Me & my white shirt


1 Oct, 2013

Stacey Chia, The Straits Times

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 27, 2013




Why do you love wearing white shirts?

I have over a dozen white shirts. They're so versatile, you can wear them to work, for an evening event and when you're travelling. I have a Dolce and Gabbana shirt that I wore to an evening event with a poufy skirt. I've also worn that very same shirt with a pair of shorts on weekends and on a holiday over my swimsuit.


What do you look for?

I think the quality of the cotton is important. If you get a good quality cotton shirt, it is likely to last you longer. I know for a fact that the Japanese make good cotton and so do the Italians. So I'll usually find out where the cotton is from.


Where do you buy them?

Jil Sander makes really good white shirts. I'm wearing one of them here and the cotton feels really soft against my skin. I also have shirts from Comme des Garcons, Dior and Alberta Ferretti, just to name a few. I don't buy shirts from high-street brands because they don't usually make classic-looking pieces, but shirts that follow trends. I'm willing to spend money on my white shirts because I know they're going to last me a long time. It's like an investment.


This shirt is flared and longer, and I can also wear it with skinny pants. But I also have fitted ones and white shirts that you can tie at your waist for a very Audrey Hepburn vibe.


How do you keep them looking pristine?

All my white shirts are always handwashed so that they don't get damaged in the washing machine. I've never had a white shirt that has gone yellow. I think it's because of the quality of the cotton. My cotton shirts are normally starched and ironed to get that crispness. Dry cleaning may not be the best as the chemicals can be quite strong.


How do you wear them stylishly?

A lot of people wear white shirts with a pencil skirt to work. Wear a nice belt if you don't want to look ordinary. Here, I'm wearing my white shirt with a giant Obi belt from Lanvin. The belt brings interest to the whole thing. You can look very fashionable and chic with just a white shirt and black skirt. A white shirt looks really smart under a blazer with a pair of jeans. I've worn it underneath a cardigan with a scarf. For the rugged look, I've also worn a white shirt with khaki-coloured pants.




Why do you love wearing white shirts?

I wear white shirts at least once a week. They're so versatile. I can wear them with shorts, pants and for an evening out. They're classic and timeless. I love accessories, so wearing a white shirt allows me to show them off better.


What do you look for?

A well-cut shirt that can give me good mileage - that is, one I can wear for an evening out or to work. I have a Carolina Herrera shirt that has dramatic, voluminous sleeves, which I can wear with different bottoms and it looks completely different each time.


Where do you buy them?

Raoul, Carolina Herrera and Valentino. I don't go out looking for white shirts, so when I see one that looks good, I'll buy it. If the shirt is not in my size and I love it enough, I'll buy it and get it altered.


How do you keep them looking pristine?

I am careful with what I eat when I wear a white shirt; definitely no chilli crab. I'll send it to the dry cleaners almost immediately after I wear it so that it does not develop stains.


How do you wear them stylishly?

A white shirt allows me to experiment with a wide range of accessories, such as pearl necklaces and chandelier earrings. I especially love to add a dash of colour against the white backdrop with a delicately tied scarf at the neck or around the waist. One of my favourites is a bright red Valentino scarf that stands out beautifully and instantly makes the outfit more feminine.



Why do you love wearing white shirts?

I have about five white shirts that I wear several times a month. It projects a sense of authority and professionalism. You can never really go wrong with a white shirt. It's like a blank sheet of paper; you can put anything on it and it'll look good.


What do you look for?

That it's reasonably priced. I will not spend more than $200 on one. The shelf life of a cotton shirt is shorter than other pieces of clothing.


Where do you buy them?

Zara and Massimo Dutti. They have well-made shirts that fit me well and are not too expensive. I've never had to alter a shirt from these two places. This shirt that I'm wearing is from Zara. The collar and cuffs are quite thick and they make the shirt look very structured. Because the cuffs are thick, it's easier to fold the sleeves up neatly.


How do you keep them looking pristine?

My mother says hand washing a white shirt with vinegar and water helps to keep it white. If your shirt gets stained, soak it in water first before putting on the stain remover so that as many particles as possible are removed first. It's more effective this way. If you don't wear white shirts often, there's really no point in buying too many. White shirts need to see the sun or they will turn yellow. They're like leather bags; they can't be kept in the dark.


How do you wear them stylishly?

I love wearing a white shirt tucked into a pair of black high-waisted pants. It's a very classy look. Shirts tend to get untucked if you're wearing lower-waisted pants and that is quite unsightly. Victoria's Secret makes a shirt bodysuit for this problem. I have two of them, in black and white, but they're quite troublesome when you have to go to the toilet.



Why do you love wearing white shirts?

I have about 15 white shirts and wear them about two or three times a week. I avoid wearing prints because I don't want to be caught in an awkward situation of being in the same room as someone wearing a shirt with the same print. But no one will say anything if two guys are in white shirts. It's also easy to style. You can add suspenders or ties and each of these items creates a completely different look.


What do you look for?

I try to look for white shirts that have interesting details, such as this one I'm wearing. It's from a Thai label called 4fore and is inspired by a chef's uniform.


Where do you buy them?

I like to buy my shirts when I travel to Bangkok as the cuts are smaller. I also tailor my shirts there because it's much cheaper than in Singapore and you can get the same quality. Uniqlo is good for smaller-sized guys. I also have some kids' shirts that I bought when I visited the United States.


How do you keep them looking pristine?


When I get a stain on my shirt, I would use normal hand soap on it and a toothbrush to scrub it. It works if you don't leave the stain on for too long. For a whole laundry load of whites, mix half a cup of vinegar and three cups of baking soda with your detergent.


How do you wear them stylishly?

I wear them with dark-coloured trousers. If my shirt has a pocket, I would add a dark-coloured pocket square. I would also add a collar pin to make the shirt look different. White shirts are pretty much all the same, so it's all about accessorising.



Why do you love wearing white shirts?

As I usually wear a tie and jacket, a simple white shirt gives me a neutral platform to showcase them without appearing over the top.


What do you look for?

I like those made of superfine pure cotton with a high thread count (typically over 180) as they are ultra-light and soft. The fabric keeps you cool and is perfect for wearing underneath a suit jacket in this climate. Polyester-blend shirts stick to your skin when you perspire. Besides the fit, the style of the collar is the most important element of a shirt. For suit-wearers, the fit of a shirt becomes less of a priority.


Where do you buy them?

I have four which are tailor-made. If you're a guy who can find a shirt off-the-rack that fits you quite well, you're one of the lucky ones. My shoulders are quite high and straight, so off-the-rack shirts usually bunch up along my shoulders. Shirtmakers such as TM Lewin offer good quality, ready-to-wear pieces if you can fit into them.


How do you keep them looking pristine?

I dry clean my delicate dress shirts made of superfine cotton. This saves me a lot of time and effort and prevents them from getting damaged. I go only to this dry cleaner called For The Love Of Laundry. Some people say the chemicals in dry cleaning can be too harsh, so you need to find a good one.


For my less delicate shirts, I wash them with regular liquid body soap when I'm in the shower and gently scrub the cuffs and collar, as those are the main parts that get dirty. Other than that, the body of the shirt doesn't usually get stained. Men who sweat a lot can wear an undershirt to prevent staining.


For my white oxford-cloth shirts, I just dump them into the washing machine. These are extremely hard-wearing and the more you wear and wash them, the more broken-in and comfortable they become.


How do you wear them stylishly?

I keep it simple and I don't accessorise my shirts. James Bond didn't charm the ladies wearing shirts adorned with unnecessary trims, colourful synthetic buttons, contrast buttonholes and fancy floral accents. The emphasis should be on the fact that the shirt is properly cut, made of high-quality cotton and has a good collar.



A white shirt is suitable for many occasions and outfits. Here are some ways to make the most of it:


For women, wear it with a black pencil skirt to work. You can add a cashmere sweater over it for a polished look. Wear it with an embellished skirt for a night out.

Pair your white shirt with distressed denim for a casual and edgy look.

For a smart-casual look for men, wear your white shirt with shorts that are not too baggy. Instead of wearing them with sneakers, try a pair of leather loafers.

To look effortlessly chic, imitate designer Carolina Herrera's style. Prop up your shirt collar and fold the sleeves just until the elbow.

To fold your sleeves neatly, first unbutton the cuffs. Roll up your sleeves in parts according to the width of the cuff until the elbow. Shirts that have thicker cuffs are easier to fold.


The folded-sleeves look is also popular look among men.

Men's shirts often have contrasting colours on the inner cuff.


Clothing retailer Gap has a tip for showing that off. Unbutton the cuff and then make a big fold of the entire sleeve to about three-quarters of the way up your arm. After that, make smaller folds until you reach the cuff, leaving some of the contrasting colour peeking out.




Custom-made shirts will fit you just right and help you stand out from the crowd.




Zann & DennBlock

333 Kreta Ayer Road, 01-19

Home-grown boutique Zann & Denn, which started 16 years ago, offers a comprehensive bespoke service. It makes everything from casual daywear to eveningwear, and only for women.


A tailored white shirt takes three weeks and prices range from $180 to $280, depending on the fabric and design.


To make an appointment, e-mail chuasuzanne@zanndenn. com or call 6312-8936.



CYC The Custom Shop

#02-12 Raffles Hotel Arcade; B1-06 Palais Renaissance; 01-21 Republic Plaza II


Although men still make up a larger proportion of its customer base, CYC The Custom Shop is seeing an increasing number of women getting shirts tailored at its shops, according to Ms Jan Fong, its business development director.


The 78-year-old home-grown bespoke label has been making women's shirts for the last 20 years.


CYC offers a large variety of white fabrics from 100 per cent Egyptian cotton and two-ply cotton to cotton-blends and linen.


Prices for a custom-made white shirt start from $109 and will take about 14 days to make.


Customers who cannot head down to the shop to have their measurements taken can take their own measurements following an online guide available on the CYC website ( index.aspx). Orders can also be processed online.




Iris Tailor

#01-102 Lucky Plaza,tel: 6235-2446



#02-77 Far East Plaza,tel: 6733-3581


Dylan and Son (will start taking orders again in November)


Kevin Seah Bespoke

5 Jalan Kilang, tel: 9188-4681



It is not possible for a white shirt to stay perfectly white forever, but here are some tips from white shirt makers - Carolina Herrera, Raoul, Gap and Anne Fontaine - on keeping it in a good condition for longer.



A white shirt that has been kept in a dark closet for too long will turn yellow. Wear your white shirts at least once a week. If you do not have the opportunity to, simply wash them every week.



If you are out of the house and get a stain on your shirt, clean the spot with water and mild soap immediately. This prevents the stain from setting, so that it is easier to get rid of later on. Follow up with stain remover and leave it on as recommended on the bottle before washing the shirt.



Wash white clothes together. However, if a white shirt is stained, wash it separately, as the stain may transfer onto other shirts.



Use mild detergent when you wash shirts by hand or in the washing machine. Detergent that is too strong may break down the fibres in the cotton shirt and strip the finishing off the fabric. Laundry whiteners may be added to help maintain the white shirt.



Even though it may not look dirty, a white shirt needs to be washed after every single wear. Each time you wear it, sweat and atmospheric gases will get onto it and will eventually result in stains if they are not washed off.



When using a washing machine, use a laundry net so that your white shirt does not get damaged.



If your shirt is looking less than pristine, bleach it with oxygen-based bleach instead of chlorine-based bleach. Chlorine-based bleach will turn cotton-based fabrics yellow with repeated use.



The shirt should be dried outdoors. UV rays help to brighten and whiten clothes.



Make sure all the stains are gone before ironing as the heat will set the stains in the fabric.



A white dress shirt looks best when it is crisp and neatly pressed. Here are some tips on getting that perfectly pressed look, given by Presto Drycleaners, Raoul and Gap:



Steaming may seem easier, but it gives an airy, organic feel, instead of a crisp feel.



Always read the care label on the shirt to figure out what heat setting is best for ironing the shirt. A cool iron will not remove the wrinkles, but one that is too hot will damage the shirt.



It is best to iron the shirt when it is damp, as this will help get the creases and wrinkles out more easily. If it is dry, dampen the shirt, roll it up and let it sit for about 10 minutes so that the shirt absorbs the moisture.



For an extra crisp shirt, spray on some starch that you can buy in the supermarket before ironing. But do not spray on too much as it may cause your shirt to wrinkle more when worn. You can also make your own starch by adding three teaspoons of corn starch to a cup of water. Pour this into a spray bottle for spritzing on the shirt while ironing.



To start ironing, spread the collar out on the ironing board. Move the iron from one end to the other. Then, repeat on the other side.


Place one shoulder of the shirt over the narrow end of the ironing board with the yoke (the panel of fabric located on the back of the shirt right under the shirt collar) facing you. Iron part of the yoke and repeat on the other shoulder.


Flatten the shirt cuff and start by ironing the inside and then the outside. To iron the sleeve, pull the sleeve tight and iron from the cuff to the shoulder. Repeat with the other sleeve.


Iron the rest of the shirt in parts. Lay one side of the shirt on the board with the buttons parallel to the edge. Have the rest hanging off the board. Iron each section from collar to hem. Avoid ironing the buttons as they may get damaged.



An easier option would be to take your shirt to a professional cleaner. Presto Drycleaners has a machine that will press your shirt back into shape. It costs $6 for each shirt.


Footnote: Our outlets are now at #01-06, Fullerton Hotel and #B1-16/17, Capitol Piazza.