Earlier this year the Moma announced it would open a new exhibit featuring some of the most iconic fashion items from the last century. These would include Levi’s jeans, the little black dress and a white t-shirt.
The announcement was met with both appraise and ridicule. Personally, I understand both sides. On one hand, it’s not even a printed t-shirt, just a plain white t-shirt. We all can go to Primark and fill pick-up truck for £20. On the other, it is an item that carries a story that many garments envy. Clothes have feelings, didn’t you know that?
In order to understand why this is such an important garment, let’s take a look at some of its most pivotal points:
A quick history of the White t-shirt
The t-shirt started as underwear for sailors back in the 1800’s. Then in the early XXth century, it was adopted by the working class due to its comfort, but it wasn’t until the 50’s that the t-shirt was considered as a valid option for everyday wear to the masses. Why was that? Well, the entertainment industry had something to do with it…
The White t-shirt in Pop Culture
Many were the women (and some men) who swooned when Marlon Brando graced the silver screen in A Streetcar named Desire wearing nothing but a tight white t-shirt and a pair of fitted jeans. This wasn’t just an example of how a well-measured costume (and rippling muscles) can stimulate the most primitive part of the brain for years (decades!) after, but also how good a person can look in casual wear.
The next rendition came with James Dean in Rebel without a cause. The similarity of the outfits wasn’t a coincidence (something which Mr Brando didn’t think too kindly about, by the way) it was a reflection of an America that was leaving World War II behind and was on its way to become the most prosperous country on earth, and therefore more comfortable. As we have mentioned before on this blog, society, the entertainment and the fashion industry have a symbiotic relationship where they constantly inspire each other. It was no wonder then that after the Hollywood leading men wore them, it quickly translated to the streets.
The next big wave came in the mid and late 80’s when Don Johnson, in the hit show Miami Vice, paired them with a suit. Later down in that same decade, Hip Hop became mainstream. Bands like RUN DMC were all the rage and it wasn’t just the music that was catching up. Quickly, the big chains, caps and oversized t-shirts were appearing on the runways of Milan, Paris and New York.
The White T-shirt and High Fashion
Back in 1991, Chanel led by Karl Lagerfeld, put out a fashion show that featured some of the most famous models of the time like Linda Evangelista displaying the timeless tweed suit with a white t-shirt. It was one of the first high-end labels to feature tee on the catwalk, and for its time it was quite revolutionary.
Since then the garment has become a darling of the fashion world. Mostly reserved for crazy prints and patterns, it is not unusual to see a white t-shirt walk down the runway even to this day. The renditions are way too many to count, but one of the most memorable recent cases is the infamous $120 white t-shirt that Kanye West “designed” for A.P.C.
How do you find the perfect plain white t-shirt?
Some people would argue that to spend time looking for the “perfect” white t-shirt is a waste of time since eventually, you’ll end up ruining it by pouring wine or coffee over it. Unless you’re naturally prone to accidents during the mealtime, I don’t think that looking for that t-shirt you really like is a total waste of resources. If you take care of it, a good quality tee can last up to years.
As you may guess, the process to tell the quality of a white t-shirt is pretty much the same than when it is a garment of colour with just one difference. With a white t-shirt, one must pay particular attention to the weight of the fabric. The heavier the fabric is, then the less transparent the final garment will be. Here are some qualities you should be looking for when buying a good quality t-shirt:
Most t-shirts nowadays are cotton, polyester, or either a mixture of both. Usually speaking, the more cotton they have then the more expensive the end product will be. That is because cotton is a natural fabric that breathes much better and is more conformable than polyester and therefore more sought after.
For more information on natural fabrics vs synthetic materials, you can read this post we wrote on the subject.
Clothes that are more carefully produced have more stitches than those that aren’t. The more stitches a garment has then the more expensive it will be not only because it takes longer to produce, but also because it will last longer. This principle applies to all types of clothing.
What colour? You may be wondering. It’s a white t-shirt! The thing is almost all fabrics are treated before being turned into a garment. This includes a washing and dyeing process if they’re coloured, but if they’re white fabrics then they may undergo a bleaching treatment. You didn’t think that crispy white came from nature, now did you? Different brands use different methods which may result (as strange as it may sound) in different shades of white. Of course one may never find that out on the shop. The only way to tell is to compare different t-shirts from various brands next to each other in a place with a natural light.
For people who prefer colourful t-shirts, please check out this article.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a straight answer since this is the most elusive of all qualities. You’re the only one who can find the perfect fit that works for your body and the only way to do this is to try on different brands.
How to style a white t-shirt
If you’re a t-shirt person (and who isn’t?) then you’re in luck because white t-shirts are probably the most elegant and widely accepted variation among its peers. When in doubt, pair it with a black leather jacket, blue jeans, and sneakers. Presto!
Pair it up with a blazer and it is perfect for a casual Friday or wear it with a nice dinner jacket and you’re ready for a night out on the town. Did you know that white t-shirts make you look more attractive? I’m not even joking, there are studies that support this claim. Apparently, a white t-shirt makes your shoulders look wider and waist looks smaller which creates a V shape that it’s considered very attractive on men.
Don’t think if forgotten about you! While I didn’t find a study that supports this, I can assure you that when styled right, you can look quite lovely in a white t-shirt. They’re blank canvases, which means you can go crazy with the accessories. A particular look that I think works very well is a white tee (tucked in, please!) paired with a pencil skirt, and the fancier the skirt, the better because it creates a nice contrast.
For more information on how to style a plain t-shirt, take a look at this guide we put together a while ago. It’s got quite a few good tips, if I may say so myself.
White t-shirt templates
A while ago, we put together a post with some of the best t-shirt templates you can find on the internet. While it is quite complete, there’s just a bit of everything. If you need just a blank t-shirt one, here are some of the best:
This template features many versions of male and female models wearing the same t-shirt in different colours.
A template featuring many colours based on the ones offered by the American brand.
A very straightforward and easy to use T-shirt template.
Another template by AngelaAcevedo, this one is not as customisable since it’s only a high-resolution JPG.
A highly customisable PSD t-shirt template.
What else should we talk about? Coloured t-shirts? Black t-shirts? Pattern T-shirts? Please, let us know in the comments below. You can also join in the conversation through any of our social media outlets.
In the meantime, keep reading the Printsome blog for more awesome content.
Printsome is a T-shirt printing agency in the UK based in London that delivers all across the UK, from printing T-shirts in Brighton to York and anywhere in between. So, if you’re after a T-shirt or custom clothing, get in touch for a quote and indulge yourself in some awesome customer service.