When it comes to wardrobe essentials, every woman has different requirements. There are over 30 million results that will pop up on your page when you search for “women’s wardrobe essentials” on google.

So how do you decide?

I believe what makes it to your “essentials” list largely depends on your lifestyle. It also depends on your state of mind or the way you feel.

We all wake up feeling different every day. Some days we feel super-charged and in-control and other days we may feel delicate or sensitive. Our clothes should be able to make us look the way we feel.

For starters, your wardrobe should include pieces that will help you create outfits for a variety of different occasions. You should also be able to create a few different styles with the same piece.

Now usually, a little black dress and a perfect white tee are the most common recommendations when it comes to wardrobe “must-haves”. The chances are that you may not have seen my recommendation in the top 5 even.

My recommendation is The White Shirt. A full sleeve button-front white shirt.

Every woman should have this iconic piece in her wardrobe.

But why? You ask.

Because whether you are light-skinned or dark-skinned, tall or short, lean or curvy, a white shirt looks good on any woman. This is one hero piece that’ll work for both work and play. No matter your age, your profession or your lifestyle.

While the white shirt does have its origin inspired by menswear, it has continually been used to depict the sensuality of a woman. Think about all the movies or shows where the woman is seen wearing the man’s white shirt the next morning.

No other wardrobe staple is as timeless or as versatile as a white button-front shirt. It has been worn since the 1940s and by remarkable women like Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, to Tina Turner, Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Watson.

Shirt Evolution

A white shirt can not only make you look but also make you feel sexy, bold, feminine, composed, in-control and put-together, as long as you stick to a few basic guidelines.

But before we go into that, there is something we need to clarify.

 

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SHIRT AND A BLOUSE?

A lot of the times, I hear women use these words interchangeably. And to be honest, there are so many different styles these days that it just seems easier to call everything a shirt or everything a blouse because of all the variations they come in. Even the retailers do that.

During the time I worked as a buyer, I learnt to describe garments as correctly as possible. Now, it has become a force of habit. So when I say a shirt, I mean a shirt and not a blouse or a t-shirt.

A shirt is a button-front garment with a collar and cuffs (most of the time). The length of the sleeves and the shape of the hem can vary. Typically, the fit is snug or relaxed, but sometimes they can also be oversized depending on the brand. Shirts are made from woven fabrics and most commonly used fabrics are cotton, linen, denim and silk. There can be variations in the details (ruffles, frills) and the fit of the shirt (boyfriend, tailored) that can make your outfit dressy, tomboyish, or feminine.

A blouse is any top made of a woven fabric that doesn’t button through the front like shirts. It may or may not have a collar, and comes in a lot of different variations in sleeves and hems. Blouses are usually made from much softer fabrics. They can also be made using stiffer fabrics to achieve a more architectural or structured silhouette.

Anything else in the category of tops made of a knitted fabric is called a knitted top.

So now that that’s out of the way let’s look at how to choose the right white shirt.

 

HOW TO BUY THE RIGHT SHIRT FOR THE RIGHT OCCASION

It can be confusing to decide what type of shirt to wear to a formal event or a casual occasion when you have so many new styles thrown at you every day.

Here are a few guidelines to help you make that decision quickly.

THE FABRIC

White shirts come in a wide variety of fabrics. These fabrics widely vary in their weight. You will find that a 100% cotton fabric can be thick with a visible weave pattern when looked at closely and it can also be so thin that it’s just shy of being see-through.

Choosing the fabric will depend on the climate where you live. The fabrics that I recommend are 100% Cotton or blends like Poplin Cotton and Cotton Voile, Silk or Silk blends and Linen. If you want to get more specific, Oxford, Herringbone and Twill are the most popular choices for casual white cotton shirts.

So, if you live someplace that is humid, silk or thick cotton fabric might not be a good option, and instead, you might want to opt for lightweight cotton. Linen is good for a casual daytime look and holidays in summer if you don’t mind the crushed fabric look.

Another feature of the fabric to pay attention to is the visibility of the weave of the fabric. If the fabric is thicker or weightier, the weave pattern will be more visible giving it a more casual vibe.

So, to make it easier for you to remember, use this rule: the lighter the fabric is, the more formal it is.

 

THE FIT

A fit can make or break your look. To get the fit right, you must take into consideration the environment you’ll be wearing it in.

A shirt that you wear to your corporate job could be different to the shirt that you wear to a brunch with friends. It’s a matter of personal choice whether you prefer a closely tailored fit for work or a relaxed fit. Lightweight cotton is ideal for a tailored fit while silk is perfect for a relaxed or slim fit. Regardless of your preference for fit, there are some basic guidelines of how a shirt should fit.

A tailored shirt should sculpt your body. It should neither be too tight that the buttons gape at the chest nor should it be so loose that it looks baggy. The shoulder seam should sit right where your arm connects with your shoulder and the collar when done up should not be restricting.

For a relaxed or slim fit, the same guidelines apply except that the shirt will fall a bit further away from your body and would loosely envelop your body rather than sculpt it. You can play around with styling by rolling up your sleeves or wearing the half-tuck to add a bit of flair. 

 

THE COLOUR

I am very particular about the shade of white of my white shirts. No specific reason but I just am. I think it has something to do with the fact that it helps me make decisions quicker.  It also makes my life easier.

For white shirts, I follow a simple rule: classic white for casual and ivory for formal occasions.

It always works. And I am dressed and out of the door without having to deal with the unnecessary frustration of trying out 10 different tops and ultimately wearing the same one I’ve been wearing anyway. So why not just cut all of that out. And go straight to the end and use my time to enjoy the occasion that I was getting dressed for in the first place.

But, why Ivory?

Ivory White, simply because Ivory silk looks more elegant than White silk in the sense that Ivory doesn’t create a stark contrast if you pair it with a black blazer or black trousers. Ivory forms a more cohesive colour palette when paired with many of the classic colours whereas white can create a sharp contrast.

So when in doubt, stick to the classic white for casual and an ivory for formal occasions.

Quick note: Remember to wear a bra in a nude colour because there’s nothing more off-putting than your bra showing through your white shirt. If you can’t find an exact match to your skin-tone, opt for a shade lighter as opposed to going darker. It looks better under a sheer fabric. A black or a white bra is a big no-no.

 

A WHITE SHIRT IS YOUR WARDROBE STAPLE

You can wear it on your casual days when you are just popping out to run some errands or to a business-casual meet-up with other entrepreneurs.

Casual To formal
Fitted Oxford Shirt: GAP £39.95 | Slim-leg Jeans: J BRAND £240 | Open Bangle: NOT ON THE HIGH STREET £69 | Pink Ballet Flats: SOPHIA WEBSTER £250 || Ink Blue Skinny Jeans: J BRAND £245 | Black Blazer: MANGO £49.99 (SALE) | D’Orsay Pumps: SAM EDELMAN £58.10 (SALE) || Silk Shirt: WINSER LONDON £169 | Slim-fit Tapered Trousers: JIGSAW £115 | Sunglasses: RAY-BAN £146 | Necklace: MASSIMO DUTTI £29.95 | Handbag: FENDI £1,420 | Black Pumps: JIMMY CHOO £450

 

Wear an ivory silk shirt with tailored trousers and a black blazer, throw on your comfortable heels and you are set for that important presentation looking classic and timeless. You can use accessories or footwear to add a pop of colour if you wish.

There are countless outfits that you can create with a white shirt. And I promise you will never have an “I have nothing to wear” moment.

Note: Over time, the shirt will lose its whiteness. You will spill food on it, and your makeup will make its way to the shirt too. And that’s why there’s no reason to spend a huge sum of money on it. Buy one from brands that are known to have reasonably good quality. They will last you at least a season of regular wear, but also won’t break the bank as you will have to replace your shirt inevitably.

 

OUTFIT INSPIRATION TO MAKE YOU LOOK THE WAY YOU FEEL

FEMININE

You know those days when you feel like you want to dress up in soft, flowy clothes, do-up your hair, and maybe even put on some pink lip colour. Or those days when you feel girly, but also want to look refined at the same time.    

A white shirt paired with a floral skirt and strappy heels is my go-to outfit for when I’m feeling girly and also want to look grown-up.

This outfit is also great for a day event like a baby shower or a kids birthday party. Slip on your chucks if you feel a tiny bit sporty or if you know you’ll be walking (or chasing after the kids) a lot.

Styling Guide: Roll up your sleeves, so they sit just between your elbow and wrist to add a bit of character to your outfit. Tuck in the shirt entirely and then slightly pull it out so you can move your arms comfortably.

Feminine
Fitted Oxford Shirt: GAP £39.95 | Floral Print Wrap Skirt: GANNI £160 | Hoop Earrings: ANTHROPOLOGIE £30 | Bucket Bag: ZARA £12.99 (SALE) | Strappy Sandals: ZARA £19.99 (SALE)

 

RELAXED

If you work from home, it’s easy to fall into the rut of wearing sweatpants or yoga pants every day. I agree that they are comfortable, but isn’t it boring to wear the same thing over and over again?

Get out of the rut! Try new things, wear something different. Bring some excitement into your work-from-home life.

No one said you have to look frumpy to feel comfortable 😉

A white shirt worn with relaxed fit linen trousers are perfect for feeling comfortable yet looking put-together. Add a straw hat and summer sandals, and it’s a perfect outfit to wear on holiday too.

Styling Guide: Roll up the sleeves of your shirt and push them up, so they sit just above your elbows. Wear the Half Tuck (only tuck the side that has buttons) or the French Tuck. Roll up the hem of the trousers, so they sit 1-2 inches above your ankles.

Relaxed
Fitted Oxford Shirt: GAP £39.95 | Linen Trousers: MANGO £19.99 (SALE) | Straw Hat: H & M £9.99 | Sandals: ALASIA LIFESTYLE £95.69 (€108)

 

EDGY

On days when I feel super-charged and feel like I want to stand-out in the crowd of suits and blazers, a white shirt paired with a black leather skirt and peep-toe ankle boots is my outfit of choice.

I love this combination because I can throw a jumper on, and still wear the look in colder months.

Styling Guide: Tuck in the shirt entirely and then slightly pull it out so you can move your arms comfortably. Leave the shirt untucked if wearing with the jumper.

Edgy
Fitted Oxford Shirt: GAP £39.95 | Leather Pencil Skirt: REISS £195 | Cashmere Wool Jumper: TOAST £80 (SALE) | Peep-toe Ankle Boots: RAG & BONE £187 (SALE)

 

MENSWEAR-INSPIRED

Strong, sexy and in control. If these words describe how you’re feeling this morning, opt for a menswear-inspired look and ditch the suit. This look exudes an understated masculine vibe, which is very alluring in its own way.

Here I’ve paired the white shirt with straight leg trousers in charcoal, black leather flat shoes that are menswear-inspired but are distinctively feminine with their sleek and clean look, a top handle leather bag and clear glasses to add a bit of boldness.   

Styling Guide: Button the cuffs or roll up the sleeves of your shirt just about to your elbows and wear the French Tuck (tuck the front but leave the rest out), roll up the hem of the trousers, so they sit 1-2 inches above your ankles and wear invisible socks for added comfort.

Menswear-Inspired
Fitted Oxford Shirt: GAP £39.95 | Trousers: MANGO £17.99 (SALE) | Glasses: ACE & TATE £98 | Top Handle Handbag: MON PURSE £380 | Marilyn Lace-up Shoes: VAGABOND £80

 

GLAMOROUS

The word glamorous is generally associated with evening gowns, red carpet events and celebrities. However, I disagree that only these extravagant events call for a glamorous look.

What about more real-life affairs? Such as a bridal shower for your best friend or a dinner date with your partner?

A white shirt worn with a pleated midi-skirt in gold and strappy metallic sandals will instantly make you look glam. Keep the accessories understated for added elegance.

You can take this look from a luncheon to a dinner date by simply throwing on a leather jacket over your shoulders and adding a red lip. Trust me your partner is going to want to cut the date short for all the right reasons!

Styling Guide: Roll up your sleeves, so they sit just between your elbow and wrist to add a bit of character to your outfit. Tuck your shirt in all the way around and pop up the collar to make a statement.

Glamorous
Fitted Oxford Shirt: GAP £39.95 | Pleated Midi Skirt: BY MALENE BIRGER £235 | Sunglasses: CHLOE £262 | Mini Clutch: ALEXANDER McQUEEN £125 | Strappy Sandals : MAJE £152 (SALE)

 

A WHITE SHIRT NEVER LETS YOU DOWN

A white shirt is one of the most versatile pieces of clothing. It requires minimal fuss and exudes understated elegance and sophistication. And there are endless options for how to wear it! Tucked into sharp cigarette pants and paired with point-toe heels, you instantly mean business; half-tucked over jeans with ballet flats, you’re effortlessly chic on the weekend.

A white shirt will go with a majority of the items in your wardrobe. With the huge array of accessories and styling tricks to play with, one in a classic style will give you the most mileage season after season.

 

Now, I want to hear your thoughts.

How do you like to wear your white shirt?

Leave a comment below and let me know.

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I totally agree with you! A white shirt is a must have!