Popular with both sexes, the garment offers a dapper or casual look, writes Nadia Badarudin
YOU don’t need an off-the-wall swan dress a la Bjork to make a statement. Hollywood actress Sharon Stone has proven to us that sometimes a plain white shirt is enough to put you in the limelight.
Stone and her natural sartorial elegance has earned her unforgettable red carpet moments at the Oscars. She slayed a classy look in a Vera Wang skirt in soft sheen lilac paired with a white, button-down Gap shirt from the wardrobe of her then husband Phil Bronstein at the event in 1998.
Four years earlier, actress Uma Thurman made the men’s wardrobe fixture look so sexy and stylish as she pulled off the look with ballerina flats and cigarette pants in the movie Pulp Fiction.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Before the white shirt became the rage and a wardrobe staple for women and men, it used to be a symbol of wealth and class, according to Beyond Retro UK (www.beyondretro.com).
With detachable collar and cuffs as an option (so that they could be easily washed), only the rich could wear the garment because the underprivileged could not afford to get it washed so many times (and in the pre-washing machine era, it was hard work: scrubbing, boiling and starching). Vogue says “ …it was worn by those who didn’t work, so they couldn’t stain its whiteness”.
In the early 1900s, the white shirt was used to differentiate between office workers – hence the term “white collar workers” – and those doing manual labour (“blue collar workers”) simply because a coloured shirt could take the grease and stains better.
As time goes by, the function and practicality of a white shirt have gone beyond social status. And from a stiff-looking piece with detachable cuffs and collar, the white shirt has evolved with regards to cut, styles and fabrics – from a linen or muslin shirt with standard cut to something as flashy and fashionable as singer Prince’s poet shirt with ruffles.
The white shirt became the go-to piece when Hollywood stars like Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner set the trend in the 1930s and 1940s. While Julia Roberts appeared effortlessly stylish in an oversized pick in Pretty Woman, punk singer Patti Smith gave the suggestion of an androgynous garment with her look on her 1975 debut album.
The Beatles’ simple yet dashing image in crisp white shirts and neckties apparently inspired our own 1960s’ Pop Yeh-Yeh stars and fans to make the style their own, with the slim-cut “seluar yankee” to match.
In fashion, Coco Chanel encouraged women to do away with corsets and adopt a masculine look – loose white shirt paired with cardigans and pants – in the 1920s.
Designers like Carolina Herrera, Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford and Thom Browne regard the white shirt as an essential piece in their wardrobe.
Herrera’s daily ensemble is a white button-up piece with A-line skirt. A suit with white shirt is synonymous with Ford, Browne and Lagerfeld, who jazzes up his style with flamboyant statement pieces like glitter accessories.
VERSATILE FOR MEN TOO
Be it a dapper look or toning it down with a minimalist mode, one can never go wrong with a good white shirt due to its versatility.
“Every man should have a good white shirt. It can go with anything, whether pants or jeans. It can easily complement formal or casual wear of any colour, and with or without accessories too,” says Oxwhite brand founder CK Chang. Oxwhite is a Malaysian company which specialises in high quality ready-to-wear white shirts.
“A white shirt should fit your body physique nicely. For instance, a relaxed fit is ideal for the plus-sized.
“Pay attention to the type of collar and length of sleeves,” says Chang.
“And, most importantly, find one that is made of quality material — one with a thin texture or that looks transparent usually indicates sub-standard fabric.”
STYLE GURU’S TIPS FOR WOMEN
ADAMAYA Consultancy and Services Chief Executive Officer and image and grooming expert Datin Sharifah Shawati Syed Mohd shares some tips and tricks for women on styling the white shirt.
WHAT SHOULD WE LOOK FOR IN A WHITE SHIRT?
Pick one with a fitted cut and structured look to avoid looking shabby. Be careful with detailing such as buttons and zips as too many make the look unsophisticated.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO PULL OFF A CLASSIC STYLE WITH A WHITE SHIRT?
For the retro look, pair it with flare-legged palazzo in big flower prints. For the classic look, pair it with a long, flared taffeta skirt with monotone effect of black and white. Accessorise with versatile pieces like classy pearls. Sharon Stone’s ensemble at the 1998 Oscars was on point and a good example of a clever way to mix classic and casual.
For the rugged look, pick an oversized white shirt and wear it loose like a boyfriend’s shirt. Or wear it off-shoulder with a pair of shorts and complement the look with loop earrings.
WHAT’S A FASHION FAUX PAS WHEN IT COMES TO WHITE SHIRTS?
Too many detailing and crumpled fabrics will detract the classiness of a white shirt. It will make the wearer look like she’s trying too hard. Pay attention to the tone of the white. The colour should be pure white and not off-white, or with bluish or yellowish hues.