The “Classic” White Shirt

A white shirt is on about every wardrobe must-have list ever created. It’s perennial, it’s classic, it never goes out of style…Well, that’s kind of true, but also, not.

Yes, a white button-up shirt is a time-honored piece of clothing. Partly because it’s so versatile. It can be worn in so many ways and works regardless of one’s body type or personal style aesthetic. The basic elements of the shirt remain the same,  white cotton, with a collar and buttons up the front – generally unassuming and at the same time quite functional.

BUT and this is a BIG ol’ BUT…

The shape, silhouette, and fit of a white shirt that is considered “modern” versus “dated” has changed.

In the past (think J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and Banana Republic circa 2000) a classic white shirt would have a very slim fit. So much so, that women sporting any sort of bust would have issues with the area between the buttons flaring open. I know there are a bunch of you nodding your head in recognition right now!! It was/is a real problem. Note the fit of Jenna Lyons shirt in the photo below.

Jenna Lyons and Elaine Irwin Modeling slim white shirts circa 2000

Additionally, the white shirts of that era often had a shrunken look. As seen on Elaine Irwin from the J. Crew catalog in 2000. While neither of these looks is horribly out of fashion (because the white shirt is a classic, see?) You can tell the fit of each shirt and the proportions of the whole outfits (low rise jeans on Jenna, baggy chinos on Elaine) are just enough off that something feels askew.

Again, not glaringly off and super outdated, but enough that it doesn’t feel current or modern.

As a Side Note

Those subtle fit and proportion changes are what keeps the fashion cycle moving along. The changes tend to occur in 7-10 year cycles (that’s part of why fashions can be defined by decade). It takes a while for trends and the change of silhouettes to gain traction. Remember how you felt when you first saw skinny jeans? Most of my clients were adamantly opposed to the new jean style. That is until they began seeing it more and more. And now some consider it a closet staple.

So, What’s the New White Shirt? It’s Oversized.

The new shape in white button-up shirts (actually in all button-up tops – but for today’s purposes let’s stick to white) is looser and oversized. It has more slouch. Think of a borrowed from the boys feel but in a very chic, feminine, and stylish way.

The less stiff, somewhat drapy shape is what makes this new silhouette feel current. But as with all things, there are some “rules” that can make achieving this new look a bit easier…

The New Rules for Wearing an Oversized White Shirt

  • Roll the sleeves – Always roll the sleeves, showing your forearm gives a slimmer appearance. And helps the shirt, while oversized, not to overpower you.
  • Show your clavicle –  or even your shoulder if you let the shirt fall slightly off of your shoulder. Again, showing some subtle skin allows us to see there’s a smaller person in the oversized shirt for it to feel feminine.
  • Tuck, tie, wrap, or knot – Basically, show some part of your waist. The idea is that the top is floating on you but not enveloping you. It’s not a choir gown or a Casper the Friendly Ghost costume. So you’ve gotta show your shape. More details on how to actually do this below.
  • Stay slim and sleek on the bottom half – Meaning, don’t pair an oversized top with baggy jeans or a balloon skirt. The goal is to create proportional balance – flowy in one area, slim in the others.

How to Style An Oversized White Shirt

The Half Tuck

This is my current favorite way to wear a button-up. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen me wearing my shirts this way in my #ootd’s for the past few months. It’s really easy and feels fresh.

Here’s the How To: 

  1. Unbutton the bottom button (or two if needed).
  2. Tuck the underside (the side that has the actual button, NOT the one with the hole) into the waistband of your pants.
  3. Then, reach for the sky to slightly untuck it. And voila!

The Tie Waist

This technique is not necessarily new, I mean one of my all-time favorite photos is Audrey Hepburn with her shirt tied at the waist. But yet, it still feels current to tie your oversized white shirt this way.

Here’s the How To: 

  1. Unbutton the bottom button (or two if needed).
  2. Tie a square knot – left over right then under, right over left then under.
  3. Adjust the back to make sure the tail (back section of the shirt) is laying smoothly. And voila!

The Half Knot

This look is a little more messy and organic. It’s also more casual so probably not well suited for a corporate environment. But it’s super cool and imperfectly, perfect.

Here’s the How To: 

  1. Unbutton the bottom button (or two if needed).
  2. Tie one side in a knot – either loose and low or tight and high
  3. That’s it. Super easy.  And voila!

The Full Tuck

Fully tucking in a white shirt is the most formal way to wear it. Because of the oversized nature, it will rarely be uber formal. But the juxtaposition of a full tuck and an oversized top works really nicely.

Here’s the How To: 

  1. Keep all of the buttons, buttoned.
  2. Tuck it in all the way around. If there is too much fabric, do a four-point tuck ( tuck in a bit at the front, back and either side and fold the rest under)
  3. Blouse a bit out to cover around half of the pant button/waistband. And voila!

My Favorite White Shirts to Shop

Spoiler alert – I already highlighted my favorite white button-up top of the summer in my June hotlist. But I’ve rounded up some more great ones in case you’re either still looking or now more intrigued.

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Cleveland-based personal stylist and fashion blogger.

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