By Cindy Weber-Cleary
Sep 03, 2014 @ 3:03 pm
Getty Images (2)

InStyle’s Fashion Director Cindy Weber Cleary has been a fashion editor for the past 20+ years. Needless to say, she’s picked up some tricks along the way. Catch her column here each week for how-to tips and style secrets on her favorite, timeless styles.

The ineffably elegant designer Carolina Herrera (above) has unofficially been called “the queen of the white shirt.” She often takes a bow, after presenting her fashion shows, wearing her signature shirt-and-skirt or shirt-and-pant combinations (along with some of her major personal jewelry.)

This most versatile of wardrobe staples is especially flattering for older women. The sharp line of the collar gives definition to the jaw and frames the face. A white shirt bounces light upwards brightening the complexion and the eyes, just as so many “age-defying” serums claim to do.

Many famous women over 50 favor the look and each manages to make it her own, like Inès de La Fressange, Oprah Winfrey, Sharon Stone, and Diane Sawyer (below, clockwise from top left).

Getty Images (2)

Forget the “no white after Labor Day” rule. It doesn’t apply here. At this time of year, the weather can be quite warm. Dark colors absorb the heat, while light ones deflect it, so a light cotton shirt can literally help you keep your cool on the warm days of Indian summer, and can be comfortably layered under sweaters and blazers in the colder months (see Ellen DeGeneres and Patti Smith below).

And you can wear a crisp white shirt so many ways—tucked, untucked, wrapped, layered, unbuttoned, buttoned-up, sleeves rolled—with everything from jeans to a ball skirt!

Here are a few favorite combinations:

For Day

Shirt + Menswear-Inspired Trouser + Feminine Flat

Courtesy (3)

Styling tip: Push up your sleeves and add a stack of bracelets or a cuff.

Get the look: Uniqlo, $30,; Whistles pants, $375,; Proenza Schouler, $750,

For Cocktails or Dinner

Shirt + A-Line Skirt + Sexy Heel

Courtey (3)

Styling tip: Unbutton a few at the neck and add a choker or pendant.

Get the look: J.Crew, $150,; Jil Sander skirt, $691,; Alexandre Birman sandal, $595,

For more white shirts, shop InStyle’s wardrobe of white shirts, InStyle Essentials. Each perfectly tailored shirt was designed and sized according to bra measurements.