A cursory glance through the archives of fashion reveals just how much the white shirt dress has been favoured over the decades. Crisp and clean, the white shirt dress trend is pure understated sophistication – not feeling the need to shout for attention like its colourful and wildly patterned counterparts, it instead whispers an aesthetic of elegance.
We’ve seen the classic shirt dress worn by icons like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn and reincarnated in various styles by labels including Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. The design is a timeless classic and, while it’s neutral tone lends itself to becoming a versatile wardrobe basic, it's definitely far from boring. This is a piece that can be dressed up or down in a variety of ways to suit all your key occasions.
The contemporary white shirt dress
Think of the white shirt dress and the 50s pin-up look may immediately spring to mind – nipped-in waist, full skirt, Peter Pan collar and puffed sleeves – but today there are so many more styles in this versatile design's considerable repertoire.
The granddad-collar shirt dress has become an increasingly popular choice when considering how to wear the white shirt dress. Offsetting a parachute-like skirt with a structured and buttoned-up collar creates a clean-cut, normcore-referencing finish. Dusan and Veronique Branquinho are both masters of this silhouette. The latter's SS17 collection also included hooded and caped midi-length designs in off-white shades, infusing an aesthetic of fairy tale-inspired romance with plenty of contemporary appeal.
The SS17 collection from Tibi included pieces with open collars and relaxed silhouettes that are ideal for daytime outfitting, while Alberta Ferretti sent its models down the catwalk wearing dreamy shirt dresses with ruffles, lacy trims and transparent panels. Karl Lagerfeld's SS17 show for Chanel featured floor-sweeping versions with plunging necklines, styled with chunky, pearl-encrusted jewellery for a dramatic finish.
The office look
With its crisp collar and pristine, no-nonsense colour, the white shirt dress already means business. Provided you don’t go too short with the hemline, the white shirt dress trend is a failsafe option that's bound to impress at the office.
In colder weather, try layering a simple oversized shirt dress by Thom Browne over a black polo neck, then pile on some gold jewellery for added impact. When the temperatures start to rise and opaque tights can finally be discarded once and for all, a pleated-front shirt dress by MM6 Maison Margiela makes a stylish choice. Long structured sleeves, a high collar and just-above-the-knee hem combine to create a design that's eminently suitable for 9-to-5 dressing. Punchy accessories in vibrant pops of colour create a stand-out finish.
Put that little black dress back on its hanger and consider a little white shirt dress for your night out instead. The white shirt may have a more prim and proper reputation than its darker-hued counterparts, but it can easily be given a nocturnal spin. A layered shirt dress from DSquared2 is a playful option, with open collars and thigh-high hems lending an effortlessly laid-back twist. Wedged espadrilles and a slick of bright crimson lipstick turn this into a positively tropical evening look.
For something a bit more serious, it's got to be the sleeveless shirt dress by Novis. An almost imperceptibly tiny collar, striking black buttons and textured, form-hugging fabric break the traditionally demure mould of the white shirt dress trend. This is a piece that's designed to be taken for negronis and dancing.
If you’re planning a weekend jaunt in the countryside, you won't regret including a shirt dress in your suitcase. It may not be the most sensible attire for a trek across muddy fields but it's ideal for a post-bracing-walk pub lunch.
Take your cue from the piecrust-collar dresses in the AW16 Burberry Brit collection – these designs are worlds away from laid-back beach-inspired styles, pairing perfectly with British-weather-friendly black ankle boots and heavy wool overcoats. Equally, an unfussy lace-up shirt dress by Tome looks just right layered under warm, fuzzy sweaters and mud-splattered wax jackets.
When you're deciding where and how to wear the white shirt dress, it suits other outdoorsy activities too. Give a peplum-waisted flared piece by Givenchy a twirl for watching the polo. The addition of acid-bright heels and a novelty clutch create a look that's quintessentially summery.
There are few things more luxurious than effortlessly pretty loungewear – and the shirt dress makes an excellent example. For borrowed-from-the-boys style with a hint of feminine sensuality, look to classic designs by labels such as Unravel Project, Chanel and Rodarte. These shirt dresses look wonderful paired with thick cashmere socks, oversized dark-rimmed glasses and a pile of Sunday papers.
Alternatively, channel an aesthetic of 1940s-inspired elegance in a silky design. The belted shirt dress by P.A.R.O.S.H. features black piping, a sash waist and pocket detailing to transform the piece into a very sultry, very feminine smoking jacket.