White Shirt Heroines: Emma Watson, Audrey Hepburn and Alexa Chung
Here is my new series on the essential items you should have in your wardrobe to make your clothes work as hard as possible for you. It's called the Elemental series and I'm starting with that old favourite, the white shirt. Read any book/blog/article on a capsule wardrobe and there will be a white shirt mentioned. Personally I never really got the whole white shirt thing, I just thought it was a wardrobe staple for those in the catering trade, but I can now see that I was wrong. It's so much more than a uniform...
While it will rarely take centre stage within an outfit it is one of your building blocks. Adding a white shirt under pretty much everything doubles its number of uses immediately. Got a smart dress that you only wear in the evenings? Add a white shirt under it for daytime. Can't think of another option for your jumpsuit? Add a white shirt under it. Bored of wearing that shirt dress on its own? Add a white shirt under it. The white shirt's versatility knows no bounds.
Of course, there is as with all things a white shirt hierarchy. Go for super-cheap and you'll pay the price ie it will look like a dirty grey dishrag after wash number one even if you wash it in Daz. However there is also not much point hitting the opposite end of the pay scale as no matter how luxurious a white shirt is it will only have a limited life expectancy given the amount of times you will wear it. I would recommend focussing on fit and fabric rather than anything else and go for the best your budget will allow. Here are my tips on finding your perfect companion:
Your white shirt is mostly going to be used as a layering tool so it therefore needs to be slim fitting with no pockets on the front.
Ensure the shirt is long enough for you so that when layering under jumpers and other tops you can see the shirt tails.
An off-white shade in a softer fabric will be more flattering against the skin as one gets older as it is not as harsh as pure white.
Find one made of a stretch cotton fabric as this will ensure a perfect fit.
Go for a white shirt with buttoned single cuffs as this will give you the option to fold back the cuffs over the top of a jacket or jumper and push the sleeves up.
Ideally select a non-button down collar as the collar will sit better when layered under other pieces.
Take care of your white shirt and wash after one or two wears in a whites-only wash.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Luxury: Gerard Darel (£130)
Embellished collar: Ted Baker (£99)
Off-white silk: Thomas Pink (£150)
So go forth and add the white shirt to your wardrobe and like me you'll realise that all those people were right. They told us so.
Main photo: Thomas Pink. Top right to bottom left: Zara, Long Tall Sally, Gerard Darel, Ted Baker, Charles Tyrwhitt