13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

From chic to sassy, these clever tips will transform your basic whites into things of beauty. Pretty soon, you’ll be wearing them every day of the week!

From left: Paris Emmanuelle Alt, editor-in-chief of Vogue. Kristin Sinclair | Getty Images. A guest attending the Adam Selman show during New York Fashion Week 2016. Matthew Sperzel | Getty Images. A guest before the Issey Miyake Men’s show, during Paris Fashion Week 2016. Edward Berthelot | Getty Images

Everyday, New Yorker Matilda Kahl wears the same outfit to the office.

She takes one of the fifteen identical white shirts she owns off its hanger and teams it with a black pair of slacks … every single morning. She has been going to work in this outfit since 2012. And, no, she is not a security guard, cleaning personnel or a receptionist. Until recently she was the creative director in one of the biggest media houses in the world—Saatchi & Saatchi.

Now she is a creative manager in a music consortium. In her position, which is an artistic profession in the heart of New York, she could be a lot more adventurous when it comes to her clothing. But she deliberately chose a kind of a uniform: a white shirt and black trousers. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, which is why Matilda added a black leather string tied in a bow at the collar, to give the whole ensemble a bit of character. (Albeit, the same character day in and day out.)

She came up with the idea the day after she was once again late for a meeting, and she blew an important presentation, all because of decision making paralysis in her closet. It was a turning point in her life. “From now on, I will wear the same thing every day,” she decided. “There will be one less problem to deal with.” Her new black and white clothes proved not to be a passing fad, either. After a few weeks of monotony, she was hooked.

🎀🐢🐛🍀🌿🍃🌱🌴🎀

A photo posted by Matilda Kahl (@lilltrill) on

The “white shirt experiment”—as she called it on her Instagram posts—was a process of rejecting the notion that women need various styles for work, while men often show up in very similar looking suits, day in and day out. It quickly became an internet and magazine sensation. Thousands of women were inspired by Matilda’s minimalist approach to dressing for work. To be free of clothing dilemmas once and for all? No more worrying about clashing or skirt length, of if a leopard-print blouse is work appropriate? Tempting … very tempting. Because women waste more time than we’d like to admit, standing in front of the closet, trying to look office chic.

Less is often more

Before the “shirt experiment” became a revelation for her followers, Matilda faced a few odd looks. Many of her colleagues were worried. Why does our boss wear the same thing every day? Is everything OK? They whispered to one another. But when it became clear that it was not a case of depression or financial problems, “the shirt experiment” aroused widespread enthusiasm. (Matilda later half jokingly admitted in an interview that she was sort of hoping for a new wardrobe bonus.)

One day she came to work and saw all her coworkers dressed up as herself! A photo of the practical joke—dozens of identically dressed people, men and women all wearing white shirts with black strings or ribbons and black trousers—first circled Instagram, and then the entire web. From there, the idea really took off.

Successful people often wear a uniform of sorts

Today, looking at Matilda’s Instagram, it’s pretty safe to say that the idea of imposing certain restrictions on the business dress code was a hit. With her 15 plain white Zara shirts lined up in her closet, she says she no longer has to suffer the typical morning woes of: What should I wear? She doesn’t stress that something doesn’t fit right, that she forgot to iron something. She doesn’t waste time, and she always feels good. She says she doesn’t worry about under or over dressing for a meeting with clients because it’s such a neutral, professional outfit. In business circles she now has reached a sort of iconic status.

This should not surprise anyone, after all successful people (and men particularly) often wear the same outfit every day. Remember the famous black turtleneck and blue jeans of Steve Jobs? Wearing the same clothes, or similar clothes more often, or clothing in the same style, actually characterizes successful people. It is also, according to psychologists, a sign to others that we have everything under control. We’re organized. And we have a solid sense of self-worth.

Steve Jobs

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Uniforms: limiting or liberating?

Many women see the obligation to comply with the official company dress code as an unpleasant limitation. So, if you work in a job with a dress code, it’s not unusual to compensate with accessories: Bright scarves, large shiny purses, overly funky shoes and flashy jewelry show up in offices. Decorative manicures are also popular. The question that Matilda seems to raise is this: Do we really need this showiness? Is the abundance of accessories and ornaments really good for us or our work? Or rather is it a chore that we impose upon ourselves and would be better off without? Matilda Kahl, like Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook,) argues she’s much better off without the extras. Though, don’t worry, she says she makes up for all the monotony on the weekends and during holidays. That’s when she wears different and colorful outfits. But for work, the white shirt remains her best friend. One she says that she won’t ever betray.

The quest for the ideal white shirt

If you love minimalism, Matilda’s simple style might be an easy fit for you. But what if you can and want to be different? Many of us want our clothes to reflect our mood and personality. We are also wives, mothers, and friends with active social lives after work hours. What if we want to express our personality for a dinner with friends after work? The white shirt can still be our friend, but maybe it doesn’t have to be such a stark, starched one.

So For Her editors attempted a little experiment of our own. We wanted to see whether the crisp white shirt could really feel different every day. If it could be transitioned from work to the movies with friends, a business meeting or a quick Sunday shopping trip.

As you scroll through our thirteen looks, you’ll see what we discovered: that this basic doesn’t have to be boring or monotonous, it can be one of your best assets, and so much more fun than you might think. So … are you ready to play?

Extraordinary elegance

Strong personalities and lovers of classical style with a twist will love this all-white combo. Choose it if you are a boss, or if you want to subtly show your confidence.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Massimo Dutti shirt (MassimoDutti) + Massimo Dutti limited collection wool jacket (Massimo Dutti), wool trousers (Massimo Dutti)

Rock style

For the young at heart, this classic black and white duo is accompanied by a leather jacket and loafers that make this feel business-fun. Ideal for students, creative-office atmospheres, or for personal everyday wear.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Only white shirt (Zalando) + Oakwood leather jacket (Zalando) + 2ndone narrow trousers (Zalando) + Mint & Berry purse/backpack (Zalando) +Topshop shoes (Zalando)

Casual Parisian

Fall 2016 is a time for comfort according to designers and trendsetters across the globe. But we think you’ll love these loose-but-trendy “mom jeans,” paired with a soft sweater and comfortable shoes for longer than just one season. This outfit is appropriate for teachers, academics, stylish housewives. Great for weekend lounging, bookstore browsing, or a get together with friends.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Dorothy Perkins white shirt (Zalando) + Stefanel long cashmere sweater (Stefanel) + Dorothy Perkins bellbottom jeans + River Island block heel shoes (Zalando)

The romantic uniform

This look is from a Polish firm Wólczanka, known for a large selection of shirts. We fell in love with its simplicity and retro vibe. There’s definitely a scholarly air to this, but with the right accessories (heels, some jewelry, cardigan) it could be appropriate for a date, work drinks, or a business-casual dinner.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Bow shirt (Wólczanka) + Mint & Berry classic navy blue skirt (Zalando)

Sporty avant-guarde

Who would have thought that an architectural white shirt could be paired (and look good with!) sweatpants? This solution should appeal to girls who don’t mind dressing outside the box on weekends, overworked moms of little children, and maybe those of us who work from home and Skype a lot (business up top, lounge-wear on the bottom)!

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

H&M White oversized shirt (H&M) + H&M sweatpants (H&M)

Playful simplicity

This look shows how easily a formal white shirt can achieve a refined, comfortable, sporty minimalist sort of a look. A long knit vest and a pair of classic white sneakers are all you need to make the change.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

The entire ensemble from Marks & Spencer (available in Marks & Spencer showrooms and on marksandspencer.com)

Urban safari

Sometimes simply arranging and wearing your shirt in a different way can change the entire feel of the outfit: Rolled up sleeves, shirt loosely tucked in, or buttons undone for a relaxed vibe. If you like this look à la “Out of Africa,” add Aviator sunglasses and pair your shirt with a light suede bottom—pants or a skirt. However, this type of a shirt, especially in unbuttoned safari mode, probably isn’t office-wear.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Robert Kupisz white shirt (Showroom.pl) + Robert Kupisz suede pants (Robert Kupisz) + Ray Ban sunglasses (Blackleaf)

Frivolous oversize

This avant-garde white shirt is simple, but achieves a spectacular effect. With such an interesting cut, you don’t need much else to jazz up your ensemble: just some dark jeans and sneakers or ballet flats. Plus, you definitely won’t worry about muffin top in this blouse.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

ASOS oversized shirt with bottom ruffle (ASOS)

Feminine classic

Work in a warm-weather office where you feel comfortable showing off a little leg? Be bold, and don’t be afraid to pair a formal, high-necked white shirt with work shorts. Keep other accessories to the minimum and keep the look natural with a simple hairdo, and subtle make-up.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Orsay white shirt (Orsay) + Orsay plaid shorts (Orsay) + Orsay imitation suede purse (Orsay)

Menswear

The classic men’s style suit is always a safe partner for the white shirt. But you can easily add a little personality with shiny boots and a funky hat.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

White poplin shirt, herringbone jacket + herringbone trousers, boots, beanie hat, all from Zara (Zara)

Casual with a point

When you are looking for something more than pure white, there’s plenty to choose from. In fact, writing, embroidery, and patches are so on-trend, you could even decorate a shirt you already own. To make the outfit interesting and comfortable, pair the shirt with jeans and flats.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Mojito embroidered shirt and skinny jeans (Mohito)

Just like Matilda Kahl

If you want to have a ready-made outfit just like Matilda Kahl, we have good news. There are stores which sell shirts complete with a black ribbon. Appropriate not just for a school assembly, of course.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Sinsay shirt with a ribbon (Sinsay)

Sweater sweet

Of course, the easiest way to up-style a white shirt: pull a sweater over it. This library-chic look is perfect for the office, and you can always ditch the sweater for drinks with friends later. This shirt, with a fully ruffled neckline, adds the perfect amount of drama and flare to an otherwise conservative look.

13 ways to up-style a plain white shirt

Prada ruffled shirt (Net-a-porter), Prada skirt (Net-a-porter), Prada short sleeved cashmere sweater (Net-a-porter), Prada shoulder bag (Net-a-porter)

 

 

Pola Madej-Lubera
Pola Madej-Lubera
Stylist and fashion journalist for many years associated with women’s lifestyle media. Lover of Stara Ochota in Warsaw, where she lives. Passionate gardener and social activist. Happy mom of two kids. Runs a gardening lifestyle blog: weekendwogrodzie.com

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