The search for the perfect white T-shirt is a perpetual style quest. The best I’ve found is by Comme des Garçons (£45): the quality of the cotton is excellent, the top stitching on the neck band is pristine, and the fit is perfect – not too snug, not too loose. Others I rate are tees (£50) from Swedish brand The White Briefs in 100 per cent organic, sustainable cotton, which has a natural stretch, and British Sunspel’s exceptionally soft Sea Island T-shirt (from £160).
But many brands, including these, are pushing their T-shirt designs, colours and fabrications further. Even for a white (or black) cotton T-shirt purist, this is a trend worth exploring – especially as a T-shirt paired with tailoring is now such a strong look. Sunspel, for example, has taken the cellular-knit fabric it pioneered for underwear in the 1930s and used it for the raglan sleeves of T-shirts (£80) with an Egyptian cotton body – the dual texture makes for a subtly stylish twist. The brand’s marl Riviera (£55) is also spot on – a slimmer, shorter version of its classic tee with a sturdier neck band. (For a great fit, I suggest putting it through a hot wash.) I swear by grey marl tees like this, which teams well with a navy blazer. Another favourite is a dark marl silk/cotton number (£140) by Isaia.
Upgrades of marl – to a more refined mottled/mixed-yarn mélange – are also interesting choices, and John Varvatos is a great brand for these. The linen-jersey, mottled-grain crewneck tees (£135) run slightly on the slant and are garment dyed (as opposed to fabric dyed), which has the effect of emphasising the seams; they come in smartly understated muted oatmeal, blue and grey. V-neck takes (£115) come in khaki or dusty pink, while a stretch-jersey version (£115) with a mottled neck and sleeve trim has a worn-in, vintage feel that is subtle but killer cool. There are more faded tees at Richard James: those in navy or ivory linen/cotton (£155) with a small pocket are outstanding.
Greg Lauren (nephew of Ralph) also has some fantastic worn-look tees, but here the take is action-fatigued – the kind sported by sci-fi characters. Take a look at the charcoal slouchy tees (£235) with small slashes; those in ribbed ivory (£197); or others in faded, sludge-coloured jersey (the hip new hue).
LA’s James Perse channels a similar rugged aesthetic; supersoft, washed-out V- and crewneck jersey tees (£50) look stylishly crumpled and unevenly finished around the neckline. Others (£80) in tightly spun white or khaki Japanese jersey feel wonderfully heavy. An unfinished-looking, artisanal feel is also channelled in Massimo Alba’s organic-dyed cotton tees (£98).
At the other end of the spectrum are dressy silk T-shirts. Ferragamo’s are smashing – especially those in grey or terracotta silk/cotton (£1,010) and a beige microcheck (£545) – while Gieves & Hawkes’ fine-silk striped burgundy tee (£250) looks great under a burgundy velvet shawl-collar evening jacket. Saint Laurent’s ribbed black or ivory washed-silk tee (£300), with round or V-neck, is a slick upgrade of the classic cotton staple and feels great on. I also like the stripe or “superstar”-print tees (£225), though the house Marinière Breton-stripe versions (£335) are unbeatable for a more hipster look.