Sure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.
I would guess that 60% of my closet — if not more — is black. White appears far less frequently — but even I love to herald the beginning of spring by buying a few new white tops every year, and (if they’ve held up well enough), pulling out old favorites from previous years. The white blouse, of course, is a classic — but sometimes you want something that isn’t quite as fussy or as formal as a blouse with collars or buttons. (If you’re on the hunt for a basic button-front blouse, a silky collared blouse, or a basic tee or shell to wear beneath a suit, check out our latest roundups on those topics.) I never know what to call these items (tops? shirts? white non-blouses?) but I do think they’re something that makes every outfit more versatile — and can be an easy way to take your more formal suits away from the dreaded “I’ve got a secret interview today” territory. Of course I am on #teamwhitecamisole as well, but that’s me…
In my mind, white tops break down into basic general categories, which I’ll lay out below…. I’ll note at the outset that a lot of these tops come in colors other than white, which show the details FAR better than the white versions, at least online. In fact, the very fact that there IS a white option may be hidden because the color doesn’t show up against your screen — so use the dropdown color picker menu if in doubt (screenshot of what I mean here).
The Slightly Fancy White Tee
These shirts — usually in jersey or some other t-shirt like material — have a few great details that elevate them from your basic white t-shirt. The details are usually near the neck — but sometimes also down the back or at the hem; the material may also be different or nicer in some way than your usual t-shirt. Pro: these can be easy to care for, and if you have fit problems because of your bust/waist ratio, these can be easier to wear than a button-front shirt. Cons: opacity can be a problem, and some details (like a sheer shoulder like the lace one below) may give you pause for your office or wardrobe. (For my $.02 I think they look lovely as a layering piece, particularly beneath a blazer – I just layer a camisole beneath them and a regular nude-for-me bra.)
- Pictured: Lafayette 148 New York (very similar at Limited),Milly, Halogen, Boss
- Regular sizes: Brooks Brothers, J.Crew (flutter hem), Limited (envelope neck), Uniqlo, Lands’ End (split neck), Halogen (lace shoulder), H&M, Lafayette 148 New York, Milly, Boss, Zappos/Aventura
- Petites: Lands’ End (lace trim), Limited (envelope neck), Dorothy Perkins (funnel neck), Loft (henley), Loft (lace-trim neckline), Talbots (roll-tab sleeves), Talbots (portrait collar), Halogen (lace shoulder)
- Plus: Lands’ End (tunic), Talbots (roll-tab sleeves), Talbots (portrait collar), Eloquii (asymmetrical peplum)
- Tall: Limited (envelope neck)
- Cusp sizes (16-18): Nordstrom Collection (pintuck pleats)
- Maternity sizes*: Target/Liz Lange (crochet detail), Loft (lace yoke), Ingrid & Isabel® (cowl neck), Rosie Pope (henley), Michael Stars (drape neck), Michael Stars (shirring), Isabella Oliver (drop hem), Loft (s/s), Maternal America (chiffon yoke),
The Blouse Tee
These tops are shaped like a tee (and are usually pullovers), but usually made from a blousy material. They can look nice and crisp, but can be high maintenance (e.g., required dry cleaning or ironing). They also can cross into the “too informal” category pretty easily.
- Pictured: Nordstrom Collection, Lush, Uniqlo, Banana Republic
- Regular sizes: Uniqlo, Last Call / Rebecca Taylor (lattice trim), Banana Republic (split neck / pleating) Nordstrom Collection (pintuck pleat), CeCe by Cynthia Steffe,
- Petites: Lands’ End (lace trim), Loft (melange knit), Talbots (rayon blend v-neck)
- Plus: Talbots (rayon blend v-neck)
- Tall: Ann Taylor (boatneck)
- Cusp sizes (16-18): Pleione (scoopneck), Bobeau (bell sleeve), Lafayette 148 New York (silk notched neck)
- Maternity sizes*: Loft (drapey cap-sleeve), Ripe (cross-front), Lilac Maternity (faux wrap), Isabella Oliver (viscose scoopneck)
The White Knit Short-Sleeved Sweater
These can be difficult to find online — so when you see them in the store at places like Ann Taylor or Banana Republic, do stock up! Pros: they’re definitely fancier than a t-shirt material, and sometimes more opaque (be on the safe side here and wear a camisole and nude-for-you bra the first time, though). Cons: they may need extra care in the laundry, or they may fade or look “dirty” too soon.
- Pictured: 1.State, Ann Taylor (also in coral), Kate Spade (also in black and light blue), Theory (also in black)
- Regular sizes: 1.State, J.Crew (cashmere), Boss (silk tape trim), Kate Spade, Matches / JW Anderson, Ann Taylor, FarFetch/Givenchy, Theory
- Petites: Ann Taylor (mock neck), Ann Taylor
- Tall: Ann Taylor
- Cusp sizes (16-18): Ann Taylor (mock neck)
The Non-Blousy Blouse
I normally think of a blouse as having buttons and/or a collar — these tops lack that, but they definitely still feel like a blouse in formality, usually because of their material. These can be a more modern option, as well as being easier to fit if gaping is a problem… but they can be harder to care for and be more sheer.
- Pictured: Ted Baker, Halogen (regular sizes too and lots of patterns/colors), Last Call / BCBG, Boss
- Regular sizes: Ted Baker, Target/Mossimo (v-neck / convertible sleeves), Last Call / Michael Kors (split neck), Last Call / BCBG (asymmetrical), Talbots (lace sleeve insets), Boss (keyhole neck), Pleione (short-sleeve), T Tahari (roll sleeve), Halogen (v-neck), Lafayette 148 New York (split neck, short sleeve), Lafayette 148 New York (split neck, 3/4 sleeve)
- Petites: Dorothy Perkins (roll sleeves / pocket), Loft (seam detail), Talbots (ruched wrap), NYDJ (henley), Nordstrom/Halogen (drop-stitch inserts), Talbots (lace sleeve insets)
- Plus: Halogen, Talbots (ruched wrap), Eloquii (cinched waist), Sejour (satin neckline trim), Nordstrom/Halogen (drop-stitch inserts), NYDJ (henley with pocket), Junarose (placket pleats), Talbots (lace sleeve insets), NYDJ (polka-dotted),
- Tall: Dorothy Perkins (two front pockets), Long Tall Sally (front tie detail), Limited (crepe v-neck / concealed placket), Limited (tie wrap shirt), ASOS (crepe wrap-front), Limited (crepe boatneck)
- Cusp sizes (16-18): Nordstrom/Halogen (drop-stitch inserts), T Tahari (roll-sleeve v-neck), Vince Camuto (center pleat), Classiques Entier (pleat-front keyhole), Lafayette 148 New York (split neck, 3/4 sleeve)
- Maternity sizes*: Target / Liz Lange (tie waist), Eva Alexander (wrap / tie waist), Rosie Pope (drapey sleeves), Hatch (overlapping pleats)
The Casual/Feminine Blouse
These are blouses that may have buttons up the front and/or a collar — but there’s something about it that makes it more feminine, such as a burnout pattern (like the polka dots below), a peplum detail, eyelet/lace, a wrap effect, or an unusual fabric (like the jersey one we featured a while ago from Anne Fontaine). If you work in a very conservative office and are striving to add more feminine details to your workwear, start here because it’s hard to go wrong (beyond wrinkles/sheerness/etc) — for all but the most formal of occasions they’re appropriate, and an easy, chic addition to your wardrobe that goes with everything else.
- Pictured: Foxcroft, Theory, Alice + Olivia, Anthropologie,
- Regular sizes: Anthropologie, Madewell (ruffle hem), Last Call / DvF (lace-trim split neck), Boss (mandarin collar / darts), Foxcroft (polka dots), Theory, Kut from the Kloth (lace, know your office!)
- Petites: Loft (pintucked split neck), Foxcroft (polka dots), Anthropologie,
- Plus: Basler (ruffle at neck), Eileen Fisher (mandarin collar)
- Tall: J.Crew (ruffles)
- Cusp sizes (16-18): Foxcroft (polka dots),
- Maternity sizes*: Isabella Oliver (tie front), Isabella Oliver (pleat-front tunic)
The White Shell
This can be a huge category — or a very narrow one if going sleeveless isn’t appropriate at your office. To be honest, unless you wear a lot of cardigans or washable blazers, I’d avoid these tops in general — I always think it’s better to wear a sleeved layer beneath a blazer, if only to make trips to the dry cleaner more minimal (not only is it expensive, but it can be really hard on clothes too). I think they can work best with cardigans because you don’t get that line on your arm where your sleeve ends — but if you’re going for bang for your buck, I’d stick with sleeved options. Still, if you’re on the hunt, here are a few cute ones:
- Pictured: Halogen (twist detail, also in black), Theory, Halogen (available in seven other colors), Trouvé (silk, available in 6 other colors/patterns)
- Regular sizes: Classiques Entier (stretch silk), Banana Republic (tweed), Banana Republic (ruffle), Limited, Modcloth, Talbots (knot detail), Halogen (double V shell), Halogen (twist detail), Halogen (drape neck), 1.State (peplum, also available in navy and red), Loft (lace yoke), Theory, Vince Camuto, Elie Tahari (stretch silk), Classiques Entier (mixed media),
- Petites: Classiques Entier (stretch silk), Nordstrom/Halogen (cowl), Nic + Zoe (neckline pleats), Halogen (twist detail), Halogen (double V shell), Talbots (knot detail), Loft (lace yoke), Nic + Zoe (ruffle detail),
- Plus: Nordstrom/Halogen (drape neck), Eloquii (v-neck cutout), Nic + Zoe (neckline pleats), Mynt 1792 (contrast trim), Halogen (twist detail), Talbots (knot detail), Halogen (double V shell), Ellen Tracy (pleat-front keyhole)
- Tall: Ann Taylor (peplum), Limited (pleat front)
- Maternity sizes*: Target / Ma Cherie (crochet details)
This is a huge category (and this was a big of a runaway post!) — but what categories am I missing? What white tops do you need in your wardrobe, or have proven themselves to be real workhorses? How do you guys like to make your work outfits more springlike?
* Hunting for maternity sizes? Don’t forget to check out our Guide to Maternity Shopping for Work and our Guide to Dressing Professionally While Pregnant.
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