When asked which garment she would have liked to have been responsible for creating during a rare interview in 2012, Rei Kawakubo declared, “I would have liked to invent the plain white shirt.” And it makes perfect sense that the Comme des Garçons founder champion this seemingly humble item of clothing, for despite outward appearances, the simple button-up holds infinite sartorial possibility.
Much like Kawakubo herself, the white shirt is a fashion icon, but doesn’t think of itself as such. It’s a democratic garment, taking on new meaning through the way it is worn. It is both anti-fashion and high fashion, perennially chic. So if you don’t already own one, it’s about time you go out and buy it – whether from Maison Margiela or the local thrift store, the effect it will have on your wardrobe is the same. If you’re short on styling tips, look no further than our 1990s-inspired guide, paying due homage to the decade in which the white shirt truly came into its own.
1. With patent leather trousers, inspired by Amber Valletta for Jil Sander (1990) (above)
The visual contrast created by teaming a white shirt with a pair of patent leather trousers says, “I conquer the courtroom and the club in one fell swoop”. If you dare, wear it with several buttons undone to reveal a hint of stomach like Amber Valletta for Jil Sander. Wind machine optional.
2. With tonal trousers, inspired by Lana Ogilvie and Karen Alexander for Cover Girl (1993)
This outfit is not for those who frequently spill coffee on themselves while running for the bus of a morning, or those who enjoy a large glass of the house red after work. But if you do dare to go head-to-toe by co-ordinating your white shirt with some tonal high waisted ankle grazers, then be prepared to turn heads.
3. Cleavage-baring, inspired by Anna Nicole Smith for Guess (1993)
Needing little introduction, the white shirt worn unbuttoned with cleavage spilling out for all to gaze upon – as demonstrated by everybody’s favourite marrier of ancient oil tycoons Anna Nicole Smith – is a sight to behold. Anna has chosen to wear hers with a matching bra, but we say a hint of black lace never hurt anyone.
4. Avant-Garde, inspired by Comme des Garçons (1995)
Is it a shirt or is it something else entirely? We’ll leave that up to you to decide. Pair the avant-garde iteration of the white shirt with masculine tailoring that hangs off the body in unexpected places, and make Rei proud.
5. As a dress, inspired by Angela Lindvall for Miu Miu (1995)
Miuccia Prada lengthened the white shirt for her S/S95 collection, transforming it into a floor-skimming dress. We say this is the perfect antidote to saccharine wedding attire that you can wear as the bride, the bridesmaid, or the intoxicated wedding guest who turned up as a really fabulous tablecloth.
7. With nothing at all, inspired by Naomi Sims for GAP (1993)
A look that says “I may or may not have spent the entire weekend rolling around in bed with the owner of this shirt”, this is the white shirt at its sexiest (sorry Anna Nicole). It’s also very Demi Moore having a threesome with Patrick Swayze and a pottery wheel in the 1990 film Ghost *Unchained Melody plays softly in the background*.