GC Magazine - Galleria Cavour

The white shirt: a scandalous fashion story

29 May - 2024

La camicia bianca story

Would you ever have thought that an item of clothing as simple and perfect for any occasion as the white shirt could be considered scandalous? Always essential, versatile and omnipresent in everyone’s wardrobe, it can transform a casual look or make a simple outfit elegant.

Yet there was a time when this element represented a revolution and a break in the history of fashion and style. The white shirt, considered for centuries a basic undergarment, entered the collective imagination of the late Renaissance thanks to a scandal. In 1783, the French painter Madame Vigèe Le Brun painted Queen Marie Antoinette of France wrapped in a simple white muslin gown in a famous portrait of the time. The painting, which today is one of the most famous of the young monarchs, caused quite a stir at the time throughout the court as it was like portraying a naked, unclothed royal.

Over the centuries, the white shirt has been reinterpreted numerous times, often causing quite a stir and astonishment despite its current fame. In the 1920s, Coco Chanel used it to replace the odious female corsets that castigated women’s bodies: it was a true transgression and a declaration of feminist independence.

It was then Christian Dior who captured its essentiality by making it seductive and romantic, omnipresent in his collections and beloved by numerous Hollywood actresses such as Grace Kelly or Marlene Dietrich, who loved to reinterpret it provocatively à la garçon. Gianfranco Ferrè, on the other hand, definitively ennobled it by transforming it into a couture garment and thus making it the hallmark of his style.

The definitive consecration then came with the appearance of the white shirt on the first cover of Vogue at the behest of the unforgettable director Franca Sozzani: it was 1988. The cinema, too, has contributed in no small way to making this simple element a weapon of mass seduction: how can we forget Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman wearing Richard Gere’s shirt or Uma Thurman in her seductive uniform in Pulp Fiction? As chameleon-like as fashion is, today the white shirt is allowed anything: even, despite its scandalous past, becoming an emblem of timeless elegance and quiet luxury.