The white shirt is a funny thing, and I must confess that given my penchant for statement dressing, until fairly recently I have overlooked the simple white shirt. For years, ever since I started dressing formally for Sixth Form, I've almost always opted for a coloured shirt (albeit with a white collar and cuffs) around which to build my formal outfits.
The times are a-changing however. The recent menswear presentations at London Collections Men have confirmed (for me at least) that modern tailoring revolves around the ever more reserved application of colour, and that the white shirt is in ascendancy. Although I often relish the prospect of using colour to stand-out a little, taking-in some of next season's oncoming collections has helped me to discover the joy of the classic white shirt. If done right, it adds an unmistakable ease to one's formal attire, and feels crisp and clean. It will quite literally go anywhere and do anything when dressed in the right way: from the office, to the pub, to the opera.
The shirt on show here is a classic
Windsor collared Italian cotton twill shirt,
in a slim darted fit, with a split yoke, classic button placket and double-cuffs. The classic cut of
the collar enables it to be worn with a collar bar. I am hoping to experiment
with shirt collar and cuff styles over the coming months, and try out some
deeply pointed and penny collar shirts over the coming months; a revelation
that comes courtesy of Chester Barrie's excellent presentation at LC:M.
The key thing to keep in mind when wearing a white shirt is that it is a classic piece, and also that as such it is distinctly understated. With no colour on show, cut and cloth come to the fore, so its extremely important to style the shirt elegantly. Experiment with collar bars and collar shapes as well as cuff options and in your choice of cufflinks. Also be picky in your choice of cloth; I often think that its much nicer to have a shirt with a textured weave, rather than a plain poplin or Oxford. Look for herringbones or twills (as with the shirt shown here) to add some subtle interest. Note also that choosing a cloth with a fuller weave, will help the shirt to resist creasing and iron-up nicely.
Having established that the white shirt is an understated garment, I feel compelled to emphasise that there is one essential rule with any minimalistic approach to dress, which unfortunately I often find few people appreciate - understatement or classicism does not work with cheap clothing. Essentially, the trouble with a white shirt, given that is that its a blank canvass, is that the quality of the cloth and the fit (or the lack of) becomes very obvious when its worn. Hence why the white shirt can look both terrible, and impressively crisp and well cut.
Its one of those pieces where it really pays to invest in better quality options, and ensure that you pay attention to the fit of the shirt and shop around to get it right. Its often deceptively difficult to find a shirt that fits well through the body, but which doesn't feel tight or constricted across the shoulder blades. Sleeves should reach down beyond your wrist to about a good inch away from the base of your thumb. The collar itself should be tight without feeling constrictive, and with no space between the edge of collar and the neck visible within.
Pay attention to your shirt's cut and cloth, dress it well around equally crisp tailoring, and you're onto a sure-fire sartorial success.