It’s difficult to imagine a garment more basic than a plain T-shirt. A menswear essential in every sense of the term, this humble base layer has long enjoyed a reign as one of the universal staples of every man’s wardrobe. Yet despite its popularity, it can still prove exceedingly difficult to find a good one.
The search for the perfect plain T-shirt is an eternal struggle that has, at one point or another, plagued all of us. The reason being: while a T-shirt may seem like a simple thing to get right, there’s actually a lot that can go wrong. Poor fit, shrinkage, subpar stitching and cheap fabric being some of the most common issues.
It’s all too easy to settle for less and let your style fall flat, but the perfect tee is out there. Allow us to break down everything you need to know about selecting a quality T-shirt, along with a selection of brands that, in our experience, are making the finest options around.
What Makes The Perfect T-Shirt?
First and foremost, fit is crucial when selecting a T-shirt. It doesn’t matter if it’s woven out of fabric spun from the hair of angels, if it doesn’t sit right, it’s never going to look good.
The most important aspects of fit to consider are length and shoulder width. The seams that connect the body to the arms of the shirt should sit right on the corners of your shoulders. Any less and you’ll look as though you’re about to burst out of it. Any more and you risk looking like it was handed down by an elder sibling. The one exception to this rule is if you’re deliberately going for an oversized look. In which case, be careful not to take it too far. Remember, it’s a T-shirt, not a muumuu.
In terms of length, the hem should hover just above the hips. Don’t go any lower. Yes, longline T-shirts do exist. No, grown men shouldn’t wear them.
Quality fabrication and construction are two more areas in which many T-shirts fall short. The material should be 100% cotton and soft to the touch. How thick or thin it is depends on personal preference. However thicker fabric tends be more durable and hang better, for those of us harbouring a bit of a paunch.
The Best Brands For T-Shirts
From high-street heroes to basics specialists, these are the only labels you need to consider when it comes to bolstering your T-shirt rotation.
A good mantra to live by when stocking a wardrobe is, “simple things done well”. Luckily enough, that’s British brand Sunspel’s USP and has been for many years.
Any style-savvy individual will tell you that Sunspel’s unassuming T-shirts are the best around. These are garments crafted from the finest materials with acute attention to detail and a level of quality that speaks for itself. No need for brash branding or tacky logos.
In this game of menswear, you tend to get what you pay for. However, there are those rare occasions on which real bargains can be found. Quite often, these instances come courtesy of Japanese brand Uniqlo, which offers up stripped-back wardrobe basics that deliver some serious value for money.
No exception to this rule is its T-shirts. The ultra-soft 100% Supima cotton tee has become something of a calling card for the high-street retailer. For something a little weightier, check out the Uniqlo U collection, created by industry-acclaimed designer Christophe Lemaire.
When it comes to simple, stylish staples James Perse is one of the best in the business. The L.A.-based brand creates luxurious casualwear that is designed to be lived in, with washed-out colours and combed cotton construction adding to the relaxed, West Coast feel. The label’s eponymous founder started out with a line of T-shirts back in 1994 and has spent the past 20+ years perfecting his range.
Good dressing begins with the bottom layer. This is the ethos which forms the very foundation of everything Swiss label Hanro does.
Hanro has been crafting high-end undergarments for almost 150 years. As luck would have it, that includes T-shirts, too. Expect premium materials, flawless construction and a glove-like fit you’ll struggle to find anywhere else. Arguably the ultimate base layer for all your day-to-day looks.
Most wardrobes could stand to benefit from a little Parisian cool, and there are few label’s better equipped to supply it than Jean Touitou’s ultra-clean A.P.C.
The French ready-to-wear brand is known the world over for its trademark simple styling and premium essentials. Naturally, plain T-shirts are a big part of this, with an ever-evolving roster of tasteful options present season after season.
Swedish minimalist essentials brand Arket is a relative newcomer to the high street. Yet what it lacks in history, it more than compensates for aesthetically.
Part of the H&M family, Arket’s selection of wares is far more tightly curated than that of its parent company, with a selection of clean, pared-back staples forming the foundation of its seasonal collections. T-shirts here are categorised according to weight, so if you’re a bit like Goldilocks with that sort of thing, this is the right shop for you.
Proving that Scandi minimalism is still alive and well, Norse Projects creates some of the best low-key menswear in the game.
The Copenhagen-based label is known for its tastefully subtle branding, high-quality construction and simple styling. The result is an ever-evolving selection of garments that can be relied on, season after season, year after year. Tees tend to be cut slightly longer and slimmer, so if you’re a tall, slender guy who struggles to find a good fit, Norse should be your first port of call.
With a history spanning the best part of the last 100 years, Armor Lux has had more time than most to master the perfect T-shirt.
The French label is primarily known for its striped Breton tops, but well-cut, plain tees also feature heavily on the menu. Expect low-key branding, masterful attention to detail and plenty of je ne sais quoi.
Velva Sheen was established in Cincinnati in 1932 to supply military and collegiate sports teams with durable basics. It disappeared for a little while, but now it’s back, bringing its trademark brand of American quality and ruggedness to the wider market.
The label is known for its use of vintage looms and a tubular knitting technique. This forgoes side seams, resulting in increased comfort. Production takes place in L.A., although the brand is now under Japanese ownership, so you can be assured of high quality and a healthy dose of vintage cool.