White dress shirts have a limited shelf life, which is why you want one that looks just as good as pricier versions, but costs half as much. GQ‘s Best Stuff has the best affordable white dress shirt you want to pick up right now.
Cos slim-fit cotton poplin shirt
Consider the sartorial power of a crisp white dress shirt. Pair a new one under a suit that’s seen better days and—bam—instant polish. Wear one with a skinny black suit and you’re a well-dressed badass. Put a white dress shirt under a crewneck sweatshirt and your outfit jumps from casual to dressy casual. As impressive as the collared shirt’s makes-every-outfit-better versatility is, it can look absolutely filthy (a ring of old sweat juice around the color that won’t go away, greige cuffs) after just a few wears and washes. Which is why, after years of shelling out what I now realize were ridiculous amounts of money on white shirts that were beautiful, but had a maximum shelf life of twelve months, I now swear by one: Cos’s slim-fit cotton poplin shirt.
My personal allegiance to the white dress shirt is owed to a menswear education that happened in the last-days-of-dial-up almost-aughts, when the common denominator among stylish guys in my pop culture diet wore point-collar white dress shirts with their cool guy black suits. It was the outfit I’d seen on Reservoir Dogs posters for sale at Sam Goody (never mind that I had no clue what the movie was actually about). It was the foundation piece every genetically-superior “valid” wore in Gattaca. It was what Helmut Lang models wore in the runway photos I’d peeped in the pages of GQ and, a few years later, a core element of Hedi Slimane’s game-changing Dior Homme look. Even though I was wearing T-shirts from Aeropostale, I wanted to be the guy wearing a white dress shirt with his skinny black suit. So when I actually grew up, got a job, and had to get dressed for it, I went straight for a wardrobe of white shirts.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve spent over $300 on a single white dress shirt (Miuccia Prada makes me do stupid things with my money) and I’ve done it more than once. While you get what you pay for at the wallet-draining end of the menswear spectrum (better off-the-rack fit, better fabric, better finishing all around), no amount of money or made-in-Italy craftsmanship can stop the inevitable: that white dress shirts get dirty. Very dirty. Resolve spray and stain pre-treatments can help prolong a shirt’s life, but the fact is that in six months time, your once-blinding white will start to look un-white. So when I discovered Cos’s take on the classic, I finally found a shirt that looked and fit like the designer versions I wanted, but came at a price that wouldn’t hurt nearly as much when I had to send it off to menswear’s great beyond.
It’s made from lightweight 100% cotton poplin, the smooth weave that can read minimalist and cool or full Wall Street banker depending on what you wear with it. The fabric is easy to iron and, unlike 99% of other affordable white dress shirts, doesn’t wrinkle the moment you move your body. I wear undershirts with mine but if you like to rock your dress shirt sans base layer, rest assured that this one won’t show off your nipples to the entire office. It’s also cut properly slim (read: skims the body) and features two darts in the back of the shirt that not only create a cleaner silhouette, but also help stop any fabric from mushrooming around your waist (which is what tends to happen with less tailored, less expensive shirts). The plastic buttons—a telltale sign of cheaper shirts—have a pearlescent finish that looks enough like the mother-of-pearl ones used on true luxury dress shirts that they don’t read “plastic” at first glance.
But the real detail that makes this affordable white dress shirt so impressive is its collar. It feels substantial at a price point where brands usually take short cuts (i.e. slimmer, shorter collars that use less fabric and skew younger). It’s neither a straight point collar nor a semi-spread, but somewhere in between the two that looks right with either a razor thin skinny tie or a fat double-windsor knot or no tie at all sitting under it. It’s the Goldilocks of affordable dress shirts and even better, it’s on sale right now for just $62. At that price, you can replenish a closet’s worth of grimy white shirts and still have enough dough leftover to buy the best tie to wear with each and every one of ’em.
Note: The shirt above is currently sold out but if you’re looking for an equally affordable and stylish alternative, keep with Cos and try the brand’s slim-fit cotton blend dress shirt. It’s got the same fit and all the hallmarks of our under-$100 favorite, but comes in a stretchy blend of cotton, polyamide (fancy name for a synthetic material that keeps crease-free), and elastane, which also happens to be the exact mix used in those way pricier Prada white dress shirts.