Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 12:43 UK

Sizzling summer for white shirts

White-shirted men (pic: Charles Tyrwhitt)
In times of crisis, the white shirt is a trusted option

The traditional white-collar worker may not be faring too well, but the humble white shirt is doing a roaring trade.

Shirt seller Charles Tyrwhitt says sales of its white shirts have increased by 50% in 2009 so far, from 220,000 to 330,000 year on year.

The company, which retails in the US, Germany and Britain, was established in 1986 by founder Nick Wheeler.

He says the biggest sales growth came from UK sales, while the US market struggled at the end of 2008.

"Back in September and October last year, our sales in the US dropped off a cliff," says Mr Wheeler.

At that time, the US banking sector was rocked by the fall of Lehman Brothers.

Why go white?

Mr Wheeler believes the white shirt is a classic sign of the times. "A white shirt looks great but it is safe," he says. "Bolder shirts don't always fit in with the mood of the moment."

For many, the obvious place to wear a white shirt is to the office - although the reason behind their enduring popularity is unclear.

"There is no evidence to suggest that a white shirt will make any difference in a work situation," says Dr Rob Yeung, psychologist at leadership consultancy Talentspace.

"However, people are much more likely to resort to superstitious beliefs and rituals under times of stress.

"In the same way that many people wrongly believe that a roulette wheel that has come up red four times in a row is more likely to come up black, they may believe that a white shirt denotes professionalism or integrity."

People power

The garment has long been a wardrobe essential. Selfridge & Co has a white shirt "bar" in its Oxford Street store menswear department, where discerning gents may take their pick from an array of the colourless garments.

However, a spokesperson says that there has been no noticeable increase in sales in recent months.

Neither does a quick straw poll on Twitter unearth any white shirt devotees.

"Pink (preferably stripes) is the only way to go!" says Phil Edwards.

"I think I own one white shirt," comments Toby Proctor, while John Graham-Cumming claims that his wife has encouraged him into more brightly coloured attire.

Someone out there must have a vast white wardrobe. Is it you?

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