The Right Way to Wear White

There are so many ways to foul up an achromatic outfit. But when done properly, wearing white is a key ingredient for standing out from the crowd while staying cool in the heat.

No other shade in the color circle is as problematic to wear as white. For starters, it’s easily soiled and nearly impossible to spot clean. How many times have you woken up in the morning, optimistically put on a crisp white shirt and then spilled coffee on it before you even left the house? Into the hamper it goes, and when you do launder it, you must remember that white garments require special treatment and don’t play nicely with others.

Have you ever wondered whether anyone can see the red briefs underneath your white slacks? The answer is yes. Make no mistake: white clothes demand special consideration when it comes to undergarments. People often assume that white intimates work best under white attire, but a better solution is to choose lingerie that matches your skin tone. This ensures modesty while protecting against the dreaded panty line.

White garments are steeped in cultural significance. Clerics, lab techs, doctors, Okinawan priestesses, Santeria initiates, Hindu widows, Muslims performing the Hajj, Buddhists at a funeral, and of course, brides are all known to wear white. And what other color has so many etiquette rules associated with it? Don’t wear white to a wedding unless you’re the bride. Then there’s the chestnut: Never wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.

The truth is, white is just fine any time of year (the etiquette police all retired a century ago). And it really does help you stay cool in the summer. It’s also a graceful way to make a style statement. For an initial foray into white, start with a crisp button-down shirt. Choose a garment that is loosely fitted with a silhouette that matches your curves like the Jake Stretch-Cotton Blouse from Lafayette 148. It pairs perfectly with jeans or cigarette pants.

No need to slip into pumps or a stiff flats. The new footwear neutral is a pair of impeccable white tennis shoes. Everyone from Nike to Balenciaga has their own version, but we love these Prada sneakers with the cartoon-blurb logo. See, style and comfort do go together.

Lafayette 148
Jake Stretch-Cotton Blouse
$378, neimanmarcus.com

Prada
Cartoon Blurb Leather Sneakers
$590, saksfifthavenue.com

For an informal summer event like a barbecue or a concert in the park, try a flowy, easy-to-wear dress, like the boatneck mini from Halston Heritage or the short-sleeved ponte dress from Eileen Fisher.

Halston Heritage
Flowy Boatneck Dress
$295, saksfifthavenue.com

Eileen Fisher
Stretch Ponte Dress
$238, neimanmarcus.com

Texturize your look with a cashmere fringe scarf from White + Warren and a buttery leather tote from Spain’s master atelier, Loewe.

White + Warren
Tassel Triangle Cashmere Scarf
$265, saksfifthavenue.com

Loewe
Hobo Tote Bag
$2,450, saksfifthavenue.com

Casual summer dresses go swimmingly with white kicks, but If you want to dress up your look a bit, slip on these kitten heels from Manolo Blahnik. They add feminity without sacriticing comfort, and are a great substitute for pumps in a casual office setting. They pair perfectly with fitted trousers and a sleek jacket like this set from White House Black Market.

Manolo Blahnik
Patent Leather Crisscross Mules
$625, saksfifthavenue.com

White House Black Market
Ankle Trouser Pants, $89
Single Button Blazer, $160, whitehouseblackmarket.com

If your work setting is really informal, then why wear shoes at all? Add dimension and juvenescence to a white suit with a sandal-sneaker hybrid like the Puma x Fenty Avid Wings sneakers. If it’s casual Friday and you fancy an extra spring in your step, go for the PureBOOST sneakers from Adidas and Stella McCartney.

FENTY Puma x Rihanna
Women’s Avid Cutout Sneakers
$130, bloomingdales.com

Adidas by Stella McCartney
PureBOOST White Sneakers
$180, saksfifthavenue.com

And if it’s altogether too hot outside to even consider wearing a blazer, this poplin shirt-dress from Veronica Beard is sophisticated enough to mean business but relaxed enough for summer with its magnanimous ruching. If you’re going to an event that’s a bit on the formal side, but you want to be sure that no one mistakes you for a runaway bride, avoid any kind of beaded-bodice, princess-cut designs and choose a white dress with an innovative cut like this gorgeous one-shoulder shift from Chiara Boni La Petite Robe. Feminine without being overt, it’s the perfect summer occasion dress. You can glam it up with fringe stilettos from Alaïa or funk it up with cork platforms from Jimmy Choo.

Veronica Beard
Sleeveless Ruched Poplin Shirtdress
$450, bergdorfgoodman.com

Chiara Boni La Petite Robe
Civia One Shoulder Dress
$695, saksfifthavenue.com

Alaïa
Fringe Stiletto Slide Sandals
$1,480, saksfifthavenue.com

Jimmy Choo
Dray Cork Platforms
$550, saksfifthavenue.com

If by now you feel that you’ve mastered the art of the ensemble blanc, then you’re ready for the pièce de résistance. Imagine a white dress so striking that its wearer is guaranteed to capture any room she enters–but its halter-cut has a breezy summer style that feels as casual as a bathing suit. This vision comes to life in a crepe halter gown from Narciso Rodriguez. The halter cut and black trim offer just enough detailing to distinguish you from a bride, but there’s no guarantee that you won’t be mistaken for a goddess.

Narciso Rodriquez
Two-Tone Crepe Halter Gown
$3,695, neimanmarcus.com

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