Reader Request: Wearing Winter White

Tips on how to wear winter white stylishly

Roberta popped this question into the suggestion box:

Wearing winter white, in particular shoes. I think ivory looks elegant, but how not to look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? And what color shoes? Black seems harsh, and white or ivory seems nurse-y or at least impractical in the winter. Ack.

And now that winter is basically over, I’m finally getting around to tackling it. I have no idea how I missed this request for so long. Please don’t fire me.

Style rules are loosening overall, but the one I’ve seen get the loosey-goosey-est of late is the one that says “no white pants or shoes after Labor Day or before Memorial Day.” It’s your prerogative to continue following that rule if you’d prefer to do so – I did until very recently – but if you feel ready to flout it, now’s the time. Rather hilariously, white has been a “trendy” color for several years running, and it’s definitely fair game for year-round wear. If you don’t believe me, consult any fashion magazine you can lay your hands on.

Now, winter white is generally more of an off-white than a bright, and as its name indicates, has been worn during the winter for ages. But it can be challenging, as Roberta points out. So here are some tips.

Wear winter white in a neutral mix

Angie from You Look Fab up wears LOADS of winter white, but usually adds a few touches of black. And she looks sharp. Winter white is still a white variant, which means it should be treated intentionally. It will look marvelous in neutral mixes, paired with patterns that include winter white/off-white, or as an accent. Neutral mixes are likely to feel the most natural, so consider pairing with black, gray, brown, olive, or tan. Burgundy and navy – both of which rest on the neutral/color border – also work.

Wear winter white in small doses

Roberta asked how to avoid looking marshmallow-y, and my suggestion is to avoid wearing winter white from top to tail. Angie does it beautifully, no doubt, and there’s nothing Stay-Puft about her. But many other people – myself included – would be hard-pressed to assemble such a chic-looking ensemble utilizing quite as much winter white. Go for winter white trousers with a black top, leopard belt, and cognac booties, or a winter white dress with a dark necklace,charcoal tights, and brown boots. In most cases, a little dab will do ya.

Wear winter white in structural extremes

To cash in on the inherent elegance of winter white, opt for very flowy or very structured pieces. Tee shirts, casual pants, and pullover sweaters might not cash in on the elegance potential of this color. Think structured blazers, sheath dresses, or skinny pants on the tailored end. Oversized scarves, billowy silk blouses, and maxi skirts on the unstructured end. This color can be surprisingly statement-y if you let it.

In terms of footwear, it all depends on the rest of the outfit. If you’re mixing with black, black shoes should work. In other neutral-heavy cases, cognac and burgundy are all good choices. Angie went all-out with winter white booties and since the shoes themselves are edgy, they don’t look “nurse-y” as Roberta feared. Gray is a solid choice, too, if you don’t happen to have shoes or boots in off-white, and won’t look as contrast-y and harsh as black.

Winter white can be transitioned into spring and summer despite its name. After all, it IS just a name. Once the sun comes out, call it “ivory” instead and pair with pastels, patterns, and denim for the warmer months.

Image courtesy Nordstrom

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Originally posted 2013-03-11 06:32:36.

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17 Responses to “Reader Request: Wearing Winter White”

  1. JB

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention navy as a neutral for pairing. I thought navy and winter white were a classic combination. No?

  2. Artsy in Boulder

    Would I ever wear winter white head-to-toe, hmmm…If you’re talking all outfit elements in WW, no, but if you mean top + bottom, yes. I’d be sure to add interest by working with texture. From my own closet, I’d pair some tiny-wale corduroy WW stretch leggings with a soft WW fisherman-knit sweater. I’d likely let a pop of color peep out via a fuschia turtleneck, cozy up my toes in some purple shearling booties, and tie a wool challis scarf in a toucan print with fuschias, browns, teals, hits of purple and warm green (sounds scary but it’s really yummy–print just reads as pretty colors once the scarf is wrapped or folded) around my purse handle. Haven’t worked out the jewelry yet…

  3. Angela

    I love Angie and others in this but I don’t feel comfortable in the colour, especially in winter with our slush and snow

    • edith

      Yes indeed,living in Switzerland I know this problem too.
      So, I wear a well structured ivory coat with black and a touch of red.

  4. cecelia

    I adore winter white, and I can almost fit into my fav winter white pants again. (can I still wear wide legs?)

    For pairings, often do a tan shoe. Brown in general is fantastic with winter white, or if I’m feeling girly a pale pink. I like it on its own, too.

    But seriously, can I still wear wide leg pants in a sea of skinny jeans?

    • edith

      Why not wear a white wide leg pants if you like it ?
      Sally allways give the great advise to choose what give us more pleasure.

    • Shaye

      While I generally agree with the sentiment of “wear what you want and damn the torpedoes,” it sounds like the real question is, can you wear wide legs and still look current, or will you look like you’re wearing old pants?

      You will be happy to know that, despite the ongoing proliferation of skinny jeans, wide-leg pants are “in” again.

  5. Katy

    I’m a BIG fan of winter white. When done well, especially around the holidays, it can look stunning. The white suit pictured is oh-so-chic!! – Katy

  6. Roberta

    Gray shoes are a fabulous idea! I have been wearing gold-ish suede boots but I also have gray and that will look sharp. Angie also has a pair of snake-print boots that look wowsers with white. I can’t wear beige near my face and so I love this off-white look. Thank you so much for the essay on my plea for help!

  7. jii

    Winter white from head to toe say, to me:
    1. Headed to my wedding
    2. Good Humor Man
    3. Dr. Kildare.
    It just doesn’t work for me, it calls too my attention upon itself. In summer, however, white linen or gauze works just fine.

    • Mary

      Jill, Me thinks your older than 50, to remember Dr Kildare! LOL so am I .

  8. Shaye

    I love white pants with orange shoes, but any juicy, saturated but not-too-dark color will do the same. Turquoise! Kelly green! Golden yellow! Cherry red! This works better in the spring, I think with a light neutral top and maybe a belt in a complimentary color, with a scarf or necklace in the shoe color to tie it together.

    Hm, I think I’ve just inspired my own outfit. I wonder if my white jeans still fit me…

  9. Cassie

    Great tips. Winter white is definitely tricky to pull off head-to-toe. I love it paired with black though. Such a classic and elegant pairing!


  10. Kylara7

    I adore the look of winter white on Angie and other people, but I just can’t wear it. Too impractical. I’d last about 30 min tops before getting something on it that would stain. I live in a large Canadian city where we have sloppy seasons before/after/during winter, and I walk or take public transportation everywhere, which also entails doing errands like grocery shopping on the way home from work for efficiency’s sake. I imagine this is a great look if you drive yourself to an office and sit at a desk all day before returning straight home, but it doesn’t fit my lifestyle/job/patterns.

    • Jenny

      I’m totally with you on that. I don’t do white pants/jeans/whatever on the bottom mostly due to winter slop. I’ve spotted the backs of my calves too many times with oily dirt that I can never get out.

  11. Chris

    Like Kylara7, I think winter white looks great on others but find it doesn’t work for me. I’d be surprised if I lasted 30 minutes before getting tomato sauce or chocolate on it. What’s especially infuriating is that I wouldn’t even be the one eating!