Style Advice
From American Oxford to Giza 87: in search of the perfect white shirt
By Aleks Cvetkovic
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Truth be told, I’m probably not the best journalist to take on this particular column. I used to endure a painful love/hate relationship with the white shirt.

When you’re in the right frame of mind, there’s nothing more satisfying than the simple reassurance of tactile white cotton – the perfect blank canvas around which to dress up – but if, like me, you gravitate towards colour and pattern more than understatement in your clothing, a white shirt can sometimes feel a little uninspired.

Over the years, I’ve made a point of wearing anything other than a white shirt. Fuchsia butcher’s stripes, hot orange Bengal stripes, tattersall, leaf green gingham, I’ve been through the lot – always in an attempt to look more interesting and more ‘put together’ than my entirely un-dyed colleagues.

Discovering the plain white ‘OCBD’ changed that. I first tried one when I got a job as an editorial assistant, and realised that walking into a brand new office in pearlised purple poplin might perhaps be a touch too brave. I’ve since come to love white shirts, particularly in Oxford cloth. In fact, I’d say the timeless white Oxford button-down claims the supreme title of “the most versatile shirt you can own, ever”. It lends itself to shirts that are preppy, unassuming and which sit beneath everything from a suit to a sweatshirt with the minimum of fuss. The cloth itself is wonderfully tactile, resists creasing and only improves as it’s worn and washed.

Naturally, it comes in different weights and qualities, and Thomas Mason is something of an expert when it comes to weaving the very best Oxfords – Mr Mason himself invented the stuff and called it Royal Oxford. These days, I more or less live in their ‘American Oxford’, which feels wonderfully robust with its three-ply twisted weft.

Of course, the Oxford shirt is synonymous with American style. Post-WWII, the early ‘50s were understandably conservative when it came to colourful menswear, as a shell-shocked world struggled to return to a state of normalcy. But, as the decade progressed and a sense of social optimism returned, especially in the USA, things lightened up. The ‘Italian cut’ was big news in the States and across much of Europe by ‘56, with suits taking on slim lapels, a low button-stance and a fitted silhouette that superseded the stuffier ‘semi-drape’ cut of the 1940s. This new, sexy approach to tailoring called for equally sexy shirts, and the pristine white shirt became a point of prestige among well-dressed men – particularly because, as we all know, a white shirt doesn’t stay pristine for long.

This brings me to another white shirt hack, particularly useful if you’re not as keen on Oxford cloth as me. If you struggle to keep your shirts looking as fresh as you’d like, Thomas Mason’s Silverline collection includes a selection of precious Absolute White Shirtings woven from Giza 87 cotton, an unusually long and bright white fibre grown in the Egyptian Nile delta. Thomas Mason has exclusive access to it, and weaves it into cotton shirting cloth with a very particular natural brilliance that keeps its lustre over time.

Moreover, the collection contains a full spectrum of different weaves and weights, so if you’re searching for your own version of perfect white shirt you’ll have no shortage of options. From twills that drape beautifully and resist creasing (these are perfect for winter-weight shirts), to fine poplin and zephirs for the warmer months, there’s something in the range for every well-dressed man. You’ll need to visit your shirtmaker to get your hands on the Giza 87 collection, but if want to sport the very whitest of white shirts with a luxurious sheen and superior softness, it’s really quite special.

What, though, is my own perfect white shirt? Well, herein lies the problem. In this column we’ve discussed two halves of the same coin: rugged and robust Oxford cloth, and smooth, optical white Giza 87. Both have their advantages, and both perform differently depending on the occasion of use and how smart or relaxed you’d like to be. So, I have no definitive answer for you – your own personal taste decides the perfect white shirt, not my scribblings.

One thing is for sure, though. If you’ve not found the perfect white shirt for you yet, Thomas Mason’s vast range of shirting fabrics is there to help.

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