Stylist’s Editor-in-Chief Lisa Smosarski wore white clothes – and only white clothes – for a week. And the results were mixed to say the least…
Kate Middleton, Elsa, Liz Hurley, Liberace (how contemporary): these were just a few of the names I was called when I wore head-to-toe winter white to the office last week. Not a cry for help, as some suspected, but an experiment in the name of fashion. That’s right; fashion made me do it.
Thanks to the autumn/winter catwalks – where brands like Chanel, Alberta Ferretti, Phillip Lim and JW Anderson hailed white as the neutral of choice – splashes of winter white have been on the high-street since November. But how practical is white in a UK winter, and can you ever get away with wearing an outfit befitting of Frozen to the office?
I am probably the most unlikely candidate to wear a wardrobe of winter white, given that the brightest my clothes generally go is a vibrant grey marl (practically neon bright in my eyes). Nothing makes me happier than head-to-toe black. Whenever I don’t wear it, I feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. In black I am unmistakably me. I have dabbled with white, grey and navy, occasionally a splash of red or green even, but if I want to feel confident, powerful, in-control and well turned out – at work, home or on a night out – black is my go-to happy place. I still can’t fathom how I wasn’t a teenage goth, but I’m making up for that now.
Of course, this love of the sartorial darkside made me the ideal candidate for a week-long experiment: to dress completely in white to see if this neutral at the other end of the spectrum ever could replace my black uniform. This is what I learned.
Lesson 1: White scares people
“Oh my God, this is scary. What’s happening?”
As opening words go, they’re a little unusual, especially as I am greeting my colleague Scott with a cheery hello and a smile on my face. But the sight of me in a white suit, roll neck and heels is enough to send our Head of Video into a state of confusion.
“Don’t worry, it’s for an experiment,” I whisper.
“Oh thank God,” he replies, “It’s terrifying.”
I leave feeling both offended and delighted – I know what I’m going to wear to our next meeting together, I decide.
It seems Scott is not alone in his fear of the white suit. After a morning in meetings, I return to my desk for the first time since arriving early that morning, to find my desk buddy, Digital Editor Kayleigh Dray, staring at me, eyes wide like saucers. “What the hell is going on?” she stammers. I reluctantly reveal the truth. Her smile returns, if a little warily.
Wearing the white suit makes me feel confident, and strong. I feel my swagger a little bigger, my head a little higher, as I pace through the corridors of The Stylist Group wearing white. Which is maybe because…
Lesson 2: White is powerful
There is no doubt that wearing head-to-toe white makes you feel powerful, which in many ways belies its origins in fashion. Looking back through history and religion, white is frequently worn to signify purity and virtue – from wedding dresses to the uniform of the suffragette army – with very different results.
The suffragettes were briefed to dress as purely and inoffensively as possible so that only their actions could be judged, but the result was an army of women dressed in matching white outfits. Recently we have seen that white uniform channelled by the women of the US congress, Hollywood and at our own Remarkable Women awards in March as a way of showing a united front in the battle for gender equality and as part of the #metoo movement. Wearing white now as a a “civilian’ carries that weight of history.
When I am wearing the most formal of my white outfits, the suit, I feel more powerful too. White is a statement of self-confidence and assurance. Alternatively, it’s a great way to cheat self-confidence when you need an extra boost.
Lesson 3: White turns heads
On Day Two of the experiment I head to a work lunch at Lina Stores in Kings Cross, dressed in a long white coat, white skirt, knee-length boots and a soft-white jumper. Lina Stores is a pasta specialist and I am preoccupied with what I’m going to eat, given that anything in a tomato sauce is out.
As I stride to find my table I am surprised to see an entire group swerve to look at me. I realise they probably think I’m famous because I do stand out like a sore thumb, and who in the world would wear this much white if they didn’t want to be stared at?
They confer whilst staring at me and then turn, disappointedly, back to their lunches. I return to my thoughts about how I am going to manage to eat and leave looking as clean as when I arrive.
Lesson 4: White is impossible to wear without getting dirty
The truth is, I have to order different food when wearing white. And be more careful when drinking tea. I realise very quickly that I’m quite a messy person, but my black uniform is very forgiving and, unless it’s a smear of toothpaste, every bit of grub is hidden. I hadn’t quite realised the extent of my own clumsiness until a meeting when, wearing a long white skirt, I drop my biro on my lap. When I pick it up there is a long blue line running down my skirt.
A few days later I am quite proudly showing off a white jumper I have been wearing all morning when someone politely takes me aside and points out a huge tea stain a few centimetres away from my chin. I have to reposition my hair all day to hide it (which also makes the penny drop that my hair, dipped in an early cuppa, was probably the culprit).
And it doesn’t stop there. Every pair of white shoes I wear come home covered in scuffs, the tube is a place of nightmares for brushing against underground grime and I can’t sit on anything for fear of making a mark. I trip on my own skirt and mark it with a footprint and, at the end of a night out in a bar, I discover a huge slosh of red wine down the back of same long-suffering skirt.
For the average, slightly clumsy, person, white is a nightmare and should be worn with caution, a large tab at the local dry cleaners and only to places you’re unlikely to come into contact with rain, mud, any non-white food or drinks or `any other people who may accidentally touch you. In short, be Megan Markle. This is probably why…
Lesson 4: White looks expensive
It really does. Whether wearing high-street or designer, everything I wear makes me look richer and posher than I really am. That is for all of the reasons above. If you can afford to wear white you’re probably not getting on public transport or eating Pret tomato soup at your desk. This is handy to know if you ever want to leap a couple of social echelons with a quick outfit change.
Lesson 5: Head-to-toe dressing in any colour is a bold move
Wearing head-to-toe white is tiresome, and by day three I’ve really had enough. Unless it’s black (in which you can do whatever you want because it’s so amazing), wearing a complete look in any colour is a shorthand way of showing off, or at least that’s how it feels to me. It doesn’t help that today I’ve got a faux fur coat on that would have P Diddy asking for my stylist’s number (it’s fashion assistant Helen Atkin by the way, Diddy…).
I feel, quite frankly, ridiculous. And to make matters worse it is bucketing down with rain. I walk down Emerald Street looking like any Polar Bear would in London – lost, self-conscious and desperate to get back to my natural habitat.
My love affair with white is definitely on the wane…
Lesson 6: White does look pretty good
The only saving grace for white is that is does look surprisingly good. My colleague Meriam is so besotted with one of my outfits that she walks into a railing and I am inundated with compliments from colleagues who have probably never once noticed a single thing I’ve worn before. Even as a lover of black, I can see that a few of the items look great – if I wasn’t so clumsy and grubby, maybe I could be converted.
It’s fair to say I was delighted to hang up my staple black Donna Ida jeans and Zara blazer at the end of this experiment, as well as my shockingly-white-but-not-by-the-end-of-the-day Elsa boots.
Dressing head-to-toe in white was a move too bold for me. I discovered that I really don’t like to stand out, that I am happy to blend into our grey capital city and not cause a stir with my clothes. I should point out that I’m not a shy or self-conscious person, this isn’t about not being seen, but on an average day I genuinely prefer to make a statement with my voice, brain or bellowing laugh than I do with how I look.
But I will wear white again. Probably not head-to-toe, probably not in faux fur or knee length boots, but when I do want to make a stand or a statement. Wearing a white suit to present to the board or deliver a speech, seems like a fantastic idea. Not only will it guarantee all eyes will be on me (I think it’s fair to assume the average boardroom is not dressed entirely in white), but channelling the power I felt for a day in that white suit in my own office seems like an excellent way to get results. I think I’ll even be tempted to wear a splash of white going forward, to channel my inner Liz Hurley in a pair of white jeans or a cosy knit, because the white I did wear got me more compliments than my black uniform ever does.
Aside from that, it’s back to the dull-side for me. I’ll leave winter-white to Liberace and friends and sip my tea, safe in the knowledge that no one will ever see just how grubby I really am.
Photography: Rod Lockyer