SHIRT TALES They're big, they're white and they're going everywhere!

Flap your cuffs and say you believe in fashion! The woman who hasn't yet locked on to the idea that the white shirt with a droopy cuff is fall's key wardrobe element has a lot of catching up and shopping to do. They're on store mannequins, in the ads and all over the fat September fashion magazines. Their very number and variety would have the fashion innocents believing that this is going to be fall's easy update. Guess again.

This year's white shirt is "important." That's fashion maven talk for "you can't fake it."


Don't even dream of trying to pass with one of those prim cotton numbers that have been the mainstay of yuppie catalogs for too many decades.

Women who pay attention will know that last year's white shirt derived its importance from being rolled at the cuff, tied at the midriff or tucked into a neat waist. That's no longer operative.


No, this season the white cuff, collar and shirttail need to cut enough drama to upstage jacket or vest.

Not just any cuff, but something deep, sculpted, ruffled or flounced to accent the hands. Fashionettes will allow cuffs to droop below their knuckles as designers and photo stylists are wont to do. Fashion watchers will wait to see how fashion victims survive the inherent dangers flapping cuffs present in the operation of a car or office machinery. It's probably safe to say that working women who pack peanut butter and jelly school lunches in the morning will have to pass on this fad, but they have other options at hand.

There are French-cuffed blouses which can take buttons or clips to draw attention to the wrist. A peep of pleats or lace is just as interesting as overblown ruffles.

Shirttails are meant to float free or to hang below the hem of a jacket. This can look sloppy or stylish depending on individual fashion skills. Beware.

Collars now are winged, pointed, spread, jaboted, bibbed or ruffled and rolled over vest or jacket to expose and elongate the neck. Or collars can be buttoned tight to stand at attention and project a crisper style.

Remember, cuffs and collar are the whole point and there are basic points to keep in mind in the search for the right white shirt.

* You must try on the shirt or blouse, preferably with the jacket it is to be paired with. Sleeve length is crucial. Men are miles ahead in knowing the importance that the right shot of cuff lends to a jacket. They can buy shirts to suit their neck and sleeve measurements.

Women's designers and manufacturers don't adhere to sizing standards, so a collar that's meant to be buttoned can gape and a cuff may extend way beyond manageability. Petite-sized women should be especially selective because a blouse is practically impossible to alter and pushing up or rolling the sleeve misses the whole point this fashion season.


* Take stock of your jacket wardrobe. This season's lines are cut longer and closer to the body, not allowing much room for volume. A handsome, full-bodied blouse or shirt may look marvelous on its own, but may bunch up in a narrow armhole, putting the neck and shoulder line awry.

Some of this year's best-looking blouses are cut generously on all counts and do best worn with a vest or alone.

* Beware the risks of looking too costumey. White lace ruffles worn with velvet or brocade may look appropriately historic, but out of sync in the '90s. Pair cleanly designed shirts with opulent fabrics, and opulent shirts with simple lines.

* Whiteness is difficult to maintain in our grimy environment. Women at work handle photocopies, fax paper, newsprint and dust, and a white cuff takes many swipes at dirt throughout the day. There's no getting around the ring around the cuff other than careful laundering. The same holds true for makeup rings around the collar. A wise shirt choice would be one in 100 percent cotton, which gets softer and more mellow with frequent washings.

Silk shirts, for all their marvelous look and feel, require investment of time and money far beyond their purchase price.

Yet some women are willing to chauffeur a silk blouse back and forth to the dry cleaners after every wearing.


Frequent dips in cleaning solution will turn white silk dingy. At that point, there may be nothing to lose by washing. Experts say a good quality silk can be hand-washed in special cold water detergent.

There's no way to get around ironing time.