The white shirt is hardly a revolutionary piece of clothing. Which is funny, because it had a starring role in one of the most revolutionary films of all time, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Three key characters in the film wore one. There’s Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules Winnfield, with his slick tab-collar dress shirt and slim black tie; John Travolta’s Vincent Vega who opts for a similar look when with Jules, but swaps out the regular tie for a bolo, displaying his western-style nous when out on the tiles with Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace.
And of course, there’s Wallace herself. The boss’s wife, she’s an untouchable entity with a magnetic charm and beauty, befitting of a true femme fatale. Her central outfit in the film consists of cropped black trousers, gold Chanel slippers and a unique white shirt, made especially for her character. True to Tarantino’s style, its details only make themselves known once you look a little closer. Pulp Fiction costume designer Betsy Heimann modelled it on a classic men’s shirt but deliberately dialled up its sex appeal. Yes, it has double cuffs, finished with simple business-like black enamel links, but the cuffs are flared to a sharp point mirroring the oversized collar which spreads wide across the collar bones, occasionally revealing Wallace’s black bandeau top underneath.
Unlike a classic men’s dress shirt, it was designed to be worn untucked, and in the film its slim cut around the chest and torso makes way for a slight flare out over the waist creating a flattering hourglass silhouette. Like the cuffs, the hem finishes with an angled point too, complementing the sharpness of Wallace’s fringe and wit. It’s a masterclass in how paying attention to the fine details on even a very simple piece of clothing can transform your look – whether on or off-screen. On paper it’s a plain white shirt, uninteresting and arguably unoriginal, but the way this particular shirt fits, with its subtle-sharp cut and discreet detailing, elevate it from pedestrian to iconic. Imagine if Mia Wallace was sat in Jack Rabbit Slim’s in one of her husband’s double-cuffed business shirts. It would be oversized, sloppy and look completely out of place.
It’s the highly feminised cut that makes it work, but also the way Thurman wears it. Sir Hardy Amies once said, “a man should look as if he has bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them.” It’s a frequently overlooked fact that Sir Amies was first and foremost a women’s couturier, rather than a men’s fashion designer, and this quote is as applicable to women as it is commonly applied to men. Furthermore, it’s embodied – completely and utterly – by Mia Wallace.
Whether she’s seductively sipping a milkshake or taking to the dance floor to do The Twist, she’s confident and at ease. Her clothes never get in the way and this is something we can all learn from. It’s not about the clothes after all, but how you wear them.