There Are White Shirts, And Then There Are White Shirts

I was pretty much a white shirt woman, in my working days. Casual environment meant a white tee. Semi-casual, a very good white tee. Formal, a white button-front. (Did you know that the term “button-down” refers to collars, and what we usually mean is a button-front? You are welcome.)

When my brother got married, last month, the families hosted three events. On Thursday, dinner for the immediate family; Friday, dinner for out of town guests at my father’s house; Saturday, the wedding.

I wore Narciso Rodriguez to the first event, and this to the wedding. So what to wear to the dinner at Dad’s? A dinner to which 70 people had been invited, in the early evening, in Northern California? Informal, familial, but given the setting, still fancy?

Why yes. A white shirt. What we can call a Modified Carolina, as in Herrera. Substitute fairly voluminous trousers for Herrera’s trademarked taffeta skirt, add good jewelry and some pretty shoes, and you should be all set for informal, elegant dinners.

I wore this white Audrey Talbott, a pair of navy linen wide-legged Armani trousers, and my quilted Manolo flats. Also pearls at my neck.

The photo above, from Ian Londin photography in New York, reminds me mostly how moved I was, sitting wistful in the sway of hope and promise. Clothes are just clothes, after all.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but also notice that the shirt was wrong. The idea? Yes. The implementation? Not quite. A corporate white shirt, perfect for conveying a certain crisp authority, can’t quite man up for festivity and life’s heart.

Off I went in search of the right version for this phase of life. Apparently retired, I have time to focus on the non-essential. In this phase, it’s OK to sparkle and confess to collarbones. I drove up to San Francisco, and stopped in at Naracamie, a perennial favorite for blouses, but nothing spoke to me. I walked down the street to Anne Fontaine. The voices sang out.

Although this portrait collar is tame – even matronly – for some of us, it makes me feel rather like a burlesque dancer. In a good way. The buttons, in front and on the cuffs, have a little crystal in the middle. The fabric is stretch cotton, both comfortable and slightly risque. Remember, it doesn’t take much to make some of us feel like we’re crossing over to the wild side.

In situ, the shirt makes me quite happy. Notice how my corporate shirt emphasized my broad shoulders, and this retirement/date/old lady gone wild shirt emphasizes, well, the rest of me?

Once a white shirt girl, always a white shirt girl. For those making a sartorial transition, from grad school to work, from work to stay at home motherhood, step back and take a look at your closet. If there’s a category of items you depend on, consider how that category can evolve and follow you to the next stage. You choose the clothing that you come back to, over and over, for good reason. Trust your instincts. Assume you know something. You’re probably right.

Note: Ian Londin Photography did all the photos for my brother’s wedding. They were a complete pleasure to work with and the images are gorgeous. Friends of my brother’s new wife, from forever.
Note: As requested, I have ceased to Photoshop my forehead;).

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  • Love the new white shirt. I think the fit is much more flattering on you; and fit is everything when the shirt is on it’s own, no blazer or cardigan to hide under. Excellent find.

  • Love that Anne Fontaine shirt!!

    I’ve always aspired to be the “crisp white blouse” type, but I just never feel right in them. A white tee shirt on the other hand…like second skin.

  • So glad to have this suggestion as I contemplate transitioning out of the corporate world. It’s one thing to wear a corporate white shirt with jeans, quite another when you’re dressing up a little. The new version is great.

  • oh i love anne fontaine shirts. ea one is like a work of art. i think you looked fab in the picture. so classy!


  • Love your new white shirt and Anne Fontaine is fantastic for finding a special one. However, I do love the shirt you wore to the dinner too. I would have rolled up the sleeves and sort of pushed them to just above the elbow, and then turned the collar so it was standing up, would have been great that way too.

  • I love the new shirt, but I love the first pic of you even more – look at you, all in your pearls. :)

    I have many white shirts. Many stained white shirts, because I cannot wear one without spilling something on it. I think I have bad white shirt karma.

  • You look so lovely in that first photo Miss Privilege, wow. To the topic at hand, you know how much I believe in the beauty of a white shirt, but don’t know that I have ever tried on Anne Fontaine, you make a great case to do so. :)

  • I love a white shirt too especially with pearls.

    That Anne Fontaine shirt has such great detail…you’ll get a lot of mileage out of that one.
    You look fabulous in it Lisa!

    Stop by my blog today…I have mentioned you.

  • i actually love you in both. they’re very different shirts, but i like a looser classic white shirt with the sleeves rolled up for a lauren hutton-esque look. the AF version is lovely and feminine on you! have you ever styled either with a floor-length ball skirt? that’s what i’d wear to a fancy evening affair :)

  • I was scrolling down past the words: “I walked down the street to Anne Fontaine. The voices sang out” Oh! Oh! Oh! Yes, indeed, they did!

    I have been on a quest for The Perfect White Shirt, and at last have found it. Thank you!

  • I love Anne Fontaine’s shirt designs because they have such a flattering cut.
    You look great in your new white button front.

  • Both shirts are nice, but you’re right that the second is a better fit for this type of event.

    I like the collars on both versions.

    It’s really sticky here in the summer and if your blouse has a flattering collar you can skip the heavy necklace or scarf and appear cool without losing the polish.

  • I love, love, love that first picture of you!! You should give a copy to each of your children. I would love to have a picture like that of my mom.

    10:29 am
    Emmaleigh504 said...

    I second the love for that pic and that you should send a copy to your kids!!

  • You have a way of illuminating the hidden truths of personal style and fashion. I’ve never been a white shirt girl myself, but I took something important away about how see my own sartorial choices as I try to transition.

    Also, I adore how the Anne Fontaine “emphasizes the rest of you.” It’s clear it fits who you are and yet takes you somewhere new. Lovely.

  • When I first saw the picture of the second shirt, I thought “Eh”. Then you showed us what it looks like on and I love it! Good job. Love a nice white shirt.

  • The Anne Fontaine shirt looks fabulous on you – so flattering!! I am also a white shirt girl – and have many in all different iterations. Of course what I really want is a Herrera – might have to be my birthday present to myself this year. And I have a divine ice blue silk ball skirt – because I like you and Carolina = love that combo!!

  • Thank you for getting both photos for comparison. It is those small details in fit and style that make or break every clothing choice. And the fact that you noticed the problem and then knew what to look for in a replacement impresses me! I’m still at the “define the problem” piece of the puzzle many days.

    I worked for years in clothes that were never quite right. But I thought that smart, productive women shouldn’t spend time immersed in all that fluff. Once I slowed down and focused, I realized it is as easy to learn as any other skill. And I am a quick learner. I just never allowed it priority. And it’s exactly why I never felt polished or confident in my clothes.

    Thanks for the great one-to-one comparison!

  • So I have a question: I have a dim memory of being very, very young and overhearing two women discuss the need for haircuts because they had reached in age where it was socially inappropriate for them to have longer hair. Are their such rules on hair length? If so, what are they?

  • Both shirts look good, but the AF has ” that something “. You are lucky to be a white shirt girl.
    Shirts are not my ” trademark “, but I like them on others. Wearing a shirt reveals that you are good housewife ; )!!

  • I simply love the lines on the Anne Fontaine shirt. The collar is unusual and its corners make your face and shoulders look lovely. Sadly, in spite of my mother’s best efforts, I am constitutionally incapable of keeping white shirts white beyond one or two wearings. If I were to invest in AF, I’d have to have a color matching either pomodoro sauce or/and red wine.

  • I wear a tailored white shirt every day…they seem to flatter old ladies! But a dressy white shirt is next on my list of must haves!

  • I walked into my very first Anne Fontaine shop in London over 10 years ago. I feel in love with all of the amazing white shirts! The were my favorite then and now.

    Since I don’t have to go to the office anymore, I do have a standard outfit of sorts that always makes me feel good. A great pair of jeans, white t-shirt, a denim jacket and a beautiful pair of Lucchese cowboy boots given to me by my husband. I feel put together, but still comfortable and chic.

    Take care,


  • I love the collar of the second blouse. As for feeling like a burlesque dancer, here’s a link (a friend just sent) to an article and video of the famous Rita Alexander, the “Champagne Girl of 1960s Bourbon Street ” you might enjoy. Don’t worry, it’s pretty tame. She’s really talented!

  • That’s a beautiful photo of you — and I actually like both shirts.

  • You look fantastic in the Anne Fontaine! I may just have to do a little shopping trip on Saturday. (Between you and Alice at Summer is a Verb, my wallet is getting a little thin. But I am ver fashionable as a result!)

  • 1. Uh, I think your forehead looks better than mine.

    2. I remember an article about Anne Fontaine in a old Victoria magazine. Love the neckline on that shirt.

    3. My husband wears ONLY button downs. A loose, flappity collar just won’t do.


    I’ve always had great luck with crisp white dressy blouses from Doncaster and Worth – I especially love when they tie in the front or on the side – that dresses it up and softens it a bit. Here are some that I thought looked nice. But I think both of yours were great, Lisa!

  • You look marvelous in both shirts and I think you are being way too hard on yourself. The first picture of you, with long blond hair and the original shirt, is such a classically beautiful picture. I didn’t know your hair was so long.

  • I can’t believe how long your hair has grown! Why not change the avatar-photo? I love the new-you.
    Benetton makes nice white shirts, crisp and simple. Unfortunately Naracamicie is off my list, the staff in the boutique in Vienna is way too rude. :-(

  • This new white shirt fits you beautifully. White shirts are the bane of my thrifting ethic. I sort through them on every visit, but I am a stickler for the crisp and the very, very white. It is simply one thing I cannot thrift.

  • Firstly, I love that photo of you; you look so relaxed and at ease. Secondly, the shirt is a beautiful choice: the non-traditional collar and crystal-accented buttons are unique touches, but it’s still very much you. Still a classic button-FRONT, but decidedly non-corporate. Well played.

    And hey, let me know the next time you’re coming to SF. If you REALLY want to cross over to the wild side, you should shop with me. Or if that’s too terrifying, I’m always game for cocktails. ;-)

  • You are DIVINE. In both blouses.

    You don’t need one bit of advice or encouragement, but if you can’t sleep one night and you need to stir around, try turning the collar UP in the first blouse for a change of pace, unbelievably regal. If you like the regal look in the mirror, take that wonderful blouse to a seamstress and have those sleeves shortened to 3/4, i.e to the length of the sleeves in the second blouse; have french cuffs added if you like. Bling buttons optional.

    You are just divine and I love this Pulitzer-worthy turn of phrase so much: “Trust your instincts. Assume you know something. You’re probably right.”

  • Oh, that looks so pretty on you! Good choice!

  • Hello Helloooooooooooo!

    Love you, love the white shirt and love white shirts in general… one of the reasons I think we connect and get each other is that we’re white shirt girls; all about having your act together, being put together and not being afraid of rolling up your sleeves!

    I’ve been so bad about reading blogs, much less commenting, but yours is one that I always check into… and may I say that I felt very LPCish when I wrote today’s piece ;)



  • There I was admiring you in the original (Grace Kelly at NoCal dinner) and then you went and got the AF- hotcha, baby! AF is my favourite for great whites (and blacks). I think your wedding shoes would look fantastic with it too.

  • You wear them well. Wonderfully well.

  • You look wonderful in both!

  • I adore white shirts, you look stunning in that photograph and what better to pair with crisp white but pearls and Manolos?

  • Love both the white shirts, you look so elegant,xx

  • You look beautiful in both…..the Anne Fontaine is gorgeous!

  • that AF white shirt is marvalous!! I Want One.

  • I’m following. You had me at “white shirt”, your age, your outlook!

  • It’s the loveliest white shirt I’ve ever seen, and it looks as though it was made for you!

  • I am such a white shirt girl since my teens and was wondering when you were going to mention Anne Fontaine–the pinnacle of white shirts–and never matronly! LOVE how this looks on you and so glad you added it to your wardrobe. Having the feeling you will be adding more :)

    xo Mary Jo

  • The first thing I noticed about the new white shirt is that it gives you plenty of space for interesting jewelry. Jewelry you might not ever wear to work with your more Hepburn-esque tailored shirt, although I like that look very much.

  • Another white shirt gal here like Kathy said mostly wear the collars up+ pearls.
    Like the shirt in the Ist photo best,very elegant love your hair.Ida

  • You look divine in your Carolina-inspired getup, but I realized what you meant when I saw the one of you in the Anne Fontaine – now *that* is a white shirt, racy clavicles peeking out & all.

    And I really like the concept of adapting the general of what you know to work for you already to the specifics of your new life. Feel like I’m going through the same, in my case weeding out the lawyer/pre-baby bod wardrobe to suit my current reality, and it helps me to see it in this positive light.

  • Your expression in the first photo is wonderfully authentic – and who cares about the shirt?
    That said, being broad-shouldered with a strong neck and a relatively small face myself, my one rule has become to wear necklines that are wider than my neck and if possible wider than my head. Anything else emphasises my shoulders and makes me look severe which is often the case with traditional shirts. In contrast, the AF shirt with the wider neckline looks wonderfully feminine on you!

  • What a beautiful photo of you! And I love the collar on that shirt.

  • The look of pensive contentment. You are beautiful.

  • Lisa, yes, you are beautiful. I loved reading this about the differences in white shirts, so true. I feel the same about black. And, I must say I always return again & again to fabrics which feel good to the touch. xx’s

  • Laura – Thank you. And you’re right, standalone shirts are an art.

    Une femme – Thank you! I’m a tad jealous you can still wear tees. They have begun to betray my middle.

    MJ – My pleasure. I do look forward to wearing this shirt with jeans too:). Everything goes better with jeans, in my experience.

    Janet – High compliment. I can absolutely see you in Anne Fontaine. Come to SF sometime, we’ll go together.

    Kathy Peck Leeds – You are describing the perfect Grande Dame way to wear the first shirt. I have to work on my confidence to get there.

    Jan – Thank you. Look at your new avatar! I never wear white shirts if I’m the one cooking:).

  • TPP – Oh thank you Princess. As a Herrera lover, I think you’ll like Anne too.

    hostess – Thank you, for this and for the mention. Much appreciated. Go pearls:).

    miss sophie – I’d wear that Full Carolina to a fancy evening thingie that required long myself. But I haven’t gone to anything that needed long in ages and ages. Maybe it’s time. I keep thinking I should get my family to chip in on a table at some gala and we could all dress up and go together.

    ChristineB – Hooray! My pleasure.

    belle – Thank you. And the cut is fantastic. Much better on than hanging.

  • RoseAG – Exactly. It’s about the context of the event. I’m not chucking out the first one:).

    Patsy – I would ask them, but I fear the eye-rolling…Thank you.

    Emmaleigh – Aw. Thank you.

    Becca – Thank you so much. If I can be of use to someone so intelligent as you, I’m honored.

    mary anne – Yeah, it’s a tricky little one, that shirt:).

    quintessence – Thank you! And I don’t even dare LOOK at the Herrera shirts. If you do take that step, you will show us, right? So we can dream?

  • Kitty – You are very welcome. I simply have the time, now, to pay attention. And I like to solve puzzles, you know? As in, just WHY didn’t the first shirt feel quite right, and what other version would? You have to really keep you eyes peeled and think analytically. At least I do, given that I’m not so Artsy as I wanna be.

    Megs – Aha. Yes. The old lady hair question. I have an entire post brewing on that topic. Because I believe the rules were put in place for many reasons, some of which remain sort of valid, some of which do not. In brief, our hair has meaning, and we just want that meaning to be intentional.

    metscan – Thank you:). How do you mean, a good housewife?

    cafeate – Hahahahahaha. Well, the classic red shirt then.

    Valentine Hayes – Every day! I’m impressed! A dressy one is an entirely different phenomenon, I agree.

  • Lori – That outfit sounds completely perfect.

    Susan – Thank you very much. I love the glimpse of past culture that kind of video gives us.

    Mater – xox.

    BethAnn – I bet you are! And I wonder if Alice goes for white shirts. I think of her as a print kind of an Artsy Grande Dame.

    Stephanie – Ha! Here’s to well-lived foreheads then. Glad you like the neckline. And the thought of a flappity collar cracks me up.

    Sharon – Those blouses look great, especially for an hourglass figure.

  • HHH – Oh, thank you. As we speak, I’ve had my hair trimmed, but the strategic initiative right now is to grow it long, all one length, and get a good look at it au naturel.

    Paula – Rude staff! Absolutely avoid them. The people in San Francisco are exceptionally nice. I will think about a new avatar. It’s just like that I like to have one where I look directly at the camera and say hello, essentially.

    Terri – Thank you. I hadn’t thought about the thrifting issue, but that makes complete sense.

    Audi – Thank you very much. I’m thrilled you like the shirt. And I think you and I, shopping, would make for a great education even if I didn’t actually cross over. I’ll email you. Thank you.

    Flo – Thank you. I will tell myself all day long I am divine. I think it will be good for me.

  • Tamera – Thank you very much.

    QBS – Hellooooooo! “…white shirt girls; all about having your act together, being put together and not being afraid of rolling up your sleeves!” Excactly!

    Duchesse – Oooh, with the wedding shoes. I hadn’t even thought of that. Fun.

    Town and Country – Thank you!

    AN – Thank you so much.

    Tabitha – Much appreciated – pearls and Manolos indeed.

  • Blighty – Thank you my dear!

    Linda -Thank you so much for the kind words.

    Northmoon – :).

    Shelly Gregory – Welcome! I am following you as well.

    DaniBP – Thank you ma’am!

    mary jo – I should have known you’d be familiar with Ms. Fontaine.

    Julia – Yes, I agree. I’m currently mulling over how to combine two diamond solitaire pendants I’ve got. I wonder, did KH ever wear jewelry? Hmm.

  • ida – Yes, very regal that way. Thank you for the kind words on my hair. It’s a project, of sorts.

    Legallyblondemel – I was thinking about that for motherhood. I always dressed kind of tough at work, and then as a mother I dropped that. Once I saw, in the playground, a mom wearing leggings, Converse, a leather jacket, and a concert tee. That was how I wanted to dress but I was too daunted to try.

    Vivelavie – I love that idea, a neckline wider than one’s head. Kind of a metaphor for all sorts of things. Thank you. I like photos with authentic expressions, not always easy to get one’s hands on.

    K-Line – Thank you!

    Fuji – Oh, that is so very nice. Thank you.

    Marsha – Aw. Someone could even write a White Shirt With Variations kind of a chamber piece. For cello, don’t you think?

  • I have written down those final three sentences and stuck them to my wall.

    That is all.

  • What a lovely trip to remember!


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