Leslie Willmott | Wardrobe Strategies for Career, Travel & Casual Lifestyles

Wardrobe Strategies for Career, Travel & Casual Lifestyles

How to Buy the Perfect White Shirt

By on Apr 7, 2014


In the middle of my own Spring/Summer “closet audit” I counted ten white cotton shirts…and I’m not retiring any of them! A white cotton shirt is crisp, clean and sophisticated. It provides instant polish whether worn on its own or under a suit or sweater. It’s the ultimate all-season wardrobe essential. As many of my clients have agreed, you really can’t have too many!

A classic white shirt can bridge from business to travel to casual. I’ve worn my long-sleeved shirts under business suit jackets in the winter, with just a sweater over my shoulders in the spring and fall, and with a pair of jeans year-round. A sleeveless white shirt worn under a jacket was my savior for business during hot summer days in New York City – crisp yet cool. As for the ones with French cuffs (yes, I used to love to wear fancy cuff links to work!) – I simply roll the cuff up now for my new non-corporate lifestyle. And because most of my shirts are “no-iron,” they travel beautifully!

With so many versions of a classic white shirt available, how do you select the one that’s right for you?

Halsbrook (one of my favorite online stores to window-shop!) recently shared the details they look for when selecting shirts to sell on their website:

  • Structured collar: The shirt collar brightens the face and adds a refined finish. Shirts with substantial, sturdy collars that will stay standing are a must.
  • Stretch cotton: Adding a bit of stretch to your classic cotton shirt staves off wrinkling and allows for comfortable all-day wear.
  • Seaming: Regardless of your body shape, when it comes to cotton shirts, a tailored style is always more flattering than a loose sack shape.  Princess seaming or darting ensure smooth, long lines in body-skimming styles.
  • Sheer Factor: Lightweight enough to be layered and opaque enough to wear without an underpinning. No need to fear unwanted lingerie exposure.
  • Shirttail: A rounded shirttail hem reduces bulk when tucking in and draws attention to your center as opposed to your hips when worn out.

My all time favorite crisp white shirt is a Brooks Brothers Non-Iron Dress Shirt specially treated to remain virtually wrinkle-free and machine washable. And it has many fit options (Classic Fit, Fitted & Tailored in Regular & Petite). A friend of mine recently purchased three Brooks Brothers men’s shirts on sale to wear open over her tank tops and pants. Note: She shortened the shirttail hems and added lengthwise darts for a more flattering fit.


I’m also a fan of Chico’s ¾-length sleeved white no iron blouse collection for the spring & summer as they are a little less “classic” in style. I have three: one that’s closely fitted that I wear both tucked in and out and another I purchased one size larger to wear out and “belted” with a colorful scarf tied around my waist. My third is tunic length that I wear with leggings; and it’s perfect for travel, doubling as a shirt jacket or bathing suit cover-up.

But is white for everyone? Nancy Nix-Rice, author of Looking Good…Every Day: Style Solutions for Real Women, considers the classic “must have” white shirt a “fashion myth”…and for a justifiable reason: Bright white doesn’t flatter everyone. Your “white” shirt might be soft white, ivory, or even a very pale pastel (such as mint or blush) if that’s what makes you light up.

I totally agree that bright white looks best on women with lots of contrast in their coloring, like dark hair and light skin…but I personally love the versatility of the white shirt, so with the brighter whites, I take care to brighten my makeup for more contrast in my coloring, or add a scarf or sweater around my shoulders.

What if classic is not your style? Because a simple, classic white shirt is much like a man’s shirt, you may feel uncomfortable in it. If your style is more romantic, look for a shirt with ruffles. If you’re sporty, choose something in a fabric that is anything but stiff. If you’re dramatic, look for a blouse with an element that stands out, such as a bold collar detail. Naracamicie, a unique Italian shirt & blouse retailer soon to open stores in the U.S., has several fabulous designs to choose from.

What about fit? No matter what your size, ensuring the right fit and proportion is key to looking your best. The most important things to consider are how a shirt fits over your bust and on your shoulders.

1. Bust – You want the shirt to fit closely, but not so closely that it clings to your sides or gaps between the buttons. The best way to test actual fit is to see how the shirt will wear throughout the day. Don’t just stand and look at yourself in the mirror; sit down, too. When you sit, your shoulders and back will relax and spread so you can test for clinging and gapping and overall comfort across your back.


2. Shoulder seams – Make sure they skim the edge of your shoulder bone. The rest of the garment hangs in balance so achieving proper shoulder placement is critical for excellent fit.

“I have been wearing a white blouse all my life…They are classic with a modern twist and they are very feminine, for a real woman. It is about simplicity — they don’t look complicated — it has to look effortless.”     Carolina Herrera


(Photos from Pinterest)


  1. I love the brooks bro shirt too …except for the size of the collar… Seems big. Any comment on the collar?


    April 9, 2014

    • The collar is a standard size for a classic white shirt, measuring 3″ from neck stand to the point in the front and 1.5″ in the center back. I most often wear my collars up, including this one, because I prefer that crisp, facing-framing look … but I do have a long neck!


      April 10, 2014

  2. Hi, white shirts are my favorite fashion go to..this is a beautiful,informative site!! Thank you.

    linda leeds

    August 3, 2014

    • Thank you very much, Linda. I’m delighted you enjoyed the post and my site!


      August 11, 2014

    • I would love to have this information. I have a large chest and always have an issue finding one one that makes me feel great to n it. I don’t want to to Like like I’m in my second tri- Meister.
      Please Help thank you ,
      Linda Wackenstedt

      Linda Wackenstedt

      June 12, 2016

      • Linda, to minimize a full bust there are a few things you can consider: 1) add subtle shoulder padding to balance bust fullness, 2) shift focus upward with scarves or jewelry, and/or 3) invest in a professionally fitted minimizer bra that will distribute your fullness from side-to-side and reduce forward projection.

        Leslie Willmott

        June 21, 2016

  3. Love your info! Blanc de blanc.


    February 11, 2015

  4. Any suggestions where to find non-see through whites? i find it almost impossible.
    38 D size 12-14

    laura b

    April 4, 2015

    • The crisp white cotton shirts I’ve purchased are “non see-through”, e.g. Brooks Brothers’ and Chico’s no-iron shirts. And I always wear a skin toned bra underneath. A white silk shirt, however, can be problematic because of the “see-through” nature of a lighter weight silk. I remedy the problem by wearing a nude color camisole underneath.


      April 7, 2015

  5. Love your website; just stumbled upon it while looking for the perfect, no wrinkle white shirt.


    October 15, 2015

  6. Leslie, thanks so much for your tips. I also stumbled upon this site while looking for no-iron women’s shirts with stiff collars. I shall certainly check out the recommended stores!!

    Debbie Walker

    February 2, 2016

    • Debbie, I’m delighted you found my site. Good luck with your white shirt shopping and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

      Leslie Willmott

      February 3, 2016

  7. Thank you for your website. The recommendations you give on the brands you like make sense for someone who does not necessarily want to pay hundreds for a blouse. The point about why the up collar always seems to make one look better makes sense and I’ll make sure to see that the blouses fit well on my shoulders.

    Bett Loughlin

    April 23, 2016

    • Bett, I thank you for your comments and am delighted you have found my website helpful. Good luck with your future shirt and blouse purchases!

      Leslie Willmott

      April 27, 2016

  8. Hi! I love white shirts! What kind of a white shirt would you recommend for an evening party? I am never in for the very flashy look, so my friends’ advises aren’t working out!

    Lily B

    May 20, 2016

    • Hi, Lily … If you like a fitted look and it would suit your personal style, consider a white shirt with ruffles. An alternative would be a longer shirt in a soft fabric, worn over narrow-legged black pants and accessorized with a necklace and sparkly earrings. There are a variety of looks for day and evening on The White Shirt board on my Pinterest page.

      Leslie Willmott

      May 21, 2016

  9. FY – Brooks Brothers no longer offer petite shirts in a classic fit.

    Several customers have left comments. Due to a back curve – the classic fit was perfect, hope they bring the irigial cut back. I too have been searching for alternative shirts for my suits.

    Jo Ann

    June 22, 2016

  10. good collection nice shirts.thanks


    November 23, 2016

  11. Thank you, Leslie.

    Your advice on white shirts is priceless. I have always wanted one and now I know where to save up and go get them. Hopefully, I may stumble on a sale somewhere.


    December 23, 2016

    • Good luck with your shopping, Vida. If you’re looking for a classic tailored white shirt Brooks Brothers’ are on sale this week!

      Leslie Willmott

      December 27, 2016

  12. Hi Leslie,
    I am on the verge of hitting the buy button on the Brooks Brothers tailored fit but thought I would ask you first as I love your site. I’m wondering about the length. I’d like to wear out with leggings and skinny jeans but want to make sure they cover the appropriate places. Thank you.


    March 17, 2017

    • Hi, Mary,
      I do love the Brooks Brothers tailored fit but they are classic shirts designed to be tucked in. I do wear mine out with narrow-legged jeans but I do not consider the shirttail to be long enough to be worn with leggings.

      Leslie Willmott

      April 6, 2017

  13. Hello admin

    Such a nice post. Your blog is very Informative & helpful. Thanks for sharing with us. Keep posting.


    August 21, 2017

    • Hello to you … and thank you for your nice comments. Yes … I will keep posting!

      Leslie Willmott

      August 29, 2017

  14. Need the perfect white shirt that I can wear with a beautiful pair of cufflinks. Any suggestions?


    September 5, 2017

  15. This is great blog!I love that you added very useful information.


    September 8, 2017

    • Thank you for your comments. My goal is to both to inspire and educate with useful information – thank you!

      Leslie Willmott

      September 22, 2017

  16. Your information is very helpful as many do not know the actual facts about wearing white shirts. White shirts are seriously a classic to wear for any event.


    October 5, 2017

  17. I have very square shoulders and have a problem with gaping at the top in the front. When shirts have shoulder pads I can remove them and solve the problem. I have seen a blouse at Chico’s that does not have a neck band and the collar is an extension of the front piece. What is that type of collar called?
    I could possibly search for that style if I knew the name.


    November 26, 2017

    • Thanks for your question, Subrosa. Your description sounds like it could have been a shawl collar. A shawl collar is actually a combined lapel and collar. The under collar is cut in one with the garment front, and a center back seam joins the two halves of the collar.

      Leslie Willmott

      November 30, 2017

  18. Hi leslie,
    I am a woman turning 70, and want to find that perfect whit shirt to wear eith jeans. I have a pear shape and din’t like to show any love handles so have stayed away from a fitted shirt. I am 5’1″ and weigh 125. Love handles aren’t big but with jeans, it pushes the skin up. I would like to appear as if I have that hour glass shape. Any suggestions? Love your site!!


    February 24, 2018

    • Hi Connie – I’m delighted you are enjoying my articles! Now to the white shirt you’re looking for: It is indeed good to stay away from the fitted style if you are a pear shape. More flattering is a style that will enhance the shoulder and fit easily over your fuller lower body without adding any bulk. In other words, not tucking in a shirt is often better than trying to create an hourglass shape … such as in this overall look from Halsbrook.

      Leslie Willmott

      June 15, 2018

  19. I need to find a white no iron shirt for a formal waitress job where I also need to wear a tie and vest. I will wear it for so long in a given day that I am wanting comfort… but modern too. I will need it to stay tucked in and crisp. I will only be able to buy one in the beginning because of cost. I need to come home at night and throw in washer and dryer (or hang) without needing to iron for the next day. I also thought I wanted tailored but what is the difference between tailored and fitted? I have spent way too much time looking online. Does this shirt even exist? UGH.

    Rachel M Rosswurm

    April 13, 2018

    • Hi Rachel,
      A Brooks Brothers’ non-iron tailored-fit white shirt should meet your need; or their non-iron fitted shirt. Both shirts are similarly fitted with darts in the front and back so that the shirts stays tucked in. The “tailored fit” buttons all the way up (and one style has a button-down collar, another “tailored” detail). A “fitted” shirt need not button all the way up – Brooks Bros’ does not. Because of the finish, a washable non-iron shirt needs to be tumble dried and in my experience won’t need ironing, especially when worn under a vest.

      Leslie Willmott

      June 15, 2018

  20. Hi Leslie,

    I love crisp white shirts and have been wearing the Chico’s no-iron shirts for years. I generally like to have these shirts laundered and pressed like men’s shirts as dry cleaning them often leaves them a little gray looking, and less crisp. It’s getting more difficult to find cleaners that will launder & press women’s shirts. I was told they wouldn’t guarantee the buttons, but now they won’t do them even when I sign a waiver for broken buttons. Have you any suggestions on how to keep these blouses totally crisp & white, please?

    Jill Jackson

    October 29, 2018

    • Hi Jill,
      I follow Chico’s recommendations for laundering all of their non-iron shirts – Machine wash and tumble dry. However, I also then press them lightly myself. I treat my Brooks Bros. non-iron shirts the same way. I personally would never go to the expense of dry-cleaning either since they were designed to be machine-washed and dried.

      Leslie Willmott

      December 9, 2018

  21. Hello Leslie. I realise this article was posted up here a while ago, but I saved it in my Fashion Files for future reference. I’d like to know, the shirt you’re wearing in the first photo, what brand/where did you get that from, please? I LOVE the collar on it! And agree – I also love my white shirts but find it REALLY hard to find the CRISP ones you’re talking about with collars that stay put!! I’d appreciate any links/shopping ideas you might know about! Thanks for the tips on the different length of shirts for travel etc. also.


    August 1, 2019

    • Hi Abigail – I’m delighted you found this post helpful, even after all this time has past since I wrote it. That means I met a goal of sharing timeless information and focusing on classic wardrobe pieces! I’m afraid I can’t answer your question about the first shirt photo. This is a model shot I found on Pinterest and, unfortunately, the link to its source no longer works. Regarding CRISP white shirts, I agree with you. However, although the body of their non-iron shirts is not as crisp as it used to be, my most recent white shirt purchase from Chico’s does have a collar that maintains its stand.

      Leslie Willmott

      August 21, 2019

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