm

    I have a major obsession with white shirts. I must have at least 30 in various designs. I always make a bee line right toward them. They are a huge part of my wardrobe foundation.

  6. Deb McDonnell
    January 22, 2016 / 4:49 am

    I’m completely with you on the white shirt. I love the look on other women but I’m too high waisted and big boob-ed!

  7. Gayle
    January 22, 2016 / 11:43 am

    The crisp white shirt is hard to wear for me … but I do love my ivory-ish silk shirt (better than a dead white on me) and
    I love-love my wrinkly white linen shirts (usually Talbots or L. L. Bean) which somehow make me feel
    “beachy-sophisticated” ..silly, huh?

  8. January 22, 2016 / 3:38 pm

    Oh this has made me smile – so many people nodding and agreeing and saying – yes, CWS – what is that all about? And who makes these lists? As another busty, lacking in height lady, shirts have been the bane of my life starting with senior school when we had to wear white shirts with school tie to now.
    But like another lady on here, I’ve recently discovered Land’s End petite and they do THE MOST PERFECT SHIRT fit. Whether I’ll buy a white one, if they do it, I doubt it. It would only attract a bottle of wine to spill itself over it’s crispness!


  9. Paula Brink
    January 23, 2016 / 12:40 pm

    I am a big fan of the crisp white shirt but it is always a real search to find just the right one. My bust is bigger than it used to be and I have fairly broad shoulders so the gaping thing is a problem. I do love Lafayette148NYC, and not just for their white shirts. Have not tried the skinny shirt mentioned upthread, however Marc Cain makes this genius shirt from tissue weight stretchy material with the crisp cotton collar and cuffs attached. I recently bought a black one and it is my new favourite thing, feels like you are wearing nothing and is brilliant to layer under a sweater, does not bunch up or move around and still adds a bit of warmth under the sweater. Now I want one in white. They are expensive, but I found one on e-bay for $60.00.

  10. January 27, 2016 / 10:42 am

    You’ve really hit a nerve with this post, and I have to agree with most of the comments. The CWS is not for everyone, and nor is it for every stage of life. When I worked in an office I wore them often with suits and blazers, always looking for the perfect fit and degree of crispness, but as my lifestyle has changed–I work mostly at home now–my style has evolved away from tailored shirts and tops. Now I I look for silk, jersey and merino wool tops, tanks and tunics that drape and layer lightly with other pieces. I’ve weeded out most of my shirts and every time I try on one of the ones I’ve kept, I quickly take it off and reach for something soft and comfortable.

    And here’s something we don’t talk about much–the tailored shirt just doesn’t tuck in well to low-rise jeans and pants, which of course led to the trend of untucked CWS worn alone or under a sweater. I won’t succumb to buying another one.

  11. kathleenbotsford
    February 3, 2016 / 6:28 am

    Nordstrom used to carry a FABULOUS crisp white shirt from Foxcroft for 32.00! It also came in lots of colors including a soft cream and it was NO IRON so it stayed a CWS! The style I loved which was a cross between a boyfriend style and and a dress shirt was discontinued but if you go to Foxcroft online they still have lots of options and I can attest to the fact they stay crease free all day.

  12. Clariza
    February 6, 2016 / 2:36 pm

    I love the white shirt look too. I’ve figured out two ways to make it work for me. First, I find one with a softer fabric. I don’t do well with shirts that are “crisp” or require tucking as I find them uncomfortable and hard to keep “in place.” Second, if I find a great shirt, white or not, where I love the fabric and fit, I have the hem shortened to about the top of my hip bone. The clean but shortened hem makes the shirt hang well and makes it look like it is supposed to be worn un-tucked. This works even with shirts I wear with a suit.

  13. May 2, 2016 / 8:58 pm

    I don’t think there is a crisp white shirt of any kind in my wardrobe. I have the ubiquitous white tee shirt, just in case. It’s been there for years, and has never been worn. Instead, I have oodles of black tees in various variations of long sleeve, 3/4 sleeve, short sleeve, no sleeve, and all in v-necks, which suit me to a tee!

    Instead of a “crisp white shirt” I have a black button down shirt that is made of a soft, sort of gauzy, sort of see-through fabric, that is only slightly “crispy”. It works as an overshirt, or a regular shirt if my undergarment is suitable (black bra or black cami). I wear it all the time. It has metallic buttons, nice cuffs, and a very crispy collar. It is an edgy version of the “crisp white shirt”, yet never shows dirt on the collar, or any wear. It never loses it’s “crisp”. It’s rather “spiffy” as well as edgy, chic, and totally “me”. It’s part of my minimalist wardrobe, and I’d give up three black tee’s if I had to, just to keep it in the rotation.

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