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How to dress: the white shirt that thinks it’s a T


Link to video: How to wear white shirts

A white shirt is a timeless and egalitarian piece, but all white shirts are not created equal. This has nothing to do with the price tag or label, and everything to do with how the shirt behaves. Right now, the way to spot an alpha white shirt is this: it thinks it is a white T-shirt.

Teensy bit surreal, yes. But, no, I haven’t totally lost the plot. Bear with me, because there is an issue at stake here that affects your everyday, useful, real-life wardrobe. Promise. The white shirt has for some years occupied that sweet spot of being both an unimpeachable classic and a right-for-now trend piece. This is a notable achievement, because mostly fashion throws up a trend and people like me make a massive song and dance about it for maybe five days and then forget all about it. But just occasionally a look comes along that hangs on in there, doggedly, for ever. Skinny jeans, for instance. And the new skinny jean is the buttoned-up white shirt, which seems to have featured in just about every other fashion shoot or advertising campaign for the past four years.

But this is still fashion, so the way the white shirt is worn is constantly evolving. For a long time, the smart way to wear the white shirt was as part of a starched, stiff look: proud and unadorned, with dark tailoring. That look was about reclaiming the white shirt from the tie-wearers. It was a look that said: I am not without a tie because I am scruffy or lowly, I am without a tie because, while businesslike, I am also hip and modern. In other words: I win.

That still works. But at the most recent round of fashion shows, there was a new type of white shirt: the white shirt that thinks it’s a T-shirt. So, this white shirt is worn casually with jeans and flat shoes, or under a loose trench, or with one of the new long, loose midi skirts. The point you are making with these ensembles is that the wearing of the crisp, buttoned-up white shirt has become such second nature to you that you now throw it on as casually as you would a T-shirt. Of course, casual doesn’t really come into it. Fashion is a serious business. All white shirts are created equal, but you have to wear it right to win.

• Jess wears shirt, £231, by Equipment, from fenwick.co.uk. Jeans, £165, burberry.com. Coat, £199, hobbs.co.uk. Shoes, £159, reissonline.com.

Hair and makeup: Sharon Ives at Carol Hayes Management.

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