Far removed from today’s staple as a timeless, versatile garment, the classic white shirt was once affiliated with one’s social status. Revered as a form of ‘armor’ for men who wanted to be identified as business-like professionals, its stiff, triangular collar and the fitted cut was the ideal design for portraying the anatomy of masculinity. Today, we can trace the evolution of its influence, counting all sources from business employees of the 1920s; to the classic Hollywood glamour of Ava Gardner; and the iconic cover for the 100th anniversary of US Vogue. Where the garment was once exclusively reserved for menswear, its contemporary evolution has seen a cultural shift, making it as equally accessible to women. The fashion evolution of white shirts is undeniable.

In the 19th century, fashion was enshrined in social life. Once the white button-down was no longer associated with social status and masculinity, it began to embody a symbol of androgyny, extending to fashion for both men and women alike. Whereas men had utilized the ‘white dress shirt’ for distinct purposes, women made it an iconic fashion statement after that. In the early forties, cultural figures such as Ava Gardner were naturally for the cause in this cultural shift; her tucked in blouse paired with high waisted jeans was a 50’s sensation. Robert Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Patti Smith for her first album, Horses (1975), is also to note. With a look revering her as an androgynous icon, the album became a best-seller, and the men’s white shirt became a fashion must-have for all.

In the ’90s, artists, creative, and communication experts took the white shirt as a paradigm of minimalism, the manifesto of the trend which simplified, cleaned, and reduced. As reflected by the late Vogue Italia Editor in Chief, Franca Sozzani, “many designers brought this approach on runways and in closets: the conceptual style of Martin Margiela, the over-experimentalism of Junya Watanabe, the American minimal, democratic and pragmatic school of Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, the British reply of Burberry and Prada, which set the trend all over the world.”

In addition to that, the Noughties delivered the monastic style of Raf Simons for Jil Sander, the classic Hermès shirt revisited by Gaultier, the eco-friendly and avant-garde attitude of Stella McCartney, and Celine’s purism by Phoebe Philo. With the notion of reinvention lying at the very core of the industry, it comes with little surprise, but all the while admiration, that the classic white shirt continues to be revisited in recent runways. Take inspiration from some of our favorites.