The cream shirt

Monday, May 11th 2020
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There is a certain type of gentleman who swears by the cream shirt. Who argues passionately for its elegance over that boring, corporate alternative: white. 

When I say there is a type, I am basing this on three men, all of an older generation, who have put that argument to me over the past year. It’s not a large pool to draw on, admittedly. But it is consistent.

I can see the attraction of cream. It’s the kind of subtle styling point - the kind others don’t notice until they’re close enough to catch a virus - that I normally revel in. 

But most experiments with it over the years haven’t been successful. Certainly, not enough to become a regular part of the wardrobe rotation. 

I had a silk dress shirt from Emma Willis (above), which did look nice with black tie, but never had the nice, sharp contrast of white, and wasn’t worn that often. 

There was a brushed-cotton shirt from Luca Avitabile, which I have worn and liked. It was shown in this article analysing the cut of a Steven Hitchcock tweed jacket. 

But while that did show how cream can complement the country colours of tweed and moleskin, the overall look didn’t appeal enough to be worn regularly.

I think it felt a little bit rural and stodgy. The kind of look, in fact, that those three chaps would have worn. With a cheap burgundy-silk handkerchief puffed in the breast pocket. 

(I apologise in anticipation of offence, for these generalisations. But as we’ve discussed before, whether things ‘look good’ is heavily dependent on such personal, subjective, broad associations. They are rarely fair.)

Third time lucky. 

The cream shirt pictured, made by Simone Abbarchi from Thomas Mason needlecord fabric, has won a firm place in my wardrobe. 

I decided to get Alex (Natt) to shoot it, back in February, when I realised I’d worn this outfit, or something very similar, almost every week for the past two months. 

These things sneak up on you - they are what you grab and put on when time is short and the baby is crying - but when they have snuck, they deserve recognition. 

The jacket is my charcoal donegal from Steven Hitchcock, of course. And we’ve also covered before how I like that jacket with navy serge trousers (unusually). 

But the cream shirt adds a rich richness to the whole which I have really enjoyed. It is smart and luxurious, but not corporate: Mayfair, not the City. 

I think the texture of the corduroy has something to do with it. 

Cord is, after all, a form of velvet, and there is always a little lustre in there, which the cream benefits from. Where the cream silk was very flat, and the brushed cotton more fluffy, the cord creates depth and richness, without being either shiny or showy. 

The smart jacket and trousers, in their dark cold colours, also help. They suggest formality, despite the texture of the jacket and the lack of neckwear. The navy serge in particular: cream is very happy with something rich like this as a partner, and a cashmere navy jacket would work nicely too. 

On the feet are black tassel loafers. 

I’m sure there will be some who can’t tell the difference between this and a white shirt. It is a subtle difference, as mentioned, and always dependent on the light. 

I think that’s one reason the white-linen handkerchief is nice - it shows that the shirt is not the same by contrasting with it. Those that can’t see the difference here might find it useful to actively compare the two. 

As to needlecord shirts in general, by the way, I find they're pleasurable for their texture and warmth against the skin, but can also be a pain. 

The texture of the cord makes the material stick. Only jackets with full linings are really practical, and even then they don’t slide on and off easily. 

That rules out lots of casual jackets that aren’t lined, and all knitwear. 

So not practical in many respects, but still a nice alternative. I have another in black which makes that colour easier to wear too. 

The watch is my JLC Reverso, in yellow gold, with a new black alligator strap. It was made to measure for me (I need it, I have tiny wrists) by Jean Rousseau in London.

They have a good, reliable service, and have made three for me now. 

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

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Anonymous

“Mayfair not the City”
Simon I am afraid to say this type of writing comes off as naff, and perhaps a little pompous. Apologies for the rudeness but it has struck a cord.

I quite like a cream oxford.

Anonymous

I don’t personally take exception to the comment but can understand how some could take it in a similar way to name dropping and in particular “names” that many (outside of London anyway) will consider very exclusive.

Having promoted their other products/done collaborations with them, have you ever had a watch strap made by Equus? Curious how you feel they compare on price/quality.

Bligh

In my day (and I am merely six and twenty), the word “exclusive” meant a desireable feature of being addressed to a few that can afford and appreciate it. Now apparently it became a derrogatory term for something that people enjoy to take offence at. For me, and for most reasonable readers Simon’s comparison was very clear and accurate, representing a certain set of associations well-rooted in the British culture.

Luca

Correct. Actually there s only one meaning for exclusive. It is latin: “ex clausum”, means “locked out”. So, not for anyone. Taking offence at it clearly shows frustration for not being “in-cluded”

Joseph Leftwich

I loved Adrian Gill’s writing, particularly on the subject of menswear. Not sure why, but a passage on white shirts always stayed with me. He wrote, “you need a white shirt – not expensive, not fancy, just ironed. A white shirt is the ultimate result dress, the most seductive thing a man can wear. It’s our equivalent of high heels and stockings. Every message a white shirt gives out is positive. It’s unflashy but romantic.” With this in mind, I’m just not sure I could bring myself to buy or wear cream. It’d be an opportunity missed.

David

On the contrary I thought that phrase illustrated the difference perfectly.

Anonymous

I think cream is interesting in that it is, like blue, something which comes in a wide variety of shades, going towards brown at one end of the spectrum, and yellow at the other.

You can therefore match it easily to blues, browns, greys and, at a push, greens.

I do agree that it was far more commonly seen a few years ago, often with military/club ties with blazer/odd jacket/cavalry twill etc, where a white shirt would just have been too formal. I also think ivory silk makes a nice dress shirt.

By the way, why did you refer to a “cheap” burgundy silk square?

Ian

I just bought my first non-white square, a burgundy silk/ wool from one of the budget Jermyn st. shirtmakers, before you put up the article about not wearing a pocket square much anymore….and now this!

It’s just me coming late to trends, but I’m glad I’m not paranoid…
😄

Taylor Ryan

I agree that it can be hit and miss, but I’ve found that I wear my cream shirt beautifully with tan, khaki or olive chinos – the warmth of the cream works well with the muted shades of the chinos. Also makes it look much more intentional rather than the corporate casual Friday uniform of chinos and button down. Underrated shirt colour (once you’ve found the right shirt), however only worth grabbing after you’ve got the staples/classics. Good job not giving up on finding one! Haha

Andreas

I really like how the warm cream colour complements the gold watch; although given the colour and texture of the shirt, I think it would look best when worn without any sport coat or blazer on top, simply matched with an interesting pair of pleated trousers, perhaps in a mid to dark grey.

Andrew

I do think that it depends a lot on a person’s complexion. Cream will suit some people. White will suit others. Cream on someone who should be wearing white looks stodgy and flat. White on someone who should be wearing cream makes their face look stodgy and flat.

Andrew

I don’t think it is a question of contrast actually. I think it is a question of the colour tone of the face. Those with a slightly ruddier complexion (high or low contrast) do better with white. Those with a more sallow complexion (high or low contrast), with cream. Alan Flusser makes this fourfold division in “Dressing the man”. But I first came across it many years ago when I went to a “Colour me beautiful” consultation – originally designed for women, obviously, with a name like that, but equally applicable to men if they can get past the name. They used different terminology: “summer” = ruddier, low contrast; “autumn” = more sallow, low contrast; “winter” = ruddier, high contrast; “spring” = more allow, high contrast. I have found this enormously helpful in guiding my choice of colours ever since. Many people fall clearly within one of these categories, others are more borderline. To get back to the question, I think white suits summers and winters; cream suits springs and (especially) autumns.

Andrew

Thanks Simon. I will resist further discussion here too!

As a first time commenter, though, I must just say that this is a fantastic blog you are running here. It has been a real education for me and I am sure many others also.

Paul Boileau

I can be the fourth man of an older generation to recommend cream shirts. For me, they seem to better compliment my northern European (read pasty) complexion than white. It can be a challenge to get just the right shade much like pink. I can also recommend grey shirts although this can be even more difficult to pair than cream. I now only have three white shirts: one button-down (that’s seen better days) and two dress shirts. I certainly think many British men are put off white shirts by the association with school; the difficulty of maintaining the whiteness and their ubiquity.

Ricky Takhar

Simon,

Interested on your opinion for spread collars vs button down collars when worn open at the neck? Is their a preference here, is either more formal or more casual.

I find BD collars stand up easier with a jacket, any particular tips to help a spread collar stand more proud, I find a more constructed placket helps in that regard.

Karol

For me, the effect is barely noticable. Although, it is what you are looking for in clothing, isn’t it? A nice idea for sure. Speaking of slightly unusual shirts, what are your thoughts about tan and yellow? By far I didn’t have much succes with them, yet they come up every now and then in menswear community or Apparel Arts

Hugh

Mark cho wears quite a few yellow shirts and talks on Instagram about his thought process in selecting them

DE

Nice post Simon. I have to say that I too have struggled with my own cream silk evening shirt. Whilst the Prince of Wales looks effortlessly stylish in his, mine sometimes looks like a very old white shirt that has slowly ‘dulled’ with age and use! On a very cold day last year, I wore it to a meeting (it is a matt silk and has no studs, ruffles or other ‘furniture’) with a charcoal suit and grey (wool and silk) tie, but found it very warm in a modern heated office!

Emerging Genius

“Corporate” is overrated. It implies stiffness, enforced behaviour and compliance. “Rural” implies a more relaxed mindset. This is why one is more apt to see someone in a Harris Tweed blazer and Jean’s instead of a sharp corporate suit.

RT

An interesting post, Simon. I’ve long been a fan of the cream shirt in principle, but have a long history of struggling to find the right one. They’ve either been too yellow (which doesn’t suit me at all) or simply look like an aged, poorly laundered white. I’ve now given up on ever finding a poplin one I like. I’ve had a couple of brushed cotton ones in the past that were quite good. I was really pleased, recently, to find a nice pinpoint cotton in a shade that I liked which Simone has made up into a shirt for me. It’s a nice, neutral shade without looking either yellow or grubby white and looks good with browns, greens and blues. I haven’t tried it with grey yet.

CDBP

I am one of these pro-cream people.
It must be said that there are a broad range of creams from off white to English butter. My pedantic point is that what is often called “ivory” is not cream. Upon the shade, depends the use. For a Board meeting for work I would still likely wear white, or very slightly cream.
I have a silk shirt from Budd which is more ivory. Whereas I have a cream colour cotton shirt from Budd which is much more creamy, moving towards butter. I also have the Emma Willis cream silk shirt ( ouch, the price ) that you do and LOVE it. Wonderful colour and weight and texture.
My personal taste and opinion is that the right shade of cream-tinged-off-white is more distinguished than plain white. The worst sort of plain white shirt is like a Japanese salaryman or the old school notion of the IBM employee. Cream is more distinguished and less sharp.
I have a coarse American button down Oxford from in a creamy oaty off white Mercer which I love.
Won’t bore you with every shirt. 🙂

So overall, bring on the cream… it is especially wonderful with flannel ( navy or grey ) and tweed, but also with a linen/wool/silk blend summer jacket.

Jtkuga

I love shirts in the Ivory/cream/ecru spectrum, although I agree with what has been said above, it really depends on the particular color, shade, hue and value. Done right, it has that, what I as an American say is, “old world elegance” or charm. Done wrong, it either looks to yellow (or beige or grey etc.) or too dirty. One problem is that these colors vary wildly across brands and even, oddly within the same brands.

To sum it up, I think they are hard to get right, but when they are right, they are an excellent shirt. From my experience, at least in America, it is best to start with shirt labelled “ivory” which is the most subtle of the “off whites,” and is generally consistently not to yellow or dirty across brands. Your shirt could be labelled ivory as well in my opinion, although it could just be the change from looking at it on a computer. In any event, I’m glad you are bringing up cream shirts, as they a bit out of style currently, especially for business dress, and I hope they make a comeback. Your shirt looks great by the way! I’ve never had a needle cord shirt.

Anonymous

Timely article for me. I’ve been toying with the idea of a light cream cotton jumper for the summer. But I can’t help but feel the colour , for a jumper, may not be very versatile. Thoughts?

Ps I’ve found the customer service at Rousseau to be shocking. Their product isn’t up to much either. A stitching on a strap they made for me came undone. They refused to class it as a fault insisting it was wear and tear. Luckily I was at home when the watch came of my wrist.

Anonymous

Thanks for the response. I’ll have to give consideration to a cream jumper again.

Anonymous

Glad to see Emma’s dress shirt is made with a proper, ie turn down, collar, and not this modern day abomination of people wearing wing collars with a dinner jacket!!

Wing collars are for white tie, and made with a single, rather than double cuff.

Anonymous

But they look rubbish ha!
The heightened collar needs to be balanced with a longer tail to work
They were originally included in black tie as the outfit was merely a dressing down by changing jacket. That wing collar moved to a turn down as it was incongruous. Supper w/ HRH wouldn’t have a wing in sight!

Andrew Poupart

I have a cream evening shirt from Budd that is a cotton/silk blend and it works very nicely. And I have a cream, very casual, button-down collared shirt that is usually worn alone. But every time I’ve tried a dress shirt in ivory or cream it ends up looking like a dingy white to my eye. Same for light grey shirts–those just look like they haven’t been laundered successfully. So I stick to white or blue, for the most part. Cream sounds so appealing and your article made me want to reconsider one, Simon, but I’m past that temptation now.

Dr Peter

I am with the cream shirt group. Its elegance is hard to match, especially against a background of warm colours like browns, olives and reds in the ties, or maroons and dark browns in the jacket. One of the best combinations is a cream shirt with a dark red tie. If you look at strawberries placed on a bowl of French vanilla ice cream, you’ll get the idea. The latter combination also tastes good!

Anonymous

In my opinion, if you have a brown suit or odd jacket a cream shirt is a must.

RD

Cream oxford with mother of pear buttons sewn on on the reverse (so yellowish) works well for me with almost anything save for smart, businesslike or festive clothes (which I hardly ever wear anyway).

Anonymous

Hi Simon,
As I have also quite a tiny wrist I was curious what diameter your JLC watch has, from which year it is and how thin it is? It looks quite decent! Thanks!

Anonymous

Simon that being the case size makes me think you must have a counterfeit watch. I am not aware of those dimensions matching anything in the Reverso family.

Do you want to check them again and report back? I should be able to help you on this, and if you have a case number/model name etc that could help.

Patrick

Anonymous

Oh sorry my mistake Simon.

It’s the Classic model, originally made as a unisex choice as its quite small.

Apologies!!

Patrick

Pale Male

Will from A Suitable Wardrobe advocates avoiding white shirts during the day and favors ecru instead. I tend to agree with as a pale Northern European !

Dachshund

Shout out for Jean Rousseau. I’ve used them a couple of times – once for a new strap for my own Reverso. Just a simple black calf, but they made it for me with two holes – one for summer, one for winter. I love the subtlety of not having the usual strip of holes in a strap. The other was an off-the-rack impulse purchase of a bright blue strap for my vintage Rolex Date, which really suits it. I’ve found the quality to be good and they are absurdly good value and very pleasant to work with.

Ben

Hi Simon

A question on your comment that you find yourself throwing the shirt on when time is short and the baby is crying. Did you find that fatherhood changed your approach to clothing? I ask as a new dad who suddenly finds it hard to justify a purchase (practically or financially) that I previously wouldn’t have thought twice about.

Best

Scott

As other readers have noted, it’s hard to find the right shade of cream, some call it ecru. I have one cream shirt that I really like and should have bought at least three. It works very well with brown an olive tones in particular.

Peter K

Given your observation that cream works better with more casual fabrics and that it is hard to find the right shade of it, have you considered adding a cream shirt to the PS denim or PS Oxford Simon?

Fredrik

I agree with Peter – a cream Oxford cloth would make me spend money (yet again). The pre-existing ones are wonderful.

Hugh

Am a big fan of cream, but primarily if it’s in poplin. New & Lingwood do a nice version – decent shade, generous collar – which works really well paired with a mid or dark grey suit, burgundy tie. And pretty happy it still remains a relatively niche choice.

Fred

Hi Simon,
I recently was at Budd to get some shirts made up, and picked out cream as a useful add to the mix. Mr. Butcher advised to go for a deeper cream colour, as if too light after several washes it looks like a dirty white. I thought it sound advice.
And yes, cream for Brits has connotations, class and old school etc, but for me it just has something slightly romantic about it, especially in a smooth sea island cotton.
Thanks for keeping us all thinking.

Matt

Simon, would you say that the average man about Mayfair is well dressed? I used to work there (on Bruton Street- I have a feeling I met you once) but I don’t remember being very impressed with the clothing I saw around me.

luca

Usually your posts are accurate and precise. But this time, I’m sorry, I find some confusion. Generations of gentlemen have used white shirts made not of cotton or linen, but of silk. Then, white silk was not exactly white, but cream-coloured.
That’s why the cream shirt is considered by some to be more elegant than the white shirt – because it resembles silk.
and using a silk shirt, or a white poplin shirt with tweeds, donegals or moleskin is a nonsense. Or you wanted to talk about pale yellow oxford, instead?

JOHN Scott-leith

Having had made cream sea island cotton shirts at The now extinct Coles of Sloane st in the 70s if l put one on now l feel positively ancient.

Matt Spaiser

I think cream shirts have a place in one’s wardrobe, but depending on complexion they can be difficult to wear. Skin with warmer undertones, often pale creamy skin or golden tan skin, looks better in cream than white. For cooler skin tones like yours cream more often looks like a dingy white. With earth-toned clothes, a cream shirt can avoid looking dingy on cool-toned people.

I was turned on to the cream shirt after watching the colour series of The Saint. Roger Moore’s complexion looks fantastic in cream, and he wears them with every suit and sports coat. It won’t work for everyone, but on his golden tan it always looks great, never old-fashioned or dingy. A white shirt with would be fine with a blue or grey suit, but on him it would clash with a brown or tan suit. Rather than looking like a plain canvas, a white shirt would look harsh against everything else.

Will

Simon, I hope you don’t mind me asking but II also have small wrists – what size is the Reverso you’re wearing?

Many thanks.

Jim

Hi Simon

Some of your subscribers are spot on related to the color, cream. It should be worn because of your complexion or skin color. For skin types such as what the ladies call an autumn or fall skin color, cream or off white is suppose to be the “white” for their entire wardrobe. Regular white simply washes this skin tone out. It also means that the colors worn with the cream should be warmer than the blues you were wearing. Here is your challenge. Cream and off white dress shirts are extremely difficult to find. Can you provide a list of where one can find shirts in that color. Thanks for the incredible writing and topic.

Joseph

Was rereading this (excellent) post as I’ve been looking to ingrain in myself a basic understanding of the applications of a cream shirt, and did a double take at the end: I had no idea the famous philosopher was making leather goods!

Kidding aside Simon, based on your experiences and experiments over the years what other shirting materials do you believe would work great in cream? And if there is one, is there a particular shade of cream that works with the widest range of combinations?

Joseph

Interesting point, thanks Simon. Adding that to my notes.

I would venture to say that cream is just more at home with other articles of dress precisely because it’s such a rich color, demanding a place in the foreground rather than the background the shirt represents.

Ah, such a joy to reflect on these things!

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

do you still know the details of your new watch strap from Jean Rousseau? Material, Padding, holes, etc.?

Would be really interested in that.

Thank you!

Edric

Hi Simon,

What do you think of a plain cream pocket square? I know you rarely wear any anymore but I would love to hear your thoughts. I have one but I’m having a hard time pairing it. In this post you’re wearing a cream shirt and a white pocket square, I tired a white shirt with my cream (the tone leans toward yellow) pocket square but it looked odd.

Thanks.

Edric

It’s actually cream cotton. I had a Harvie & Hudson shirt with an irreversible coffee stain down the front so I had my tailor cut me a pocket square from the back fabric. I understand most PS readers probably wont have the same thrifty approach, but it did seem like an interesting project at that time.

Sorry I missed the post on the cream cashmere handkerchief, I did a quick look for a “cream pocket square” on the search bar before commenting, and didn’t find any. My bad, I should have been more diligent haha.

Edric

Thanks. Cheers!

Denis

Hi Simone,

I know It’s an older post, but I still hope you’ll answer. I will be in Florence in 3 weeks, and I wanted to try Simone and his work. I found your article on the grey shirt which you had made by him, and there were some minor complaints about shoulders and waist. My question, therefore, should you say this is a better fit than the grey one? Or how would you “compare” those two. I wonder if He’s getting better or not.

Thanks,
Denis