white shirts for men

The best white shirts for men: From formal dress shirts to casual, button-down Oxfords

22 May 2024 | |By Luxury London

Because every successful outfit begins with a (bright) white shirt

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The white shirt might constitute the bedrock of every man’s wardrobe today, but, according to sartorial historians, until the closing stages of the 19th century, wearing an exposed shirt – that is to say, a shirt that wasn’t concealed behind a waistcoat or tunic – was the very definition of a fashion faux pas. Not until the turn of 20th century, say people that have looked into the matter, did it become socially acceptable for men of proper standing to wear shirts as anything other than undergarments. How times change.  

These days, you’d never dream of turning up to an interview, or walking down the aisle, in anything but a shirt. Well, you might. But good luck with landing that job. Or impressing the missus. In the past century, the shirt has morphed into the most utilitarian garment in menswear – with London’s Jermyn Street emerging as Mecca for all things men’s (and, indeed, women’s) shirting.

Whatever the function, whatever the formality, from boardroom to bar, from barbecue to burger joint, and all manner of other situations that don’t begin with ‘b’, a good shirt covers all the bases. And the King of the Shirt? The clean, crisp (bright) white shirt, of course.

Stock your wardrobe with at least one decent dress, formal and casual white shirt and you have the starting point for literally any outfit and any occasion that life can throw at you. Start by investing in the classics…

The best button-down Oxford shirts

A titbit of sartorial trivia: the ‘Oxford’ in ‘Oxford shirt’ has nothing to do with the turreted university county city. Instead, it has everything to do with the weave of the cloth from which it is made. In the late 19th century, a mill in Scotland started experimenting with different weave and warp techniques. They came up with four new types of cloth, which they named after famous universities: Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford.

Originally, ‘Oxford shirts’ did not sport button-down collars. Towards the turn of the century, it was English polo players who began fastening down their collars so they wouldn’t flap in their faces during chukkas. It is John Brooks, of the famous Brooks Brothers (America’s oldest menswear outfitter), who’s said to have invented the Oxford shirt as we know it today, after he noted the polo player’s nifty tailoring trick while on a trip to England in the late 1890s. Oxford shirts are made from threads that have been ‘basket’ woven together, resulting in a heavier, rougher, more durable cloth. Keep it casual with an open neck, or dress things up by adding a tie.

Brooks Brothers Friday Sport Shirt

If you’re looking for a classic white Oxford cloth button-down shirt (OCBD), why not look to the brand that invented the thing? Still, arguably, the best collar roll in the business.

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Drake’s White Oxford Cloth Button-Down Shirt

With an Oxford button-down shirt it’s all about the collar roll. And Drake’s has gotten its down to a T. Elsewhere, a patch chest pocket provides a handy home for both reading glasses and a pen.

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Gant Pinpoint Oxford Shirt

Featuring Gant’s minimal logo embroidered on the chest, this classic Oxford is made from a tighter-weave pinpoint cotton – a good way to dress up a smart-casual look.

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Polo Ralph Lauren Custom Fit Oxford Shirt

There’s a reason this shirt is one of the best-selling on the planet. Just as at home around the swimming pool as it is in the boardroom.

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The best formal shirts for work

Cuffs, cut, collar. That’s what differentiates casual shirts from formal shirts. Of course, it’s possible to find poplin cotton shirts (that’s shirts with a tighter, lighter, glossier weave) with button-down collars and buttons on the cuffs. But they never pair quite as elegantly with a suit, or separates, as a shirt with cufflinks and a spread collar.

Style guides would suggest that the narrow-faced among us should opt for a semi-spread or cutaway collar; whereas those in possession of a rounder face should plumb for a point collar. We’ll leave it up to you to decide how much attention you pay to such advice. The cut should be slim, however – although never splitting-at-the-seams tight. And avoid anything with pockets. They belong on Oxford shirts.   

Thomas Pink Classic Fit Ramses Poplin Shirt

It was the biggest name in men’s shirts in the Nineties. Now, Thomas Pink is back – to remind you of the confidence-boosting potential of power dressing.

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Emma Willis White Cotton-Poplin Shirt

The Rolls-Royce of English shirtmakers, stationed, appropriately enough, on Jermyn Street. As you’d expect, this Emma Willis shirt is constructed from the finest cotton-poplin and finished with mother-of-pearl buttons.

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Brioni white cotton polin shirt

Crisp, clean, sharp and with a smooth texture, this lightweight white work shirt from Brioni demonstrates how, when it comes to formal shirts, you just can’t beat poplin cotton.

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Turnbull & Asser Cotton Shirt

It doesn’t come much more classic than Turnbull & Asser’s cotton shirt – hand sewn in the fabled company’s factory in Gloucester.

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The best dress shirts 

Many a black tie outfit has been ruined by the wrong type of shirt. If you’ve been invited to an event or occasion that requires you to wear eveningwear, best to invest in a proper dress shirt. What’s the difference between a formal shirt (a shirt that you might wear to work) and a dress shirt (a shirt that you most definitely wouldn’t wear to work)? Materials, essentially, and what’s going on in the space below your chin.

Dress shirts are typically thicker and more robust than work shirts. They will also feature some sort of decorative detail in the bib – the bit between the lapels of your jacket. There are two options to go for here, either a dimpled, waffle-like piqué or Marcella fabric (ostensibly the same thing today), or a pleated/ruffled pattern that’s a tad more traditional, but rather more flamboyant. Wing-tip collars have been growing in popularity, but customarily they are for white-tie occasions. We’d suggest turndown collars. And French cuffs, naturally – where the fabric is folded back on itself and fastened with cufflinks.

Eton Shirts White Plissé Tuxedo Shirt

Cutaway collar? Check. French cuffs? Check. Patterned front? Check. Black tie ready? Check. Check. Check.

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Favourbrook White Poplin Pleated Pintuck Dress Shirt

If in doubt, turn to Favourbrook. An authority on all things eveningwear, the English outfitter’s dress shirt is a lesson in the finer details of elegant dressing.

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Tom Ford pintuck tuxedo shirt

There’s a reason why this American designer rules the red carpet whenever award season rolls in. Tom Ford doesn’t put a foot wrong.

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Mr P. Bib-Front Tuxedo Shirt

OK, so we said go pique or pleated, but sometimes plain packs a punch. As long as it’s as crisp and clean as this shirt from Mr P.

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