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How the royal-approved white shirt became the chicest thing to wear in 2023

The Waleses all wore white shirts for their family Christmas card portrait, taken by Josh Shinner
The Waleses all wore white shirts for their family Christmas card portrait, taken by Josh Shinner - JOSH SHINNER/KENSINGTON PALACE

If a single piece of clothing epitomises 2023, it’s the white shirt. You might think that white shirts are hardly anything new – haven’t we all had one for years? Well, yes, but this was the year when the white shirt went from standard wardrobe staple to prized trophy piece fizzing with of-the-moment pzazz, albeit in a whisperingly chic kind of way.

The white shirt moment has been building for months, but it was crystallised at the weekend when the Prince and Princess of Wales and their children all wore them for the portrait chosen to feature on their family Christmas card, taken by Josh Shinner.

Part quintessential matchy-matchy family photo set-up, part sophisticated nod to an icon of preppy glamour, the Waleses’ white shirts look crisp and fresh, emphasised through the black and white finish of the picture.

Given how closely scrutinised their every outfit is, this sartorial decision gives some level of timeless simplicity to the family’s card, although royal style experts have already identified George’s shirt as being from Polo Ralph Lauren (the logo was a giveaway) while Charlotte’s is the “Diana” shirt from Amaia Kids, no doubt named in honour of her late grandmother who was as well known for the frilly blouses she wore in the early 1980s as the mannish shirts she made her own in the mid 1990s. It’s by far the most elegant family Christmas card picture released by William and Kate to date.

Princess Diana in 1997
Princess Diana in 1997 - Stefan Rousseau

“What I love about the card is that it’s a beautiful portrait with no bells and whistles – and isn’t that the best thing about a good shirt?” says Pip Durell, the founder of shirting specialist With Nothing Underneath, a label that has been at the forefront of giving the classic shirt contemporary appeal. “It lets you do the talking. As Diana did before them, choosing a simple shirt means your causes and work are at the forefront of the conversation rather than your sartorial stance.”

Imagining the mood board for the photograph, there will have been a wealth of white shirt references to draw upon from the past six months alone. In October, sales of white shirts soared after Victoria Beckham wore one in Netflix’s Beckham documentary, most notably in the scene where David teased his wife about the car her father drove to collect her from school.

Sales of white shirts soared after Victoria Beckham wore one in Netflix’s Beckham documentary
Sales of white shirts soared after Victoria Beckham wore one in Netflix’s Beckham documentary - Netflix

The Rolls Royce may not have been democratic, but the shirt choice was – you can achieve this look at all points on the price spectrum. There are 107 white shirt options on the Net-a-Porter website, where the style chimes with the e-tailer’s current focus on what it calls the “Extraordinary Everyday”. The most expensive of these cost upwards of £1,000, such as The Row’s £1,160 cotton-poplin shirt. Meanwhile, Marks and Spencer has a selection of white shirts, with prices starting at £15.

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron - Marc Piasecki/WireImage

The white shirt has been promoted by some of the world’s biggest luxury labels this year. At Valentino’s Fall 2023 haute couture show – usually a grand gowns affair – the opening look was Kaia Gerber wearing an oversized white cotton shirt with silk trousers. “It’s all about concealing the effort that achieving simplicity requires,” creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli told Vogue. At Christian Dior, there have been white shirts galore, used as a pared-back counterpoint to skirts both on the catwalk and the front row. Charlize Theron, Maye Musk and Jennifer Lawrence have all demonstrated this approach, exhibiting how it can pack a punch for women of all ages and styles.

Kaia Gerber on the runway for the Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2023/2024 show
Kaia Gerber on the runway for the Valentino Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2023/2024 show - Marc Piasecki/WireImage

The white shirt effect is filtering down to the rest of us. On Depop, searches for button-up shirts have risen by 112 per cent this year and sales have shot up at labels including John Lewis. “I think the pace of fashion at the moment, and life in general, means that shirting has been at the forefront of people’s wardrobes and style choices,” says Durell, who sells 11 varieties of white shirt including the £95 The Classic in white poplin, which is similar to the style worn by the Princess of Wales. “The right shirt looks good on absolutely everyone, and perhaps, most crucially, they can take you from work to the weekend and everything in between – the ultimate investment piece.”

Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Lawrence - Marc Piasecki/WireImage

It might be the item of 2023, but we can trace the way we’re wearing white shirts now back to the 1990s. “The white shirt’s enduring relevance is tied to its versatility,” says Durell. “Creating WNU, I was inspired by women like Princess Diana and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, who both mastered the art of classic style. Be it highlighting a charitable cause in Angola or a black-tie fundraiser dinner, nothing says elegance like a white shirt.”

Maye Musk
Maye Musk - Getty

If Diana remains the modern muse for how to wear the white shirt in a nonchalantly casual way – just tuck into jeans, add ballet flats or loafers and some delicate jewellery and you’re done – then Bessette-Kennedy can be credited with underlining how it could be a transformative eveningwear tool, too.

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in 1999
Timeless style: Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in 1999 - Patrick McMullan/Getty

“The shirt was her magnum opus in simplicity,” writes Sunita Kumar Nair in her new book Carolyn Bessette Kennedy: A Life in Fashion. “Her friends spoke of her instinctive ability to style a shirt in multiple ways: folding both ends of the shirt or making a crisscross; tucking one shirt end into her trousers and leaving the other end out; or unbuttoning the top button down to show her décolletage. There was no end to how Carolyn made the shirt ‘hers’.”

It’s this detail that makes the white shirt so captivating, still. In the wrong hands, it can look dull, school uniform-like and boringly corporate. Done right – and there’s no exact formula for this, I’m afraid – it’s cool, compelling and exudes effortless glamour. Adjusting the cuffs just so, getting the tuck on point and popping the collar to perfection helps; teaming it with pieces which make it sing rather than skulk is essential too. After that, it’s all about carrying with confidence. “They are a canvas for one’s personality,” Durell concludes.

To buy

Women

shirts
shirts

Cotton Forever shirt, £150, ME+EM; Toteme Organic cotton poplin shirt, £230, Net-a-Porter; Linen cotton weave shirt, £100, With Nothing Underneath

shirts
shirts

Oversized cotton shirt, £59, Cos; Organic cotton shirt, £79, Albaray

Men

shirts
shirts

Smart casual weekend Oxford shirt, £125, Pink; Poplin dress shirt, £67, Arket; Flannel shirt, £185, Sunspel

shirts
shirts

Cotton oxford shirt, £25, Marks & Spencer; Brushed cotton shirt, £160, Luca Faloni

Children

shirts
shirts

Cotton shirt, £68, Amaia; Gem shirt, £27.99, Zara; Jersey shirt, from £34, Trotters

shirts
shirts

Featherweight cotton mesh shirt, £79, Ralph Lauren; Heirloom cotton shirt, from £18, John Lewis

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