By Janet Kelly
MY LIST of summer cannot-do-withouts include two or three—or more—of white T-shirts. Wearing a crisp, classic white T-shirt in the morning can even make you feel fresh on a soggy summer day. Moreover, the best white ones can be paired with just about everything, from a pair of blue jeans to a mini, maxi or midi skirt. They can also look charming without being girly worn beneath a sleeveless dress. And, don’t neglect black tees. White pants look oh-so-chic with black. Think Jackie O on Capri wearing white jeans, a black T-shirt, oversize black sunglasses and sandals.
Now that’s settled, the question becomes which white or black ones to choose. To answer, we convened (via e-mail) an expert panel—our readers from D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and outside of Chicago. Plus we got input from MyLittleBird staffers Kathy Legg and Mary Carpenter.
You preferred your tees be not too long, not too short (enough fabric to tuck in or leave out), have a slim fit but not be too tight or too loose and you liked lightweight.
Below, we’ve picked out some that check those boxes. And, just for fun, we threw in a couple of outrageously expensive choices.
LEFT: When more on a whim than necessity I purchased this ruched, elbow-length T-shirt for $120, I figured I had paid too much. But it really came in handy when I was in Arizona the beginning of April and the dress code for the evening event I was going attend was black tie—something I had not expected. I paired the silky Pervuvian cotton tee from Goldie Lewinter with a pleated, flowy knit skirt, and it looked just dressy enough—if not entirely dress appropriate— when I added a string of pearls. I’ve worn it several times since.
RIGHT: The James Perse black T-shirt I bought at least 10 years ago has endured, if a little on the faded side. A newer version with a slightly cropped hem and relaxed structure—the Vintage Little Boy Tee ($80)—has the same qualities I liked in the older one—it’s 100% cotton and features a finished crew neckline and hem.
LEFT: For my New Jersey pal (Nancy G.) who favors Gap’s lightweight T-shirts for fit, fabric and length, I think the brand’s cotton-modal blend Modern V-Neck, also available in crewneck, will strike her fancy. It’s $24.95, but take 40% off with code FRIEND, and that comes to a wallet-friendly $14.97.
RIGHT: Our amazing art and photo editor, Kathy Legg, sticks with Gap, too. She buys all-cotton white and black V-necks that are not fitted, like this one for $14.95 that’s also 40% off with code FRIEND. But you have to be careful, she says.
“Quality varies according to which country produced the shirt. For example, those coming from India are subpar. The ones made in Vietnam are swell.”
LEFT: If you like a sculpted look, Monrow’s Fitted Crew Neck—a blend of 50% polyester, 38% cotton and 12% rayon—may be, er, the right fit. For a more relaxed shape, order a size up. It’s long enough to wear with pants without a high rise, but it’s not bulky if you want to tuck it into trousers. Wear it with a blazer or more casually, with a zip-up sweatshirt.
RIGHT: What matters to New York City photography collector Linda K. is cut and how the T-shirt looks on her. She prefers shirts that are not expensive because “they take a lot of abuse in the washer and dryer, and I’m always getting them dirty.” Currently, Uniqlo’s styles, such as Supima Cotton Crew Neck Short-Sleeve ($14.95), are on her radar. The crisp white color is a compelling selling point.
LEFT: Our hard-working Well-Being editor, Mary Carpenter, usually opts for print T-shirts. When she’s not wearing those, her favorite is a black one from Eileen Fisher. Similar to the one Mary has owned for a while and that she purchased on sale is this Flex Ponte Crew Neck Top, which fills her requirements for sleeve length (at least 3/4), a loose jewel neck and fabric with some structure. She’s disappointed with how expensive they’ve become—it sells for $168. At least this one is washable.
RIGHT: Former Washington Post arts editor, freelance writer and MyLittleBird contributor, Christine L., likes a sculpted sleeve, a fitted silhouette—nothing boxy. She finds ones that best suit her at Athleta, such as this Speedlight Seamless Tee ($54), made of nylon and spandex. Plus, you can wear it for a workout. Internal hem grippers make it stay put when you move.
LEFT: Former director of newsroom operations at the Washington Post, Melissa M. likes fitted tees with Spandex so they don’t lose their shape in either crew- or V-neck. This Tara crewneck ($68) from Michael Stars may not have quite enough Spandex to fit her requirements, but it looks figure flattering to us.
RIGHT: Like with blue jeans, the best way to find the best T-shirt for your body is to keep trying them on until you strike gold. That’s how I view my Stateside slub jersey tee ($72), purchased late last summer. Made of cotton that’s irregularly knit and slightly textured, it holds its shape and has a laid-back vibe without being loose. Importantly, it doesn’t cling to body bits I would rather not emphasize.
Finally, both Lafayette 148 NY’s Modern V-Neck Tee (left) and Loro Piana’s My-T Roundneck (right) belong in the category of just how much are you willing to spend on a T-shirt, beyond fabulous fabric and first-rate fit? The former definitely has desirable details —superior cotton, finished hems along the neck, hemline and sleeves, a good hip length and a fit that’s somewhere between fitted and relaxed. Still, it’s a spendy $198. If you’ve got gobs of money and want to telegraph that to the very few who would even notice, then, maybe you’ll shell out $425 for Loro Piana’s.
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