Keep your shirt on

A ubiquitous new fashion phenomenon

This article is taken from the March 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Is it a sign of fashion’s being essentially teenage — or merely human — that it invariably exists in a state of contraction? For, when one thing is happening, so its opposite will also be the case.

Accordingly, we are still witnessing a penchant for quiet luxury, elevated normcore, the extraordinary everyday etc., etc. This translates as a focus on clothes rather than fashion, quality, simplicity, minimalism, monochrome, trousers, trench coats, polo shirts and jeans; staples that spell a certain narrative erasure, plus genuine satisfaction/utter tedium, depending on your point of view.

And, yet, at the same moment, we have romance, Renaissance-core, roses, transparency, tin-foil metallics, craft, and a collective crush on “building worlds” the phrase rolled out as part of the rapturous response to John Galliano’s recent couture show for Maison Margiela.

Yes, the same John Galliano cancelled in 2011 for not-so neo-Nazidom. He’s back and bringing us “a walk through the underbelly of Paris”, his underbelly of choice, complete with body-morphing corsetry, tiered latex, expansive areolae, squirrelish merkins, and a veritable ministry of silly walks.

(Photo by Marc Piasecki/WireImage)

Unless you leave your skirt off, the white shirt anti-trend trend is going to be part of the former vibe rather than the latter. This too was canonised via couture, when Cindy Crawford’s offspring, Kaia Gerber, kicked off Valentino’s Fall 2023 catwalk (above) , not in the traditional gown, but an oversized white cotton shirt. Burberry, Chanel and Dior followed suit on their ready-to-wear runways, the latter boasting white shirts in no fewer than 17 of its looks, at £1.5-£2k a pop.

Victoria Beckham sported one in her Netflix doc to semaphore “low-key” while being ostentatious as fuck, ditto the Prince of Wales’s fam on its Christmas card.

Naomi Campbell showcases her own Naomi X Boss incarnation (£199, on the cover of March Elle with an exhortation to “style out the shirt” while Vogue has decreed: “If you buy one new thing, make it a white shirt.” So ubiquitous a phenomenon is this that even the man I sleep with said: “Oh, right, that white shirt with massive jeans thing everybody’s doing” on inquiring what I would be opining about. So, you know, it’s that obv.

In a world of fashion overkill, some new “-core” vomited forth every second, I get the need for an expressionless void. I basically am an expressionless void. However, in Audrey terms, mine’s the black polo neck of Funny Face’s beatnik rather than the white shirt of Roman Holiday’s patrician on the loose.

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Liaison)

I’ve always fangirled Sharon Stone’s Gap man’s shirt/ritzy skirt Oscars look of 1998, and can entirely see the merits of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s 90s sleek-shirted mode (above). However, if I don a white shirt, I feel drably dull, resembling a put-upon waitress or grey-faced schoolchild.

Maybe they look better on the super beautiful à la the 1988 Lindbergh shoot of future super models disporting themselves on a beach, super thin, super young and/or super blonde. Or maybe I’ve never found an exquisite enough specimen?

This is harder than it seems for the female of the species. Freud was barking up the wrong tree: we don’t have penis envy, we have shirt envy. Former Vogue stylist Pip Durell deployed hers as the impetus for kicking off her modish shirt brand, WNU (With Nothing Underneath), back in 2017, having become frustrated by the lack of decent options.

“I wanted to give the sort of effortless, middle offering that men have always had — quality shirts at an accessible price,” she tells me. A third of WNU’s sales are driven by white takes, with the £95 Boyfriend style a bestseller.

This basic boyfriend is too basic for me. (Read: I am too basic for it.) However, WNU’s Dress Shirt in organic poplin (£150, is chef’s kiss: with its black-tie bib and option of a double cuff. The look is: “I scored some hot piece of city ass, then stole his shirt to cab home,” a look I once lived and still dig. However, if a degree of borrowed-from-the-boyz oversize is an anathema, then seek out ME + EM’s Cotton Bib Detail Crop Shirt (£165,, with its bulk-limiting curtailed waist.

Don your white shirt with a flash of scarlet à la the fashion bitches. I had acquired a Tom Ford-era YSL silk scarf from Vestiaire to be sported in the manner of a post French Rev throat ribbon, only some bastard filched it en route. I declare myself officially miffed.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover