The classic white shirt has long been a wardrobe staple, and with good reason. Popularised by stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, it continues to be worn by fashionistas, with Olivia Palermo and Victoria Beckham two of its most enthusiastic proponents. Its versatility is testament to its enduring appeal and the options for reinvention and creativity are multiple.
Crisp, classic cotton shirts are perfect for the office, while silk or oversized pieces can be dressed up with accessories for an evening. Detailing, such as fringing, broderie anglaise or ruffles (very S/S 2018), can elevate the modest shirt into a feature item. Dressed up or down, this humble garment injects elegance into any outfit.
Our shirt shortlist includes pieces for all occasions. Not everyone wants to advertise their choice of brassiere to the world, so we’ve considered the transparency of each of these shirts to ensure your modesty is preserved, along with any defining features, such as material, cut and embellishment.
And, remember: you can never have too many.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Beaumont Organic Stephanie Organic Cotton Shirt in White: £120, Beaumont Organic
This beautiful piece by Beaumont Organic is everything we want from a white shirt. Made from high quality, 100 per cent organic cotton, with a stylish, relaxed fit, it would complement a long skirt, skinny jeans or loose trousers. Featuring two wide pockets and a curved hem, this shirt has three-quarter length sleeves that would be perfect for warmer days ahead. While it’s a bit pricier than other shirts on this list, it has been ethically made in family-run organisations in Portugal offering fair wages and safe, secure working conditions. A timeless shirt that’s worth splashing out on.
Next White Perfect Shirt: £24, Next
The Next White Perfect Shirt does exactly what it says on the tin. This 100 per cent cotton piece is thick enough not to reveal your underwear and would work well with a pencil skirt and jacket for a more formal workwear look. It’s true to size and machine washable, making it an easy garment to care for. Available in an inclusive range of sizes (6-22) that more designers would do well to take note of, this is a shirt for everyone. According to the website, Next offers more than 200 other white shirts, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. The price also means you can buy more than one. Win!
Arket Oxford Dress Shirt: £45, Arket
Cut in a slightly slimmer fit from a dense and smooth Oxford cloth, this shirt is thick enough to hide your lingerie, but tight around the chest. It comes up quite small, so it's worth going up a size, although women with a size 38 chest or upwards may find that this shirt simply can't accommodate them. This is a shame, as the shirt is a good one: quality material, with a rounded hem, resulting in a classic look. For more petite women, this would be an ideal choice.
Hobbs Victoria Shirt: £69, Hobbs
It’s no great surprise that this popular high street shop has delivered a quintessential white shirt. This chic offering is fitted for a streamlined and flattering finish. A hint of elastane provides a degree of “give” that can accommodate that extra slice of cake you ate this afternoon. The material is of a good quality and thick enough to prevent your underwear being visible. It’s a good length and comes in a reasonable range of sizes (6-18) for the high street. Perfect for the office or for a preppie look, this shirt doesn’t break from tradition – and it’s a glorious thing.
Zara Oversized Shirt with Contrasting Topstitching: £25.99, Zara
Oversized, with black stitching embellishment around the large and wide cuffs and horizontal line on the upper back, this shirt is made from ecologically grown cotton as part of Zara’s Join Life sustainability programme, which claims to respect workers and the environment. Double-breast pockets and a low collar add to the informal and high fashion feel of this shirt. A great choice for trend-led consumers.
Marks & Spencer Pure Silk 3/4 Sleeve Shirt: £69, M&S
While this shirt is advertised as being soft white in colour, it’s actually closer to cream, something our reviewer felt was more flattering. Despite being made from 100 per cent silk, making it incredibly soft to the touch, it’s also machine washable at 30 degrees, meaning it’s not at risk of gathering dust at the back of your wardrobe while you summon the willpower to visit your dry cleaner. With three-quarter length sleeves, this relaxed piece is perfect for the weekend. It is quite sheer, but it’s worth considering a statement bra or crop top to wear underneath. Those seeking more coverage would do well to invest in a camisole.
Kin Oversized Shirt by John Lewis: £65, John Lewis
The new Kin range by John Lewis is inspired by Japanese and Scandinavian cultures and this oversized shirt fits the bill. From the front, the cut appears slightly boxy, but features an extended dropped hem at the back. The garment came up quite large on our reviewer, so it might be worth considering a smaller size, should you prefer. Featuring a functional pocket and collared neckline, the quality of this shirt is high, though the fabric is more sheer than some, so your underwear is invisible through the material.
The Verdict: White shirts
While not fitting the traditional description of a classic white shirt, the Beaumont Organic garment was our favourite by far. Soft, stylish and ethically sound, this shirt was the one we wanted to wear home.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.