Blue blazer, khaki pants, black dress shoes, blue denims, dark suit: primers on the man’s wardrobe always invoke certain basic items. But one fundamental piece of attire stands out for its indispensability and propriety in almost any sartorial situation: the white shirt with button front.

It’s a garment that goes with any suit, regardless of pattern or color (it won’t even clash with shades of itself). But while the white shirt dresses up quite nicely, it needn’t shy away from any casual situation. Pair one with dress slacks, jeans, chinos, khakis, corduroys, even Bermuda shorts and no one will question it. And when lent to an overnight lady guest, it needs no accompaniment at all. Sports aren’t even without its purview; back in the day, button-down versions were worn to play tennis and polo. (Suppose that last bit makes it appropriate that Ralph Lauren makes a sturdy one emblazoned with its horse-and-rider logo). It’s also a garment that can take some roughing up. When your dress version gets threadbare, patch the elbows and demote it to devil-may-care casualwear. Even then, it will still enjoy another life when you paint in it.

Even while the decision to buy a white shirt seems obvious, the choices are not. As the selection of examples from the almost century-old shirtmaker Lorenzini (pictured)suggests, the white shirt can be anything but basic. Start with the fit. You’ll choose from the slim (only if you have the shape for it) or the classic, blousy cit. Lorenzini also offers one with a lowered button stance to accommodate situations where a tie is not in order. Next, pick the collar. There are dozens. Just calling for the ubiquitous “spread” only narrows it down to as many as three widths. The currently chic club collar has a rounded point. Button-downs, which are considered stuffy, but were originally meant for sport, can have the closure hidden. Then you choose cuffs. There’s French, if you are the cuff links type, and the James Bond, which hides the closure. A barrel cuff can come in one-, two- or three-button (Turnbull & Asser).

You’re not done yet. Fabrics come in varying thread counts (the higher the better), the finishes differ and you have choices of blends with linen (forget poly blends, they pill too much). And then there’s buttons.

Lorenzini’s are mother-of-pearl. The ones you get at the cost club are plastic—but then you won’t come to sobs if you lose them.
And you thought basic was easy.

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