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Derek Lam white suit
8 months, 25 days ago  |  Get Dressed

The White Stuff

By Gretta Monahan

Fashion has always had at least two masters: what culture tells us to wear (which these days is becoming increasingly — and refreshingly — fine to ignore), and what looks good on us and makes us feel great (because so often, they’re one and the same).

So the question is, when it comes to wearing white, which rules to follow? No color is more fresh, crisp or offhandedly dramatic than white. So if you can pull it off, it’s definitely worth it. Yet it can be downright impossible to wear it in a flattering way on certain body types if it isn’t done right.

Now that it’s after Memorial Day on the East Coast (warmer regions of the country don’t follow that same cultural rule), it’s time to explore that other rule — the one about how you make yourself look and feel great in it.

The tough thing about white is that, even while it’s technically a neutral, it can widen and flatten and do all kinds of hideous things to even the supermodels among us. Here are some ideas about how to wear it right, no matter what your figure’s like.

  • Use it as an important accent or contrast. A white blouse, a wide white stripe on a dress in the right place or even just an unexpected white cuff can make all the difference in an outfit. It can take an entire look from sporty to warm-season sophisticate in the blink of an eye.
  • Tailor it like you mean it. Excellent and precise tailoring on a white linen jacket can have no equal. (As seen on the runway at the recent Stella McCartney shows, where it was done with aplomb.)
  • Long white dresses. White and off-white maxi dresses (especially columns and A-lines) may sound like they conjure up nuptial readiness, but these days, they’re really just whimsical alternatives to the little black dress. Wear them in all their minimalist-design, maxi-statement grandeur to anything from a patio cocktail party (Derek Lam’s and Calvin Klein’s latest collections are worth checking out) to a day at the beach.
  • If it’s a white bottom piece, go for fitted or flowing, not tight. I’ll go ahead and say it: Tight and white bottom pieces can just be too unforgiving. Even people who are 100 percent positive they can pull it off rarely can. So start by making sure it’s made of a material that doesn’t highlight your every flaw. (Unlined white silk is generally not your friend when worn in public.)
  • When it comes to white, you simply have to try it on before buying. I say that about any clothing, but especially whites. This is a case where, even though I know online shopping is forever tempting, you simply have to go to a store and give it a test drive in person (or at least order it, try it on at home and be prepared to return it) and see what it does or doesn’t do for you. Even if that means choosing only a few white pieces, it will set you up for a summer season of effortless elegance.