how to wear a white shirt

Wardrobe Essentials: How to Wear a White Shirt – 7 Ways

Ah, the so-called “classic” white shirt!

It’s one of those items that always shows up on those lists of “12 things every single woman in the world must own”, isn’t it? Now, I’m not a huge fan of those lists, and until fairly recently, I wasn’t much of a fan of white shirts, either. In fact, I got the shirt I’m wearing in these photos last year (it was from Unique Vintage, as is no longer in stock, but I also like this one from Collectif and this one from Lindybop), and I’m pretty sure it was the first white shirt I’d owned since I quit my last office job: probably because white shirts have always reminded me of my last office job. Or of school. Or of any kind of activity that requires you to dress in a way that’s a bit stuffy and restrictive – which is how I’d always thought of white shirts.

Now, however, I have three of things – and yes, they’re all, like, totally different. I also have a blue shirt, a plaid shirt and a black shirt, so we’ve come a long way, baby, me and those shirts, and I have to admit that while I’d have turned up my nose at them just a year or so ago, now I DO find them pretty indispensable. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that EVERY woman should have one, because that’s just silly, but if you’re thinking of taking the white shirt plunge, here are some different ways to wear one…

blue jeans, white shirt

jeans / shoes / bag*

01. Blue jeans, white shirt

The last time I did one of these ‘ways to wear’ posts, I spent the entire day singing Paul Simon’s ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’. This time, I can already tell it’s going to be Lana del Rey’s ‘Blue Jeans’ – sing it with me, people: “Blue jeans, white shirt, walked into the room you know you made my eyes buuurrnnn!” And, I mean, I hope I’m NOT making your eyes burn here (or if I am, that it’s in a good way. IS there a good way for your eyes to burn?), but if I am, apologies. This look is all kinds of cliched, really, but it’s still one I fall back on fairly often, because it’s classic, it’s easy, and it’s casual, but without being too sloppy. It makes me feel a little more pulled-together than I would in jeans and a sweater, for some reason, so if it’s a little bit too obvious for some tastes, well, I’m not going to be losing too much sleep over it.

stripe pencil skirt and white shirt

skirt; similar shoes

02. White shirt and pencil skirt

The pencil skirt is another regular companion of the white shirt, and the two are often seen together. My skirt is a stripe one, because if there’s an opportunity to wear stripes, you better believe I’m going to take it, but one of the good things about a white shirt is that it basically goes with everything, so… wait, why I am even writing this post?

white shirt and capri pants

trousers c/o Boden (similar); Zara shoes; bag*

03. White shirt and capri pants

Another one for the ‘red, white and blue files’. I promise I didn’t actually plan it that way, but seeing as that’s how its’ worked out, I’m thinking I should just have called this post ‘How to wear a white shirt with things that are either red, blue, or both…” I’ve actually worn this exact outfit on the blog before (photos here, if you’re interested), although that time I knotted the shirt (a little too high) around my waist. I decided just to tuck it this time, though, because you seen my belly quite recently (and also with this shirt, as it happens), and I like to try to ration to the belly flashing to no more than once per season.

full skirt and white shirt

Tibi skirt* (similar)

04. Full skirt: formal

This one was supposed to be a bit Carolina Herrera inspired, but I took the popped-collar thing a bit far, and just ended up messing up my hair. I bet Caroline Herrera has never messed up her hair in her LIFE, huh?

floral skirt and knotted white shirt

ASOS skirt; shoes

05. Full skirt: “casual”

I’ve put the word “casual” in inverted commas here, because this skirt isn’t “casual” in the way that leggings are casual, or yoga pants, for instance. It’s a bit more dressed down than the one above it, though, and the kind of thing I can imagine wearing on a summer’s day (I actually think I HAVE worn this on a summer’s day, now I come to think of it), so I’m going to stick with “casual”…

polka dot dress and white shirt

Dress c/o Boden (similar (almost exact);  similar and shorter) ; Vivienne Westwood x Melissa shoes

06. Shirt-over-dress

To be completely honest, this is the kind of thing I’d only do if I there wasn’t a better option: like, I ran out of suncreen before I got to my shoulders, say, or I was visiting a religious site, needed to cover my arms, and all I had with me was this stupid shirt. If I WAS going to wear a shirt over a dress like this, I’d probably fasten a few more buttons, to turn the dress into a skirt, and make it look a little more intentional, but in this case that would’ve made it look just like the one above it, so… you get what I mean, I’m sure.

Finally, and just for those of you whose day job DOESN’T involve taking photos of yourself in a white shirt:

black trousers and white shirt

Collectif trousers; Dune shoes ; Philip Lim bag*

07. The wear-to-work shirt

This one is pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll spare you the rambling this time, and trust you to have already worked out that you can wear black trousers with white shirts, huh? As with all of these looks, I’m obviously not trying to re-invent the wheel or anything like that, but just to show how versatile an item like this can be…

… and at least now you know why I have three white shirts!

How to wear a white shirt - read the post for 7 different ways to style a plain white shirt

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  • Beauty! I like the first and last looks the best (what can I say? I’m all about the classics :))

    I’ve always loved the look of a crisp white button-down, but alas, I have yet to find the perfect shirt. Must get on that.

    March 9, 2016
  • Great! I rarely wear the one white shirt I have because although I love it I always seem to try to pair it with a plain black skirt and then worry that people will mistake me for the waitress, not that there’s anything wrong with being the waitress, just that I don’t want to cause confusion. Anyway, I’m definitely trying a few of these alternatives.

    March 9, 2016
  • I love these tips, I always feel a white shirt is for school or corporate office look, this has definitely made me tempted to try it outside of work 🙂 x

    March 9, 2016
  • I wrote about that a while ago. I’ve been a waitress for many years and refuse to wear a white shirt if I’m not at school or working in a restaurant. However recently I did find a frilly white shirt in a swap and while it is by no means basic, I’m keeping it for when I need to shop my wardrobe when I’m bored with my lot so it may come in handy yet. The gingham trousers are just my kind of thing so I’d pick that outfit out of all of the rest to wear myself

    March 9, 2016
  • ckie


    Love these! White shirts are one of my favorites but I’ve had to ban myself from buying this style as they never fit correctly. All seem to be made for far straighter figures than mine and the amount (and skill) of tailoring they would take to fix them would cost more than the shirt. Which is a shame, because I love the style (just not enough to put myself through that headache).

    March 9, 2016
  • Maria


    My favorite is the one with the striped midi skirt! These were all great looks!

    March 9, 2016
  • Myra


    I love them all, but particularly the shirt over the dress, can’t explain it, maybe it’s the way you are wearing it. But the bags – fab.

    March 10, 2016
  • Katie


    I’m currently a medical student, so we have to wear white coats over all of our outfits, and it looks pretty silly to wear a white shirt with them. Especially when my white coat has pen and coffee stains all over it so it looks dismal next to the white shirt. I am always on the lookout for plain colored buttons downs not in white to go with my extensive skirt collection. They are harder to find than you might expect. Unless you are looking for pale blue. WHY do they only make pale blue and white button downs!

    March 11, 2016
  • I like to wear my white shirt under sleeveless dresses at this time of year too – saves me ironing the body as well! I am so lazy when it comes to ironing so under a dress = sleeves and collar only 😉

    March 11, 2016
  • Love this post! I didn’t really think about all the ways you can wear a white shirt. Thanks for the tips!

    Happy new year, Isabella x

    December 29, 2016
  • Wow! I love this post, being that I’m going minimal…I’m always looking out for white outfit inspirations.

    February 17, 2017