Fashion & Beauty

The Essential White Shirt

By MyLittleBird Staff

DESPITE WHAT the Duchess of Windsor, aka Wallis Simpson, said—that you can’t be too rich or too thin—you can be both. But really, can you ever have enough white shirts? We think not.

A white shirt is right for all reasons and seasons. I couldn’t survive sizzling summer days without a breezy white linen blouse or three. In fall and winter, wearing a white shirt peeking out under a crew neck or cardigan lights up your face. Pop a pretty ruffled one under a blazer in springtime.

Think celebs like Sharon Stone, who famously wore a lilac Vera Wang taffeta skirt and her then-husband’s crisp white button-down from the Gap to the 1998 Oscars. Former J. Crew artistic director Jenna Lyons showed that a white shirt goes with everything, from denim to tulle skirts and anything in between. Designer Carolina Herrera grew an entire business out of white blouses.

Wear one for the weekend, when you return to an office, for a night out but also a night in watching Netflix. Whether it’s oversized or fitted, linen, poplin or a blend, there’s nothing more timeless.

Below, we picked out a baker’s dozen we’d be happy to welcome to our respective closets.

And, if by chance, you’re averse to the thought of ironing shirts, Managing Editor Nancy McKeon has found non-iron choices at Brooks Brothers, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End and Talbots as well as at Chico’s and Foxcroft.

LEFT: Made from cotton with a touch of stretch, a classic Short-Sleeve Shirt gets an update with a smocked sleeve and a back hem that creates a gathered effect. The old-but-looks-new-again Peter Pan collar adds to the appeal. It’s $89 at Cos Stores, and it also happens to look excellent in black.

CENTER: Sometimes you just wanna dress up—for a specific occasion or to make an occasion. Rows of scalloped ruffles cascade down this light, slightly sheer Shannon Blouse from New York City-based Sea, known for designs with feminine details. It’s reduced 40 percent to $231 from $385, at Nordstrom.

RIGHT: When your aim is to look crisp even in sticky, summer weather, it would be hard to top Cos’s Short-Sleeve Button-Down ($79) with its roomy fit and wide sleeves.


LEFT: It’s all in the details—the subtle ruffle neckline, sweet ruffle cuffs and nicely finished seams, which will make you want to roll up the sleeves in warm weather. The Classic-Fit Ruffleneck, which is $89.50 at J. Crew, will zhoosh up a pair of faded jeans.

RIGHT: I feel bad about my elbows (along with a lot of other body parts), which is one reason I like this Candice Blouse — it hides them. Other reasons are its breezy linen fabric, subtle puff sleeves and slightly cropped hem, which is just what high-waisted pants (that are everywhere) require. It’s $149 at Shopbop.


LEFT: The founder of Paris-based Sézane believes in creating pieces that will outlive trends and suit (almost) every season. In summery eyelet with embroidery on the front and back and lace details on the collar and cuffs, this linen-and-cotton Ponnie Shirt ($125) in écru passes the litmus test.

RIGHT: Copenhagen, Denmark-based Samsøe Samsøe hews to a design tradition of minimal, accessible fashion, such as this elbow-camouflaging Mejse Puff Sleeve Button-Up Shirt that’s a blend of eco-friendly fabric lyocell and linen. The combination of the band collar and the poufy shoulder makes a winning mix. Plus, it’s reduced from $140 to $84 at Nordstrom.


LEFT: Theory’s slim-fitting, well-made and utilitarian designs often find a way into my closet, although I complain about the price. When I asked a Saks salesperson why the clothes can be so spendy, he explained to me that they’re considered a less expensive version of Prada! In any event, I’m tempted by this pima cotton, perfectly simple Theory Button Down. It’s reduced from $175 to $105 at Bloomingdale’s.

RIGHT: Breathable linen, drop shoulders, a boxy, oversize silhouette and pleated three-quarter-length sleeves make Everlane’s Billow Blouse ($58) an appealing summer buy for looking good and feeling cool.

LEFT: Every size of this sunny-weather, white Utility Linen Shirt is sold out; a note on the Alex Mill site asks you to join the waiting list if you want one. (Limited sizes are available in khaki and red.) BTW, former Gap Inc. and J. Crew Group boss 76-year-old Mickey Drexler has recently taken over as chief executive officer. His son started the company.

RIGHT: One-of-a-kind pieces from San Francisco-based CP Shades are cut, sewn and garment dyed all by hand. A pullover linen tunic, Petra  ($198) takes inspiration from vintage artist smocks. The shirt, which is longer in the back, has a very generous, oversize fit, so you may need to size down. If you can’t abide wrinkles, CP Shades is not your cup of tea.

LEFT: This clever twist on a white tunic combines a no-iron woven front with an easygoing knitted back, both in crisp white. Upping the style quotient is the white grosgrain ribbon that runs down the front placket. And yes, the Chico’s Grosgrain-Placket Tunic has pockets. It’s $89.50 at Chico’s.

RIGHT: The Taylor Essential Non-Iron Pinpoint Shirt from the Foxcroft Collection is a cut or two above basic. It’s classic without being button-down; there’s a bit of shaping to keep it from being boxy, the split cuff and collar add style—and it’s no-iron. That’s right, grab it fresh from the dryer and (once it cools off), pop it back on. In white plus light pink and light blue, it’s $79 at Foxcroft Collection.



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4 thoughts on “The Essential White Shirt

  1. cynthia tilson says:

    Thanks Janet! Dressing stylishly doesn’t have to be any more complicated than a perfect white shirt with jeans or black slacks. Just counted the white shirts in my closet – 10. Always room for one or two more! Xo

  2. Carol says:

    Ahhh white shirts, also can’t do without a lot of them in these dog days of summer. I am unsuccessfully trying to replace my favorite gauzy one from Anthropologie which is getting small holes from too much wear. I rationalize by saying clothes with holes is very stylish these days. I’m always on the hunt…

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      You might also try this (almost non-iron) linen shirt from Foxcroft. I don’t remember how I came across this brand, but I keep going back for more–good construction, kind of a “better” basic (and a bit pricier as a result).

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