It doesn’t matter who you are or how you define your personal style, a plain white T-shirt is one item you cannot be without. It may be little more than a piece of cloth with four holes in it, but it underpins modern menswear, acting as a solid foundation on which the rest of casualwear can sit.
Suffice to say, if there were an official hierarchy of wardrobe basics, a well-fitting white tee would occupy the top spot. It’s the perfect accompaniment to shorts in the summer; an undershirt when the time comes to don your finery; a pair of jeans’ closest ally; it can even be worn in place of a shirt to lend tailored looks a modern edge. In other words, it offers almost limitless versatility, which, considering its relatively affordable price, represents incredible value for money.
If your stock of white T-shirts tends to come as an afterthought, now’s the time to reassess your priorities. A garment this integral to your daily looks deserves some thought, and the first thing to consider is the brands you choose to buy from.
Below, you’ll find a carefully selected list of our favourite white T-shirt brands, ranging from well-made affordable options to indulgent luxury examples.
Simplicity is the name of the game for Swedish label ASKET. You won’t find any sprawling seasonal collections or trend-led items here; just high-quality basics that look great and will continue to do so irrespective of changing seasons and fleeting fads.
The brand offers two white T-shirts: one made from 180gsm Egyptian cotton for a classic midweight option, or a lighter 120gsm version for warmer weather. Both are made in Portugal using high-quality materials and offer superb value for money.
Everlane is another label with a commitment to making high-quality wardrobe essentials and its white T-shirts are testament to that. There are a number of options to choose from, ranging from organic cotton in a classic cut, to premium heavyweight cotton in a more relaxed fit.
Whatever shape and fit you’re looking for, there’s something here to satisfy, and with multi-buy deals often available, it’s a great place to stock up.
A Day’s March
Another Swedish brand with a knack for well-made wardrobe essentials, A Day’s March offers quality T-shirts in a range of cuts, weights, fabrics and fits. Whether you’re after a classic cotton option or something more tactile, there’ll be something here to suit.
A.P.C. is living proof that less is more. Over the past 30 years, the French brand has made a name for itself as the go-to label for high-quality, low-fuss wardrobe staples that just ooze laid-back European charm. T-shirts tend to be understated, or if there is branding or embellishments, they’re tastefully executed and in keeping with A.P.C.’s stripped-back aesthetic.
Heavily influenced by the laid-back energy of America’s West Coast, James Perse’s unique knack for merging casual styling with luxury is unmatched. The brand is known for its high-end, plain T-shirts, among other simple staples, which boast premium quality, meticulous attention to detail and high-quality fabrics across the board.
There’s no getting around the fact that Sunspel’s T-shirts are pricey, but they’re also widely considered the best in the game. Anyone who knows their clothes understands that this British brand is the gold standard when it comes to plain tees, with fit, attention to detail and fabric that is second to none.
It’s entirely possible to spend more on a T-shirt if you go to the high-fashion labels, but Sunspel’s tees are where the quality maxes out. Any more than this and you’re just paying for the name on the label, making Sunspel’s version, in our experience, the best money can buy.
French label Armor Lux is known primarily for its Breton tops, but it’s not just striped tees this heritage brand knows its way around. The label’s reassuringly thick (but not overly so) Classic T-shirt offers a loose, boxy cut and a small anchor logo patch above the hem.
If you’re not a fan of thin, overly fitted T-shirts then this would be a good place to begin your search.
If you’re after something a bit more fashion-forward but don’t want to break the bank, COS is usually a pretty safe bet. The Scandi retailer specialises in contemporary cuts, minimalist styling and offers a tasteful approach to trends that’s difficult to find elsewhere on the high street.
T-shirt-wise, expect relaxed fits and modern twists such as bonded seams and mock-neck collars. However, if all you want is a simple T-shirt in a classic cut, you can find one of those here too.
Mr Porter’s in-house brand is all about understated clothing made to the highest possible standards. It’s the sort of brand you could comfortably deck out your entire wardrobe with, from casualwear to tailoring to loungewear, knowing you’d be immaculately turned out for any situation.
At the core of it all, MR P’s white T-shirt’s are designed for a flattering, fitted cut and are available in either classic jersey cotton or a super-premium cotton-silk blend for a luxurious hand feel.
Arket’s tightly curated, minimalist collections are a breath of fresh air from the usual fast-fashion high-street dross. Garments are simple, well made and aesthetically impervious to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trends and fleeting fads.
Plain T-shirts are, of course, one of the retailer’s key pieces, serving as a constant staple from season to season. You can choose from heavyweight, midweight or lightweight cotton and each one will set you back somewhere in the region of £25.
A Brief History Of The White T-Shirt
Originally deemed underwear as part of an all-in-one undergarment, the white tee separated itself at the end of the nineteenth century when two-piece underwear became popular amongst men of the era. Nevertheless, it was around the time of World War I in 1913 when the white T-shirt truly came into its own. Issued as an undergarment for British and American naval personnel, it kept sailors’ arms free for deck work aboard their ships and was worn alone to avoid soiling their uniforms. In the Navy it became known as a ‘Gob Shirt’.
The major breakthrough for the white T-shirt came during the early twentieth century when British brand Sunspel (known as Thomas A. Hill and Co. back then) introduced the garment as a lightweight cotton essential for warmer climates. At the same time, across the Atlantic Ocean, Fruit of the Loom and Hanes were manufacturing their own versions. Although both were still considered underwear.
Elsewhere, the white tee was being used as an undergarment that would absorb sweat and prevent the shoulder pads of American football players chafing.
After World War II the white T-shirt became a standalone piece. Deemed acceptable as an ‘outerwear’ garment, it was often worn in place of a casual buttoned shirt. It’s military heritage bought with it a certain amount of machismo, another reason for the white T-shirt’s enduring popularity. Yet it’s the white T-shirt’s simple design, versatility and blank-page quality that resonates across generations and men from all walks of life. Its ability to denote a hard-working-class status, symbolise rebellion, athleticism and sexiness all at once is what separates this menswear essential.
Originally, white was an inexpensive option for the British and American navies. It required no dyeing, and dirt and stains were impossible to hide too, which encouraged discipline with seamen battling heat in tropical climates and aforementioned uniform-soiling dirty jobs.
There was of course the introduction of logo emblazoned designs, as well as T-shirts in every colour imaginable, but the clean, basic and historic constitution of the original white tee make it the long-standing, all-conquering hero. A theory cemented by movie legends, and timeless icons of style and sex appeal such as Marlon Brando and James Dean.
How A White T-Shirt Should Fit
When it comes to white T-shirts, too baggy, excessively wide sleeves or, conversely, too tight can all look unkempt.
For the ideal fit, sleeves should land halfway between your shoulder and elbow with the shoulder seam (where the body attaches to the sleeve) falling where your shoulder ends and drops off down your arm. Choose a slim or tapered fit if you’re body confident. Never skinny-fit or longline. If you’re carrying a little weight then opt for a classic fit, which will flatter your frame.
The hem of your white T-shirt should finish at the top of your hips, no longer or shorter. And remember, above all else – it should be comfortable for you to wear for long periods of time.