The term ‘wardrobe staple’ is thrown around more times than a steak at a vegan party, but the humble T-shirt is one item to which it can truly be applied.
A garment that started off as strictly underwear, developed into workwear and is now a definitive style essential, you would be hard pressed to find a man who has never owned this 100-plus-year-old basic.
The T-shirt‘s versatility has a great deal to do with its ability to outlast trends; it’s the only piece of clothing that can be worn for any occasion, from under a shirt, with a suit, to the gym, beach and to bed.
They are true commodities: we buy them in bulk, often from the same brand, and we don’t stop to think about them until they need replacing. But are we really making the most out of our basic T-shirts? To offer a shortcut around the hours, even days, it can take to find the perfect colour, cut and style, here is the ultimate guide to man’s real best friend.
The way a T-shirt fits says a lot about its wearer. Too baggy, with sleeves flopping sadly from the shoulder and excess fabric creating a tent around your torso, gives the impression of a man who has given up. On the other hand, exploding seams and a stuffed sausage-skin fit sends the opposite message, of a man who can’t get his own reflection out of his head.
The perfect fitting example emphasises parts of the body you’re proudest of, without drawing attention to the areas you’re conscious of. Confused? Before trying one on, look at your naked torso in the mirror and ask yourself what your best attribute is.
Arms: Whether rolled or regular, sleeves should hit around the halfway point on your upper arm to show off your biceps and triceps.
Pecs/Shoulders: Aim for a slim-fitting style that skims through this part of the body, leaving enough room for air to circulate.
Abs/Narrow Waist: Guys with bigger chests and/or narrow waists should look for tapered cuts that don’t drape around your mid-section.
If not entirely confident of your body – a feeling that affects many of us – or nothing stands out, opt for a classic fit. Don’t oversize in an attempt to conceal the lumps or buy smaller to exaggerate (albeit hard-won) features.
Equally, if you feel everything about your upper half is worth flaunting, well, first control the urge to go shirtless, then take up some of this advice that applies to all body types.
A classic T-shirt should finish around the top of your hips. This will ensure you can raise your hands without turning your tee into a crop top.
Short sleeves shouldn’t cover more than half of your upper arm and should sit as close to the skin as possible without stretching.
A perfect-fitting T-shirt isn’t restrictive, allows you to move comfortably and should never feel tight (with the exception of performance attire).
Even in oversized or longline styles, the shoulder seams should ideally align with the point where the curve of your shoulder ends.
White: The quintessential T-shirt. For underwear, there’s no better choice and it’s the best colour (or lack of) to combine with classic indigo jeans – see James Dean and Paul Newman for confirmation.
Grey: Jersey or grey marl is a mixture of different shades, and the final textured effect is extremely flattering – especially if searching for a T-shirt to visually enhance your body shape. That said, guys who naturally sweat a lot should tread with caution as grey will make it significantly more noticeable.
Black: Although black remains a popular shade of T-shirt, it does come with pros and cons. On a positive note, a black T-shirt offers a rebellious alternative to the classic white option. However, the colour is known to fade quickly as well as feel warmer in hot conditions.
Navy: Not always available in standard three-for-two deals or multi-packs, navy is a refined choice that does almost the same job as black, but remains day-friendly due to the colour having more depth. Great for creating tonal looks when combined with denim and blue tailoring.
The rise (and rise, and rise) of trends such as athleisure and the relaxing of office dress codes means that T-shirts are now more popular than arguably ever before. However, neutral shades can get a bit samey. Keep things fresh and inject some energy into your day-to-day looks by trying out colours.
There are no strict rules here – making it an easy, affordable and effective way of experimenting with different hues – but, as a rule of thumb, certain shades look better on certain skin tones.
Fair Skin: Guys with pale skin and lighter features such as red, blonde or light brown hair and blue eyes better suit colours that clearly contrast with the skin’s tone. That means darker hues like camel, bottle green and bold primary colours work best, whereas soft, pastel shades should be avoided.
Olive/Medium Skin: Anyone with olive or medium skin (or those lucky ones returning from two weeks in the Med) will find they suit a wide spectrum of colours. For best results, avoid shades that are too close to the skin’s tone, such as shades of brown and orange – always lean either a little brighter or darker than the middle ground.
Darker Skin: When it comes to colours, dark skinned guys have their pick. Make the most of this and go bright and bold with primary shades and jewel tones. Just avoid brown, which can bleed into the skin and make you appear ashy.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in style will know that there are several necklines on offer. Yet rather than complicate a look with everything from deep-Vs (shudder) and boat necks to scooped and raw hems, it pays to stick to the classics.
V-necks naturally elongate the neck, which makes them perfect for shorter guys looking to create the illusion of height, or larger men after a slimming effect. They also provide balance to rounder or wider face shapes.
If you have a small chest or sloped shoulders, a crew neck will likely suit you best. Crew necks draw the eye out and create the illusion of squarer shoulders, making you appear broader and better proportioned. This more substantial neckline also provides balance to men with longer necks or narrow face shapes.
Most men tend to favour thicker fabrics rather than lightweight ones; as if the quality is directly related to the weight of the garment. Well, the opposite is actually true for T-shirt materials. Whether worn as a base layer or solo, a T-shirt should feel like second skin.
Almost all T-shirts will be cut from cotton or a cotton blend of some kind. The gold standard is Pima or Egyptian cotton, which are made from long staple fibres that last longer, look thinner and feel lighter. These two kinds of cotton are considered to be the finest available on the market and are utilised by specialist brands such as Sunspel, NN07 and Uniqlo.
Cotton blends are also good options. A moderate amount of elastane (stretch fibres) helps to maintain the shape of the T-shirt, whereas cotton-polyester blends come in at a lower price point and often crease less.
Other brands look further afield to fabrics like Tencel, which tends to be even cooler than linen, or viscose, which is more absorbent.
A good quality T-shirt in a great fit will slot seamlessly into your existing wardrobe and you’ll get good use for years to come.
Whether yours comes in a three-pack from the high street or you splurged on a designer take, it’s important to remember that a high price tag doesn’t always guarantee high quality. Therefore, it pays to know the key brands in each price bracket.
If T-shirts are a part of your everyday wardrobe, affordable options found on the high street are a perfect way to stock up in bulk and are easily replaceable. Brands that offer the best value for money include Gap, Uniqlo and Next.
In the middle, premium bracket is where most underwear and loungewear specialists sit. The likes of Hanro, Sunspel, Derek Rose and James Perse are a big step up from the high street, but they will do your money justice. It will seem lavish or excessive at first, but the long-term benefits – better fit, shape retention, longevity – pay off and you will definitely get your cost-per-wears from them.
Unless you have a double-barrelled surname, the trust fund to back it up and work in the city, most guys would have to skip a few meals to afford designer T-shirts. This is when understanding fabrics and quality is most important. While there are plenty of brands creating decent tees from premium materials (such as Acne Studios, A.P.C. and Sandro) it’s easy to fall into a trap of paying over the odds for simple branding.