It has been said that a man always looks his best in jeans and a t-shirt, and that everything else is a game (one we all love to play). So on that note, shall we get serious about our tees?
A garment that started off as strictly underwear, developed into work wear and is now a definitive wardrobe essential, you would be hard pushed to find a man who has never owned a t-shirt.
This 100 plus year-old basic is also the only piece of clothing that can be worn for any occasion, from under a shirt with a suit, to the gym, to the beach and even to bed.
They are true commodities: we buy them in bulk, often from the same brand, and we don’t really think about them until they need replacing. But are we really making the most out of our basic t-shirts?
Read on and find out if there’s something you can do to upgrade your current collection…
The Perfect Fit
The way your t-shirts fit says a lot about you. If they’re baggy, with sleeves flopping sadly from the shoulder and excess fabric creating a tent around your torso, I hate to say it, but you’re telling the world you forgot about yourself.
On the other hand, exploding seams and a stuffed sausage-effect fit send the opposite message (narcissist).
The perfect fitting t-shirt highlights the part(s) of your body you’re most proud of without drawing attention to the areas you’re conscious of. Confused? Before trying one on, look at your naked torso in the mirror and ask yourself what your best attribute is:
- Arms: You want the sleeves to be slightly shorter, or give them a couple of folds, to show off your biceps and triceps.
- Pecs/Shoulders: You want a slim fitting style that skims through this part of the body.
- Abs/Narrow Waist: Look for tapered cuts that don’t drape around your waistline.
If you’re not entirely confident of your body – a feeling that affects many of us – or nothing really stands out, opt for a classic fit in your normal size (don’t oversize in attempt to conceal) and focus on colour, neck style and fabric.
On the other hand, if you feel everything about your upper half is worth flaunting, well, make sure you control the urge to go shirtless.
Here is some advice that applies to all body types:
- A classic t-shirt shouldn’t finish below the top of your hips.
- Short sleeves shouldn’t cover more than half of your upper arm.
- A good fitting t-shirt isn’t restrictive, allows you to move comfortably and should never be skin-tight (with the exception of performance attire).
Timeless Black, White & Grey
And sometimes navy. These timeless shades are what set the foundations of any successful wardrobe and we often classify t-shirts in these colours as ‘basic’.
White: the quintessential t-shirt. For underwear there is no better choice and it’s the best colour (bar none) to pair with your classic indigo jeans – see James Dean and Paul Newman for confirmation. White works on every skin tone, and there are no side effects to it. Highly recommended.
Grey: jersey or marl grey is a mixture of different shades, and the final textured effect is extremely flattering – especially if you want your t-shirt to visually enhance your body shape. The only precaution: if you are someone who naturally sweats a lot, grey will make it significantly more noticeable.
Black: although black remains a popular shade for the modern gent, it isn’t necessarily the best choice for a t-shirt. The colour fades quickly and much like black dress shirts, they can appear a little too stark during the daytime. Plus, when it’s hot outside, do you really want to dress in black? On a positive note, a black t-shirt is a layering essential, perfect for using under a jumper or jacket during the colder months.
Navy: not always available in standard three-for-two deals or multi-packs, navy is a refined choice that does almost the same job as black, but still remains day-friendly due to the colour having more depth. Great for creating tonal looks when combined with denim and blue tailoring.
Other Colours: No strict rules here. A t-shirt is an easy, affordable and effective way of experimenting with colour. Reds, pinks, greens – if there’s a shade you’ve been lusting over, try it on a t-shirt.
Basic T-Shirts: Lookbook Inspiration
Coloured T-Shirts: Lookbook Inspiration
The Neck Type
Crew or v-neck? Both of these classic necklines are worthy of consideration. It’s always recommended that you match your collars when layering, so if you’re wearing a crew neck jumper, for example, the t-shirt should feature the same shape.
V-necks naturally elongate the neck, which make them perfect for shorter gents looking to create the illusion of length/height, or larger men who desire a slimming effect. They also provide balance to rounder or wider face types.
On the other hand, if you have a small chest or sloped shoulders, a crew neck will probably suit you best. Crew necks draw the eye out and create the illusion of squarer shoulders, helping you appear broader and better proportioned. In addition, this more substantial neckline provides balance to those men with longer necks or narrow face shapes.
But this isn’t all. You’re likely to come across other styles suck as the deep-v, u-neck, boat neck and scoop neck, to name but a few. Want an honest opinion? Don’t mess with what has always worked, unless there’s a plan. And please, don’t tell me your plan is to show off your pecs – as far as I am aware, you are not a Geordie Shore cast member.
The majority of men tend to rely on thicker fabrics rather than lightweight ones, as if quality is directly related to the weight of the garment. Well, the opposite is actually true for t-shirt materials.
If you’re going for 100 per cent cotton and can afford a premium, look out for Pima or Egyptian cottons, which are made from long staple fibres that last longer, look thinner and feel lighter. These two cottons are considered to be the finest available on the current market and are utilised by specialist brands such as Sunspel, who were recently featured in our best of their type article.
Cotton blends are also good options. A moderate amount of elastane (stretch fibres) helps to maintain the shape of your tee, whereas cotton-polyester blends come in at a lower price point and offer easy maintenance (they crease less).
Designer x Premium x High Street
Whether your t-shirt comes in a three-pack from the high street or you splurged on a designer take, make sure you don’t expose the brand or fall for unnecessary detailing. With your basic t-shirts you’re allowed a single front patch pocket, a contrasting internal trim and that’s about it.
Remember, you’re after good quality, great fit and no obvious details – t-shirts that abide by this mantra will slot seamlessly into your existing wardrobe and will continue to get good use for years to come, transcending any fleeting trends.
But before you make your choice, bear in mind:
- Affordable options are easily replaceable, and there are plenty of brands that offer value for money. Gap, UNIQLO, American Apparel and Next have all received glowing reviews on our forums.
- Underwear and loungewear specialists make fantastic t-shirts from the best materials at varying price points. The likes of Hanro, Zimmerli, Sunspel, Derek Rose and James Perse are a big step up from the high street but they will do your money justice. It will seem lavish or excessive at first, but the long term benefits pay off and you will definitely get your cost per wears from them.
- The majority of Scandinavian labels, who traditionally favour minimalism and high quality construction over trends, are well worth considering if you’re looking for clean, basic t-shirts. Norse Projects, Selected, Minimum, NN07, Knowledge Cotton Apparel, Our Legacy and the like produce high quality wardrobe basics on the whole, not just tees.
- Run from apparent branding, as this is not what a basic tee is about. If you have to buy a designer t-shirt, do it purely for the psychological effect of having the brand name on your back – design features aren’t the point in this case.
Key Styles & Brands
- Hanro Cotton-blend V-neck T-shirt
- Next V-neck Tee
- James Perse V-neck Cotton-jersey T-shirt
- Gap The New Crewneck T
- Uniqlo Men Packaged Dry Colour V Neck Short Sleeve T-shirt
- Sunspel Sea Island Cotton Crew Neck T-shirt
- Reiss Dayton Basic V-neck T-shirt Navy
- Uniqlo Men Supima Cotton V Neck Short Sleeve T-shirt
- Derek Rose Basel Stretch-micromodal T-shirt
- Reiss Bless Basic Crew Neck T-shirt Grey
- American Apparel Tri-blend Short Sleeve Tall Tee
- Zimmerli Fine-stripe Mercerised Cotton T-shirt
- Uniqlo Men Dry Packaged Crew Neck Short Sleeve T-shirt
- American Apparel Fine Jersey Short Sleeve T-shirt
- Gap Essential Crewneck T
- Hanro Superior – Basic T-shirt – Red
- Next V-neck Tee
- Sunspel V-neck Cotton-jersey T-shirt
So, did this little guide help? Are you now staring at yellow armpit stains and planning a trip to the high street? Or do your t-shirts already fit like a glove?
Let us know your favourite t-shirt brands and top tips in the comments section below…