As soon as the tiniest tendrils of sun peek out from behind winter’s clouds, I start to feel personally targeted by fashion media. Dreamy photo shoots of women wearing translucent linen! Street-style shots of creamy scalloped hems! Lists:10 Dresses As Blindingly White as a Baby Unicorn! A real marketing email subject line: “Time to break out your summer whites!” White shorts, white skirts, white halter tops, white sneakers, white denim: all white, all the time.
What a lie! I think every spring. Surely no one can just WEAR white with impunity. It may repel sunlight. It may seem like a winning sartorial option after three months of gloomy chill. It may even give one a feeling of lightness, the way vanilla ice cream or marshmallows do. But do not be fooled! I have two white dresses, and they are both hopelessly stained beyond belief. Don’t even ask where. Fine: A full cup of tea’s worth of stain down the front of one, and the armpits of the other.
I know! There’s a reason I don’t buy white clothes, okay? It is the devil’s shade. White clothing is a target for stray foods. It is bacteria’s playground. It is not flattering. It is several mistakes waiting to happen. It is a dry-cleaner’s dream.
Yet I found myself yearning to try it. Just once! It couldn’t hurt! It looks so nice! Memorial Day is on the sunny horizon! And so, despite the fact that I am a dirty baby who, as I typed this, somehow flicked pasta sauce back onto myself, I did it: I wore all white for a week. This is what happened.
Day 1: Oh great, I need special underwear?
I’m trying on clothes in the office bathroom, and I realize with horror that I’m screwed before I even begin. A clingy Opening Ceremony dress not only shows every bite of bread pudding I’ve been eating, but also the color of my underwear. While I stare, horrified, at the mirror, someone kindly suggests that I get some Spanx. Spanx? Oh, God. What have I done? I don’t have any beige underwear. I am aghast that I have forced myself to get some.
I return to my desk and wail to two of my bewildered colleagues that I need to get new underwear. This is going to be a nightmare. I hate it already. I head to Macy’s to pick up some white-clothing-friendly smalls. As I enter, I see a beautiful white DKNY dress, beckoning on its hanger. I see you, angel! I think. I’m coming! I head towards the rack, but wait—what’s that I see? There’s a giant red smear on the side: someone’s makeup. I’m doomed.
Now a week’s worth of underwear down in finances, and with a sense of dread settled irrevocably in my lower torso, I skedaddle. Mark this one down as a fail.
Day 2: Pure terror
Okay, deep breath. Try again, this time with—ugh—clay-colored underwear. I am going to the park with my boyfriend for a stroll. To be honest, I’m a little worried, because of nature. Nature has dirt. Nature has bird poop. Nature has wind-borne pollen, and also garbage. All sworn enemies of white clothing.
I head out, and, of course, it begins to rain. Isn’t rain basically dirty wet pollution? And doesn’t it make white fabric see-through? Goddammit. Luckily, there’s quite a bit of cover, and we manage to stay outside without being totally drenched. And, somehow, when I get back my apartment, I discover that I haven’t kicked any mud up onto my white jeans; even my white sneakers seem fine. As for my shirt, it’s definitely a little translucent because of the moisture, but all in all, not too bad.
Day 3: The hot oil test
It’s day 3 of the challenge, and I realize I’m starting to think about it less. On the first couple of days, fear struck almost as soon as I awoke, feeding me all the tragedies that could befall my white clothing. But now that I’m more used to the whole situation, I feel rather more relaxed. Plus, nothing’s gone really wrong—yet.
At night, I make dinner: a spicy dish filled with daringly red oil that’s spitting and hissing as it sizzles in the wok. Using a chopping board as a makeshift spatter guard, I manage to get through the whole process without a single mishap. Phew! I’m getting good at this.
Day 4: White clothes are scary for everyone around you, too
Well, I spoke too soon—belatedly folding away yesterday’s outfit, I spy a tiny red spot. Note to self: Must get spatter guard.
When I get to the office, I feel self-conscious. Everyone I work with generally knows that my go-to work uniform is a black sack. But as soon as I see ELLE.com’s editorial director, Leah Chernikoff, she says, “This all-white thing is so chic!” Several of my colleagues also coo over the outfit; I gotta say, the ELLE.com staffers knows how to give a compliment.
That’s not to say it cures me of my fear. I stage-whisper to my desk neighbor, our social media director, Gena Kaufman, that I’m still terrified I’m going to accidentally pour my lunch all down my front. After all, last week I dropped mustard on my lap—twice. “I know,” she says. “When some of your white clothes were at your desk last week I was so worried I was going to spill something on them.” My white clothes are even holding my colleagues hostage.
Day 5: A sad subway disaster
For the week, I’ve decided not to work out, since my dirty yoga mat is definitely going to pose problems for my pristine white wear. As for other regular activities, getting to work is a different question. There’s no other way for non-millionaire me to travel, aside from the rat-infested NYC subway.
Well, there’s nothing for it. Not wanting to let public transport defeat me, I hold myself in a kind of armadillo-esque ball, touching as few surfaces as possible. I’ve fallen in love with the fluffy white Ugg slippers I’m wearing—they’re Fran Fine meets the shower slide—but now I realize that they are basically sweeping up dead skin cells and protozoa from the ground. Panicked, I pick my feet up off the grimy bottom of the carriage. As my abs contract in protest, I bang my shins underneath the seat in front of me, and, sad bingo: mystery black smudges bloom on my jeans. GREAT.
Day 6: Is this experiment expanding my horizons?
Instead of worrying, I’m thinking more about the clothing styles I’ve found while looking at white clothing. Unexpectedly, the color has forced me to look outside of my usual silhouettes. Of course, all the staples I usually rely on, like skinny jeans and button-downs, come in white; they’re as comfy and easy to wear as usual. But flouncy, feminine styles proliferate at this time of year and in this hue. I find myself struggling with the delicate lace and ruffles that often go hand in hand with white clothes.
Still, I’m a trouper, so I pick out something I wouldn’t usually wear: a pretty eyelet cotton top and skirt combo from J.Crew. My boyfriend, who has looked upon this whole experiment with alarm (if you want to know who spilled the tea on my dress, it was him), says, “That looks amazing!” I scowl at him, but looking back in the mirror, I notice it does have a Picnic at Hanging Rock vibe. I can live with that.
Day 7: Am I…doing this?
On the final day of my little experiment I find myself both relieved and a little sad. At the office, our associate editor, Kristina Rodulfo, says she looks forward to seeing what I’ll wear every day, and I have to admit I feel a similar way about the new looks.
Around 5 P.M., there’s a happy hour, and in the middle of my second glass of red wine I start telling a story, flinging my arms violently around like the conductor of an orchestra to illustrate my points. “Estelle, look at you, all in white, with red wine in your hand!” Gena says. She’s right: It’s like I took on the Big Boss of wearing white, without even thinking about it. And I don’t spill a drop. I am the queen of the world, or at least of DGAF City. Plot twist: Once I’m at home, I notice a giant mystery stain on the hem of my dress. But you know what? I don’t care at all.
Photography: Kathryn Wirsing
Styling: Justine Carreon