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Why the basic white shirt is the gift that keeps giving

Zendaya Coleman, who starred in the Academy Award winning Dune, wore a white shirt and skirt at the 2022 Oscars. Photo: Reuters

Zendaya Coleman, who starred in the Academy Award winning Dune, wore a white shirt and skirt at the 2022 Oscars. Photo: Reuters

Published Apr 10, 2022


One of the most vivid red carpet moments, one that is etched in my mind, is Sharon Stone wearing a crisp white button-down shirt with a lilac taffeta skirt by Vera Wang.

Beyond it being one of the best examples of how to wear both high and 'low' fashion (the shirt was from The Gap), it was the effortless nature of it all.

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That she wore a shirt and a skirt to the 1998 Oscars, was an even bigger deal.

Decades later, it's a look that many still go to. It was evident that Stone was the inspiration at the 2022 Oscars as Zendaya and Uma Thurman went with shirts and skirts outfits, while Kristen Stewart took it even further by wearing an unbuttoned shirt, with short shorts and a blazer by Chanel.

Zendaya, styled by Law Roach, went with Valentino Haute Couture, wearing a cropped ivory silk shirt with pearl-buttoned cuffs, rolled up sleeves and a silver sequinned skirt. It was a look reminiscent of Stone's but more modern and edgier.

She added Bvlgari jewels to finish off a look that was both classic and modern. It is on that Gen Z will likely copy for matric dances and other formal dinners they will attend now that the world is starting to open up again.

Uma Thurman poses on the red carpet during the Oscars arrivals at the 94th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Picture: Reuters

Thurman was statuesque, wearing a white button shirt by Bottega Veneta and a floor length black satin skirt. A simple, yet killer look, one that Thurman easily bodied. The look was in ode to her scene in Pulp Fiction, where she wore a similar white shirt. The film was being honoured at the Oscars this year.

It was interesting how many have decided to pay attention to the simple white shirt as a sign of what we can expect in fashion this year. It speaks to the accessible nature of the white shirt- everyone has one, and everyone can dress it up or down, depending on the occasion.

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Dylan Meyer with Kristen Stewart at the 2022 Oscars. PICTURE: Reuters

After two years of not dressing up, many have been overwhelmed about going out into the world again and having to be ready to hit the streets and look perfect. And the one thing that is sure to make you look good is a white shirt.

Carolina Herrera has famously made the white shirt her staple, wearing it with her voluminous maxi skirts, pants and midi-skirts. It's a look that made her a style icon. No collection of hers was complete without a take on the basic white button-down shirt.

Desingner Carolina Herrera waves after presenting her Spring/Summer 2012 collection show during New York Fashion Week September 12, 2011. Picture: Reuters

"I love white shirts because they feel like a security blanket. You can wear them with anything. It's the person and the way that they wear it that makes it different. Whether it's with jeans or a skirt, the beauty of a white shirt is that it's so versatile and becomes whatever you want it to be. I have been designing white shirts forever, but I don't get tired of it," the designer has famously said, speaking about her penchant for wearing shirts.

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Designers like Donna Karan, Phoebe Philo, Ralph Lauren and Jil Sander also made the white shirt a staple garment of their brands, one that became a best-seller every season.

One of the most recent reminders of how versatile a basic white shirt is, was in 2016 when Rihanna wore Drake’s shirt after the MTV Video Music Awards.

The rapper was dating the singer and beauty mogul at the time. He wore a white dress shirt with a tuxedo at the awards ceremony, where he gave her the Video Vanguard Award. The next day, Rihanna was spotted in the same shirt, now worn as a shirt dress, with a black belt to cinch the waist.

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Meghan Markle also wore a white shirt and jeans when she made her first appearance as Prince Harry’s girlfriend in 2017.

But this is not a new phenomenon. The world has been enthralled by the white shirt for centuries. In the 19th century, an era where clothing symbolised wealth and social status more than ever before, the white shirt was still the biggest signifier of a person’s standing in society.

Over the years, the white dress shirt has been a hallmark - a timeless, versatile closet staple that never goes out of style. It was a favourite of Hollywood 40s and 50s icons, famously worn in various styles by Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn.

I recently acquired a white dress shirt, complete with French cuffs, the one thing that has been missing from my wardrobe. A friend remarked on how long it was and said they would like to me lend them the shirt whenever they needed to rock something simple and sexy.

Her comment reminded me why the basic white shirt is a necessity for everyone. It’s why every season, there is always a designer including a white shirt in their collection. It’s the gift that keeps giving. Worn up or down, it’s difficult to look dishevelled and un-stylist if you are wearing a white shirt. Ask any stylist, and they would agree.

This article first appeared in Sunday Insider, April 10, 2022