Why The White Shirt Is A Wardrobe Essential

The ULTIMATE MULTI-TASKER, a white shirt will see you through EVERY SARTORIAL EVENTUALITY, believes Penny McCormick …

My mother has always championed a white shirt and it has been a stalwart in her wardrobe across seven decades. A good cotton blouse (no mixes or stretch material,  or heaven forfend, easy ironing) has seen her through most sartorial eventualities, from festivities to funerals. I once had a Colour Me Beautiful session which revealed a white shirt (rather than a cream one) was the foundation of a “Cool Winter” wardrobe. Like the quest for perfect jeans, I have inherited my mother’s exacting standards when seeking an additional shirt for my collection. As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said “God is in the details”. For me those include a preference for twill and piqué fabrics, Troca shell buttons, plackets and double cuffs (necessitating vintage cufflinks in mother-of-pearl).

My favourite white shirts have included a Dolce & Gabbana semi-fitted basket weave version with classic spread collar worn with jeans; at one time my “lucky” date outfit making me feel invincible when surrounded by women in more frou frou ensembles. Then there was a Carolina Herrera number – the cut and collar impeccable for more formal meetings, and a Gap basic which alternated with a Ralph Lauren button-down collar for weekend wear – think Diana crusading against landmines.  You’ve guessed it: I am a Generation Xer, with Julia Roberts in Richard Gere’s shirt (from Pretty Woman) on my moodboard jostling for space alongside Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s minimal red lips-white shirt aesthetic. Latterly, I have admired Alessandra Faccinetti (former creative director at Tod’s) who has been photographed countless times wearing the staple with a black leather skirt.

When I travel,  I  also like to pick up local designers. For aficionados, an Anne Fontaine shirt is a must-buy. The ultimate in France though is surely a bespoke Charvet version? I once worked for a high-maintenance woman who ordered hers (or rather I ordered hers) with Peter Pan collars in every conceivable shade and I marvelled at how well the perfect poplin laundered (now I really do sound like Mum). In Italy, Nara Camicie is the go-to quotidien label; I love their mandarin collar iterations, though I still pine for my cross-body tie shirt by Gianfranco Ferré which I wore by day or night swapping jeans for black trousers. I also have Austrian Mosers and have realised over the years that my mood defines collar choice. I wore a Laura Ashley Victorian confection, reminiscent of Simone Rocha’s romantic iterations for SS18, for a shy 21st birthday photo, and a less prissy, collarless style a few years later at graduation.

If the crisp shirt has fallen out of favour in the last decade in favour of softer silhouettes – the shirt insert, and deconstructed versions more comfortable than a pin-sharp special – it is making a comeback this winter. Every designer from Eudon Choi to Versace sent them down the runway while Helen Cody and Louise Kennedy lead the Irish designers endorsing the trend. As for my next purchase, I’m ordering the Meryl tuxedo shirt from Thomas Pink, made in Northern Ireland by Smyth & Gibson. 

Penny McCormick

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