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Sporty cricket whites, minimal no-detail whites or smart pristine tailored versions – anything goes this season really, as long as it’s white. A perennial menswear favourite, the purest shade in the colour wheel is refreshing to wear when the sun shines.
Classic and traditional, white has cemented itself in menswear history – from Oxford cloth button-down shirts to breezy linen suits. For Savile Row tailor Richard James, white conjures colonial England as well as a bygone cool. “The Riviera, certainly . . . Hemingway, poolside, bashing away at a beautiful old Corona typewriter. And cricket, of course, surely the most elegant of English field games,” he says.
But for how much longer should we be sporting this bold non-colour? Too summery for colder climes, do we store it away as the days draw in? Well, no.
Your summer lights can easily become winter whites if you reinvent them as punctuation points for your outfits rather than full-blown statements. White fishermen’s sweaters by Gucci, Ralph Lauren cricket jumpers (£255) and Canali’s cashmere polo necks (£395) will remain on trend this winter too, if worn beneath a darker coat or jacket.
As for the choice of shirt or even T-shirts, well that’s fairly simple, too: white, of course. McQ by Alexander McQueen has bomber jackets in winter white (£810) that will look great come springtime worn with slim-leg jeans by Dsquared or Paul Smith and pure-glow trainers by Marc Jacobs or Christian Louboutin. These are all from the autumn collections and will keep you going for at least a year.
Patrick Grant, designer and owner of E Tautz and Norton & Sons on London’s Savile Row, recommends a list of new-season purchases including a classic white poplin shirt, flannels, a piqué top, trainers, white jeans and a white suit.
Whether it is the tail-end of this season or making the transition into the next, the same rules apply – mainly avoiding head-to-toe looks. “The only way to wear it is sparingly,” says Grant. “I would say never wear more than one white piece per outfit, and wear it with a contrasting dark, or saturated colour, or a strong print. It is very easy to get it wrong and look like a dodgy cruise-line crooner.”
Mei Chung, menswear buyer for Browns, says: “A white shirt can be worn throughout the year; a white trainer also. You can always layer pieces around it so it doesn’t appear too bold.”
As for keeping it looking pristine, the consensus among experts is to avoid getting it dirty in the first place (naturally), don’t dry clean and, if possible, go for a boil wash (see below for more cleaning tips).
But why bother if it is so difficult to maintain? “It is worth it,” says Damien Paul, head of menswear at matchesfashion.com. “Wearing white feels classic yet modern, and gives an air of natural sophistication to any outfit. For me it has an enduring timeless appeal. It can transform someone’s look and make them appear more polished, masculine, and yet less premeditated.”
The key is: always look whiter than white for the desired effect. After all, if Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1995) had come out of the lake in a dull grey, rather than a true white, shirt, would he have made the same impact?
Wash and go: How to care for your whites
“I’d recommend rotating the wear of your white clothes,” says Jason Basmajian, creative director of Gieves & Hawkes.
“A good clean with a brush and sponge is preferable to constant dry cleaning, which irreparably damages the fibres of the cloth.”
Savile Row tailor Richard James advises: “If you are machine washing, do so at a high temperature. Quick 30-degree washes will dull white’s intensity.”
If, over time, your whites do begin to lose their lustre, Nick Ashley, creative director for English menswear label Private White VC, has a suggestion: “Turn them another colour with a Dylon washing-machine dye.”
Stockists in this article and this week’s other Style articles
Top photograph: Ali Khan