When it comes to shirts, a lot of people take the easy option, straying only from the safe options of plain white and plain blue poplins to buy a pink shirt to ‘subversively’ prove they’re not gay (I’ve got several pink shirts – so there!). There is nothing wrong with plain white and plain blue shirts of course, they are both classics and the mainstay of even the most eccentric man’s wardrobe. However, once the Pandora’s box of shirt patterns, fabrics and colours is opened, a passionate (gay) love affair will begin which even the dullest desk job will find it difficult to dampen.
Now, if you study morning dress in any detail you will see that a popular choice of shirt (both historically and today) is the plain coloured or vertical striped shirt with a contrasting white collar (and cuffs too in many instances). This is a style of shirt that doesn’t really have a name in the UK but which is known as a Winchester in the USA (supposedly it was a favourite style of the gunmaker Oliver Winchester).
The winchester is pretty popular as far as shirt designs go, seeing gainful employment by estate agents and city bastards every day of the week.
I don’t think anything more needs to be said about such shirts. Instead, I want to introduce you to a style of shirt you probably haven’t come across – they certainly don’t sell them in TM Lewin (at least not since 1905). It can be worn in and of itself or as a winchester variation, and, the best thing about it is that it looks remarkably good with morning dress. I am, of course, talking about the horizontal stripe shirt!
The horizontal stripe shirt crops up surprisingly frequently in historical men’s clothing catalogues, caricatures and artists’ impressions, though I have yet to see an actual photograph of someone wearing one in anger (even Edward VIII failed me in this regard!). I can only think that clothing retailers must occasionally think that they are a good idea and experiment with selling them, only to be proved wrong by their shirt buying public. The lastest retailer to undertake this experiment is Ede & Ravenscroft who daringly featured one in their Summer 2010 catalogue. I subsequently bought one half price in their winter sale , presumably after the shirt buying public had vetoed it.
I suppose the conclusion to this rambling post is that, in my opinion, shirts have the potential to give additional interest to an outfit. The trick is judging correctly when this additional interest is required. In the example above, he is wearing quite a sombre black coat and matching waistcoat, so the shirt fits in well, but if you are wearing a bright patterned waistcoat and garish tie then it probably isn’t a good idea. Sometimes a plain white shirt is undoubtably the best option, but I certainly can’t agree with Moss Bros. in their guide to morning dress at ascot brochure when they say:
‘Keep it simple, a white shirt will work with any tie and waistcoat combination. Equally subtle shades are just as appropriate.”
They’re not fundamentally ‘wrong,’ but there is so much more to shirts and morning dress than this. So go ahead – open Pandora’s box, or Gordon Gekko’s, and let the love affair begin!