White Dresses

That Virginal Look
Audrey Hepburn, looking demure in a white floral dress 
Something about white spells 'purity' and it's not by accident that in Western culture it was chosen to represent virginal chastity in the form of a wedding dress. White clothing also features in many religious traditions and is the colour of choice for dressing innocent babies. Why should this be? 

Well, there's been various theories about this - one is that white is a colour that is easily soiled, thus it has a kind of precious fragility. Another is that it is the colour of snow, ice and clouds and therefore has an associated cleanliness. A third reason is that it its the opposite of black, which is associated with darkness and wickedness.
According to Color Science, "white stimulates all three types of color sensitive cone cells in the human eye in nearly equal amounts and with high brightness compared to the surroundings" (Wyszecki & Stiles). That means, with a bit of luck you'll look luminous in white and will stand out in whatever environment you're in.
White purity in the Anchenees Source 
In Praise of White
Simply beauty. Japanese white rose. Source
It's not just the little black dress that can look sophisticated, as being a non-colour, white too has that dramatic, eyecatching effect that can turn heads. White is also an excellent base for the right accessories and looks great with pert gloves and a hat if you want to go upmarket retro.

For summer days, it's a much better option as white reflects light. It's hard to look hot and frazzled in a white dress because it's such a cool, crisp colour and as a bonus, it's flattering to most skin types. Black can wash people out or make them look sallow...white rarely does.

Doris Day, whiter than white. Still from Pillow Talk
Coco Chanel in a signature white suit
Coco Chanel and White 
Designer Coco Chanel created signature white suits that had classic, flattering lines and looked particularly good with a bold necklace and a contrast colour hat.
Coco once remarked: "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening."
White then, is an idea...a concept that exists in nature in the fresh beauty of a snowfall or the delicate tremor of a blossom. It sounds fanciful but there's something in it. So if you're feeling a little jaded, white might lift you up.

White was the colour of choice for the well-to-do in ancient Rome, for both sexes. Still from the BBCs I, Claudius

Of course, the down side of white is that all that purity is hard to keep unblemished. White can only be worn once before needing a clean and it tends to stain easily (at least, everything shows)...

Some tips on keeping whites whiter in the wash:
  • Never ever wash whites with any other colour, no matter how pale..the residual will dull the colour
  • Soak in a nappy (diaper) powder  every now and then to restore brightness
  • Don't overload the washing-machine when washing whites, as the detergent needs room to get rid of those stain marks
  • Best to wear white clothes only once, even if they appear clean
  • Dry white clothes outside, as the sun will help keep them light and bright