The Definitive Guide to T-shirts

T-shirts are the most democratic of all menswear items but they're not all created equally. We breakdown 5 essential styles to cover all style bases in your wardrobe.

It’s all too easy to discount the t-shirt. For most of the year, in the UK at least, it’s a garment we wear beneath something else, quietly going about its utilitarian function, hidden from the eyes of the world. But in the summer, the t-shirt gets its proverbial 15 minutes of fame (or in the case of some English summers past, literally 15 minutes). Throughout these months, the tee comes into its own, which requires a different, more considerate approach. Fabric, fit, shape, pattern - it all needs to be balanced in the style equation for a great satisfying result. But not all t-shirts are created equally - some make excellent dance partners with tailoring, whereas others are more inclined to go to the pub with your mates. Read on to discover the styles you need in your wardrobe.

 

 

The tailoring tee

It wasn’t so long ago that you would have been publicly flogged for wearing a t-shirt with tailoring but thankfully our collective sartorial standards have broadened since then, with the t-shirt rightly deserving its place among your suits and separates. Life is infinitely more casual these days, so pairing t-shirt with tailoring is a great way to straddle the smart-casual divide. Done correctly, it has just the right amount of easy nonchalance, but incorrectly it looks as if you got dressed in the dark. The bottom like is stick with a plain tee in white, or a tonal alternative to the suit you’re wearing (so if the jacket is navy, opt for a similar navy). A bolder move would be to go for a striped tee, but again, keep it tonal to tie the look together. It’s statement enough that you’re ditching the traditional shirt, so you don’t need to be reinventing the wheel with your t-shirt choice. And always wear it tucked! In terms of cut, we’d suggest nothing too fitted and equally, nothing oversize - a straight down the middle regular fit will ensure excess fabric doesn’t spill out when tucked but you also don’t look like you’re wearing a compression top.

 

The stay-at-home tee

You know that t-shirt you go to on a Sunday morning? The one that’s super soft, easy on the eye, and just feels like a second skin? That’s the one we’re talking about. This tee is your loungewear staple, perfect for around the house, or nipping out, or even sleeping in should you get over-attached. We call it our Comfort T-shirt and we make ours in 100% Supima cotton, which is a very high quality fabric with extra long fibres that give it its softness and strength. It also holds colour really well so don’t worry about fading. Wear it with track pants and sweats for a laidback approach.

 

The holiday tee

Since it’s better to travel light, the main forte of the holiday t-shirt is versatility. You want a tee that can complement a casual beach look on the one hand while being a nice addition to pleat trousers and loafers on the other. That’s where horizontal stripes come in. Striped t-shirts have a certain nautical formality to them (hat tip to the Breton jersey) that works really well with lightweight separates, while with more casual looks, such as with shorts, they can add a nice element of contrast pattern. We’ve got a host of striped options this season that will nicely complement most, if not all, of your holiday fits.

 

The stoic tee

The white t-shirt was immortalised in the annals of menswear by James Dean and Marlon Brando who between them made something so simple look so inherently chic, masculine and effortless all at once. It is a blank canvas from which the rest of your look can jump from, and while you might not think there’s too much to say about it, there are a few considerations to make, the primary one being fit. Dean and Brando wore fitted styles because they had the bodies for it. So if you’re slim and don’t skip the gym, a fitted style will work for you. Otherwise, we’d suggest a flattering regular fit such as Oli’s tee Conway White to tick all the boxes. It’s by no means boxy, but it does allow for a bit more room than slim styles. As for styling, there isn’t a look that the white tee doesn’t work with. Use it with tailoring for a laidback contrast or wear it with jeans a la Dean and Brando.

 

The not strictly tee

We thought we’d throw in a curve ball with the Henley, which some might argue is not a t-shirt at all but we’re going to give it a free pass. Long-sleeved t-shirts peaked in the grunge years and never really made a comeback, but the Henley is different. More of a loungewear piece, it’s often categorised as an undergarment, but we think pigeonholing it does it a disservice. The main feature of the Henley is the short 3-button placket, as evident on our Swanfield Henleys, which are cut from organic seersucker. It is perfect for around the house but it’s also a great layering piece in the cooler months and can certainly hold its own with a pair of jeans or casual trousers. We also stock two versions by the excellent Hemen Biarritz, who use 100% organic cotton to construct their ribbed version of the classic.

 

 

 

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