The white shirt—a wardrobe staple in my life since I first started school. I don’t remember a single school I attended where the white shirt wasn’t a part of my uniform and I attended 11 different schools (a perk of being an army kid). So, when years later people would harp to me about the importance of having a white shirt in your wardrobe, I wasn’t an instant convert. After all, years of the same (or similar) uniform can leave a tad bit of a bitter taste.
And when I finally did understand why the absence of a white shirt was inexcusable in a wardrobe, I could never find one that I liked. The shirts I did find were either too flimsy necessitating the wearing of a slip under them, or so stiff that they wouldn’t need a person wearing them to stand up all by themselves. I wanted a shirt with the comfort of a well-worn shirt that a lover had worn for years, but collars and cuffs that were almost permanently starched. I wanted a shirt that I could wear to office dos with my office-appropriate chinos and sky-high heels, but also one that would be at home, worn loose, with my ripped denim shorts and a pair of brogues.
Someone pointed me in the direction of my brother’s wardrobe as my best bet and searching I went. I deep dived into a cupboard that was messy and filled with white shirts of every style you could think of. From short-sleeved, pocketed button downs to long-sleeved, Chinese-collared versions, my brother was practically running a white shirt store without letting me in. But none were my style; they were either too stiff or too large (this was before oversized was a thing). And my search for that perfect shirt that was high in quality and still in my budget continued.
It’s not like I never found a shirt I liked but it was never a perfect match. I never felt elation, I never felt like I had come home, and I gave up on finding my one true match altogether (almost like I gave up on finding my one true love). But as all relationship clichés go, you find your soul mate when you stop looking for love. My perfect white shirt came to when I was least expecting it. A shopping trip for a friend led me to finding what I had been looking for my entire adult life: a white shirt in the sale section at Marks & Spencer. Hidden in a rack full of striped, checked, and even gingham varieties of shirt, I found the white shirt for me, made of the softest cotton with upright collars and stiff cuffs; it was loose without being oversized, fitted without being tight. I could dress it up and dress it down and I knew there would be no fuss. It was then that I found my wardrobe complete.
Why an entire article on a piece of clothing that doesn’t need you to be that finicky, you ask? A perfect white shirt is like a plain canvas: it will look gorgeous if you splatter it with colours, but it will look equally beautiful with a just a stroke of silver on it. Dressing up or dressing down a white shirt can be an indication of your styling expertise but it is also a sign of a minimal but elegant lifestyle. Wear it to the office do, on the red carpet, for a yacht party, or a picnic, and it will never fail you. It can be your uniform without ever looking like one. That’s the beauty of the perfect white shirt.