Trends come and go, but the modest white crewneck has remained a menswear mainstay throughout history.
Not sure what to wear? A fresh white T-shirt is one piece in your wardrobe that you can always rely on. However, finding the perfect men’s white T-shirt is a challenging feat. It is, nonetheless, one of the most crucial. Forget buying a house. That’s boring.
The white T-shirt, which was once a Second World War uniform regulation, has an illustrious history. Starting off as an undergarment before finally becoming a component of the British navy uniform, it wasn’t until the start of the twentieth century that companies like Fruit Of The Loom began mass-producing white T-shirts. It was then picked up by designers such as Chanel in the 1920s, and it quickly became a fast-fashion staple. After all, anything Chanel produces will be imitated by others (although hopefully not its advent calendar).
The T-Shirt became a symbol of rebellion and nonconformity after two of Hollywood’s greatest icons – James Dean and Marlon Brando – endorsed it. The tee became a favourite among anti-establishment hippies and counterculture agitators as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s. It has now long been regarded as a men’s fashion staple.
If you need any convincing (which you shouldn’t) as to why you might need to go and purchase a crisp white tee, take a look at these examples of times when the white T-shirt has worked its magic. Because it always does.
James Dean had already made an impression in East of Eden, but when we think of him, the image of Rebel’s anti-hero, Jim Stark, sporting a white T-shirt and blue jeans comes to mind.
Marlon Brando caused a sensation in A Streetcar Named Desire in a body-hugging white t-shirt that highlighted his bulging biceps and exaggerated masculinity.
Danny Zuko’s clean white T-shirt, like his well-oiled quiff, popped-collar leather jacket, and a cigarette hanging off his lip, was an essential part of his look.
A stained Die Hard vest may spring to mind when you think of Bruce Willis, but here he is wearing a basic white tee and what seems to be the classic cigarette as an accessory.
Brad Pitt‘s abs wowed audiences when the big-screen rendition of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club debuted in theatres in 1999. Despite the fact that they were largely dressed in Tyler Durden’s patterned silk shirts and brown leather jackets, they had to have a classic white T-shirt moment.
If there’s one thing we can all be certain of, it’s that the white T-shirt is the one item of clothing men can’t go wrong with. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you can buy the next one you see to radiate Brad Pitt energy – there’s more to it than that and you might need more than a white T-shirt to look like Brad Pitt. But admitting is the first step, and once you’ve admitted you need a white T-shirt you’re halfway there.
So, how do you find the perfect white T-shirt?
For a lot of you, comfort will be key. This is why those deceptive low-cost multipacks on the high street actually aren’t quite as good a deal as they appear. You’re getting fabric that won’t maintain its form and will likely shrink the first time you wash it. Spend more than £50 on true quality, which should buy you a classic Pima cotton crew neck. Pima cotton is a lightweight, soft-handling extra-long staple (also known as ELS) cotton. This means it’s softer and more long-lasting than cheaper alternatives.
One step above is Supima, which stands for superior Pima, followed by sea island cotton, a fabric handpicked in the Caribbean that produces the silkiest jersey conceivable. These alternatives can cost up to three figures. Don’t forget though, the more you spend the better cost-per-wear ratio, as it will last you much longer.
But how should you wear a White T-shirt in 2021?
You obviously know how to dress in a white t-shirt. They’re more wardrobe definers than merely wardrobe basics. But there certainly is one rule: simple is better. There’s a recent movement away from the tight muscle-fit tees and towards a thicker louche style of T-shirt elevated by the American workwear brands like Gildan and Carhartt that works well with a boxy bottom half. Styled with Dickies work trousers or cargos – both streetwear classics – you’ve got yourself a successful everyday look.
In smarter situations, a tighter fit is preferred, tucked into tailored trousers and paired with a matching blazer. Take another look at Brad Pitt if you must.
OK – two more rules: wash your whites separately to keep your T-shirt white, and don’t wear a creased white T-shirt. Please.