Moby Shirt: A Quest for the Great White Symbol

I pass a shop called Anne Fontaine with some regularity. Anne Fontaine is a French-based chain that specializes in white cotton shirts. Or did, until (I guess) everybody who wanted one, had one. Then they added silk and satin to their white wonderland, until (again) everybody who wanted one, had one, whereupon they added black to their marketing program. Now they are showing wild things in black and white, with accessories, and the Platonic Ideal of A Shirt no longer edifies window-shoppers.

I love the thought of having one thing that is always flattering, perfect and appropriate. I also love the idea of having lots of different colors and patterns, dreamy real paisleys, sweaters, silk knit tees... what if each thing were perfect? I wouldn't dare gain an ounce. Confession: I once read that if Jackie Kennedy (as she was then) found something she loved, she'd buy it in multiples so she'd have it in case something awful happened to the first one. It's also believed that when she found a tee that fit perfectly, was the right weight, fabric, sleeve length etc., she bought it in every color it came in. I still think this kind of shopping is pure genius. It's the fashionable version of keeping a few extra cans of tuna around. Obviously I have neither the storage space nor the budget to engage in this form of economy of scale. But still.... If I found my Perfect White Shirt, I'd want clones, plus a few extra sizes up and down, just in case. A girl can't be too careful.

And with every change of seasons, at least one famous stylist, celebrity, designer or muse  discovers that a Perfect White Shirt is Essential. This is as inevitable as pastels in spring, white in summer, earth tones in fall and black velvet in winter. The White Shirt will take you everywhere, trumpets the spokesperson du jour. Well, these days people wear anything to the opera, and as for "formal" benefits, the stratification in apparel is a living lesson in class structure. Since it doesn't seem likely that Anne Fontaine will revert to its former state of perfection, I turn my eyes elsewhere. Like to my Inbox, where I have received a message from Refinery 29. This faithful correspondent has discovered that every girl needs - guess what? A Perfect White Shirt! The Perfect White Shirt du Jour is the result of a collaboration between Jil Sander and Uniqlo, and retails for $49. I couldn't tell whether it was all cotton or not. It looks terrific, especially for the price, and if I weren't going out of town tomorrow I'd slither into Uniqlo and grab a few. Oh, and guess who is styling it for Refinery 29, so that their gormless readers will know how to wear it - an expert on web design from J.Crew. The mind boggles. Are there really people who need to be told that you wear shirts with pants or skirts? That you can tuck the shirt in, or not. That you can put something over it. Like a sweater. I'm still boggling. Oh, look, she's wearing it with a skirt! Oh, my, with pants and a jacket! Who would have thought of that? Well, having shamelessly copied the above photos from Refinery 29, I will now give you the text that accompanied them.

I recognize that when copywriters, editors, merchants, investors and photographers get to work, the person who had the idea in the first place often doesn't get to say anything about what happens to it. Jil Sander knows this.

Meanwhile, what's with the web talent business? If the subject is J.Crew, "web" and "talent" are not the words I would use together. It may be the economy, but a number of websites that I've visited lately have very little talent on display. Perhaps I'm not defining "talent" correctly. I think Emerson said "Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes," and I'd add a corollary to that: "Talent is perseverance wearing a tutu." Meaning, stay on your project long enough to finish it, fact-check it and proof it. Then put on cute accessories and go for a drink.


  1. LOL, I can't believe people need to be told to wear shirts with skirts and pants either. Who is so perplexed that they cannot find a way to wear a white shirt?!

    ITA about putting J.Crew and web & talent together. They have one of the worst online shopping sites ever and the inventory is a complete disaster.

    Thanks for the laughs. Have a safe trip.

  2. Whenever I'm browsing in a shop I'm always drawn to white shirts - have a wardrobe full of the things but don't regret buying any of them.

    I have an Anne Fontaine's black!

  3. What a hoot, thanks for the laugh! Do people really need to be told how to wear a white shirt? And what on earth is 'web talent'? They must be desperate for subjects to talk about and people to write about them.

    I tend to be like Jackie Kennedy, i.e. when I find something that works perfectly on me, I buy multiples of it. It's crazy but it makes me feel more secure.

  4. I do adore Anne Fontaine. I have a white blouse and a linen trench style jacket(bought during a sale several years ago. For my money, the white blouses at Brooks Bros are the best. Great styles and nearly no iron fabric that is thick enough as to not require a cami under it. Perhaps the styling photos are for the copywriter from space (smirk). Enjoy your adventure.

  5. You are so right-- the recurrent white shirt "revelation" goes back decades, functioning as an annuity for the 'zines. With a boy blazer! I guess they know we have to buy white shirts recurrently as they get tired looking with age. Funny thing is, I keep my tired ones for "painting" and such. I think I have 6 right now...
    "Talent", "authentic", these words are leeching meaning due to overuse in the marketing world.

  6. Hi, all, here we are on the west coast and I'm chuckling at all of your comments. This was such a wonderful combination of the obvious and overdone (white shirt) and the obscure and overdone (define web talent and win a prize). Well, I do love the AF shirts from a few years back, and hope to see them again. In multiples.


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