An Easy-Breezy Letter from The Classic White Shirt

Even with all its flaws, a white shirt remains the simplest symbol of casual grace and sophistication for both males and females.

When I’ve worn a white linen shirt, I’ve always had sambar rice or something with tomato sauce for lunch. By pure chance, every time I’ve handled a glass of red wine, my shirt has always been white. My shirt has been white every time I’ve had to replace a flat tyre, climb a fence, hug a tree, stand next to someone brandishing an exposed pen, traveling on a rainy day, immerse a sushi roll into soy sauce, or devour a drippy gulab jamun.

What happened in each of these examples is rather obvious, but what is remarkable is that a white shirt has an uncanny propensity to attract spillage, grease, or an accidental paintball shot. Whatever you do or where you are, if your shirt is white, a spill or stain is just around the corner.

I shudder as I walk through a buffet, anticipating a spoon full of dal tadka to land on me.

When we were compelled to wear mens white linen shirts on Saturdays at school, the nib my fountain pen leaked—as they usually do when held in the pocket of a white shirt.

Observations over several years have revealed that my white shirt never finishes a day without at least one foreign and unwanted splotch on it. My white shirt touched up against a drop of coffee that had been dropped by someone else on a table earlier a little ago—incredible.

Conversations with friends have revealed that my love-and-scrub relationship with white is not rare or peculiar to me. According to a mate, he spilled palak paneer while dining at a wedding event, and while the paneer rolled off the plate and fell on his shoes, the palak piece found its way to his white shirt through his jacket—once again, astonishing.

So why do we deal with it? For added protection, we add a layer of translucent raincoat over a clean white shirt if it’s raining. Bikers wear hoodies in the harshest summers to keep their white shirts from gathering dust on the road. So what is it about the white shirt that makes them so indispensable?

For one thing, it just never goes out of style, Arrow, Arvind Fashions’ American menswear label, recently released “the classic white shirt” as an element of its spring/summer 2021 collection. This was inspired by the original Arrow white shirt, which was introduced over a decade ago.

White is regarded as sophisticated—its link with classiness dates back to late-nineteenth-century England and America when summertime white was a symbol of luxury and thus a province of the wealthy people. White was not suggested for the working class since it stains easily.

It is widely assumed that white reflects heat, making you feel cooler and making it a perfect summer color. It “matches” with almost anything you’re wearing, whether it’s pink pants or lavender shorts. It also draws less attention, is easier on the eyes, and requires minimal time investment before purchasing—every self-respecting company makes white shirts.

White is also related to the integrity of character and cleanliness, which is the main reason our politicians prefer to wear it. A colleague of former FBI Director Robert Mueller reported in The New Yorker magazine that, “He is so upright, that he constantly wears a white shirt.” He is aware that he is a public person, and he does not want to do anything to jeopardize his integrity. Even a blue shirt will do.

Perspiration spots on colored garments are not the most pleasant look when walking into a meeting. It’s also one of the main reasons Wimbledon has a stringent white-only code for tennis players, considering “the sight of sweating through clothing was thought unsightly, especially for women” when the rule was imposed in the 1800s. Tennis was also a summer sport for the wealthy, thus they wore white.

The downsides of wearing whites are clear as well, with the biggest one being the attraction to dirt. You just cannot wear them during the downpour season and expect to stroll unaffected by a pothole, an awning, or a tree. If you’ve been out and about in a humid, sticky location like Mumbai, chances are you’ll return home looking like Mandakini.

However, a revolution is already underway to address these minor flaws.

An Australian clothing business claims to be producing stain-resistant cotton shirts. According to a review, thread-smiths utilize “hydrophobic” materials, which are some type of microscopic covering that sits closer together than water molecules, preventing liquids from sticking to the strands of the cloth.

Arrow’s shirts, according to a news release, have cuffs and inner collar that is stain-resistant and wrinkle-resistant, making them appropriate for frequent wear.

All of these improvements would be useful because I’ve been suggested hundreds of remedial remedies for making white become whiter over the years, including soda, salt, bleach, lemon, white wine on red wine, stain removers, and the regular old laundry machine. Robin Blue was a popular horse in the past, but there was a risk of serious consequences. It had to be combined precisely or your shirt would turn, well, blue.

Even with all its flaws, a white shirt persists as the most simplistic symbol of casual style and sophistication for both males and females. That is why every one of us has more than one of them. Brunch attire in well-heeled urban parties is white or light-colored slacks and linen shirts.

One of the main reasons cricket Test matches are more entertaining to watch than one-day matches is because of the whites; their contrast against the lush green of the grounds makes them more visually appealing and the players more gentlemanly. The stains on the garment also indicate how hard a fielder has tried—in the past, Indian cricketers would not dive much since their laundry bills would skyrocket.

I have the highest regard for a man who concludes the day with no stains on his white shirt. It exudes sophistication and style. And maybe he didn’t travel much during the day?

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