I was recently asked by a men’s magazine for my thoughts on what makes a perfect t-shirt. I immediately thought of Marlon Brando. What Brando did for the Schott Perfecto motorcycle jacket in The Wild One (1953) he had also done for the t-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).
In Streetcar, Brando’s Stanley Kowalski had the perfect t-shirt. It wasn’t a calculated perfection, but, rather, a perfectly imperfect perfection in its devil-may-care ease. It was form-fitting but not skin-tight. Like any “perfect” tee, it was 100% cotton jersey material, thin and airy but not see-through at all, with a thin collar band (1/2 inch?) and short sleeves that fit the bicep somewhat snugly.
Every man needs a few solid white ones, which go perfectly with jeans, chinos and shorts. The best alternate colors depend on the skin, hair and eye color of the wearer, as well as the other colors being worn. With the possible exception of a charitable cause or a legendary concert or school you actually attended, the best t-shirt is plain and solid, with no labels, words or branding. And by no means should anyone wear a t-shirt advertising a brand or designer label without being paid to do so.
All this said, the best t-shirt is generally a better friend to those with a fitter physique. The best way to look like Marlon Brando in a t-shirt is to look like him out of a t-shirt. On more modern movie stars (and perhaps even on Brando), a good t-shirt is often made into a great one with the help of a little thing called tailoring. But thanks to Brando’s unforgettable look in an unforgettable performance, what used to be a men’s undergarment is now a regular staple in an well-rounded wardrobe.