The Virtues of White Blouses

The Virtues of White Blouses

No list of wardrobe essentials is complete — or reliable — if it doesn’t include the white blouse. I am going to go one step further and advise: no wardrobe is complete without a few white blouses. I recommend poplin blouses with long sleeves, short sleeves, and no sleeves as well as a variety of collared jerseys. A white blouse always looks smart with jeans or khakis as well as printed skirts.  But the variety is useful because a white blouse also looks great under sweaters, jackets, certain sleeveless dresses, and striped jerseys.

School children looking adorable in white shirts
School children looking adorable in white shirts
Priests looking smart in white collars
Priests looking smart in white collars

Catherine Denueve, dressed by YSL, in Belle du Jour
Catherine Deneuve, looking incomparable, in white collar and cuffs (costumed by YSL for Belle du Jour)
And here is Leandra Medine, of Man Repeller, proving that the white shirt is not simply the province of the children, clerics and the French bourgeoisie. Check out photos 9-12.

Having a variety of fabrics and sleeves lengths at your disposal means that you can layer without creating visible or uncomfortable bulk. You may be wondering why a white collar is so flattering?  I wonder, too.  I think there are two reasons.  First, a white collar adds definition, framing both your face and the neckline of your clothes.  Second, white reflects light, brightening and enlivening your face. Here are some blouses for your consideration:
from talbots
Talbots Wrinkle-Resistant Poplin Shirt
JCrew shirt
JCrew Stretch Perfect Shirt
Misha Nonoo blouse
Misha Nonoo Cotton Button Down
Tory Burch Shina Blouse
Tory Burch Shina Top

“Who’s going to keep all these white blouses clean?” a friend asked me. I could write hundreds of words about laundry — and Cheryl Mendelson has written thousands in her wonderful books, Home Comforts and Laundry  but I will boil my life experiences down to 100 words here. I’ve tried chlorine bleach (liquid), bluing agent, aspirin (dissolved in water), and a variety of laundry detergents in my efforts to keep white blouses really white.  I have had the best results with Oxyclean powder — a powdered oxygen bleach — and have found it to be very effective at keeping yellow stains at bay around the collar, under the arms, and along the cuffs. The trick is soaking whites in water, ideally hot water, with Oxyclean before laundering. The longer you soak, the more effective the treatment — [Oxyclean+a couple of hours] can even lift old, dark stains that I thought had been laundered into permanence. I have also found that Oxyclean removes chocolate stains, which are not irregular occurrences in my life.  
If you are unfamiliar with Cheryl Mendelson’s epic treatises on housekeeping, I highly recommend them. Both are wonderful — Mendelson provides very clear and comforting instruction on every aspect of household management as well as the historical, social and scientific underpinnings of housekeeping.[1]
Home Comforts
Home Comforts

Blouses: Talbot Wrinkle-Resistant Poplin Shirt; JCrew Stretch Perfect Shirt; Misha Nonoo Cotton Button Down; Tory Burch Shina Top
Clerical collars: Almy, C.M. Almy & Son

7 thoughts on “The Virtues of White Blouses”

  1. I think you might have convinced me on this one! Any advice for avoiding the appearance that off to my waitressing job wearing a uniform?

    • Could you be mistaken for the catering staff if you were wearing a white shirt and black pants to a fancy party? Perhaps. But only if the shirt were very plain and tucked-in. If the shirt is detailed, belted, or worn with an eye-catching necklace, no confusion should arise.

  2. I have given up on white blouses, as I ruin them in seconds. The Directrice has very advanced ideas about laundry and the tenacity of the human spirit. As for me, I opt for black. Black on black never goes out of style. Think Yul Brynner. When did he not look elegant?

  3. I’m with Leslie on this one. Also good for the style-challenged among us who have the palette-discrimination skills of a typical male engineering student. (Which is where I learned to dress.)

  4. Love your blog!

    I also love white collar and cuffs and have a machine washable beige shirt with that. Will Oxyclean ruin the beige while curing the white parts?
    I also have two similar shirts that are dryclean only. The body of those shirts look great, but the whites are definitely not white anymore. Any thoughts on restoring them?

    • I generally use OxyClean on white cotton blouses, which are sturdy. If your blouse is silk or synthetic, the care label probably warns strenuously against using bleach products — so most interventions will be at your own risk. According to the product label on OxyClean, it is safe for colors. If you were to try this, however, I would not submerge the whole blouse in water; I would just dip the cuffs and collar in. But I would only try this if: (1) you can withstand the loss of the blouse (laundry casualties) or (b) the reward (fresh white cuffs) is greater than the risk (total loss).

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