A plain white T-shirt is one of the chicest garments ever; its beauty defined by simplicity and practicality. It also represents the importance of good design, in probably its most simplest form: it’s hard to hide any design flaws on something so pared back.
Utilitarian in nature, it’s the ultimate blank canvas to build a look around - and price doesn’t always equal better. The science of the perfect white tee is also extremely personal, with a plethora of choices that can be overwhelming. So, who makes the best one? That’s probably far too contentious to ever properly answer, but here are the favourites of some in the know, which might help you narrow down your search.
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"The Classic Tee from Kowtow is both that in name and in nature. A lot of brands claim to have 'the perfect classic tee' but I am here to tell you that this *actually* is perfect. I’ve tried and tested many in my time, an unwavering staple in my relatively pared back wardrobe, and it’s safe to say that this purchase will be reoccurring, provided they continue to make it. The sleeves sit at the perfect length, not too short and not too long; still long enough when cuffed as well, which is a huge must. It’s not too long in the body either and the neckline sits just so. It is also made from a super soft, high-quality cotton that still feels crisp after a wash. My other hot tip for T-shirt buying is always size up." - Ruby Hamilton, content producer
"After a lifelong search inspired by every classic American film set in 1959 (Grease, Stand By Me), I finally found the perfect white tee on US basics site everybody.world. The Classic Trash Tee is ethically made from 100 percent recycled cotton. It has a satisfying, sturdy workwear feel without being boxy or stiff - perfect for tucking in which is how I like my tees. The shape is classic, and unisex - no scoop neck, cap sleeves, crop cut or inexplicably thin, semi-transparent fabric like the so-called T-shirts that haunted me through chain stores in my teens and into adulthood. It’s got the kind of sleeves you could effortlessly fold a pack of cigarettes into (if smoking was still cool). The Trash Tee is made to last. And I’m confident it will. I love it so much I got the pocket tee and long-sleeve to complete the set." - Alex Scott, illustrator
“I've been a fan of Tuesday Bassen's brand Tuesday of California for a long time and for many reasons - everything is cute, comfy, thoughtfully designed and size inclusive! My favourite white tee is the Piped Ringer Tee [NB: website is closed throughout October]. Is it cheating if there's a tiny pop of colour on my favourite white T-shirt? I hope not! It's the softest one I own, hasn't stretched out, and I like that the sleeves are a bit capped (and not the bunched in your armpits kinda capped), which on a personal note, lets me show off my upper arm tattoos. I recently got the Howdy colourway embroidered with "ACAB" in matching brown thread, thanks to my pal @hidougs on IG!” - Tanya Barlow, makeup artist and nail technician
"My love of the Noah recycled cotton T-shirt runs deep. It's 100 percent recycled cotton but full disclosure, that is a happy accident; I was hooked before I realised its sustainability credentials. It's boxy and not too long, and a heavy, dry cotton that I love and washes so well. The armhole is cut kind of big so it feels breezy in the heat, but the sleeve doesn't feel too long. I find so many T-shirts feel too light and stretchy and tubular. But the neckline on this is cut slightly slim and every time I layer it under a long-sleeved tee (often), I love how the neckline sits a little higher and I get that pop of white. I also have a personal aversion to so many menswear staples having the branding on the chest, but this one has that little stamp in the bottom corner, which I'm over the moon about.
I had bought one and then they sold out, so I emailed the brand more than once about a re-stock. When that happened, it felt like Christmas and I have to confess, I bought six. It felt like the most grown-up thing I'd ever done, apart from getting a mortgage...and I now have maybe a dozen, and counting." - Ben Mazey, head of brand at Lucy Folk
"My current favourite is Maggie Marilyn’s 01 T-shirt (pictured above), which had 15 prototypes made before the final was confirmed - that’s thoughtful design! Maggie has described it as 'the last white T-shirt you will ever buy'. The sleeves are what make it a standout for me - they flare out slightly, very flattering. I also am not that carefree person who is super comfortable showing my bra though my T-shirt, but this fabric is heavy enough that you won’t (it’s organic cotton from India and made locally in Silverdale). So it doesn’t lose its perfect shape as soon as you wash it either - another pet peeve in the white T-shirt search.
I’m also a fan of Kowtow’s Boxy tee (I haven’t tried their other T-shirt designs but imagine they’re also great) for similar reasons to Maggie’s - a heavy 190gsm organic cotton jersey and a seam at the back. This one is slightly cropped which is good worn with high-waisted things and for short people, like me.” - Zoe Walker Ahwa, Ensemble editorial director
"The eternal search for the perfect white tee, the wardrobe staple and weekend go-to piece. I started out with American Apparel, shopping in their Sydney, Paris and Barcelona stores before they shut down and are now only online. Loved the perfect round necks and slight transparency, which I like in a white tee in order to be able to dress it up. Following that I began an obsession with Bassike (pictured above), and still love the Australian brand for its soft, transparent, organic cottons in a variety of cuts, neck lines (and dusty colours should you want to veer away from white). Some styles are a bit long and hipster for my liking, so I chop the bottom to where I want it. As far as white T-shirts go, these are the crème de la crème. They have an individual look to them, with blue stitching along the back of the neck as a Margiela way of leaving their mark.
Recently I bought one from Kowtow and find the quality and cut hard to beat, for that white tee in all its perfect simplicity - which is actually hard to achieve, less is more. The fact that it’s a sustainable, New Zealand brand with a good price point and top quality makes it my new top pick." - Karen Inderbitzen Waller, photographer and stylist
“As an owner of several plain white tees and as a person with a history and penchant for spending what some would say is *too much* money on basics, I can relay my findings to you, dear reader! My favourite style of white T-shirt is boxy with a crew neck. I feel strongly about the crew neck, so much so that for a good period of time while foraying dating apps, a man in a V-neck tee would be an automatic swipe no. This sounds like a joke, but it's not: I am that guy. A relaxed fit is my other thing. Generally I like to delve into a men's tee as the sleeve is a better length and the comfort level is higher. With this in mind:
1. If you've got the funds and you're looking for what I have heard referred to as an 'A' shirt (as opposed to B, or C), Sunspel’s men’s classic cotton tee (pictured above) is a good option. Made in England, 100 percent Pima cotton with a standard fit and minimal styling, it's like the crème de la crème of a classic white tee. I have one, it's got a hole in the shoulder seam and I inherited it from a toxic ex so it comes with a fair of PTSD, but it's that good that I suck up the emotional trauma and refuse to throw it out.
2. Another great option is the Hanes x Karla Classic. It's oversized and a bit of a heavier weight which I think is nice, with a great neckline and a 2" split at the side seam. The thing is US$49 which is probably a trillion New Zealand dollars, but I think if you're a heavy tee wearer, it's worth it. I have the baby tee in this range, I sized up and it's perfect.
3. If you're looking for the perfect at home, sleeping T-shirt but you're also a bit of a f*ck boi (no shade, I'll admit this is me), a three-pack of Hanes x Supreme tees is a pretty easy option. After one wash they're super soft. I mean, you're basically paying a premium for a standard Hanes T-shirt just because it has a tiny Supreme logo at the hem, but in the age of a pandemic, take any kind of validation you can get.
4. The easiest and best option for a good white tee that doesn't require international shipping, would be something from AS Colour. The Men’s Classic is the heaviest and most relaxed fit they've got (220gm) and it'll set you back $30 for one, but the more you buy, the cheaper they are so you could get enough to not do laundry for a week. - Katherine Lowe, co-owner of model agency Super Management
"Turns out I'm a real fanatic when it comes to buying a white tee so I was grateful to come across the Jac & Jack Verte Organic Cotton Tee while living in Melbourne. It ticks all the boxes - tailored yet an effortless cut, a perfect neckline with substantial rib band, and no unnecessary bells and whistles." - Bailey Meredith, director at Baina & General Sleep
"I've been wearing the simple Pima Daily Tee from Asuwere, designed by Samuel Hickey, for some time now. Made from Supima cotton, it feels nice against the skin and isn't so 'cotton-y' feeling, if that makes sense - I'm not really big on T-shirts that have a density to them and weigh me down, especially if they're a basic T-shirt. You require a little more work from a simple tee that is meant to serve different purposes." - Dan Ahwa, Viva fashion and creative director
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