A True Classic: The White Shirt

It has many names – Oxford, button-down, button-up, blouse, dress shirt – but regardless of what you call it, it is a piece that should be in your closet.

“The white blouse can be light and floating, impeccable and austere, sumptuous and all-enveloping, tight and close-fitting. It rises up to frame the face. It sculpts the body by transforming itself into a second skin. Imputed with glamour and poetry, freedom and impetuousness, the prim white shirt turns out to have a thousand identities…”

- Gianfranco Ferre.

Today when I told my friend Kim I was doing a post on button-downs, her response went something like this: “I hate button-downs. They are so stuffy. I feel like I should be wearing a tie.” And yes, I agree. Traditional white dress shirt can be “stuffy,” but there are so many styles and ways to wear it! It is such a versatile piece.

Don’t want to go with the classic? Try something with a Peter Pan collar, ruffles or color/embellished details.

"Gap" "Zara" "Victoria's Secret" "Alice + Olivia"

From left to right: Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Zara, and Alice + Olivia

The Over/Under:

Use a button-down in place of a cardigan. Wear it open over one of your striped summer T’s and jeans or a skirt. If you still need another layer, you can always put a cardigan over that.

"Old Navy" "Cole Haan" "Topshop" "Mulberry"

White Oxford Shirt: Topshop, Striped Shirt: Old Navy, Skirt: Mulberry, Shoes: Cole Haan


Try a white dress shirt under one of your LBD’s.

"Lauren by Ralph Lauren" "Kenneth Jay Lane" "topshop"

White Oxford Shirt: Topshop, Dress: Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jewelry: Kenneth Jay Lane

“Dress” It Up:

Long shirt tails? Belt it and wear it as a mini-dress. As it gets colder, add a skirt or shorts, tights and/or boots.

"DKNY" "Mod Cloth" "Anthropologie"

Tunic: DKNY; Bloomers: Mod Cloth, Skirt: Anthropologie: Flats: ASOS.com Pumps: Clothing at Tesco

Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to find a well-fitting, flattering button-down. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably splash coffee on yourself the first day you wear it anyway. No matter your budget, here are 3 things to keep in mind on your shirt search.

1. Check the chest – Make sure it fits you. I know that seems like a silly thing to have to point out, but we’ve all seen it: the women that are a little more endowed who have the puckering and pulling that makes it hard not to look at the girls.  Try going up a size or even better, keep looking. Different brands/designers cut shirts differently. If you find that perfect button-down, consider buying more than one. Again, they are white shirts. They will get dingy. This is not going to be apiece you will have forever. If you find one you like, why not stock up?

Or consider having one or two shirts tailor made. Yes it’s more expensive, but not as expensive as buying shirts you’ll never wear because they don’t look/fit right. Those of you who work in law firms or corporate offices in D.C. probably are familiar with the tailoring companies that call and offer to come to meet with you in your office. I finally caved and ended up loving it! I use Sheika Mancle with Tom James. I really like her because she took time to get a sense of my taste/style, is never pushy when I say “no” and always great suggestions for fabric, fit, cut, etc.

2. The see-through factor. Maybe you are looking for something in a sheer fabric, but sometimes the cotton/cotton blend is very thin and you end up with sheer whether you wanted it or not once you’re outside. If possible, try it on in natural light – a good rule for tying clothes on in general.

3. The long and the short of it. Know what works for your body. For example, I am short-waisted. I have zero torso so rarely, if ever, tuck in my shirts. As a result, I opt for shorter cut with a curved hem so it doesn’t look sloppy.

So Kim, did I change your mind?

  1. Any suggestions on designers that give a lot of room in the bust? i am so tired of flashing my whole office, or wearing safety pins every day.

    • Ha ha. I hear you! Once I stabbed myself in the process of safety pinning and bled on my shirt. Classy!

      I’ve had pretty good luck with Gap, Old Navy and Lands’ End Canvas. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve read Herroom.com is bust-friendly too. It seems the started focused on lingerie, but they also have shirts. It’s actually one of the reasons I started working with a tailor.

    • one of my former co-workers, who had a larger bust, swore by theory’s button-ups. i’ll admit that i saw them in a store once and cringed at how much they cost, but just offering another suggestion.

  2. After our session, I bought a white shirt that I really love. I still haven’t worn it yet, but once the weather cools off, I will be pairing it with EVERYTHING. Bonus: it’s no-iron. Win!

  3. Pingback: An Affair to Remember | Emily Kate Hargrove – Capital Style

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