Montgomery Clift white shirt

Montgomery Clift

Recently a certain reader took issue with my asserting the classic & indispensable style of the white shirt. And I quote–

“My God, How boring and predictable, a white shirt? Please… These rules are for men who don’t have a clue and just want to leave their house half decent without embarrassing themselves. This I don’t have a problem with, when it’s for convenience, comfort or not having to THINK at all about what to wear, but don’t confuse it with style.”

Huh…  Montgomery Clift– seeking convenience and comfort?  No, I don’t think so.  Errol Flynn– on a quest for decency and concerned with not embarrassing himself?  Somehow I don’t think he was all that worried about it, buddy.  Maybe Johnny Depp appeals to you more?  Bingo.  White shirt.

So let’s set the record straight once and for all–

The white shirt is for guys, what the little black dress is for our lady friends. It is absolutely a style icon in itself, and it can provide the perfect backdrop for the expression of style by letting it’s accompanying accessories sing.  Done.


Errol Flynn white shirt

Errol Flynn

The buzz on the street is that white shirt sales are surging these days too.  Guys are returning, yes, to the honest strength and sensibilty it projects– “The solid white shirt is particularly of the moment. Iconic, functional and symbolically associated with purity and power…” –WWD

Johnny Depp white shirt

Johnny Depp

And those with unending style have always loved it for it’s crisp, clean and easy sensibilities– “White for the summer with light weight denim jeans and a pair of driving mocs. Done…”  –Jake Davis

Seems to me that if you don’t have enough confidence to fill a white shirt– you just might have bigger style issues on your hands.  Sometimes you needn’t try so hard, just be yourself and let it come.

gene kelly white shirt

Gene Kelly

cary grant-north-by-northwest white shirt

Cary Grant

Fred Astaire white shirt

Fred Astaire

robert mitchum white shirt

Robert Mitchum

clark gable white shirt

Clark Gable

paul newman butch cassidy and the sundance kid white shirt

Paul Newman


  1. I couldn’t agree more. The white shirt can be one of the most stylish items of clothing in a man’s wardrobe.

  2. JP, you were right in the first article. No need to pander to the few who can’t look back in style history and bring with them the classic pieces that will be w/ us in the future.

  3. I truly enjoy my J. Crew “secret wash” point collar white shirt. So versatile. Relatively inexpensive. And most importantly: it fits me perfectly. A great must-have whether traveling or on a date or just doing nothing. Each time I wear a clean white button down (always with sleeves rolled up to some extent) a compliment is received. Great with any style or color of shoe (and pant).

    My friend Megan loves white shirts on men. She always says her ideal guy is Sean Penn in a white shirt and jeans.

  4. My favorite white shirt image is the Kerouac shot of him in front of a neon sign. I’m sure you’ve seen it, anyway I wear a white shirt evryday to work with a suit just like they used to in the late fifties/early sixties, and I don’t think i’ll stop anytime soon. By the way your posts lately have been inspiring. From Jeremy Irons to the Rugby, all very smart and tasteful. Great work.

  5. I couldn’t agree more; the virtues of a white shirt are numerous. The fact that white shirts were worn throughout history by all kinds of people in all kinds of cultures,
    from poets to pirates, rock stars to movie stars, men of commerce to men of the Cloth.
    Regardless of fashion trends, weather, or social status, the white shirt has played an important role in dressing Kings and commoners alike.

  6. Great post Jon and so true. I am on the quest for the perfect white shirt this year, it is the Holy Grail for me. For the next year on my global travels I will be on the hunt from Jermyn Street to the Ginza District for the absolute perfect one. If anyone has any favorites or places to have one made please reply to my post. Right now I am fixated on the “white shirt bar” at Thomas Pink, great way to stand for the classics. I just had 3 made at a Shanghai tailor I frequent made out of Thomas Mason fabric, I am hoping it is the white shirt of my dreams, since this seems to be an item I buy a lot of but never quite love.

    Also the photos of Cary Grant and Robert Mitchum are great-were these the first minimalists? Just a beautiful dark suit, white shirt, and monochromatic black or navy tie….

  7. The white shirt is the epitome of style. Classic, indipensable and intriguing. It speaks more about the character of the man than any other single item of clothing. The crafting of the white shirt occurs on an exponential number of layers and style points and determines its hand, drape, beauty and power. Some of these include;

    1. The fibre quality.
    2. The yarn size.
    3. The collar type (bd, spread, wing, etc).
    4. The collar shape – its height, roll, contour, point length and distance.
    5. The placket – faux or genuine.
    6. Body shape, fit, drape, back yoke – on bias, straight or missing.
    7. Cuff contours and height.
    8. Buttons – pearl, imitation or corozo.
    9. Facing and stabilizers.
    Each of these components when mixed and matched create variety and beauty or lack of it. The white shirt is the furthest thing from “half decent”. The white shirt tells you who the man is.

  8. there’s nothing classier or sexier than a guy in a white shirt. it is the reason i got into menswear to begin with. thanks for the images.

  9. JP, there is nothing like seeing a man in a white shirt (I like starch of course–old school) with sleeves rolled up, and jeans or khaki’s! It’s an awesome look!

  10. Yes I wrote the quote and I stand by it! What my original post was saying was that there is a difference between fashion and classics and that people go to the classics because they aren’t necessarily interested in fashion.

    Again I don’t have a problem with people using classics, they are easy, translatable of course and in particular the white shirt and can look really good but that doesn’t mean they are fashionable. There is a difference between clothing and fashion and menswear has moved on from the 60’s when everyone dressed the same.

    It was also a response to your comment saying how 60’s style was the best and fashion hasn’t been better since and yet again you have underlined my point by trailing out all the old photos from the 50’s and 60’s. My challenge to you was let’s look forward and champion the new designers of our era to set the style of the new century but I guess you don’t have many of those pictures.

  11. Petzi-

    No. You’re original quote said nothing of the sort. It said “…boring and predictable…for men who don’t have a clue…” you may have been thinking something else, but that’s not how it came out.

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