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How to wear a white shirt

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by Manton, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. Manton

    Manton Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    First, understand what a white shirt is. It’s a citified shirt, a formal shirt, an upper class shirt. White shows dirt easily. It’s hard to clean and it used to be harder. White near the skin used to be the mark of money. It meant that you had a lot of shirts and someone to clean them.

    White is not a country shirt. White with tweed is the mark of a stooge, someone who knows only that white is “formal” and a tailored jacket is “formal” so they “go together.” White with brown cannot altogether be ruled out but it is not for n00bs.

    White is almost never good with an odd jacket. Doc can talk all he wants about the 60s and he will not change my mind about this. For virtually any odd jacket combo you can think of, it's not just that a blue shirt would be better but that a white shirt is wrong. The only exception is a blazer and grays, worn at night. (A blazer and khakis--aka the "California Tux"-- demands a blue shirt.) A blazer and a white shirt in the daytime is not "wrong," but it's also never the best choice. A white shirt worn with a blazer should really be a button-down and should never have French cuffs.

    White is thought to be the perfect background for a variety of ties, a "blank canvas." But this is not so. Many colors look absolutely terrible with white: yellow, orange, rust, lavender, purple, nearly all greens. Even red, a very common paring with white, always looks better on a blue background (not that you should be wearing true red ties) and burgundy or maroon looks better against pink.

    So does work with white? Above all navy. Black. Gray. Silver. Combinations thereof. Certain very pale (I mean VERY pale, so pale it takes a second to recognize what they really are) golds and greens. Any shade of blue, especially the light blues which look best against white.

    Suits should be blue or gray. Tan with white is an "advanced" look that can be good but let's leave that aside for now. Blue or gray. Dark suit, white shirt and dark tie is a great formal evening look. But if you are not going out, make the tie lighter than the suit. With a light suit and white shirt, wear a dark tie. Don’t wear a light suit, white shirt and light tie, or at least, be careful.

    If the suit is gray, the tie should be blue. If the suit is blue, the tie should be in the gray black silver family or anyway one of the other colors. This is not ironclad it just looks a little better than blue on blue or gray on gray. Though, for a formal daytime event, gray suit white shirt and silvery tie is the best option. For an ultra-refined, but also very sedate look, try a blue suit, white shirt and black tie. This is best limited to night time.

    Unless its pattern is of the wedding variety (checks and plaids), do not wear your wool ties with a white shirt.

    White shirts nearly always demand black shoes. If it's a more casual outfit (blazer & white BD), mink suede is a decent substitute, since you should not be wearing black shoes with a blazer.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
    13 people like this.
  2. Keith T

    Keith T Senior member

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    White is thought to be the perfect background for a variety of ties, a "blank canvas." But this is not so.

    QFT.
     
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  3. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    This is my kind of thread. Thanks.
     
  4. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    With my navy suits, I always want to wear wedding ties with a white shirt, but it just seems wrong outside of a wedding.
     
  5. otc

    otc Senior member

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    How off-white do you get before you break away from the "rules" on white?

    a beige or cream OCBD loses all of the white shirt formality once you can tell its not white (but that is going to depend on the lighting and how off-white it is)
     
  6. RDiaz

    RDiaz Senior member

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    This is very interesting. White is indeed formal, but what about casual seersucker suits? I find it hard to pair them with anything other than a white shirt.
     
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  7. bourbonbasted

    bourbonbasted Senior member

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    Thread title should be changed to "How to wear a white shirt formally." A casual, thicker OCBD doesn't readily abide by any of these rules or assumptions.
     
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  8. Ron Burgundy

    Ron Burgundy Member

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    Wow, Styleforum is on fire these days.
    Quite litterally learned more in the past 4-5 days than the previous year, so thanks alot to Manton, foof, whnay and everyone who`s doing their best. thumbs up!
     
  9. globetrotter

    globetrotter Senior member

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    this is great stuff.

    I have to say that I am wondering what triggered this outpouring of knowledge - I see a little girl home from camp and daddy in a coffee shop trying to avoid going home....
     
  10. Manton

    Manton Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Incorrect. All of the color issues apply at the very least. A thick white shirt is kind of a mutt. It doesn't go well with tweed, really it's only nice with textured blazers, which is fine, won't look bad but your tie choice will be very limited. And, a white shirt with a blazer in the daytime has a school uniform quality that grown men will want to avoid. Add a blue and red repp tie and you might as well also be wearing a beanie.

    Good question. White BD (in linen) is the best shirt for a seersucker suit. Again, tie choice is limited but seersucker is such a specialty that it hardly matters.

    Beige or cream give you the freedom to play with earth tones, which are almost always bad with pure white.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  11. bourbonbasted

    bourbonbasted Senior member

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    In the context of wearing a SC I agree. Obviously when you are talking about a white shirt with a suit/tuxedo your points are spot on. However, on the whole, the majority of the white shirts I see in the wild (at least those done decently) are of the chunkier, more casual persuasion. I also find it far more natural to wear a white OCBD with dark denim and chukkas. A SC or blazer would never enter into the equation because of all the points you outlined.

    Perhaps I just entered the thread expecting a more encompassing set of rules, rather than a stance limited to CBD/suiting.
     
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  12. RDiaz

    RDiaz Senior member

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    Good point about seersucker....

    And good thing I saw this thread, because I was going to wear a navy pinstripe suit (the only dark suit I have right now that kinda fits, I'm afraid) with a white shirt and a lavender tie to an evening wedding next week. What would you suggest instead of lavender, considering that I seriously hate gray ties? Light blue?
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  13. Cant kill da Rooster

    Cant kill da Rooster Senior member

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  14. Manton

    Manton Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    I'm only talking about the jacket + shirt + tie context, not the streetwear context.

    RDiaz, if it's an evening wedding, and you hate gray/silver ties, wear a dark blue tie. Light blue is not bad, espe if it is not shiney. Or try to find that color that Grant wore in NbNW. Perfect.
     
  15. bellyhungry

    bellyhungry Senior member

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    I generally only wear a white shirt under any kind of sweater...
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  16. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Bottom line: for most wearers, a white shirt should not be considered a regular go-to shirt, and should not be mistaken for easy to wear. People often assume it is a staple they should stock up on. You need one or two.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  17. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    I think if people want a regular go to shirt it should be the light blue shirt.
     
  18. Fuuma

    Fuuma Senior member

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    I would believe what they (foo/manton) are trying to impart is that, while a strictly business look with a white shirt is fine, other occasions rarely call for one. If you're always all business when you dress up then you can def have a wardrobe of only white shirts. I personally have trouble liking non white shirt business outfits but understand that light blue or white base w. blue stripes is still fine (GDL does this very well because he chooses his ties more carefully than anyone else, IMHO).

    Not really the point of this thread so might be confusing: SW&D looks (truly I am talking about modernist runway fashion look AKA old Helmut Lang, Raf Simons, Jil Sander or even non-rocker Dior Homme) often REQUIRES a crisp white shirt because certain schools of thought call for a minimal colour palette (white, grey, black, navy only), an industrial look (so no "handmade" signals) and a lack of discernible pattern (cannot even see the threads, surface looks flat and uniform). To be honest they also call for a specific haircut and a slew of other details that mean most SW&Ders I see attempting that look fail miserably.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
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  19. Manton

    Manton Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    I can see the logic in the 2nd graph above, though it goes without saying it is never something I do.
     
  20. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    I still consider white by far the best choice for evening wear, so how many you need depends on how often you're going out.
     
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