Alternatives To The Crisp White Shirt

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. rukshanaafia
    January 20, 2016 / 3:12 am

    Oh I’m so glad you selected this one ! I look dreadful in white and always despaired with those lists – some of which suggested at least half a dozen . Besides they remind me of school uniform and the inevitable ring round the collar . I actually used to believe that one day I would grow up and never get anything white dirty again . (Judging by some style blogs this has been achieved – why else would all white clothing be recommended as resort wear ?)
    I agree about considering other pale colours – I have rich cream & blue green in ‘true’ shirts which go so well with the jewel colours I go for in trousers and skirts ( as well as black ) .

  2. Linda Boardman Kerr
    January 20, 2016 / 3:51 am

    Not busty here. Slim and med height. White anything near my face flatters me, but the shirt, be it a T or button down, must be pristine and IRONED. I wear fresh, semi-fitted white Ts to work under other layers (like navy cashmere or camel V-necks) and on the weekends I like a men’s oxford cloth shirt, slightly big and bottom tied at the front. Other times a classic white pinpoint, or even voile (over meant-to-be-seen bra). Audrey looks great here! Love the cuffs on her shirt.

    • GingerR
      January 20, 2016 / 4:18 am

      I’m with Linda. White near my ruddy complexion tones it down and if my chest looks more prominent in white that’s a plus. I look for interesting collars and necklines. I also pick up sleeveless collared shirts to layer.

      A young colleague recently burned a hole in her carpet when her iron got plugged in accidentally and I felt appreciative that I have a laundry room and can leave my iron and ironing board sitting in it for quick sessions. Even no-iron blouses or knits benefit from a touch of heat on the collar or front placket.

    • January 20, 2016 / 4:17 pm

      Audrey looks stunning and so current, as usual, but smoking at table? Remembering that such a practice was normal some decades back…

      • une femme
        January 20, 2016 / 7:03 pm

        lagatta, it’s still normal en terrasse in Paris…quel dommage! On our last trip a group at the next table who chain smoked through the meal made our meal miserable.

  3. January 20, 2016 / 3:56 am

    Thank you! I am also a habitual must-have list reader who has given up on the “crisp white shirt.” For me, it is the large chest and buttons problem. I also am baffled by the plain white tee shirts that are on all of the lists. Really? Doesn’t it just look like underwear to anyone else? The classic belted trench coat is not my favorite, either. I usually replace the white requirement with black for the tops, and I will take a simple jacket or knee length car coat over the belted trrench any day.

    • Sue K.
      January 20, 2016 / 4:24 am

      Yes, Penny, they DO look like underwear. And so unimaginative.

    • Elle
      January 21, 2016 / 1:19 pm

      Penny, I so totally agree on the trench coat. I find it horribly uncomfortable to have a belt around a coat, and I can’t stop thinking of myself as a sausage when I try to wear one, even though I’m somewhat small (5’4″, 118). Instead, I have a fabulous “swingy” lightweight knee-length raincoat that I love.

  4. Melodie
    January 20, 2016 / 3:57 am

    You echo my sentiments exactly. Dreadful in white, big bust, short waist and short arms. I’d have to tailor the H*!! Out of it, and still look awful. It’s a no-go for me, too.

  5. Dee
    January 20, 2016 / 4:16 am

    I finally realized several years ago that a button-up blouse, oxford, etc. isn’t for me. Fit was always an issue and even with a sweater over top it just didn’t work for me. They feel too confining to and uncomfortable. I never could find the magic combination of enough room in the chest while fitting across the shoulders and sleeve length. The exception is a well made flannel shirt. I have two which are worn over a turtleneck or long-sleeve t-shirt so they can be worn casually open, buttoned up, and/or untucked. Since the fit is intentionally easy, they are comfortable and don’t look sloppy.

  6. Sue K.
    January 20, 2016 / 4:21 am

    Yes, white is NOT a flattering color on me either. I usually opt for cream, and I agree about the stiff fabrics in most cotton or cotton blend shirts. I have a cream washable silk (no dry cleaning for me – ever!) shirt that I love, and the drape is comfortable. And when I see a “Must Have” list, I run as fast as I can.

  7. Jill
    January 20, 2016 / 4:45 am

    I’m busty as well, and I just recently went to the men’s department and bought a Ralph Lauren blue and white stripe button down shirt! It fits perfect and I love the look. I’m heading back to scout out a men’s white shirt next!

  8. Sheryl
    January 20, 2016 / 4:54 am

    Long time lurker, here. Thanks for this blog! I have a very similar figure, which brings its share of issues when looking for flattering choices in the stores. This post inspired me to share since I had all but given up on the search for a classic white button down. I recently stumbled across the Side-button tunic by Cloth and Stone at Anthropologie. As the reviews say, the material is soft and luxurious to the touch. It drapes beautifully yet looks very structured with clean lines. The side buttons are a great touch and help give a custom fit. No button gaping at all in front, which is a first. Looks perfect on its own, but surprisingly easy to layer under cardigans and looks great with scarves, and ponchos, too. The price is reasonable at $98. My best find in a long time.

    • une femme
      January 20, 2016 / 5:13 am

      Hi Sheryl, thanks and yes, I included that one in the widget above. Appreciate the first-hand recommendation!

  9. January 20, 2016 / 4:58 am

    I very seldom wear a white shirt! Cotton especially wrinkles, and with a larger bust, it gaps in the middle! What ever happened to darts in blouses? Gone! I hardly ever wear white. I gravitate to navy and black, and royal blue and purple.

  10. Barb
    January 20, 2016 / 5:02 am

    Thank you for this post, I thought it was just me. I too love a crisp white shirt in fashion photos but never found a shirt that I liked on me. I purchased a few over the years and end up never wearing them. I like clothes that flow or skim the body and the white shirts always feel too stiff. I will keep an eye out for a white shirt that is more my style.

  11. susie
    January 20, 2016 / 5:19 am

    Lets not forget all the styling going into a photo shoot of the white shirt poses. When you see the pics of the models in them, or even hanging in the store, they are ironed, styled so that they are immoveable portable casts. In real life,
    i have only known a tiny tiny handful of functioning women able to pull it off. I say if you must have a shirt, get flannel or other soft flowing item. Trying to put worldly bosoms into a tailored shirt just goes againt all natural phenomenon…….

    • Nancy
      January 20, 2016 / 6:34 am

      Also, I try to remember that almost ANYTHING looks good on a tall, thin, pretty, young woman!

  12. January 20, 2016 / 5:42 am

    White shirts look awful on me. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever worn one on the blog, although like you I was influenced into buying one because it was a “must have”. It can be good for layering sometimes however overall, white washes me out and makes me look quite ill. Blue is a better colour for me.

    I also have the gaping chest issue. I buy snaps and sew them onto the button downs I own.

    I do think the “must have” pieces vary greatly upon one’s lifestyle and personality. I have in the past created similar lists and find them to be merely adequate at best.

    Choosing a style statement is less restrictive and more creative way to build a wardrobe.


  13. Carla
    January 20, 2016 / 5:54 am

    Phew, glad I’m not the only person who finds these wardrobe essential lists misleading. They’re great if you have a classic sense of style and a modestly curved figure, otherwise buyer beware. I too am busty and short waisted and prefer scoop neck knit tops instead of a crisp white shirt. I think the intent of this recommendation is for every wardrobe to have a versatile light neutral basic top. Since my two basic neutrals are grey and navy, I find a light grey knit top to be an essential layering piece. The LBD is another item that should be reconsidered. Maybe a “little basic dress” in a flattering neutral/quasi neutral such as navy, brown, olive, grey, or burgundy OR skip this “essential” if you are not a dress person. Again with the Navy jacket, I’ve substituted a long navy coat sweater that works better for my stay at home lifestyle. Perhaps rewriting the “Essential” list in a more generic way might be a great blog post and look at different options for each piece based on colour and style personality? A white peasant blouse would be an essential for someone with a boho or romantic sense of style but wouldn’t suit a claasic lady.

  14. January 20, 2016 / 5:55 am

    Busty, short-waisted CWS loving gal here, who SHOULD be wearing cream, not white…recently tried the “everyday silk shirt” by Orvis – it’s soft, comfortable and a decent facsimile to the “look” I love…ALSO – Please try the “Joy Magnano – My Little Steamer” you can get through Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond…it’s a game changer…it is terrific and I use it almost daily, especially nice on finer fabrics; cashmere, knit, synthetics, that an iron would burn or melt…I’ve sent my college kids off with these. We are converts!

  15. Ellen
    January 20, 2016 / 5:59 am

    Absolutely no white shirts in my closet ever, for all the same reasons that others have given: large bust, short waisted, narrow shoulders, color washes me out dreadfully (as does anything that is close to my silver colored hair, such as very light gray). I find that lists of things that everyone must have fit my lifestyle just about as well as “one size fits all” fits my body: pretty much never!

  16. January 20, 2016 / 6:09 am

    It sounds like you’ve hit a nerve! I love those lists of “must haves” but they never co-inside with my lifestyle – the white shirt has NEVER worked for me even though I’ve wasted countless dollars trying to make it work! I love your alternatives:)

  17. January 20, 2016 / 6:27 am

    I’m 5′ 2″ and busty; age almost-67. A few years ago I discovered Lands’ End stretch-cotton shirts (I wear 12 Petite). They come in white and colors, are well-tailored (with darts, pearl buttons, notched hems) and are very affordable (under $50). They come in 3/4 sleeve, as well as long-sleeve. I have 8 or 9 of them. I send them to the laundry — hangers, light starch — a small luxury. They look presentable with jeans and/or khakis, and go well with cardigans or vests or blazers. And since they aren’t cling-y like some of the comfy knits that I also like to wear, they don’t reveal the fact that my upper-body muscle tone isn’t what it used to be…

    • Jacqueline
      January 20, 2016 / 9:29 am

      The fit on a Land’s End CWS works for me too. Mine is so old it’s yellowing, so will soon be replaced by another LE. That’s a testament to how well they are made and how long they last. BTW, I looked at your art work and am awed by your talent! Beautiful!

  18. Susan B
    January 20, 2016 / 6:42 am

    Babette has some CWS alternatives, if crinkles are acceptable. The fabric is interesting and–ta-dah!–doesn’t need ironing. Some work better than others (but isn’t that always true). They’re pricey but last fovever and are fabulous for travel.

    • bomm
      January 20, 2016 / 7:40 am

      I recommend Babette, too: the color, fabric, and shaping all work for me.

  19. happinessatmidlife
    January 20, 2016 / 6:45 am

    I don’ own a good white blouse, they just don’t look that good on me. It’ funny how it’s a “must have” item and yet reading from the comments, many of us don’t own one or like them.


    Hope to see you Thursday for TBT Fashion link up.

  20. nell
    January 20, 2016 / 6:56 am

    I’m chesty but long-waisted. Love collared, button down shirts– white, and a lot of pretty mid-tones and a few jewel tones. That small bit of “structure” skims my curves and somehow looks more polished and slimming, and less sloppy on me than knits. As my jaw line has become less firm with time (bummer), a collar that stands up and slightly “away” is my best friend!

    An enormous help when you would normally have gapping problems between buttons is a small touch of spandex (2 or 3 per cent) in the cotton blend of the shirt.

    Interestingly enough, you can find decent white, button down shirts at the most inexpensive venues. I stumbled upon “Riders” by Lee, and I think it was at Wal Mart! So not only was it becoming, but a total bargain. It has princess seams and the aforementioned tiny bit of spandex and is slimming to boot.

    On those days when white might feel too stark against my skin, I throw on a pink or aqua sweater or scarf and the combo seems to flatter…

  21. sandypatti
    January 20, 2016 / 6:58 am

    I’ve never had much success with a crisp white shirt, so thanks for this! I prefer knits or an oversized soft linen shirt. Some women can really rock it though. xo

  22. Melissa
    January 20, 2016 / 6:59 am

    Susan once again a great post.
    I tried over the years and could never wear any type of cotton button down shirt, for all the reasons above for a larger busted women, I also had the same issues. While I “was” large busted, an operation took care of that, the rest of myself is petite.
    So I thought yep now I can wear them, nope, still a no go. No one is ever built like these shirts, I also never thought that hardly anyone looked good in them or comfortable, even the tall thin girls.
    Besides that my neat freak self goes nuts if I iron something then it gets all wrinkled. (makes me absolutely batty) I find that even the big ones, you know that masculine feminine look, well they usually just look sloppy.

    Of course the icons you show, well those girls looked great in anything, I find they are the exception, reality like I said I just don’t find that most of us look nice in them, no matter the color.

  23. Val
    January 20, 2016 / 6:59 am

    What a great topic! Nope. Can’t do button up shirts, period. I’m a size 12/L with a 36 DD and by the time the shirt fits my bust, it’s ridiculously large everywhere else. I’ve pretty much given up on the button up, although the mixed media trend may lend some possibilities. I have to add to my list of must haves that don’t work– the blazer, of all things. I love the look on others, but have never found one that looked good on me. Again, to fit my bust (even if I never intend to button it, it has to at least look like it would button) I have to buy a size too large. I know tailoring is a great way to make a piece of fit, but it has to fit well enough to at least imagine what it would look like if it fit better.

    As far as white, I love a white T with jeans– ironed. But I’m very picky because, as some others stated, it can easily look as if I’m wearing my husband’s underwear! I almost never go with a V-neck, even though I prefer V-necks and a cap sleeve helps take you away from the underwear look. Eddie Bauer makes an “essential slub” with a great take on the V-neck in tons of colors that look amazing and are so affordable that in the summer I keep an extra white one in its package for “emergencies”.

    • Roxann
      January 20, 2016 / 12:43 pm

      I agree about the blazer. Is there such a thing as one that fits a DD size without being huge on the shoulders? And they do look so classic and versatile on others. Sigh.

  24. Ann Hicks
    January 20, 2016 / 7:07 am

    Some how, I always feel like a waiter in a white button front shirt…..

    • January 20, 2016 / 7:17 am

      Haha! I know what you mean about the “waitron” look! (I never to wear a white shirt with my Eileen Fisher black pants… which I love).

  25. January 20, 2016 / 7:17 am

    Petite with a heavier torso…definitely no stiff white or pockets on my chest. There are shirts cut well and with a placket?? covering the buttons (no gaping) but I really prefer linen tunic or natural cotton to the more tailored look.

  26. January 20, 2016 / 7:20 am

    White shirts don’t work for me either – busty, short waist, short arms – too buxom to wear a petite. Scoop neck tees look much better as a first layer for me. But I’m allergic to wool so I need something with a collar to wear with the cashmere sweaters. Fine knit tees with a big, low cowl neck are my favorite shirt substitute, but they are hard to find. I recently bought a white shirt that actually fits perfectly in the bust – no gaping whatsoever and it looks great with everything (Hugo Boss Betana). I had to have the sleeves shortened, but I need to do that for everything. It changed my thinking on white shirts.

  27. Murphy
    January 20, 2016 / 7:27 am

    I’m tall, but with a D cup size and a short waist, I have all the fit issues you describe with white button front shirts. However, I do have a cream-colored knit tunic with an asymetrical hem that is very flattering. I’ve wasted a lot of money buying things I “should” have over the years, so it is good to have reinforcement for NOT doing that anymore.

  28. Donna Nance
    January 20, 2016 / 7:30 am

    As a 68 year old busty, short-waisted gal, I have given up on most of the “must have” list.

  29. January 20, 2016 / 8:16 am

    Great topic to discuss. I, too, get drawn in by these lists and always sit back and have the same thoughts. As for the CWS, let’s be honest, most of us have at least one hanging in our closets, but we may not all consider it (them) classic or a must have. I also travel a great deal, like yourself, and the last thing I think I’d packing would be a CWS that would wrinkle on the plane ride or in the suitcase. I love your alternative ideas, especially the light creams and tunic ideas.

  30. January 20, 2016 / 9:13 am

    I now own 3 white button downs, in varying lengths. One of them I do wear with a turtle neck sleeveless tunic. It works. However, not too thrilled with the others. Not even sure if I’ll keep the other 2, but may find use in the longer one, that hits mid thigh. I am a thin, curvy, breast inhanced 30DD with long waist. 50 years old and most clothes look good, if they are form fitting. I’m struggling with the whole capsule wardrobe. And, a tight budget. I need quality at this age, but not in the budget. Ok, well, bottlem line, I’m not on board with plain white and always need a pop of color. Still struggling to find a statement necklace, I believe it’s called? that others wear to brighten up their white tees and tops.

  31. January 20, 2016 / 9:14 am

    I have found my people! I never knew there were so many busty short-waisted fellow sufferers around. I used to wear white t-shirts as layering pieces all the time, but fell out of love with the unstructured look. Mind you, I started wearing shirts solely as layering pieces under the v-neck cardigans that make me look taller, slimmer, and less busty. Now I love them in the summer, too, worn untucked, as long as the shirt has a waist and a good looking hemline.

    When J. Crew introduced their Liberty print shirts, I went a little crazy because I adore Liberty print. Those shirts were my gateway; I now wear lots of button-down shirts, mostly ditsy floral or fun prints. I love shirts with different fabric lining the cuffs and collar, interesting prints, etc.

    The trick is to get the proportions right–too little roominess is vulgar, but much makes me look shapeless. Joules has my favorite fit in all-cotton; their shirts fit in the bust, shoulder, and sleeve length, hooray!

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Brooks Brothers non-iron shirts. I find the fitted style amazingly fitted, as in “well, hello, boobs!” and have to size up to get them to work, but talk about crisp—their collars and cuffs are on fleek!

    I’ve also had good luck with Lands End and L. L. Bean (which has some lovely Liberty-alikes.)

    One thing, though–I hate, loathe and despise this “pop-over” shirt thing that J. Crew started. Somebody tell me what’s the advantage to having a shirt with only four buttons–I don’t get it, and I suspect that J. Crew is once more finding a way to make things cheaper without making them better (I’m looking at you, tissue-thin cashmere.)

    Sorry I’ve left such a long comment. Great post, and fascinating discussion!

  32. Cara
    January 20, 2016 / 9:32 am

    Has anyone ever tried the “skinny shirt”? I have seen it online but never tried it. The design is a collar attached to a spandex-knit body, to be worn as a layer under sweaters. It gives you the crisp collar part, but takes away the bulky excess fabric and gapping button part! They have white, but also plaids and colors. It looks like a good idea, and I’m hoping someone will try it and review it for the rest of us (hint):

    • Caroline
      January 21, 2016 / 4:55 am

      I’ve also seen the “skinny shirt” online and am very curious about it. The thing that I find most appealing about a white shirt is the “crisp collar part.” To have that along with the comfort of knit on my torso sounds really good to me. I am guessing it only looks good layered, however, which limits its versatility. In any event, I would also love to see it reviewed!

  33. Joanna
    January 20, 2016 / 11:17 am

    Oh, I’m afraid I might be the only one that likes white shirts and tees. I’m tall, thin, with a small waist and they become my figure. White is also a good color on me. Cream matches my skin and hair color too closely. Having said that, I would not reach for a white shirt to pack when traveling. They do wrinkle ( not a fan of wrinkles ) and get messed up too easily. Many, many years ago,I made the mistake of wearing white jeans and a white shirt when flying with three little ones. What a mess I was when we arrived at our destination. Never again! I like tunic tops and flowy blouses with skinny pants.
    I also like a classic trench coat. The belt zinched tightly accentuates my waist. But, my favourite is a slim, straight, black coat that skims the body.
    I’m not a fan of the black biker jacket with all the zippers, at all. I do own two short leather jackets ( grey & eggplant )with a nipped waist and zipper front though.
    Let’s face it! I Like clothes of all styles, shapes and colors. Lol We all have different shapes and what is flattering on one, may not be on another. I think we need to adjust or expand the idea of classics as Carla suggested.

  34. Rebecca
    January 20, 2016 / 11:24 am

    Enjoyed this post and looking forward to more list-busting discussion. I’m a sucker for those lists too (they promise such simplicity), and consequently have a couple of rarely-worn white shirts and blouses. They look so good on others, but I can’t deal with the stiffness and/or blousiness, and the need for ironing or the cleaners. So I always fall back on wearing close-fit white knit tanks, Ts, and long sleeve Ts that are easy-care, easy-travel, and inexpensive. I usually wear them under a jacket or cardigan, so that mitigates the underwear look.

  35. Pam
    January 20, 2016 / 11:25 am

    I’ve had 2 white shirts – actually blouses- that I’ve loved because they were designed properly for my body. One, made by CD, felt soft but had a structured appearance, flat notched collar (lapel style) and a wrap style closure. The other was a DK silk with a regular shirt style collar and importantly – the bodice was attached at the waist to a body suit with snap gusset below. These were the only open front blouses I’ve ever owned that stayed in place. All other shirt-collared open front tops tend to work themselves up and then back on me – so that the buttons are at the top of my throat and the collar hangs down in the back – not the look I want since I don’t like having to continually readjust my clothing.

  36. Duchesse
    January 20, 2016 / 11:51 am

    When you think about the dimensions of a body it’s a wonder shirts fit •any woman•, as they are so rarely cut for a bust or hips. I remember when even menswear shirts had bust darts and back pleats or back darts. Now, in the search for ever-more cost-cutting ,the dressmaker details are lost. I kmnow I sound curmudgeonly, but mid-priced clothes used to be made better.

  37. Cindy
    January 20, 2016 / 12:19 pm

    I am not busty and white looks good on me. Nonetheless, I cannot wear the standard white button down shirt because I have broad shoulders. If the shirt fits across the shoulder, it is inevitably too loose in the body. Over the years I have tried different ways of tailoring the body of the shirt to fit but without success. Making the body more fitted means the armholes have to be reshaped too. Before you know it, the alteration cost exceeds the cost of the shirt and the shirt still doesn’t fit properly. I now stay away from the classic button down shirts, period. I find knits and jerseys work better for me.

  38. rb
    January 20, 2016 / 2:52 pm

    I would say at this point I am “Rubenesque” (a tall and chubby hourglass) but have also been quite slim, and I’ve never had the love for a standard white shirt. I think my neck length must be wrong, it’s just too much business going on all up and around that collar. Back in the early 90s I had a beautiful white shirt with a wide shawl collar (went all the way to the shoulders) that worked OK for me, but I’d still prefer a dark colored scoop or v-neck top with no collar.

  39. cindy
    January 20, 2016 / 3:35 pm

    So glad to hear I am not alone. I love those lists, but always despair that the “crisp white shirt” which looks so good in all those pics just does not work for me. For all of the reasons you mention! I love bright white, but I lean more to the tunic in silk, linen or jersey. And also to the readers who said that plain white tees just look like underwear…I always feel exactly that way when I try to wear one.

  40. Pink Azalea
    January 20, 2016 / 3:35 pm

    Fun to read all the comments. I fell into the same trap buying the “crisp white shirt” because of all the wardrobe “must have” lists. Because I am so fair with mostly white hair, I now look washed out and drab in both black and white. I have some old Anne Fontaine shirts that are still wearable and I’m keeping them and will add color in necklaces, earrings, sweaters, jackets, and make-up to brighten the face. Thanks for all the shopping suggestions above. I might try one of the beige shirts. Although figure-wise I can wear a shirt OK, I find my go-to daily tops are knit for comfort and ease of maintenance.

  41. Maryann
    January 20, 2016 / 4:45 pm

    I don’t wear white or pale colours at all. I don’t feel like me in them. I also don’t wear shirts that need ironing. Life is too short to iron as far as I am concerned.

  42. January 20, 2016 / 4:55 pm

    I love the look of a CWS but like so many others here, I’m busty and short-waisted. Several years ago I found a buttoned shirt made of a white knit fabric with woven cuffs and collar. It’s comfortable and I’m not always pulling at it, the way I would with a crisp cotton shirt. I’m sewing a buttoned shirt from a soft rayon fabric and if I tweak the pattern well enough (it’s looking good so far) I hope to make it in a drapey white silk or white rayon.
    Nice to know I’m not alone.

  43. Susan D.
    January 20, 2016 / 5:00 pm

    I can’t wear a classic white shirt either–for the same reasons you cannot. It’s always made me a bit sad. I’ll be exploring your suggested alternatives.

  44. January 20, 2016 / 7:18 pm

    Great post! The CWS does not work on me. I look washed out and it seems too uniform-y to me as well. I have discovered the class black shirt instead! It works for me even as a button-down. I now stay far away from the lists you’ve described, who says any article of clothing is a “must have,” some fashion editor or stylist? Glad to read the comments here and see that I am not the only one who thinks the CWS is seriously overrated. xx

  45. Catherine
    January 20, 2016 / 8:18 pm

    Who knows what the answer is?? For years I was a very small chested, 5′-4″ and 110 lb and a white shirt made me look frumpy. Due to breast reconstruction I became a larger breasted woman and still no go. I was sure larger breast were going to be the answer. I think height is what’s needed! Which I’ve learned is usually what’s required for many of the classic looks. Or maybe it’s proportion? Regardless, I gave up on white shirts long ago!

  46. Nicole
    January 20, 2016 / 10:09 pm

    I remember fondly wearing my CWS’s. Now that my I can’t wear them for the reasons shared here, I think perhaps it’s for the best since my complexion has only gotten “fairer” and so white is probably not a good color choice, nor would layering on extra makeup to offset the inevitable fade of my face! I notice that none of the models are thick-waisted, and those more flowy blouses wouldn’t look so great clinging to curves. Somebody called Audrey’s look timeless and it’s so true.

  47. Penny
    January 21, 2016 / 12:43 am

    I have the same problem, short waisted and big busted. What works for me is Equipment’s ivory coloured silk shirt (and any other colour Equipment shirt too!) A bonus is that I can sit for thirteen hours in an plane in these shirts and still emerge looking uncrumpled.

  48. Susan G
    January 21, 2016 / 5:45 am

    Great post, great comments. I had CWS’s that fit well, but I when I wore them, I felt dull and ordinary. So, I ditched them and went looking for thrift and consignment pieces. I ended up with three winners. One is a sheer, pleated blouse. It has lot’s of fun details–pearl buttons, thin, satin ribbon on the ruffled cuffs–very feminine. The second is a short-sleeved, summer percale blouse, perfect for skirts. Last week, I found the third blouse. It’s a long-sleeved, Lafayette 148 in cotton. The difference from a conventional shirt is a) its oversized (I wear a 12, its a 16) b) it has interesting detailing (seams are on the diagonal, extra-long cuffs) while sporting a conventional collar, and c) instead of buttons, it has a zip up front and zip up cuffs! This blouse is my friend.

    I think the take away in all of this is to use those lists as guides, but use your own intuition and judgment about what is best and what makes you comfortable and happy.

  49. January 21, 2016 / 6:07 am

    I’m very petite (just over 5′) but small chested, however I don’t like myself in classic white shirts either. I don’t like shirt collars on me – they never seem to sit right – and white’s not a good colour on me either. I’ll definitely investigate some of the options mentioned on here though. As somebody else said (sorry, I forgot to note down your name!) I think these lists should be used more as guidelines rather than lists of must haves.

  50. Susan B
    January 21, 2016 / 6:13 am

    How ironically timely that Uniqlo’s Ines de la Fressange collection has just come out, with plenty of button-down shirts of all colors. The CWS is certainly one of her signature garments, but how many of us look like her?

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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!

  57. 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?

  58. 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!

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

  63. 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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