Michael 84
Wednesday, 21st May, 2014

The Complete Guide To Men’s Basic T Shirts

the-best-basic-tshirt-guide

The Basic T-shirt – An Essential Item

One item which is probably the most overlooked in your wardrobe is a classic white T-shirt. The main reason for this could be by it’s own definition, a simple, basic, white T-shirt, however getting it right can make an outfit, and getting it wrong can make you look sloppy. Despite it being known as a basic, it can get quite complex with a whole boatload of different brands, styles, fabric, neck shapes, fits, colours and price points. This is the complete guide which will break things down, showcase some brands with real and genuine reviews from a buyers perspective. Want to explore the brands right away? Meet the brands below, or read on to learn about the fundamentals of choosing your basic T-shirt.

Meet The T Shirts

Budget, High Street, Premium And Luxury

When it comes to selecting your basic T-shirt, price and brand will be key as to what you will get, in terms of the fit, style, raw materials and manufacture. The budget options may be made of different types of cotton, it may not be as durable or be mass produced in Asian factories. At the high street and premium end you will usually get a better fit, more ethically produced and better materials may be used creating a better fit and feel. If you go fully to the luxury end you could end up with a high end fashion label, or a brand who specialises in cotton or producing the perfect T-shirt from only the finest cotton.

The Perfect Fitting T Shirt

I think as guys we are a bit slack and sometimes forget about the fit of clothing, especially something as seemingly basic as a t-shirt. We think, if it’s too small it doesn’t fit, and anything else is fine. The fit says a lot, and can change depending on what kind of look you’re going for, and on the occasion. A t-shirt which is far too baggy will almost always look sloppy and not right, even slightly baggy can be a no-no depending on the occasion and look you’re going for. On the flipside, something which is really tight fitting will look silly, no matter if you think you look great showing off “your guns” or not, to everyone else it looks like you’re wearing your little brother’s t-shirt. So what is the perfect fit? It’s a compromise between the two, but more importantly it will depend on your body shape and what actually fits and feels perfect for you. Read more on the fit.

Timeless Colours – The Perfect White Tee

As far as the basic T-shirt goes the plain white t-shirt is the most historic, quintessential and versatile colour you can wear. Pull any item out of your wardrobe, and it will pair seamlessly with your perfect white tee. From a pair of light coloured chinos to dark coloured jeans, a summer denim jacket or classic leather, white will always work. The other colours considered to be a staple and basic in your wardrobe are a mix of greys, light and dark, the classic black, and even navy blue. These are the core colours of T-shirts which you should look at buying when choosing a basic for wearing in an outfit.

Materials – Fabric Choices In T Shirts

The fabric used in basic T shirts is either 100% cotton, or a mix. A poly-cotton blend is sometimes used, but are usually found in lower quality products. Despite a few good points, it is not a natural material and are less breathable. A lot of better quality shirts contain elastane. As the name suggests, it’s elastic, which gives the Tee stretch, and can maintain shape well, as well as giving you a really good fit. Read more on the fabric.

Neck Types

The types of neck and collar are growing. The two classics you will be familiar with are crew neck, also known as rounded neck, and V-neck. These two are the most common, and you’ll find a vast array of tops with this neckline. More fashionable or fashion forward types of neckline have been a scoop or deeper V. They are exactly as they sound. The scoop neck is like a rounded collar neck, but a larger cut. The deep V is the same as a V-neck with a longer cut, and exposes more of the chest.

The advice – Stick with the classics. The classic V will elongate your frame, with a crew neck creating a more boxy look. Deep V and huge scoops may be marketed as “fashion forward” by some brands, but they have not stood the test of time, and are being utilized by the gym going fitness freaks. If you’re going to the gym or beech and have the body for it, it can be acceptable, otherwise avoid. For everyday situations, casual or formal nights, stick to the classics.

The White T Shirt Company

The White T Shirt Co - Basic White TShirt

The White T Shirt Company is a brand which is all about sustainability and ethical fashion. Born in the North East of England, the mission is clear; To create a range of ethical, stylish perfect basic T shirt without compromising quality. They are 100% organic and are certified by GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard), with every element of the production process monitored; From the picking of the cotton buds in Turkey to the construction of the shirts in Ukraine. The White T Shirt Co. has a range of products including V-neck, crew neck, slim fit and loose fit shirts, in the staple colours of white, black and navy.

The shirts feel great, with the range of fits available there is something for everyone, and for every occasion. Buy it direct from The White T Shirt Co here.

Composition: 95% cotton, 5% elastane
The Fit: Loose fit and slim fit available. I find the fit is true to size, and prefer the slim fit shirt for a smarter look.
Price: £32-35
The Feel: Soft to touch
Weight: Light-Mid weight
Style It: Wear these on their own, or with an open shirt to create a cool summer look
Made In: Ukraine

Sunspel

Sunspel Basic T Shirt

Sunspel are a British brand with an extremely proud heritage. Founded in 1860 by Thomas A Hill, they have been perfecting their T-shirts to make them light, soft and the most comfortable. They have taken the classic humble basic to a new level, with their invention of Q82 fabric, 2 threads of the finest long staple, 80s count Egyptian cotton and twist them together to create a smooth, strong, very fine cotton thread that will stand the test of time when wearing and washing. The shirts are proudly made in the UK, and it’s refreshing to see a “Made In The UK” label on something in a world where almost every product is from China. Britain makes high quality items, and makes them well. This Sunspel Tee is a testament to that.

Buy this from Sunspel here

Composition: 100% Egyptian Cotton
The Fit: Regular Fit. I found the fit slightly, loose. For a closer cut, Sunspel recommend going a size down.
Price: £55
The Feel: Super soft to touch
Weight: Light-Mid weight
Style It: It will look great on it’s own, or with a cardigan or jacket to create a minimal look.
Made In: United Kingdom

Derek Rose

Derek Rose Luxury Basics

Almost 100 years into the business, Derek Rose entered the nightwear business in 1926. Loungewear is traditionally worn for exactly that; Lounging around. They are designed as a stylish, fashionable form of formal nightwear, but are a versatile garment. Made from a fine gauge, PIMA cotton, the tee has ultrafine seems for extra comfort and 8% elastane for ultimate stretch. Designed and made in London, it is very lightweight, luxury shirt which is slightly longer in length for a better fit. Derek Rose is a luxury label and this will set you back more than a high street basic, however having one of these in your wardrobe you will feel where that extra money has gone every time you put it on.

Get yours from Derek Rose here.

Composition: 92% PIMA Cotton, 8% Elastane
The Fit: Slim fit. Slightly longer in length, it’s cut close to the body for a slim fit.
Price: £35
The Feel: Super soft, slightly silky and smooth
Weight: Very lightweight
Style It: Loungewear, perfect for relaxing, or wear this with a smart blazer jacket for a minimal, clean look.
Made In: London, United Kingdom

Jockey

Jockey Underwear T Shirt Is Super Soft

Founded in 1876, Jockey is a company from the USA which has a rich history underwear and sleepwear, known for having invented the first Y-front brief in 1934. Fast forward to today, and they are producing some innovative, and quality basics. The modern stretch t shirt comprises of 94% cotton and 6% elastane/Lycra, which is slim fitting. The sleek fabric is fine and light, and is very comfortable to wear.

The Microfiber T shirt is an innovative fabric, which is a composition of 91% polyamide and 9% elastane. which results in a very soft, and silky finish. Extra soft, flat seams and a waistband along with no neck label makes it a comfortable wear. Buy this from Jockey here.

Composition: Modern Stretch: 94% cotton, 6% elastane. Microfiber: 91% Polyamide, 9% elastane
The Fit: A slim fitted style which cuts close to the body.
Price: £26 2-pack modern stretch; £22 Microfiber T
The Feel: Modern Stretch: Soft Microfiber – Silky smooth
Weight: Modern Stretch: Lightweight – Microfiber: Very lightweight
Style It: Loungewear, this can be layered with a light denim jacket to create a summer look.
Made In: China

Hanro Of Switzerland

Hanro Of Switzerland White Luxury Tee

Hanro of Switzerland has a simple message; Pure luxury on skin. This cotton superior T-shirt is made from long staple Egyptian GIZA cotton, hand picked to ensure it’s quality. The shirt is lightweight and soft to touch, and comes with a slightly longer length. The composition is 93% cotton and 7% elastane, creating a better fit. The V-neck fit is a perfect cut, which is not too deep and sits on the body nicely. Originally designed for loungewear, it’s versatile enough to wear out on it’s own, or create an outfit using this as a base for layering. Buy it direct here.

Composition: 93% Egyptian cotton, 7% elastane
The Fit: Fitted with a slightly longer length.
Price: £35
The Feel: Soft to touch
Weight: Lightweight
Style It: Loungewear, wear it out on it’s own or style with a smart blazer jacket.
Made In: Portugal

Hugo Boss

Hugo Boss Grey T Shirt

Hugo Boss is a high end fashion label which specialises in a number of clothing lines and collections. From their ready to wear luxury fashion to great smelling fragrances, and produce some fine basic tees too. This from the BOSS line is a medium weight, soft cotton shirt. A toned black logo keeps the look to a minimal, which is key to any basic.

Composition: 95% cotton, 5% elastane
The Fit: Regular fit
Price: £45 for a pack of 2
The Feel: Soft to touch
Weight: Mid-weight
Style It: Wear this out on it’s own, or style it with a light summer jacket.
Made In: China

Prada

Prada Luxury White T Shirt

One of the most exclusive luxury brands in fashion today, Prada are not only on the catwalk but create some amazing white T shirts. Loud logos and graphics are a no-no, and this white top is a classic, with a pocket to the breast and toned branding, it looks understated and plain. Once you put this on you’ll know you’re wearing something special, made from super soft cotton and elastane, the fit is good and the shirt will stand the test of time. The downside is the price, and it is a very expensive option for a basic tee. If you have the cash and want something special, simple and stylish to pull out of your wardrobe, this could be an option.

Composition: 93% cotton, 7% elastane
The Fit: Slightly fitted t shirt
Price: £110
The Feel: Soft to touch
Weight: Mid-weight
Style It: The ultimate of basic tees. Versatile, it can be worn on it’s own or with a jacket.
Made In: Tunisia

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein Basics

Calvin Klein basics are always very good fitting. I have had a number of them over the years, and their stretch T shirts are really nice, with a beautiful soft feel and hugging fit. Entering at a high street price point, you can pick up a pack of two for around £25. They will still have a good fit and feel after several washes, however they will start to look tired if you wear and wash them a lot, but are a good choice if you are looking for a high street branded basic which delivers quality for a reasonable price.

Composition: 95% cotton, 5% elastane
The Fit: Fitted
Price: £26 for a pack of 2
The Feel: Soft to touch
Weight: Mid-weight
Style It: A basic which is best worn with an open shirt or cardigan.
Made In: Thailand

H&M

H&M High Street White Tee

Known for their inexpensive fashion, H&M produce a large range of basic items at affordable prices. However, the low price-points should not be a complete turn-off if you are looking for a basic t-shirt, as H&M offer several ranges of t-shirts. This V-neck is from the stretch range, is features a fine cotton gauge and contains elastane to create a more fitted look. For under a tenner, it’s not going to break the bank, it’s soft to touch and does have a good fit. It stands up pretty well in terms of durability, but should be considered if you’re looking for an affordable basic tee.

Composition: 95% cotton, 5% elastane
The Fit: Slightly Fitted
Price: £7.99
The Feel: Soft to touch
Weight: Mid-weight
Style It: This top can be worn on it’s own or with a casual jacket.
Made In:  Bangladesh

Further reading – Types of fit

Super tight fit – You might hear of people talking about t-shirts which look like they’re “painted on” because they are so tight. People who go to the gym think this will make them look good, it does not. The effect it usually has is looking like you’re going to break out your clothing, which is not really fashionable or great looking at all. I can’t imagine these being too comfortable to wear either.

Slim fits – Perfect for the slender guy and muscular body types. It will be form fitting, so it should always create a good fit. This kind of fit is good if you’re wearing a t-shirt on it’s own, with an open shirt or even with a more formal jacket or blazer.

Reguar Fits – For the average body type, but make sure you get the right size. When trying these on they should be slightly baggy with room for manoeuvre, not fitted however not very baggy. If you have a bit of a belly then it’s good to hide it a little, but don’t make the mistake of going too big…

Oversize/Going a size up – If you have a beer belly a lot of people try to cover it up wearing baggy clothing. This actually makes you look bigger than you are. The key is the fit, and make sure it’s a well fitting piece of clothing, not too small and not too baggy.

Side note – Try them on

If you get 5 regular fit medium t-shirts from different brands they’ll almost certainly fit you differently. Mix this up with a slim fit or oversized fit, and you’re in a minefield of different sizes. The key is to try different sizes from different brands (and cuts) so you get the correct one for you…A medium from one brand may not be the same size as a medium from another.

Further reading – Types of fabric

Poly-Blend
Poly-cotton or Poly-blend t-shirts are those with a mix of polyester and cotton in their construction. The mix could be anything, but you may typically see 50/50, 65/35 or 80/30 with the two larger numbers being the cotton. So what is it? Well the first thing you should know is that polyester is a manmade material. Since it’s not a natural product it has many great attributes, such as less shrinkage, very soft feel, more versatile colours, and they’re said to wrinkle less. However many people don’t like them because of the chemicals which are used in making them, they are less breathable and in general not used for a top quality basic tee.

1oo% Cotton

The most common of t-shirts. 100% cotton can be both inexpensive and very expensive. Cotton is not all the same, and there are various types of cotton, including Ringspun, Pima, Jersey, and Combed. The four mentioned are known to be quite soft cottons, and so are quite desirable. Pima is said to be like Egyptian cotton, which uses extra long staples of cotton, whereas something like Ringspun uses a mix of long and small, but is still soft to touch. Of course the key to this is to get out and feel the t-shirts, a soft-touch feel is always a good thing to wear.

90-99% cotton with elastane

T Shirts with elastane are something I love, and I identify as a quality T-shirt. They’re somewhat of a darling of the basic T-shirt world. What does it mean? Well as it suggests, it’s elastic, so it can basically fit to your form. When purchasing items with elastine they could be branded as a “Stretch T Shirt”, which is an indicator to look out for when wanting a t-shirt of this type. A lot of the higher end labels use this in their t-shirts, and command a higher price, and usually tees with elastane also use a nice, soft cotton. They are not exclusive to the luxury fashion brands, and you can find these types of tees on the high street too.

Final Notes

Choosing something like a basic T-shirt can be a simple task, but you should always consider the main points when shopping for that essential basic. The fit is key and will make a statement to what type of look you are going for, whether it be an easy relaxed loose fit for the beach this summer, or a more fitted tee to wear with a blazer for a smart casual look. Keeping an eye out for where the product was made is another increasingly important factor, with a lot of people supporting ethical fashion and identifying the skill and heritage of Western craftsmanship.


  1. Andy Maile Said,

    Very comprehensive article but the one thing I look for is the fit around the neck. I find that when new they are nice and tight but quickly lose their shape and become baggy around the neck line. This looks very unsightly when wearing the tee under an open necked jumper.

    posted on Saturday 10th January, 2015 at 20:03
  2. Michael Said,

    Thanks for the comments 🙂 The neckline and general shape retention will be down to the quality of the garment and the care, including washing, method of drying and storage, as well as the amount of use 🙂

    posted on Wednesday 14th January, 2015 at 17:23
  3. clive Said,

    I am finding it impossible to locate plain white T shirts that don’t have short tight fitting arms. Now in my 60s and muscle tone and skin not being what it was, I want a sleeve that is very loose and comes to the bottom end of the upper arm.
    Can you point me in the right direction?

    posted on Thursday 19th March, 2015 at 13:13
  4. Michael Said,

    Hi Clive,
    The Sunspel and The White T-Shirt Co. have quite loose fitting ones available, but since these are all T-Shirts the sleeve length is always going to be quite short. I have not come across anything with slightly longer sleeves, the only thing that springs to mind is a 3/4 sleeve length T-Shirt.

    posted on Thursday 19th March, 2015 at 20:45
  5. Blaine Said,

    I am starting a small T Shirt Brand and would like to find a Manufacturer or the same one in Thailand
    that makes the Calvin Klein T Shirt which lasts for a very long time!

    posted on Monday 26th October, 2015 at 6:32
  6. Mike Atherton Said,

    hi Mike,
    I’ve found my body is quite large, slight beer gut,so I need a t shirt XL,but that tends to have the neck far to big and loose. Need a t shirt for large body with a tighter neck,
    Any ideas.
    Mike Atherton.

    posted on Thursday 7th April, 2016 at 17:09
  7. Michael Said,

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your question. It’s a tough call, I would measure yourself and make sure you’re getting the correct size T-shirt, especially if you’re getting a more of a loose fit rather than a fitted tee. You may want to check out The White T Shirt Company (featured here) who will tailor a T-shirt for you, that way you can get the exact fit you want. They do both a relaxed and more fitted style of tee 🙂

    Michael

    posted on Thursday 7th April, 2016 at 20:50
  8. Taylor Said,

    Hi Michael,

    Great post – thanks. I’ve been wearing American apparel and H&M plain crew neck tees for a while now but I’m on the hunt for the perfect black crew neck tee. Most options I’ve found are too lightweight, I’m trying to find a cotton or cotton/elastine mix tee that is a little thicker or heavier, that also retains its blackness with washes. I’d appreciate any recommendations you may have, and I’m quite happy to pay for premium brands/labels if they’re the right fit and weight.

    posted on Monday 11th April, 2016 at 19:11
  9. Michael Said,

    Hi Taylor,
    Quite a tough question, a lot of the Tees I have are light or mid weight, the Sunspel is light, the Derek Rose a bit heavier and The White T Shirt Co & Jockey a tiny bit heavier too. I also got some from Costco, they do PIMA cotton T-shirts which are brilliant, they’re fairly heavy and are a decent fit, although not as a fashionable fit as the brands here. It’s worth noting that thick/heavy does not equal quality; It’s about the quality of cotton along with the fit, workmanship and durability. I wear some Calvin Klein black tees as undershirts in the winter, so they go through the wash a fair bit. I think they hold up pretty well in terms of staying as black as possible. Hope that helps 🙂

    Michael

    posted on Monday 11th April, 2016 at 20:01
  10. June Haywood Said,

    Awesome Guide….

    I will certainly share this post with my husband, since he loves off white shade and always look around for different styles in it.

    Your post is really nice… Thanks a lot for sharing it with us.

    posted on Monday 22nd August, 2016 at 11:50
  11. Jamie Said,

    Thank you for sharing these cool t-shirts. I prefer 100% cotton tshirts with less or no print besides their logo in small fonts.

    posted on Thursday 1st September, 2016 at 11:10
  12. Michael Said,

    I agree Jamie! It’s always nice to have understated good quality tees 🙂

    posted on Thursday 1st September, 2016 at 16:54

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