By Janet Kelly
Editor’s Note: According to Wirecutter, “Though many people tend to use the terms button-up and button-downinterchangeably, a button-down shirt refers to shirts with collars that button down at the corners, typically Oxford shirts.” A button-up is any shirt with buttons up and down the front.
EVERY SO OFTEN comes a fashion story that makes us scratch our heads in wonder. The latest example of this was an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “White Shirts Gone Wild: How the Wardrobe Basic Became Surprisingly Exciting.”
The writer praises the “surreal white shirts” in the 2023 resort collection of The Row, pointing out one in linen with a detachable puffy shawl for a mere $3,450 that must be pre-ordered. Another that’s “anything but uniform” is from British label Tove. It wraps around the body with an impossibly long tie that can’t help but get tangled up in any activity or spilled on.
Wait a second! Isn’t the whole raison d’être of the basic white, clean-cut shirt with crisp collar its simplicity—something you can wear with anything and don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about out how to wear it?
Reviewing a couple of the more outrageous options featured in the WSJ story, we asked ourselves whether we could find white shirts that nodded to the utility of the wardrobe staple but added something a little different or unexpected to set it apart from the tried and true ones we already own. The answer is a resounding yes. Designers Alice + Olivia and Rachel Comey offer shirts in vegan leather and corduroy, respectively, while H&M, Alex Mill, Sézane and Reiss favor ruffled embellishments and lacy details. Plus, brands like Reformation and Madeleine are playing with proportions.
Ready for a closet refresh? Then, see below.
Far from basic, Reiss’s Sophie shirt ($290) with front pleats and lacy floral cutouts can dress up black jeans or make an elegant ensemble when paired with, say, wide-leg white pants.
Leave it to Stacy Bendet at Alice + Olivia for an unconventional take on the basic white button-up. In faux leather with three-quarter puff sleeves and cinched cuffs, it sells for $330.
This shirt from H&M combines comfort—a generous fit and dropped shoulders— with a sheer, lacy detail on the front. It’s $74.
Faherty’s cotton Willa top ($158) goes bohemian with embroidery, blouson sleeves with ruffle cuffs, standup collar and pleated back yoke. Wear with jeans to tone down the peasant-blouse vibe.
Rachel Comey has her own interpretation of the classic. She substitutes wide-wale corduroy for cotton and snaps for buttons. A less expensive alternative to her cha-ching, cha-ching $450 Supply Shirt is G1 Goods Corduroy Basic. Not quite as fun and still not cheap, but I’ve worn mine so many times, it has earned its keep.
Zimmerman takes the trademarks of the basic button-up and turns them into a party-ready silk linen organza shirt with ric-rac ribbon trim along the point collar, front placket and cuffs. No need to hunt down a camisole to wear under the see-through blouse because it comes with a separate slip. Such loveliness comes at a steep $575 from Moda Operandi.
Without going to extremes, this oversize, crisp poplin shirt with ruffled collar and cuffs riffs on the classic and is a signature example of Alex Mill’s “preppy-with-tweaks” design. It sells for $135.
It has that classic collar and buttons, except Reformation’s ribbed shirt is made from a cashmere blend, has wide sleeves and looks a lot like a cardigan. It’s $248 at Farfetch.
A double-layered wide lapel, barrel cuffs and concealed buttons add a modern touch to this top, cut in a flowy fit from a silk fabric with a dollop of stretch. It sells for $395 at Shopbop.
Come this spring, look for cropped shirts like this one from Massimo Dutti, which sets itself apart from the traditional with standup collar, bib front and back pleat. It’s $119.
If you happen to feel bad about your elbows, Zadig & Voltaire’s satiny shirt with its fluttery 3/4 sleeves will camouflage them nicely. Plus, we like the high, ruffled neckline. It sells for $398.
Despite its long length (hip skimming) and generous proportions, Madeleine’s short-sleeve blouse ($199.95) has a sleek silhouette without a hint of sloppy. That’s what caught our eye and won our approval.
Psst. What the WSJ accurately noted is the necessity of a handy stain remover in the case of a latte or soup spill on that bright white blouse.
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