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Nothing Quite Like a White Shirt

There is something inordinately sexy about a crisp clean white shirt. Pinpointing the allure – the freshness of it, the way it shows off good posture, sits perfectly on a strong set of shoulders, frames a beautiful neck or highlights facial features – is easy, and it should be a staple in your wardrobe.

I was pleasantly reminded of this, watching The English Patient. Apart from being my favorite movie, it is a refreshing look at what used to be the embodiment of free American spirit – or so it was in 1942. Crisp white blouses and high waist camel pants, the loosely tied scarves and open jackets were elegantly on display – especially by the exquisite Kristen Scott Thomas. Ralph Lauren has built an empire on this look, and as one of the reigning American designers, it has served him well.

The white shirt, however, is a versatile staple of well pressed  (and hopefully Egyptian or Australian) cotton. Dress shirts need not always have fancy squiggles on them to look sharp, and men should take note. Just look at the always darkly sexual Ralph Fiennes in the same movie. The ease of wear  in simple white is rugged and yet, markedly polished.

On the higher end, Prada makes a beautiful dress shirt with a satin finish and shopping in their Rome store is a sensory jubilee. Tom Ford’s array of men’s  shirts is as vast, if not more pricey, and the lower end sees designers such as Thomas Pink and Paul Stuart – and will set you back $250. It’s worth it.

So what should you look for?

Fabric: should be soft and supple, Pima or  a densely woven Egyptian cotton are usually best. If you must absolutely go for a print, then it should be woven into the fabric. Make sure the entire shirt is two-ply with at least an 80 thread count per inch.

Cuffs: I love style and French cuffs are my thing. Worn with an understated cufflink, they create an elegant line from shoulder to hand. But if it isn’t yours, make sure your button-hole cuffs are wrinkle free with top stitching. Oh and buttonholes should be hand sewn in an ‘x’ pattern. Irregularities are fine.

Fit: Two fingers between your neck and collar if the shirt is buttoned all the way up. The cuffs should not ride up on your wrists when you bend your arms. Cuffs should be snug. Make sure there are no gaping holes at your chest. I prefer a narrow fit, very Italian, but you better have a good body under it. If not, make sure not to substitute with a tent. And, removable collar stays are your best friend. A flimsy unpressed collar is decidedly uncouth.

So the next time you’re looking for something to wear, stick to a well made classic. And if you do have a good chest, or are partying in the Greek Islands – go on, unbutton the top two. A bit of swagger helps, just look at Daniel Craig.




  • Anonymous

    I love that mentioned three of the my fav designers here: The house of Prada; Tom Ford; and the not well known enough Thomas Pink. If I only could afford these treasured titles to adorn my own skin. Furthermore, I appreciate the synopsis you’ve created the culture and fit of a dress shirt. Very well done. I say this honestly, this is your best piece yet :)  

  • http://www.theternalist.blogspot.com Clara

    Thanks! I really appreciate. I was so inspired by that movie, beyond the love and grandeur of the scenes, I was so excited by the clothes! And who doesn’t like the simple sexiness of a white shirt…or dying to know whats underneath. If you can’t do the classics well, then don’t bother dressing up ill begotten style. ;)

  • Anonymous

    Always been a fan of the white shirts whether its white dress or tees.  With either a crisp pair of jeans, khakis or a dress pant for work the white dress shirt is timeless.  In the summer rolling those sleeves up is the best feeling!

  • Anonymous

    Weird comment, but my mom has always said that her favorite thing to see a man in is a nice whit shirt! Great article!

  • Chris Elliott

    What a great piece Clara! You totally nailed it. I could not agree more. A nice, white oxford button-down collar is my favorite. So classic! This was a very well written, and extremely insightful piece. Great job! 

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