Sometimes the simple things in life are the most extraordinary. Vanilla ice-cream. Margherita pizza. Bacon sandwiches. And when it comes to menswear, few items are as simple or as celebrated as the plain white T-shirt.
It’s a classic piece donned by Hollywood legends Marlon Brando and James Dean at their most iconic. Unbeaten for versatility, white T-shirt outfits are almost infinite. Wear it with simple jeans or use it as a neutralising element, capable of tempering a pair of check trousers or balancing out a printed shirt over the top. It highlights a strong tan, embellishes gym-honed biceps and never, ever goes out of trend.
You need one – hell, you need five – but finding the right style can be an odyssey. One white T-shirt looks much like the next, but how do you know if the fits is right, that it washes well and stays pristinely white? Well, we’ve done the hard work for you.
What To Look For
The perfect fitting T-shirt should accentuate your best bits while ignoring anything …sub-optimal. Arms should hit the midway point of your upper arm. Around the shoulders and chest you want to leave room for air to circulate while also ensuring the material skims your skin with movement. On the waist you want the fabric to taper in rather than drape down and the hem should fall just below your waist.
If you want to go for the oversized look, get a tee that has been cut with this intention rather than buying a size up.
In most cases your white tee will be made out of cotton, or a fabric blended with cotton. Not all cotton is created equal though. Pima cotton is the gold standard, with a longer fibre than normal cotton which makes it smoother, softer to touch and last longer.
Slub cotton has lumps in it due to the weaving process which gives it a unique texture which doesn’t have to be ironed. Comber cotton has been specially treated before the fibres are spun into the yarn which makes the fabric extremely soft and hard-wearing.
While cotton blends are less sustainable owing to the fact that they’re more difficult to recycle, certain blends do offer extra benefits. Linen is cooler and helps wick moisture away from the skin but is slightly rougher than cotton. Elastane is another material regularly blended with cotton, helping the wearer move more freely underneath while also maintaining the shape of the shirt.
The Best Brands For White T-Shirts
The best thing about Arket’s T-shirts is that the brand doesn’t just measure them in small, medium and large. It also categorises them by weight of the fabric. Its tees come in four measurements of grams per square metre (GSM) – the industry standard measurement for fabric – so you can choose between 150g, 170g, 220g, 340g. High-GSM fabrics are knitted with shorter loops, to make them thicker, and lower GSM are finer and more loosely knitted.
This 100 per cent cotton, 170gsm mid-weight tee is heavier than your average shirt, making it soft but with firm, well-fitting drape.
Uniqlo is renowned for a rarely-beaten combo of quality and value on the high-street. One of the main draws to its collection of white tees is its unique DRY technology, that simultaneously wicks moisture away from your body while also containing anti-odour and deodorizing properties leaving you feeling, and smelling, fresh and un-funky all summer day long.
How would you like your white tee, Mr Bond? Well, we don’t know about any shaking or stirring but what we do know is that British label Sunspel specifically designed this white tee for Daniel Craig’s turn as 007 in Casino Royale. It’s made with a two-fold cotton for a smoother, silkier finish and a flattering fit on the upper body, even if you don’t have the wingspan of ol’ Danny boy.
Not only the second biggest clothes retailer in the world, H&M has pledged to become its most sustainable too. The aim is to use only recycled and sustainable materials by 2030 and be “climate positive” by 2040 (you can even take old clothes into H&M stores to be recycled). This simple – and sustainable – round neck tee is an example of the brand’s commitment to eco-fashion. From the Conscious range, it’s organic and 100% cotton.
Coming from Mr Porter – the standard bearer of quality, up-to-the-minute menswear – the Mr P range finds a middle-ground with style and simplicity, and brings its pieces to life by putting the emphasis on small touches. It also boasts two qualities that every man wants in his threads: craftsmanship and affordability. This lightweight cotton tee has been treated with a silicone wash to make it extra soft – as comfortable to wear as it is a bona fide classic to look at.
Excelling at basics by way of the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles and its native head honcho designer James Perse, this eponymous label creates its white tees in a luxurious combed cotton, which might be more time consuming to create but leads to a softer material as the combing process removes any protruding threads that may poke into your skin while also preventing unravelling thread and boosting your tee’s longevity.
Marks & Spencer
M&S continues to be among the most trustworthy places to restock your basics. This pure cotton tee is a straight-up, no-nonsense style, and luxuriously soft thanks to being designed with a raft of in-house technologies – Stay Soft, StayNew, and Cool Comfort – that keep you dry, the white bright and the fabric free from bobbles.
Beachwear has become big business in the past decade, buoyed by the success of British swimwear brands Orlebar Brown and Frescobol Carioca. But over in the US, Onia rules the beach. Its knack for summer essentials has crept into the making of a great, quick-drying white tee, which comes with a very handy SPF 50 sun protection built into the fabric.
Merz B. Schwanen
This white tee from Merz B. Schwanen is crafted in exactly the same way and style as the German factory made its very first in 1920. The low hanging deep scoop’s rep might have been tainted by the Jersey Shore crew, but the brand’s rep as the producer of some of the most luxurious staples anywhere in the world more than carries it through. The fit is quite incredible because, thanks to a circular knitting style, there are no side seams.
Everlane puts ethical production at the heart of its style. A self-imposed initiative of “radical transparency” means finding the best ethical factories and finest materials. It’s the opposite of fast fashion – garments built to last and be worn for years. This tee is detailed with a simple pocket and is designed to let body heat out and cool breeze in, thanks to be being woven loosely in an uneven slub texture. The lightweight cotton fabric also ensures a finer gauge of yarn than other cotton garments.
This classic cut white tee is a great example of Cos’s approach to style – an understated look, but a mindset that sets out to reinvent your wardrobe classics with contemporary and functional design. It’s still a staple of masculine casualwear, but the neatly-finished cut and the quality of the cotton gives it a smart edge that will pair well with pretty much anything else you own. It’s also soft, light and breathable, and cut a little more boxy than most.