A white shirt has its place in every closet. My very first one (that I can remember wearing, anyway), was at my fifth-grade band concert. The universal uniform of anyone who's ever played a musical instrument – for me it was the oboe – or waited tables. This visual never goes away for me, which is why I have to try so hard to make my white shirt look amazing and feminine and sexy… something that I actually WANT to wear. Because "coming to refill your water glass" is not usually the first impression I'm going for.
Though I have to admit… it's who I am. I worked in restaurants before I scraped up enough cash to move to New York, and have a real soft spot for that kind of environment. When we are hiring, I am always drawn to people who have worked in food service because it is truly the BEST work experience no matter your role. They're my people! I am more comfortable entering many places through the back door. And when I am extremely tight in my shell and stressed out, my go-to fantasy is to be sitting in the back of a restaurant kitchen after-hours, eating at the stainless steel prep table, rather than being served in the dining room with everyone else. Once a waitress, always a waitress. I digress.
From a fashion perspective, the white shirt – for me – is a cross between Audrey Hepburn looking sweetly feminine in a masculine getup, and the always-polished Carolina Herrera, who is practically synonymous with a crisp white shirt. I once ran downstairs wearing one tucked into a long taffeta skirt, running late for a fancy dinner, and my youngest daughter proudly announced that I looked like "that girl on Stardoll." She raced to the family iMac to pull up the internet game she was obsessed with. And there she was! A cartoonishly-illustrated avatar of Meryl Streep as a paper doll, with clickable, draggable white shirts hanging up next to her. I guess, to a 6-year-old, this was the older woman "uniform." Not quite waitstaff, but also not the compliment I was looking for. (Though I do adore Meryl Streep.)
There she is!
I have made what seems like a hundred white shirts that can evoke lots of different personas, from gamine to sophisticated, from blue jeans to black tie. Silky ladylike blouses, shrunken collegiate button-downs, the scaled-down version of a men's oxford. There's a beautiful trim-but-not-skinny version for a workday made of the best-feeling stretch Italian poplin, and a long, dropped-hem version that always makes me feel like an artist… or at least a gallerist. It's not really the season for it now – unless you live at the beach – but one of my favorite places to wear a white shirt is over a bikini, tucked into a pareo. That's what I'm wearing in the photo above – a white popover that was probably on its second or third day of wear. You're ready for lunch in the pool restaurant, and it looks kind of sexy a little wet and buttoned as low as you want, because who cares if you can see your bathing suit? You're on vacation. Last year, I was so proud to get my first placement in VOGUE's September issue with one of the very first things we made, our white Icon Shirt. It was worn by Cindy Crawford – herself an icon! And for me, it was a sweet little coincidence as I was the harried assistant on her very first VOGUE shoot in 1985. And finally, later this week, we are rolling out a made-to-order shirt program in our stores with 6 shirt silhouettes (plus a classic shirtwaist dress.) Out of the 40 fabric swatches, there are – believe it or not – five different whites, each having its own reason to be. It is kind of like stocking your pantry with pasta… it's always perfect and ready when you need it. (Olive oil and cheese help too.)
September issue and all
And here's the very last white-shirt anecdote I have. There was a very fancy party a few years ago for the brilliant Pilar Guzman, who had just signed on as editor-in-chief for the relaunch of Conde Nast Traveler. I thought long and hard about what I might wear before packing my suitcase from Atlanta – Anna Wintour in attendance and all. It was THAT kind of party. I decided on a tie-neck blouse in a heavyweight white silk. Smooth and rich and really beautiful. I threw it on over perfectly-cut black pants and simple alligator slingbacks. Grown-up, not trying too hard, dressy but not too formal (it was a weeknight, after all.) I felt good. Maybe even amazing. The party was a lot of fun. And after just the right amount of chatting and a cocktail, it happened: another smartly-dressed guest looked straight at me and asked me to get their coat. Waitstaff. It never goes away. Even so, you still need a white shirt… probably a few of them. I promise.