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Though it may keep a low profile, consider the pretty white blouse (or PWB), the younger, cooler cousin of the LBD, the little black dress. They share the same roots and similar timelines, both being insanely versatile wardrobe staples from the early 20th century (Coco Chanel helped give the LBD life in the 1920s, while the PWB was popularized by Hollywood stars like Lauren Bacall in the late ’40s). But a simple white shirt—with endless opportunities for bottoms and accessories—can provide versatility that even a simple black sheath cannot.
All its years from the runway to reality have made the PWB the answer to whatever style quandaries you may have: it can carry you through commutes and meetings, all the way through dinner and into the wee hours of the morning—the only thing that matters is how you style it.
THE BEST . . . BOYFRIEND SHIRT
This oversize shirt is simple—and that’s exactly what it should be. With a rounded hem, front pocket, and dropped shoulders, it looks like it was lifted from the men’s department, but has all the right tailoring for all of your needs. The high-low shape is calling to be left untucked, while the button front can be open to, or down for, any styles you have in mind. Add in some chunky jewelry for extra drama.
A fitted blouse is the main ingredient to any power suit, a no-fuss number that slides easily under whatever jacket, and into any waistline, that you have in your professional arsenal. This sharp blouse from Dolce & Gabbana is proof of all the classic tailoring the Italian house is known for, with pleating on the back ensuring a slim shape. Take advantage of the slightly oblong sleeves and let the cuffs show from the jacket you pair it with.
It’s no stretch to call this the “perfect shirt,” mainly because its fabric does stretch—the cotton-spandex blend will let your body move despite its body-hugging shape. The back seaming and high shoulders are what keep this in fitted territory, though you can play with shapes by layering on thick sweaters when you’re ready to embrace fall.
No need to ruffle your feathers—this lace top fits all your textured needs. With a mock-neck collar and midlength sleeves, it’s got dimension, too, and a shape that’s easy to cater to a wealth of events. Throw on a blazer for an air-conditioning-proof look that can take you from work to play, and use the slight peplum as an excuse to wear the high-waisted, slim-cut bottoms that have been hiding in your closet.
. . . POCKETED BLOUSE
While Reformation might be PWB pros, it’s rare for them to try their hands on a style so work-ready—but so perfect for the weekend, which is what makes this top even more appealing. Cut in a breezy linen, it’s an ideal end-of-summer shirt, a blouse you can wear from the office to the airport without worrying about where to store your sunglasses in between—thanks to its strong square pocket. Tuck into a brightly patterned, midlength skirt when you’re feeling especially seasonal.
With low-yoked shoulders, this pretty white blouse has all the ease of the boyfriend style with none of the slouch. The label, Alex Mill, began with the simple dream of making the perfect men’s shirt—and with this number, it seems they may have created an essential women’s shirt in the process. The charmingly subtle polka dots give it a lively texture that can make office dressing fun, while the lightweight material will keep you cool across all seasons.
. . . BOXY BLOUSE
With a waist-high seam giving this plain white PWB some refreshing detailing, this is a boxy shirt that will make a statement for you. The detailing carries over to your arms, where a thickly cuffed sleeve lets in just the right amount of air, and down to your hips, where the slits free your sides and let the buttons move with you. All together, these factors render this a blouse that’s divine whether its hem is left in or out.
. . . BLOUSE THAT’S ACTUALLY A MEN’S SHIRT
Cut in Italian and Japanese cotton voile, one of the softest materials ever, this Hartford men’s shirt is the stuff of women’s sartorial dreams. Given that it is, actually, a men’s shirt, its fit is amazing: the sleeves are long and wide enough for optimal rolling, but can be left down for lived-in drama; the lightly wrinkled effect and oversize shape gives you an air of relaxation; the button-down front is deserving of being buttoned all the way down. You’ll love it so much you’ll want to take it beyond the PWB, and into PBB—pretty blue blouse (light, Pacific, navy)—territory.
Amazon has a secret treasure trove of basics in its Essentials line, and it’s the best way to test out trends without hurting your style or your wallet. This linen shirt, with its front pocket and short sleeves, will add a dose of beach energy to any outfit, no matter how land-locked you are, while the stiff collar can stay popped on days that require a little bit of emphasis. Plus, the length is long enough for it to serve as a cover-up if you are lucky enough to find yourself near a body of water.
. . . EVERYDAY BLOUSE
Hide your Tide, this is a PWB that you don’t have to worry about stocking up on: organic and sustainably sourced, it won’t kill the environment or your budget if (okay, when) you have to swap it out for a new one. This is the blouse you’re going to want to wear all day, every day—thanks to its looseness, 100% cotton, button-up front and, of course, its versatility. Like any good PWB, it’s appropriate nearly anywhere, from the dive bar down the road to the must-go Michelin restaurant on your list, and, since you’ll have a few extra, you won’t need to worry about life getting in the way—or on your shirt.
Isabel Lord, Contributor