On the impossible aspiration of a pristine white button-down
The start of a new year is a good time to tackle our wardrobes—from a light tidy to a full-on KonMari method re-org. So, whether you want to illuminate decision fatigue, make it easier to get dressed each morning or finally figure out your signature look, the Wardrobe Detox series is here to help. We’re publishing a new story every day this week to inspire you to reinvent your closet–and maybe even your style. Today: The quest for the perfect white button-down shirt.
Last month, Canadian fashion brand Dynamite announced a collaboration with Vancouver-based, Kazakh-Canadian artist and muralist Ola Volo. To my surprise, the result was not stamped with Volo’s signature folkloric drawings. Instead, the hero piece was a simple button-down shirt: Oversized, menswear-y and—this is the key—crisp. Essentially, it’s exactly the kind of shirt you imagine an artist wearing. Her sleeves pushed up to the elbows, one eyebrow raised in focus, an unfinished masterpiece before her. The shirt is polished, yet shrugged-off. It is insouciance cut from cotton.
Though I’m far from a loft-dwelling artiste, the dream of becoming a white shirt person lives within me. Its allure doesn’t end with bohemians. Recall Carolyn Bessette in a white menswear shirt, tucked into a sleek black skirt. Or Katherine Hepburn, Sharon Stone and Carolina Herrera (on the latter two, the collars were perkily popped). Elegant!
As is often the case with fashion, the gap between fantasy and reality is great. Fantasy: I am Audrey Hepburn on a bicycle in Rome. Reality: I am not Audrey, I never learned to ride a bike and my shirt bears a salad dressing stain.
A white button-down shirt is inherently aspirational because it is impossible to keep pristine. Over time, the inside neckline takes on a shadowy hue, the sleeve edges get dappled with coffee splatter and after a few washes, the collar starts to collapse. Threads poke up, the illusion shatters. Unlike vintage denim or a leather jacket, a white button-down does not get better with time.
Still, it’s a new year and I am not above a bit of superficial reinvention. I picked up the Ola top. It’s weightless, the material faintly translucent. I love how it makes me feel—capable and put-together, yet approachable. For now, I’ll layer it over a black turtleneck to keep a protective barrier between it and my skin. Putting care into maintaining will serve as a good reminder to do the same for the rest of my closet. I’ll just wear a bib to eat salad.