Style SOS: What does smart-casual actually mean?
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What do you recommend for that staple of summer –the white t-shirt? I want one that’s not a tight fit, keeps its shape before and after washing and doesn’t dull." – Chris, via email
Is there any item that's as simple, yet as difficult to get right, as the white t-shirt? Nail the fit and you’re James Dean, Marlon Brando or Luke Perry. Get it wrong and you’re the kid at sports day who forgot your kit and had to raid the lost property bin. The good news though is that this weather is practically made for the white t-shirt, and because every brand is desperate to be the crowned the ultimate white t-shirt maker, there are plenty to choose from.
Getting the right fit for you will be a little bit of trial and error because every man, and every t-shirt, is different. But, on the plus side, you only have to go through that once – think of it as Goldilocks, searching for the one that is just right. It is possible to spend a lot of money on t-shirts (some cost hundreds) but there is no need to. Above £50, you're largely paying for the name sewn in the collar.
That said, you do need to spend a little. A white t-shirt lives and dies by what it's made from, and how well it's made. A cheap white t-shirt has no graphics or patterns to hide behind. They often hang weirdly and warp the first time through the washing machine. So it's worth investing. For £25, you get Arlen's classic white crew-neck in 100% cotton. Slightly more (but still under £30) is Colourful Standard. As the name suggests, the brand's best known for its brights, but its t-shirts shouldn’t be ignored. They're made from 100% organic cotton and are cut in a boxier shape that creates a really flattering fit, sitting just slightly away from the body.
If you're into classic brands, then Armor-Lux’s version is still under the £30 mark. Best known for its Breton tops – they’re one of only three traditional companies still making the Breton in France – Armor-Lux has applied its expertise here too, just minus the stripes. This does technically have a tiny, blink-and-you-miss-it logo on the left corner of the hem. But don't let that put you off its Callac t-shirt, a strong contender for the perfect white tee. Somewhere in the middle, you’ve got plenty of choice from some of the best names in menswear, like Paul Smith or the collaboration between Comme des Garcon x Sunspel. British selvedge denim brand Hawksmill understands the power of combining a classic white t-shirt and jeans, so it makes sense for the brand to create its own. Its cotton-jersey tee has a patch pocket and the ideal nonchalant fit to pair with your denim, for an easy rider vibe.
If you're happy with a little more detail, British brand Percival has some fun styles with embroidered details – everything from astronauts and matches to a cactus. While not quite the plain style you may be after, the 100% cotton t-shirts have a slightly longer fit and the detailing adds a little energy, if you're in the mood to mix it up.
If you fancy investing in the original – and still the best – look no further than Sunspel. The British brand created some of the original t-shirts in the 1860s and is still a reliable go-to today for well-made t-shirts that are slightly on the heavier side, thanks to their premium materials. They’re also the brand behind 007’s famous polo shirts, so if you want a bit of that James Bond suave, you’d do worse than starting with a Sunspel white tee.
When you’ve found the perfect white tee, stock up – it never hurts to have more than one if you can. You want to make your dream t-shirt last, which means keeping it as white as possible for as long as possible. Washing is obviously a necessity but there are some simple tips you can follow to get the most out of them. After all, you only want to search for the perfect white t-shirt once.
Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Illustration: Ryan Gillett