A guide to buying the perfect white shirt

From the best weight of cotton for versatility to the exact number of buttons you should have on your cuff, here’s how to style up your button-downs

Is there any garment more humble than the white, button-down shirt? Unassuming, self-effacing and frequently overlooked, these simple shirts may be the foundation of your entire formalwear wardrobe — but most of us don’t give them a second thought.

Enough, we say. Day-in, day-out, we rely on these honest, modest basics — and it’s high time that we started treating them with the reverence and respect of storied shirtmakers such as Turnbull & Asser and Emma Willis. So let’s talk-up the button-down, and explore the four key features you should be looking for next time you need to get white right.

Cotton onto the best material for the job

Choosing a suitable material is arguably the easiest part of this entire process — but still, modern men seem hell bent on experimenting and flaunting fashions that simply don’t work. A white shirt needs to be versatile, and that immediately rules out most materials: linen is too thin, flannel is too thick, corduroy is too casual.

Even silk is a little too showy — we’d steer clear of anything with even an ounce of flounce. The answer, of course, is simple; reliable 120 gram cotton with a poplin weave. The most sought-after style from Jermyn Street shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser is crafted from such a fabric, and they’ve been supplying their shirts to savvy buyers for over a century.

Find a fit that’s a cut above

And so we come to cut. The trick here is to know your own body shape. If you’re lucky enough to be fairly trim, opt for a slim or tailored fit cut. If you’re yet to be beach body-ready, go for a straighter, more classic style.

Emma Willis has this two-step system buttoned-down. Order any shirt from the ready-to-wear collection, and you’ll be asked both your collar size and your fit — the latter category having just two simple options; slim or classic. It’s an ideal way to keep you sitting pretty in that sweet spot between ‘hand-me-down loose’ and ‘button-gapingly tight’.

Save your neck with a versatile collar

This is where things get tricky. There are many, many different types of collar you could opt for — but, as with your choice of material, you should stick to the most versatile. So, while band, wing and Cuban collars may exist, these styles should be nowhere near your everyday white shirts.

Instead, opt for a medium spread collar. With modestly wide points angled outwards and slightly downwards, it’s a collar that looks good with or without a tie — and is the epitome or versatility. Just ensure that your collar isn’t too wide and, if you’re going for a button-down, see to it that the buttons are also white. Which brings us to…

Ensure your finishes are right on the button

The buttons are the finishing touch that, quite literally, bring your whole shirt together. So forget cheap plastics and resins, and instead opt for a quality material such as mother-of-pearl to ensure your shirt stays in top condition for years to come.

Both Emma Willis and Turnbull & Asser use mother-of-pearl to create their buttons, the latter thermally fusing them to ensure they never loosen with wear. And, when it comes to cuffs, two buttons is the ideal number — but we’ll stretch to three at a pinch.

Here are the best to buy...

A guide to buying the perfect white shirt

Turnbull & Asser Two-Fold 120 Cotton Shirt


Buy Now
A guide to buying the perfect white shirt

Emma Willis Supraluxe Cotton Shirt


Buy Now
A guide to buying the perfect white shirt

Turnbull & Asser Tailored Shirt with Kent Collar


Buy Now

You’ve got the basics down, now take a look at the other New Year style resolutions you should be following…

Join the Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse here.

Further Reading