June 28, 2013
White shirts are an absolute classic, right? Everybody should own one. Everybody should pull it out and wear it whenever they’re in doubt about what to wear. Uhhhh – I don’t quite agree. Yes, there are times and places where a white shirt is the most appropriate choice – a conservative job interview, for example. But many of us, on a day to day basis, might be better flattered to wear tops that are closer in color to our pants or skirts – if not a solid color, then a darker background. See what you think…
Belovedest and I saw this woman a couple of days ago, and he asked me why she seemed so out of proportion – the woman in question is actually tall and thin. Her white tee shirt looked fresh and bright, but it did cut her proportions in an unfortunate way. The outfit on the right would have been more flattering, although it might require some deft accessorizing near her face to make the black not seem harsh. There can be no question that the white tee shirt is easier to wear…
Job interviews pretty much require a white shirt or blouse, for some industries, but once you have the job, consider getting another blouse to tone with the colors of your suit. While many of us couldn’t wear this shade of beige successfully, the ideal holds true for suits in any color.
The outfit on the left is perfectly lovely, and with the right scarf or jewelry could be beautiful. But the outfit on the right flows visually more easily, and gives you a bit less of a sense of being chopped at the waist.
The general idea even holds true for printed and patterned garments – a darker background that is close in color to your shorts, pants or skirt is worth considering.
Although this doesn’t explain to us how to make these tops cooler in hot weather, or more flattering to our complexions…
I think this, the idea of vertical 'flow' through an outfit being intrinsically flattering, is why I instinctively bookend outfits if I otherwise have a distinct colour break between tops and bottoms. Eg dark brown shoes to bookend my dark hair, or if wearing a red striped tee with navy trousers, i might wear shoes in the same red tone. Or a cardigan or shawl, over the blouse, that carries the same tonal depth or texture of the bottom half upwards. That sounds very contrived and matchy, it's more organic in effect , the key is to 'keep the eye travelling' (Vreeland's leit motif). I have a long back and short legs so I've always been aware of the need in my personal case to not visually chop myself in half and thereby draw attention to my healthily sturdy but stumpy pins.
A secondary thought, it is also necessary to look at one's rear view in a mirror, one can think the chopping-in-half effect is acceptable from the front, but then, mon Dieu, from the back….
Oh my. This is the first time ever that I have been at odds with something you blogged. I am that woman!! I am tall and slender. My uniform has always been dark slacks combined with a light colored top (usually white). My rationale for dressing this way is that when I wear all one color I feel like a gigantic blog of indiscriminate color. I trust your fashion sense though and will look more closely at my presentation.
Janice Riggs says
I would NEVER tell you what to wear. NEVER EVER. If you're comfortable in your choices and feel truly like yourself when you get dressed, then you have succeeded. This post is more in the way of a suggestion, or an observation, not a dictate.
I'm really happy that you can come here and disagree with me; the conversation is what this blog is really all about!
Wow! Great food for thought. I tend to default to dark bottoms and white tops, but I guess I'm chopping myself in half! The "column" look in the first image is particularly striking.
I find the visual cut jarring in an outfit, I'm glad you pointed this out.
I, too, am "that" woman. Although I admire monochromatic looks on other women, I love my white tops! I am a "winter", and I look best with a sharp contrast near my face. Perhaps I can change this to a white turtleneck under a navy top with my navy bottoms. That won't work in the warmer weather, though. Yes. Food for thought – thank you!
Yow! I too, always thought of the white top as a safe bet for all circumstances. And like Mary above, I shy away from column dressing, as it makes me feel like a blob, too. HOWEVER, these examples are decidedly not-blob. Fabulous post! Time for me to rethink some wardrobe pairings.
I thought that column dressing is more important for shorter women than tall ones, and also the more curves you have the more uniform colors should be. I also have instinctively dressed in high contrast and then bookending it, and/or tying it all together wih a scarf. But I will certain give the low contrast dressing a try and see what it looks like.
Yes! This has semi-consciously always bothered me, and now you have put words to my discomfort!
Ok, I know it's 90 degrees outside, but I so just want to cuddle up in that red cardigan right now! Thanks for the post! I hardly ever get around to wearing the "staple" white shirts I have in my closet… now I think I know why!
Janice, What are your thoughts about white shirts with light khakis? Still too choppy? Thanks.
Janice Riggs says
No, because that still gives you a long vertical column. But let me clarify, there's nothing inherently WRONG with white shirts – I just want to point out that there are other options that might be more flattering. PLEASE don't take anything that I write as the law of personal style – they're just my observations, and they are just designed to give you some options – some things to think about.
Thanks! I've actually been wondering about that combo for a couple of weeks since I'm short and 'curvy'. I bought a khaki and white striped scarf and think that helps with the vertical lines. Don't know what I'd do without your wonderful blog.
These are great illustrations for this concept. I'd love to see it with white, or at least lighter or colored pants. Or does it not hold true when the bottom of the combination isn't a dark color?
I like to wear long white shirts over navy or black pants, belted with a statement necklace and matching navy or black shoes. Otherwise, I dress to enhance the long-look of the same color pants and top with an accent in a cardigan, unbuttoned blouse used as a jacket or a jacket.
I sometimes feel sort of 'wait-staff' like in a white shirt, especially with dark pants. Plus I'm short and very concious of the chopping effect of high contrast top and bottoms. So I agree with you – white tops are not a must-have in my wardrobe.
Madame Là-bas says
I am only 5'3" and becoming increasingly short-waisted. White tops are a definite no-no for me. I don't do white pants either. Solid colours that blend together or a solid with a small print suit me best.
To my mind, it is not so much the white/light colored top that is jarring, it is that there are three separate, solid colours going on in each outfit and which are unrelated to each other. For example, If the first outfit had a burgundy/white patterned cardigan instead of the solid 3rd colour, then it would look great. It's a matter of deciding which piece of the outfit to focus on.
I love white tops, and for that matter, white bottoms! In the summer white and ivory are my favorite neutrals and I frequently wear all white or white + khaki. That solves the "chopping" issue for me. Sometime I will wear white with black, but will try to balance the proportions so that it doesn't shorten me too much (I'm petite!). And sometimes, what the heck, I don't care that much and will wear whatever feels cool :-)
Today, I'm wearing white linen pants and a pale blue linen top (not blouse). Not quite a column of one color, but certainly all pale values.
It still always surprises me to see sweaters in summer. I don't know why it should as my favorite vacation place is Big Sur which is cool in the summertime (which is why we like to go there).
Little Miss Know-it-all says
Oh the number of white shirts I have bought, never worn and then discarded… it's not so much the colour chopping that bothers me (although I take that to heart, too!), but the shirts themselves – I simply cannot wear the "classic", everybody-should-have buttoned shirts: a round face, short neck, broad shoulders, short arms, full bust, altogether short proportions and more than a little curvey – nothing looks worse on me!! So no matter what I might be interviewing for, I won't be wearing a white shirt.
However, I do wear white tops – usually longer length and with any colour bottoms, including white shorts, mostly light, airy cotton tops for very hot days and often "book-ended" with white ballerinas or sandals. Although I still own a few tanks and T-s in white, they haven't been worn last year or this, so they are the next to go!
A white collar on a darker shirt might be a solution. Chloé has some for Fall. Some also have a white button placket, creating a flattering vertical line down the middle.
Or something like the trompe l'oeil Tippi sweater by J Crew.
I am SO with you on this one! The chopped in half look is not a good one for anyone. And for many of us, white against our complexion creates a complete washout!
The "column of colour" principle rules, again. A pale blue or pinstrped shirt with a suit is every bit as corporately acceptable as white.
A true summer bag (staw or summer-coloured leather that is erforated, woven or otherwise not what you'd carryin winter) lifts any darker ensemble.
I think that classic white (or off-white, depending on skin shade) shirts are always fresh-looking and flattering to the face (which is why so many portrait photographers suggest them), but, if you're short and not-so-lean, a column of color is always going to be more slimming–as I've learned from you, Janice! I depend on cardigans, in a similar tone to my pants or skirt-and-tights, for this.
Aha! This explains why my white shirts/tops rarely get worn. I'll use a white top in an outfit, assess in the mirror, and then swap out the white for some top with color that "goes" with the rest of the outfit. And I keep trying and trying to get those white shirts/tops into rotation! Thank you!!! –LizY
librarian2020 makes a good point about how her winter coloring is suited to high contrast outfits. On her, the high voltage mix of light and dark will echo her coloring. From some of your past posts, Janice, I believe you have a lower contrast coloring that may indeed be suited to monochromatic or low contrast looks. Imogen Lamport discusses this at her blog insideoutstyleblog.com. Carla Mathis, in her book, The Triumph of Individual Style, brilliantly covers this topic.
Yes, that beige/taupe outfit could be difficult for some women to wear. BUT it’s so much more elegant and imaginative than the white blouse. What a difference! Thanks for pointing this out.