Afew days into my quest for the perfect white shirt (for women), and halfway through a survey of what is available (for men), I realized there is a shirt mafia at work. Aditya Birla Nuvo’s Madura Garments owns/distributes Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Louis Philippe, Esprit and Peter England. Raymond owns Be:, ColorPlus and Park Avenue. The Murjani Group has the upper end sewed up with Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Gucci and FCUK.
Mafia or not, everyone needs a white shirt. The eight or so white shirts I own have only one thing in common (aside from their colour, of course)—they were all bought in the US or Europe.
But surely quality, variety and fit have improved here since I last looked carefully? I’ve done the grimy groundwork so your task will be easier when you want to buy your next white shirt. Before we begin, some statutory warnings: When you go looking for white, you are likely to find purple. Or berry. Or Porpora pink (Gucci’s colour of the season, basically a duller version of fuchsia). Most women’s shirts are Made in China. Ladies, if you are a size S, even if you do find that perfect shirt, they have likely sold out in your size. If you are allergic to pin-tucks and pleats, this is not the season for shirt shopping. As for men—you need to up your understanding of shirt technology if you don’t want to get lost in a maze of terms. And, yes, prices have gone up since you last looked.
Mango is Made in China shirt heaven. The store manager says the whites, browns, pinstripes and off-whites are popular. After a laser sharp round of the racks, I zero in on three beauties. The first one is a casual smocked short-sleeved shirt in mul. It arrived just a few days ago in white, green, purple and maroon, but it is sold out and I can only find a medium in maroon. The torso fits beautifully, but the sleeves droop. Perhaps it is because it is not a small, my regular size. This one costs Rs1,550, and is great if you can fit into it. The label says it is machine wash, but the salesgirl says it is better to handwash—who knows if the colour runs. Luckily, we only want white.
The next one from the MNG Suit range is an empire cut with silver (or gold) stripes. This one has a Chinese collar, mother of pearl buttons, a tiny smock on the cute faux puff sleeves. But the fabric—that has a silken fit, thanks to the 4% elastane—crinkles too much under the chest. At Rs1,950, I expect better. The third one has a sexy big collar, super professional pin-tucks and longer, four button cuffs. It has got the formula down pat (69% cotton, 3% lycra and 28% polyamide) and it fits beautifully. It is part of their limited Penelope and Monica Cruz for MNG range, hence the Rs2,750 tag. I love it.
The fit of their women’s shirts and tops can vary, so don’t lose heart if the first couple of things you try don’t fit you as well as they should—I tried three pieces, one fit but looked small, one fit perfectly and one blouse refused to go over my big head. Be adventurous—steer clear of their hot selling, no-frills shirt. My favourite was a 100% cotton, Rs999 shirt with pin-tucks that were broadly spaced near the neck and narrowed as they marched down.
Park Avenue: This Rs999 shirt is a good staple.
Okay, I’ve already started cheating. There are no shirts here, but we love this store, and it has lots of white. Our pick was easily the pleated yoke shift in pure cotton, with mother-of-pearl buttons for Rs3,250. The sizes are slightly smaller here.
Designer Rajesh Pratap Singh can make a shirt do cartwheels for him. And, luckily for us, white is one of his favourite colours. The Rs3,950 classic cotton with raglan sleeves and lots of detailing was a clear winner.
For Rs2,950, there is a nice looker in satin with mother of pearl buttons and churidaar sleeves with a retro tie-up collar. Innovative, but the extra small was slightly loose and I couldn’t button the collar. All you slim-necked ladies could get luckier; the shirt is available in white, black, gold, chocolate brown and berry.
We zeroed in on an almost-jacket shirt with a long lapel collar and square metal buttons in sturdy stretch cotton. It costs Rs5,950, and even shows off some midriff. Be warned, this designer doesn’t do smalls.
They launched their womenswear line in May. Perhaps that is why the one store in Mumbai that showcases this range exclusively is in suburban Andheri. Delhiites are luckier, that exclusive store is centrally located in Connaught Place. There is a basic white cotton-spandex shirt for Rs1,195, and a self-stripe Dobby weave for Rs1,295. But I couldn’t find these either in an S or XS. The brand even offers a press-button service for cleavage-shy clients.
The white is sold out, so I try on the purple version. It is 72% cotton with 23% polyamide and 5% elastane, puff sleeves and has the new Duchesa bow on the pocket. It fits well, but I am not sure I want to part with Rs30,050.
Esprit has three or so varieties (there is even an Ashish Soni lookalike, except that this one fits me beautifully), but I liked the 100% cotton with a central panel of pleats. It is Made in China, of course, and costs Rs2,800.
There is a cotton Embellish Stitch Shirt (not as bad as it sounds) with a touch of spandex and three button cuffs. It is nice, cheap (Rs895) and sold out in S.
They have three varieties; the three-fourth sleeves cotton shirt with a hint of spandex costs Rs999 and fits like a dream. Best part? It is not Made in China. Though most of Benetton’s goodies are made here and only 2% are imported from Italy.
There is a nicely-shaped slim fit shirt which advertises it is from Calvin Klein Jeans in a discreet, pale grey running hand. It is cotton with that 3% elastane which ensures it clings perfectly, but I found the navy stripe on the inside collar a little distracting. The Made in China shirt costs Rs3,495.
Marks & Spencer
They recently slashed their prices by 35% but their Autograph range for women still seems a little overpriced. They have quite a few white shirts, made mostly in China and Malaysia; the simple, crinkle cotton Made in India with a V-neck collar worked for me. Best part? If you peel back the new Rs790 label, you will find the original Rs1,250 tag.
For Rs875, there’s one that has three-fourth sleeves, self-stripes and a tie-up waist. It’s a bit of a delicate darling, they want you to wash it in a washbag for best results. I know I wouldn’t be able to take care of it. It’s also available in yellow, purple and brown.
I avoided popular department stores such as Westside and Pantaloon. I also avoided lower-priced brands such as Blackberrys. After all, salaries have risen in the past year and the brands featured here depend on our business. The search confirmed a few things: Rajesh Pratap Singh makes beautifully crafted shirts for men and women; you’re always likely to find something at Benetton and Mango; brands that have traditionally focused on menswear are working hard to please their female consumers and they all do nice basics; my wardrobe is still likely to be biased in favour of whites from Banana Republic, The Limited and Express.
Details | Priya Kishore
Bombay Electric’s trendy owner on jazzing up your shirt
If you find the perfect white shirt, you don’t have to do much; just dress it up with a killer ring or bracelet.
If the collar’s nice, show off your bare neck. If you want something around your neck, accessorize with a long necklace; they are hot this season.
White can be accessorized with any colour. It’s a great opportunity to go nuts.
Belt your white kurta or a long shirt high to show off your waist or low, on your hips.
Silver and white complement each other. A fresh contemporary white shirt with antique silver jewellery can be a very modern look.