The Great White T-Shirt

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The white t-shirt was originally an undergarment with roots in the military. The white tee started to get traction as a legitimate outer garment with the help of some iconic cultural tentpoles in the middle of the twentieth century, most notably Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

Since then, white t-shirts, along with jeans, have become basic staples in classic men’s style.

I keep a collection of about five white t-shirts, all identical, made with good cotton and a slim fit that maintains shape, particularly around the arms and collar band. Beyond that, they’re not worth overthinking, and they’re my go-to garments when I’m not in a dress shirt.

Since I wear (and wash) them with a pretty high frequency, I replace my white tees about every year, if not sooner. On that schedule and on my budget, I keep it on the affordable spectrum. I’ve experimented with many inexpensive options over the years, only to find that either the cotton is cheap or the fit is weird (at least on me) or both. For a long time, Banana Republic made the definitive tagless slim-fit tees for me. They were well made and affordable and they fit me beautifully. But Banana stopped making the ones I liked.

These days my resource for crewneck t-shirts is J.Crew Factory, where the slim washed t-shirts cost $19.50 each at full price or as little as $9 or less when there’s a sale, which is when I re-stock. They fit well, they’re made with nice 100% cotton that gets better with each wash, and they’re quite affordable. Nothing fancy and, as I mentioned earlier, not worth overthinking. In addition to the slim fit that I buy, they also come in regular and tall fits for the same price.

** It’s worth noting that the t-shirts I’m talking about are a shorter cut, designed to be worn untucked or “half-tucked,” as I often wear them. For an actual undershirt to wear underneath a dress shirt, I’d go with those Hanes or Fruit of the Loom three-packs. They’re deliberately cut longer so that they don’t come untucked under a dress shirt, which can be annoying and uncomfortable.



  1. Had not been a fan until the last decade plus (yeah, I am old..), as I was too pale and skinny! Have filled out enough to wear them, at least around the house and yard, but not by themselves in public. I go with Land’s End long/ tall size in all cotton and have had a few that serve me well. Don’t wear t-shirts in public with printing or images on them – am not a bill board or street sign. Know I am in the minority here. No logos on me. They work best when truly clean and white. Have a few others in grey (preferred), charcoal and aqua.

    • I’m the same way; I just don’t like the distraction of a logo or advertisement on a look. I may break that for my occasional sports outing, but even then it irks me! For me it’s American Apparel, a variety of colored undershirts, and my preference for V-neck.

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