7 days 7 ways: the white shirt

There are few items more versatile than the classic white shirt. And if you don’t believe me, perhaps this ode to its magnificence will convince you otherwise.

Simple, humble and timeless: the white shirt can be interchanged between a multitude of outfits whilst both feigning subtlety and simultaneously demanding the spotlight.

In a bid to incorporate the staple piece into my wardrobe, I set out on a determined hunt to find the perfect style whilst at university, and discovered this gem hidden amongst the rails of one of my favourite charity shop haunts.

A vintage Jaques Vert; I adored the statement gold-trimmed buttons and intricate embroidery from the get go, and three or four years on it remains as impressive as the day I first spotted it.

It’s worth investing in a good quality shirt that you can return to again and again – the exact price escapes me but this version probably only cost a few pounds by the time I purchased it; such is the joy of second hand shopping!

As with most of my blouses it’s slightly on the oversized side, because I’m instinctively drawn to the boyish air that accompanies excess material. I also enjoy that it offers more flexibility in terms of tucking in or floating loosely, making way for varying options when deciding on a silhouette.

It’s still slimline enough to fit inconspicuously under a fairly snug jumper, consequently highlighting the delicate collar, and the sheerness of the billowing fabric conjures up a romantic quality.

In the time following our chance meeting the shirt has been by my side on many adventures: cycling through the streets of Amsterdam, dinners and drinks, gassing me up for big days in my career. The fluid shape flirts with the opportunity to shift between dressy and casual, making it the ideal contender for day to night dressing (back when that event was a possibility of course).

As my gushing may insinuate, this was an incredibly easy collection of looks to put together, partly due to the lack of fuss with which a good white shirt matches other treasured garments. It lends itself to unconventional layering, spontaneous trials and more traditional pairings, but whatever the mix, the result is consistently sophisticated.

I’d encourage anyone on the prowl for a similar version to start with charity and vintage shops, as usually the pieces located here are durable and unique, but the suspiciously low price will typically contradict that. Alternatively, if buying new, I’d opt for something on the more expensive side to avoid starchy disappointment after a few washes – such as this one from Everlane.

I rarely buy anything new, so most of the items on display throughout this post will have been with me for a while, however if it’s still available / I can track down a similar style I’ll share the link!

Outfit #1

Pinafore dress – Urban Outfitters | Boots Clarks

If only the uniform we wore during our British education was actually as cool as the ‘schoolgirl chic’ look we try to emulate through fashion. When the rose tinted glasses are removed flashbacks of awfully stiff, bulky shirts and cheap bodycon skirts that were ultimately banned come to mind (although the gingham summer dresses of primary school days are something I’d still wear now given the chance).

I’m not trying to pretend we’d ever have gotten away with burnt orange knee-high boots (that’s a modern addition of my own), but the option to don a cute pinafore wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Outfit #2

Beret – Topshop (similar here) | Coat – Primark (similar here) | Jeans – Topshop (similar here) | Shoes – Topshop

With the exception of the beret, which I bought last year, every item in this ensemble has seen me through upwards of five winters. The Topshop ‘mom’ jeans, beloved by thousands, are like my second skin and truly go with everything.

The burgundy fake crocodile kitten heels have suffered the battering of many a night out on the town and on close inspection are looking a little worse for wear as a result, but I can’t bear to let them go for fear I’ll never find another pair that can live up to expectations.

Poppers are clinging onto the grey coat for dear life, not helped by the reckless manner in which I rip it open when returning to my warm table from the chilly confines of the smoking area, but by Primark standards it’s lasted remarkably well.

Each element compliments the rest in a flattering fusion of modern and retro, exaggerated by the old-fashioned charm of a jacket draped over the shoulders, which I’m a sucker for. The feature that effortlessly pulls them together? The white shirt.

Outfit #3

Cashmere jumper – Boden (PR product, similar here) | Trousers – Zara (similar here) | Boots – Boden (PR product, similar here)

From the moment the first leaf hits the floor in autumn my collection of checked trousers make their eager entrance, reluctantly leaving only when signs of spring poke through.

The particular pair in question are a Zara relic that smoothly slot together with my burgundy boots and oatmeal cashmere jumper; the collar and cuffs of the white shirt responsible for a final flourish that encapsulates countryside glamour.

Outfit #4

Skirt – Topshop (similar here) | Shoes – Cow Vintage

I’m not a massive lover of brown in a sartorial sense, but I have some exceptions – two of them being this corduroy miniskirt and vintage boat shoes, which when combined with the swathing sleeves and fancy pattern adorning the white shirt creates an enchanting aura that wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary Shakespeare play.

Outfit #5

Suit – Zara | Shoes – Boden (PR product, similar here)

This Prince of Wales check suit was originally intended for my first big girl job interview, and subsequently well-equipped me for big days at work.

With the addition of some sparkly flats and the gentle flair of a white shirt that has a little more than most to give, it offers up a festive twist that *almost* makes me wish I was back in the office.

Outfit #6

Skirt – Boden (PR product) | Shoes – Boden (PR product)

The navy skirt and velvet shoes were among the first products I chose during my partnership with Boden and I’m still smitten with them. I have no doubt I’ll continue to look forward to stepping into the familiar click of heels and swish of satin as the days draw shorter each year.

For me, the most exciting aspect of fashion is the evolution our clothes undergo; the opportunity to stitch together new amalgamations is endless, and what keeps me rotating and returning to what’s already in my wardrobe.

In this instance the shirt builds on the elegance set by the foundation, while the funky pompom earrings (made for my birthday by my very talented best friend) keep it fun.

Outfit #7

Beret – Mary Benson London (similar here) | Jeans – Boden (PR product, similar here) | Trainers Converse

Arguably the most casual look of all to prove that a good white shirt can hold its own in any situation, and doesn’t have to be instantly associated with workwear or smart occasions.

The same friend that made my groovy pink earrings once told me that she would opt for a bold pair to brighten up a less colourful outfit, and that’s the approach I now try to adopt in terms of accessories.

For example, the wonderful starry beret made by one of my favourite designers is a recent purchase (guess which friend has a matching one?) that gives an otherwise plain look a bit of pizazz.

If you haven’t already checked out Mary Benson’s beautiful up-cycled works of art I urge you to! Her gorgeous dresses, bags and homewear are the stuff dreams are made of. Weaving glittery constellations into made-to-order garments or second hand clothes are her main magical venture.

It may seem trivial to be focusing so heavily on the frivolity of clothes during the current climate, with the shit storm that is 2020 constantly clanging it’s sirens in the background. However, being able to concentrate on an activity that soothes and challenges me, like putting together these lookbooks, is precisely the distraction I need and hopefully will inspire you to succumb to the joy of your hobby if you are in a position to.

Having said that, I’m not trying to be overly productive or encourage anyone else to. Despite the pandemic we live in an era where the constant act of ‘doing’ seems to be held in the highest regard, whereas what many of us need – and one area that this year has made abundantly clear – is to slow down our pace and appreciate what we have.

If there is anything you can find pleasure in during these long, despairing winter days, then take solace in it. But I’m not in the healthiest frame of mind to be churning out posts left right and centre. In fact I’m publishing this days late because I couldn’t muster the strength to get my words out after such a draining run of terrible news.

I’ve been isolating for two weeks after testing positive for Covid-19 – luckily I only had mild symptoms and am fully recovered – and finally set my much anticipated out-of-office status on Thursday evening. Instead of rushing into writing and tackling all personal projects, I have been giving myself room to breath and check in what my mind and body need (and that just so happens to be binge-watching The Crown).

Jokes aside, I have been reading, watching telly to my heart’s content and trying to shake any feeling of guilt that attaches itself to delaying other tasks. I want to feel like I’ve had a break, not just defaulted from one method of working to another.

Whereas switching off at the festive period is usually made easy by the abundance of nights out, party invitations and Christmas gatherings, unfortunately transitioning from self-isolation straight to lockdown and the announcement that practically all plans will be cancelled altogether, isn’t exactly getting me in the mood.

I was going to blessed with six precious days of freedom before Wales closed down on the 27th, but the government’s disgustingly short notice in bringing that forward (approximately 4 hours) was frustrating for me, let alone the businesses that were counting on that extra week of income, or those who live alone.

The same situation has been thrust upon Londoners now cooped up in Tier 4. It’s not the restrictions I’m angry at; I agree they should have been in place from the beginning – it was unreasonable to let us believe we could have anything of a normal Christmas this year and was a mistake to plan to allow such mixing at the height of the crisis.

What has made me and millions of others furious, though, is the pretence that this could be a possibility and the scrapping of it at the last minute. The conditions we are living in under this leadership is flaky and spontaneous, without careful planning or consideration for people’s health and mental health. There is a distinct lack of responsibility to put proper precautions in place well in advance, and we are treated with no respect as those in power repetitively toy with our emotions, which are already at breaking point after so many months of torture.

One reason I was dubious and unconvinced by the notion of a Yuletide relaxation of rules is because no other religion was granted this luxury for their important, holy holiday. There was no special treatment for Eid, so why are those who celebrate Christmas (lots of whom, including myself, do not consider themselves Christian) allowed to break the rules we’ve been committing to in a bid to keep our loved ones safe?

I don’t understand why it was even proposed, but more perilous still is the crushing of hope right in front of us after promising it would happen. The actions are dehumanising and cruel.

The most tormenting facts are the parallels: that it could have been so different, and that probably nothing will change. I hate to be negative, but my resounding understanding is that the same people will continue to get elected only to continue putting this country through hell, while other nations with strong leadership and strategy are pretty much back to normality without worrying for the safety of the population.

Another triggering condolence I have heard circulating is the need to keep separated now to stay healthy and be back together to celebrate in 2021. This just isn’t the case for everyone and isn’t fair on families who have members suffering from illnesses other than coronavirus. I think people forget that problems don’t stop due to the pandemic, and not all of us will be fortunate enough to take Christmas with a certain friend or family member for granted.

You’re probably sat there scratching your head and trying to decipher how this blog so suddenly switched into a rant, and I apologise for my complaining attitude – I just needed to get it off my chest.

I’m determined not to let the disappointments dampen my spirit, while also giving myself an environment to grieve. Instead of getting dressed up to go for cocktails or karaoke, I’ll be slinking into my favourite sparkly dress, blasting party music while doing my makeup and heading downstairs to play board games and sink Prosecco.

And if you need a good laugh: much to my friends’ amusement I’ve been trying to get my hair done via multiple appointments since November, but each time I book one I’m confined to my house or the hairdressers has to close. I’m past the point of exasperation and choosing to find it hilarious, so feel free to have a cheap laugh at my expense! I hope split ends and overgrown roots are the hottest trend of 2021 because I’m already owning it.

More than ever, this is a time to go digging in the depths of our cupboards and cherish the clothes that make us feel our best – that we instantly feel sexy and confident in – and wear them to dance around the kitchen like nobody’s watching.

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