White is flawless. White is pure. And its sheer simplicity merits a spot in your wardrobe. Besides, there’s no better way to welcome summer than to wear a smart white shirt over your jeans or chinos – picture Shah Rukh Khan in the deadly combination of a crisp white shirt, khakis, Aviators and that seductive stubble in Chak De! India, and you’ll see what I mean!
The virtues of the white shirt and its ‘must-have’ quality have been extolled by fashion editors and designers. But finding the perfect white shirt isn’t as easy as it sounds.
So when you begin playing white shirt huntsman, there may be a few questions even before you begin your quest: What fabric must it be? How do I experiment with it? Will I have to be careful or just go crumpled chic? Will people confuse me for the wardboy?
Start your mission by listening to what well-known fashion designers and stylists have to say. “The best thing about a crisp white shirt is that it pairs well with everything, whether it is formal corporate attire or denims for a casual, nonchalant look,” says stylist Pernia Qureshi. “It can easily be moulded to get any look right.”
Designer Jattinn Kochhar stresses the importance of the fit. “Wear something not too loose or tight,” he advises. “You don’t want oversize collars or overly fussy details”.
Fabric and fit
According to David Abraham of the label Abraham & Thakore, the fabric and cut are your biggest guidelines when choosing a shirt. Designer Rahul Khanna of the designer label Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna recommends shirts made of ‘mercerised’ fabric (a treatment for cotton cloth, which strengthens it and gives it a lustrous appearance). “The fit has to be just right with a perfect bottom hem. As far as collars are concerned, a small collar is all the rage,” says Khanna.
When it comes to fabrics, Abraham roots for poplin and Oxford cottons. For the uninitiated, poplin is a 100 per cent cotton fabric that is tightly woven, making it smooth and shiny. Oxford cottons, on the other hand, have a soft texture and basket-weave appearance. “Go for something with minimum detail,” says Abraham. He suggests pairing them with good old blue jeans or cotton chinos for men.
Most people tend to think a classic white shirt is essentially a guy thing – and that women prefer white salwars or will pick a coloured shirt over basic blanc. Such folly only deters a huntswoman from a quest of her own. “You can’t differentiate between men and women when it comes to the white shirt,” says designer Rajesh Pratap Singh. “There’s nothing better than white on a woman,” adds Rahul Khanna. Designer Gautam Gupta says that while white is not the best colour for heavyset women, bleached shirts made from cotton satin add grace to a woman’s body while hiding unslightly bits. “The ideal length would be anything that covers the hips and thighs,” he suggests.
Kochhar, however, recommends a cotton-lycra weave, which creates the illusion of being two sizes smaller. “Try to highlight something good about your body. For example, if you have good collarbones, then a yoke above the bust area will draw one’s attention to the collarbone,” he says.
Gupta advises skinny women to wear a brightly coloured inner with a 100 per cent linen shirt to emphasise their curves. Kochhar recommends heavyset cotton lycra knot fabric for thin women as it adjusts to, and moves with, your natural shape.
“Choose a shirt keeping in mind your body type as well as the occasion,” advises Qureshi. “A slim fit works best for a formal occasion whereas a regular fit lends a more casual look. Also, pick the correct shade of white. Avoid ones with blue/green undertones. Crisp white, ivory or off-white looks better”.
According to Rajesh Pratap Singh, what ought to guide you when buying whites is natural fabrics. “Khadi would be a great idea. Since the shirt is white, stitching details pop up, so make sure the fabric of the shirt you choose is of fine quality,” he says.
A pencil skirt paired with a well-fitted white shirt, perhaps embellished with jewels, will be great for a girls’ night out. If you’re in the mood for something more casual, pair your shirt with your boyfriend’s jeans. Kochhar suggests a multitude of combinations on different occasions. “Try new styles – pin tucks, darts, piping, coloured buttons, bell sleeves, three-quarter length sleeves,” he says.
If you’re not obsessed with wearing only designer wear, brands such as Bebe, Blackberrys, Thomas Pink and More Mischief have smart-looking white shirts for men and women.
And when the hunt ends, ask not what you can do for your white shirt, but what your white shirt can do for you. Pooja Shah, creative director of More Mischief, says one should infuse one’s own personality into the shirt to stand out. “A classic white shirt is usually one that has a collar, long sleeves and falls just below the hip for men and just above for women,” she says. But there are many ways for a woman to style the classic, says Qureshi. “They can button it down and wear it with shorts or tuck it in a formal pair of pants or even wear it with a belt around the waist,” she advises.
If you’re one for experimentation, coloured pants are a great foil for white. They work well for men as well. The best way to sport a white shirt, however, would be to wear it the way you think you can carry it off. That’s what Rahul Khanna says when he talks about the individual character of the white shirt. “Wear it with shorts, formal chinos, or just roll up the sleeves,” he says. Kochhar, too, prefers the rolled-up look. He recommends wearing a full-sleeved shirt with lungi pants or black dhoti pants. “Not only does the combination look great, it is really comfortable in summer,” he says.
So, whether you want to buy a fitted shirt, a shirt two sizes too large, or one with tiny embellishments, you can seldom go wrong with whites. The quest will take you far, will have you notice more details than you thought possible but will reap pristine rewards. Go forth and conquer!
The game of white
This colour block georgette panel top from Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna’s collection works perfectly with a pair of black trousers
The classic game
This Abraham & Thakore men’s shirt is made of cotton poplin, with a regular collar and cuffs. Abraham says poplin is one of the most ideal fabrics for your classic white shirt.
Drawing a blanc
Team this Rajesh Pratap white shirt with natural khakis or linens, depending on the occasion. For a formal event pair it with bandhgalas, formal suits or dinner jackets
Kochhar’s collection includes herbal organic clothes, which are handspun and dipped into essential oil and dried. This treated fabric will keep you cool in summer
Colour me bright
The grey detailing on this shirt by Karan Johar and Varun Bahl adds character, making it stand apart from plain shirts. The neat collar and traditionally buttoned cuff keep the classic look intact
Taking care of pristine whites
It’s always advisable to get your favourite whites dry cleaned
Keep your whites folded inside out or wrap them in plastic when storing in your cupboard
Avoid spraying perfume directly onto the shirt. That may leave stains on the garment
Bleach if necessary as it’s the only colour that resists discolouring
Avoid using a very hot iron
Stain removal made easy
Get into action as soon as you stain the garment
Put some talcum powder and then dab it with white tissues to transfer the stain
The worst thing you can do is to use water, as that will only make the stain permanent
Make a paste of good quality detergent and apply it on the stain
Keep it for a while and hope for the best!
From HT Brunch, April 14
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