I made a brilliant out-and-about outfit today for a client. We decided she could wear it today and not take it off for three weeks and we’d understand why.
I don’t have a photo, but here’s how it went down. She had a pair of ankle-length black pants that we’d just gotten hemmed and I wanted to be sure they were right. “Do you want me to make a new outfit with these pants?” I asked. “Sure,” she said.
She slipped into the pants and I grabbed her shiny black loafers and asked her to put those on. I went to the blouse/shirt section of her closet and grabbed a sleeveless white Theory shirt. I wanted to be sure it had longish tails because I was going to layer a cropped navy and white wide striped crewneck sweater over it and I wanted the tails to hang below the sweater. Then I grabbed a bulky oversized Theory ribbed black cardigan we’d purchased, gosh, was it last fall? The year before? Anyway, the look was partially French and 100% adorable. I think this just may have been the best outfit I created this week in under two minutes.
The key piece that made this outfit look so fresh was that humble white shirt. The collar framed her face. The shirttails sticking out beyond the edge of the sweater made it look je ne sais pas, modern and stylish.
White shirts are miracle workers yet many people fear them.
“But I can’t wear white.”
Some people have been brainwashed into believing they can’t wear white which leaves them missing out on the great styling tool that is the white shirt.
Truth be told, I could have been that person who told you that. If it was early in my career, I was preaching the rules I learned from others. Rules like, “Only wear a shade of white that matches the whites of your eyes.” Or, “Use the color of your teeth to determine your correct shade of white.” In other words, your teeth had to be bright white in order to wear a white shirt. And that was before teeth brightening was even happening. That pretty much ruled white out for everybody!
The great thing about having a long career is that I’ve had a chance to play by the rules but I’m experienced enough to know when to break them and why.
Why I consider white shirts to be perfect for modern women
I’m in the third chapter of my life as are most of my clients and we’re smashing rules and limiting expectations of what women our age are all about. That third chapter includes frisky women from fifty to seventy-five-years old.
More than anything, I do not want women in this chapter to be overlooked. Lots of fashion geared to this market has gotten super relaxed, too relaxed in my opinion. Much of it is oversized and drapey and lacking structure. I think many manufacturers are looking at us and thinking, Well, they’re into comfort. We’ll just give them shapeless clothing with elastic waistbands. They’ll love it.
When there’s a complete lack of structure and things are shapeless, women wearing them lose visibility and I won’t stand for that! What I like about a white shirt is that you can put it with flowy things, build in some structure, create a frame for the face, and bring attention to that marvelous woman over 50. Visibility wins!
You can still wear loose garments. I love the look of a white shirt with a cascading cardigan (like I wore in the very top photo). You get some structure and framing while enjoying soft draping fabric as well. It’s a great balance.
I also love how a white cotton shirt doesn’t cling to the mid-section like a knit T-shirt does. Who loves the idea of non-clinging fabrics besides me?
Endorsing white rumpled shirts
I was all excited last year to get the J.Crew white shirt they advertised as the Perfect White Shirt. It was no-frills which was fine by me.
My thrill for it waned though once I washed it. No matter how much steam I gave it from my Rowenta iron, it never got crisp like it was when I bought it. It seemed silly to have it cleaned and pressed at the dry cleaners. So it hung in my closet for a few weeks looking dejected.
But you know what? About a week after the fires were contained here in Sonoma County, I opened my closet door and was drawn to that J.Crew shirt. The fact that it wouldn’t steam out and lay flat was forgivable. The truth is, life wasn’t crisp and things weren’t in order at that time. I slipped into that rumpled white shirt and I bet I wore it four days in a row.
It was comforting and entertaining. It makes a snapping sound when I’m moving. You know that sound of crisp woven cotton? It’s like a wind chime. I think I clocked extra steps those days on my Fitbit just because I wanted to hear the shirt talk to me!
White shirts give you that perfectly natural space to add a necklace
The point of that story is that a rumpled white shirt has its place as well as the crisp, no-iron ones like the Chico’s one I’m wearing below. There’s a place for both of them!
Another way a white shirt contributes to bringing attention to the face is that it gives you space at the neck to showcase your jewelry.
I pay attention to lines and how the repetition of lines ensures that the eye will be drawn to that space. See how the open collar creates a V-shape? And my heart pendant also creates a V-shape. Those double Vs bring the attention right where I want it: my communication center, i.e. the place where words come from, where smiles show up and giggles flow from the throat.
I love how I can add a white shirt to a super casual pair of jeans and I look sharp, not sloppy. This jeans-white shirt look has been worn by movie stars since the 50s and it just never goes out of style.
So when I reach for a white shirt, it’s because it looks sharp and modern. It has good posture (body). It’s a way to avoid the limp clothing head-to-toe look that can give a message that we’ve lost our edge, aren’t that interested in people, places or things, and have given up a bit.
I don’t meet women who say that with their words. They’re sharp and fascinated and fascinating. That’s how I’d like them to be perceived. If a white shirt or even a white shirt collar peeking out from under a crew neck sweater can send a message of relevance, I’m all for it!
What’s your vote when it comes to white shirts? Yes? No? Maybe? Do share!
Trinnie QDecember 14, 2017 at 2:41 am
oh how adorable ! all of it Brenda. I love white collared shirts, also light blue, are they called Oxfords ? Or is that a particular kind? I have felt a bit self conscious wearing them, as if I am too dressed up, but seeing all the examples above, I can see that all your comments are true. They just look smart, interesting, fresh, and approacable. I loved the white shirt under the blue toned jacket and belt Beautiful !!! Also , your hair looks lovely in that photo. So , even though I own three white long sleeve shirts, and two short sleeve linen summer shirts I dont wear them enough !, I will have to start wearing them alot more!
Thanks for the wonderful inspiration as usual. Sending much love from Oz. ps. It was 39 degrees celcius here yesterday, and in our household, no one was wearing much of anything ! x
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:18 am
Oh my gosh! That is so hot!!! I hope you had a spray bottle of water to mist yourself all day! I do wear linen white shirts too. Makes me feel “cool” in terms of temperature white just seems fresh in heat. Hope you’ve gotten some heat relief by now! Blessings from Sonoma.
KathyDecember 14, 2017 at 3:25 am
I vote yes! I have 10 white shirts…each is very different although hanging side by side in my closet they look like a small cloud. They are very versatile and can be made to work magic into an outfit as a supporting piece or the star of the show.
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:20 am
That’s true. They can be the supporting piece or the star. I love how much white blouses have been designed to take the lead in an outfit. Some of my visual favorites are out of my price range but I do love admiring them.
DanaDecember 14, 2017 at 4:12 am
I love a white shirt! Out to find one that is easy to wear and comfy. Any suggestions on a stretchy one?
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:21 am
I don’t have brand suggestions. I do very much love ones that have stretch in them! For some of my clients we’ve found Hugo Boss makes a sensational blouse with stretch. It’s always fun to find them on sale. That brand does pop to mind.
DianeDecember 14, 2017 at 4:17 am
White shirts. Yes! Iove them and have been collecting them for years. In the summer it is linen, rayon or cotton and those can get somewhat not pristine, but are still that fresh white pop. You are so right about the shirts smoothing over the ‘bumps’ around the middle and back. That is so much better than a sweater that clings where you don’t notice. I find the open neck is an invitation to fill with some wonderful jewellery and will always keep these in my closet. p.s. how very sweet of you to use that comment in your tips and teasers Brenda.
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:23 am
Ah, Diane. LOVED that quote and glad I had the opportunity to share it. You’re on my wavelength here with your comments. Realizing how well they hide the finer details about what’s going on with our bodies is a big plus in my book! Glad you’re enjoying them!
Margaret ChamberlainDecember 14, 2017 at 4:18 am
I totally agree with you, white shirts are GREAT, I have quite a few. You look WONDERFUL in yours, thanks for reminding us.
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:23 am
You’re welcome, Margaret! Glad you’re making use of yours!
Patricia SchultzDecember 14, 2017 at 4:37 am
I love the look of white shirts and I have several. But I never wear them! They just seem too bulky to wear under something and too confining when I move. Perhaps I’ll try again…maybe purchase a sleeveless version in the summer to wear under jackets and sweaters. Thanks for the reminder of how great they look.
DeanneDecember 14, 2017 at 5:13 am
I have been on the hunt for a perfect white shirt, and when I tries the J Crew version I found the fabric too thin and sheer. I suppose I could have kept it with the idea of always wearing something over it but that seems pretty limiting. I do have a light blue Chicos no iron oxford style and like that one so maybe the white one you have is the same fabric and style, should check it out.
CaraDecember 14, 2017 at 6:53 am
I try them over and over, don’t like the way they look on me and then donate them back. I think maybe it’s because the button-up ones have a default V neck and I’ve come to realize that I much prefer a rounded neckline. I do like my long-sleeved T that’s white! I just need to find a button up one with a rounded neckline!
But you look great in that style, in white!
Penelope Chandra- ShekarDecember 14, 2017 at 7:12 am
I wish I could rock a white shirt like you do but shirts mostly gape at the buttons over the bust. Then there is the white problem. As soon as I put any white top on, I seem to dribble or spill down the front of it so I have given up on them.
JenniferDecember 14, 2017 at 7:41 am
I’m convinced too !
SusanDecember 14, 2017 at 7:48 am
I love my white shirts! However, quite often I get the impression that people view me as overdressed. Black or blue jeans and a white shirt seems “formal” to the t-shirt wearing retirement crowd. What am I doing wrong?
Susanna SingerDecember 14, 2017 at 8:24 am
Thank you for reminding me how much I love white shirts! Nothing like them for brightening the face, slimming the mid-section, and giving a bit of polish to a casual pair of jeans. And yes, people do look at me as if I’m over-dressed, but that’s not my problem! The trick for me (as a lady with “big girls”) is finding the right button placement. So far I’ve hd great luck with Chicos and Foxcroft. Boden also makes some great white shirts with whimsical patterns (bicycles, umbrellas) and spots – they are more rumpled, but I still love them under a sweater. In fact, I caved into my desire for a preppy winter look on Tuesday and broke out a white shirt with a navy tweed skirt, merino cardigan and boots, just light enough to deal with San Francisco mid-day temperatures but still feel cozy. Made me so happy all day long!
Connie MillerDecember 14, 2017 at 8:35 am
My biggest issue with white shirts (or any button-downs) is that I am small framed but busty. To get one that doesn’t gap in the front, it’s too roomy everywhere else. Those little tape things do little to keep the girls tucked in. I do have one with a little stretch that’s too small and I can wear it as an under layer but it still gets a little bunchy. Any suggestions?
AnnDecember 14, 2017 at 10:47 am
I’m SO glad you asked this question, because I’ve been dying for years to tell someone where the best white shirts can be found: Brook Brothers!
Damn! That particular cotton will last forever. There’s something about putting that fabric on my body that goes CLICK!
You’re welcome. 🙂
AngelaDecember 14, 2017 at 11:23 am
When I was working, white shirts filled my wardrobe. With retirement at 60 I found if I wore them during the day people would ask me if I was shopping in my lunchbreak or having a half day! So I fell into the trap of comfy but still stylish clothes, which also masked my burgeoning waistline. Thankfully after losing around 10kg (22lbs?) I am now wearing more structured clothes and with reading your piece will definitely look out for white shirts again, particularly to wear with jeans. A timeless look. Thank you.
Marcia MillerDecember 14, 2017 at 1:37 pm
Please explain why we can break the rule and wear white next to our face when it is whiter than our teeth. I have avoided white for years playing by that rule. I really do not think it does a thing for me. Ready to learn!
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:27 am
Hey Marcia, I know we had this conversation on the Tips & Teasers Facebook page but I’m going to answer it here too so others who are having the same question can hear my reasoning.
I am not a major fan of matching things exactly and I feel that way when it comes to white. I also think the square footage (if we measured parts of our bodies like we do rooms in the house) of teeth in a full smile and the 1/4 inch of whites of the eyes is too small an area to make a big rule like that. I also love the benefit of bringing brightness to the face. And a white blouse really does that. You know, I’m on medication that has side effects. The gain I get from the medication far outweighs the side effects. That may seem like an over the top analogy but in most cases, I think the gain that comes from wearing a white shirt outweighs any negatives about it. It’s a choice and everyone gets theirs. I also think those of us who studied color and color consulting are more sensitive than most. I say let it slide!
Susan MaliziaDecember 14, 2017 at 4:35 pm
Brenda…you are so cute in all your white shirt looks. I love the crispness of a white shirt and wear them often. =)
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:28 am
Fun to hear you’re enjoying them too, Susan!
KathyDecember 14, 2017 at 8:39 pm
I spent a few weeks looking for a red dress or top to wear to Christmas parties. I don’t know why. I’ve never kept anything red I’ve ever bought. Finally, decided that I’d wear black pants and a crisp white shirt to parties. So far, I’ve accessorized with a short, red Murano glass, necklace, that same necklace and a charm neckless, and tomorrow I’ll wear the same outfit with a big sparkly necklace. All things I already own, feel comfortable in and are seasonable for our hot Florida winter. My white shirt has saved my Christmas.
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:30 am
I see the book in my hands titled, “The White Shirt that Saved Christmas.” Love it. That is so true about how it can showcase all different moods of necklaces. Glamour, drama, femininity, sassy, etc. Glad you found your solution! And thanks for sharing the details so we all can see.
La semaine d'une gourmetteDecember 15, 2017 at 1:56 am
I love white shirts, and have several (most are from Nara Camicie) which I realize now I don’t wear nearly often enough. But I would never wear the tails hanging below a sweater, with my body shape (narrow waist, very round bottom, so far I seem to have kept my waist despite the fast approach of 60, even though I’m way too heavy) it just emphasizes the hips (*not* somtehing I want!) while doing nothing for my waist. But I can see it must work with women like my in-laws, big bust, straight waist, small bottom.
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:32 am
You add a lot to this conversation. I can totally get it. I did do this for someone who had a smaller waist in comparison to her hips. The look itself worked on her in a head-to-toe kind of way but it was way outside her comfort zone because she’d always defined her waist. I also am pretty straight so I don’t bring emphasis to my waist. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Adele MillerDecember 15, 2017 at 3:29 am
I love the look of a white shirt with jeans, but most of my wardrobe bottoms are black, and I can’t get past the idea that I look like a restaurant server when I wear them together, even with great accessories. Also need to feel completely unrestricted in my arms and shoulders, so it’s hardly ever comfortable for me to layer a cardigan or jacket over it.
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:36 am
We’re on a roll of great comments here about why they may NOT work for people and you’ve named great ones. I do worry about the black and white restaurant server look. But I also think that wearing black and white prints say in a jacket with a white blouse under it does work. Or if the blouse has interesting detail. One of the blouses I’m wearing comes from Chico and had really fun back details to it. I have done this white blouse trick for my clients where I cut the sleeves off and my client wears it under a jacket. She’s never planning to take the jacket off so she gets the look but not the bulk. They nearly faint watching me do it (and I do it on blouses they’ve had for a while and maybe even have pit stains) but they love the results!
LizDecember 15, 2017 at 9:06 am
Definitely yes to the white shirt! They’re my wardrobe staple. White shirt, dark blue jeans, black blazer or leather jacket=instant chic.
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:36 am
You’ve got the formula down!
TJ SouthwellDecember 15, 2017 at 12:19 pm
Structure – YES! So many ‘trendy’ brands sell this slouchy ‘relaxed’ clothing that does nothing for the woman, and she could have got the same effect from dressing from the local charity box without the expense. Comfortable stretch clothing? Blah. Singing the praises of structure! Here here!!!
LizDecember 16, 2017 at 7:08 pm
I’m with you, TJ. I’ve learned the “softer” my figure gets as I age, the more I need some structure. Otherwise I look like I’m melting!
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:39 am
You guys are such great wordsmiths! Melting. Wow, we really aren’t ready to be melting. Bring in the structure, quick!
BrendaDecember 18, 2017 at 11:37 am
I’m loving your enthusiasm!
Elaine @ Following AugustineDecember 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm
Okay, you’ve convinced me! I’m going to take out that white shirt that’s been hanging in my closet for ages and give it another go, or maybe two or three.
It’s nice to “meet” you, Brenda! I just found your blog for the first time when a link to it showed up on my Facebook page. What luck! I can assure you that I’ll be back. At 65, I’m right in the middle of that third chapter and enjoying it immensely. My interest in fashion has been evolving over the past few years and I introduced a weekly fashion post to my own blog a couple of years ago.
BrendaDecember 21, 2017 at 10:10 am
I love hearing about women who are having fun in the third chapter and your love for fashion too! It can show up at any age, right? So glad you found us over here! Happy Holidays!
DianeDecember 28, 2017 at 4:28 pm
Oh Yes, I’m in my sixties and I’m totally in for white shirts. Absolutely!
BrendaJanuary 2, 2018 at 3:50 pm
I’m with you!
Sue GardnerFebruary 6, 2018 at 9:43 am
Well, I’m zooming in on 70 ( don’t feel it, of course) and I feel a fab white shirt covers all sorts of body issues and occasions! A necklace, scarf or denim anything can set the mood.
A classic staple in a wardrobe. Loved all the fresh suggestions and witty comments on our collective “challenges” with our changing bodies. My favorites are J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, Chico’s and Jones N.Y.
BrendaFebruary 11, 2018 at 7:03 pm
Thanks, Sue for your additions. And I love the recipe you’ve laid out for wearing white shirts. Like you, the numbers go up but so does that joy and the fun. Does that mean we’re feeling our age or not feeling our age? Who cares, right?!