The how to wear series is designed to give you some advice around a staple that you definitely have in your wardrobe - and even the most dedicated, Brunswick, purely black palette-wearing hipster will have a white tee, I can guaranTEE (ha ha) you that.
So, white tees. The main thing to remember is that you can’t judge one brand-new, on a first glance. When you try on crisp formal wear, like a wedding guest dress, or tailored pants, you’ll have a good idea what it’s going to look like in a month’s time. A tee doesn’t work like that.
A good white tee needs to be worn to be understood - and by that, I mean you have to give it time to grow into a piece you can rely on.
Let’s rewind. The first white tees cropped up as men’s underwear - they were originally designed to be worn under soldier’s uniforms, in the American Civil War. Their production proliferated with the invention of the cotton gin, and undershirts were produced rapidly, using cotton harvested by slaves. As with any fashion item, ever, we have to look at it and ask ‘where did this piece come from?’ and with cotton tees, their popularity arose due to mass production through an unfair and exploitative institution of slavery.
The tee evolved during the social shift of the 1950s, with more and more adolescents taking their cues from mass media. Iconic wearers of the plain white tee, such as James Dean, presented the tee as a masculine piece, designed to connote toughness and rebellion, so teens were drawn to their expression of self - I mean, if I had to read into this, I would say that even today, a white tee represents a blank canvas, ripe for projection. It contains multitudes - who you want to be, and that freshness of new beginnings.
So, how can you best wear a white tee? Let’s go from the top down. I mean, there are a million necklines (turtle, henley, polo, square), but we will look at the big three: round neck, crew neck and v-neck. A round neck is...self-explanatory, with the neckline falling under the collarbone, while a crewneck is also round, but tends to be higher.
This is me, in an ASOS crewneck. It's a little boxy, which is good for creating some nice lines. The lightning bolts, sadly, are not real and were added in post-production.
A v-neck...okay. I’m personally not a massive fan of the V neck, for the simple reason of pairing. Rounded and crew necks also give you the option of pairing with other rounded silhouettes, like flow-ier maxi skirts, or culottes. They soften a look, whereas V-necks are harsher and err on the side of being too sharp. The death of the v-neck tee has kind of been happening for a little while now in my opinion because we are heading toward more capsule approaches to wardrobes, so why include something that you can’t wear in multiple different ways?
Your standard crew neck/round neck tee tends to be loose along the waist, with a slightly flared hem. Obviously, you can have other fits, with cropped and tight tees both being statement pieces, which pull focus to the torso and can be paired with plain accompaniments, such as neutral jeans.
Your casual, regular white tee can be tucked or left out, which is a conversation brought to the national consciousness in recent times by wonderful Tan France, with the French tuck debate. Here’s how I approach it:
- If the bottom half of your clothing is designed to be tight around the waist, and then either flare out or descend in a straight, non-tapered line, you can tuck your shirt in. Holds true for jeans, flowing skirts, most pants.
- If the bottom half of your clothing is tight the whole way down, leave the tee out. This works for leggings, long midi bodycon items and cycling shorts.
Always remember, with fashion advice, the overarching rule is do whatever you feel comfortable in. Other people’s opinions are always just that - potential guidelines, and never a hardline rule. If you want to tuck your tee into some bike shorts, live your life queen!
Essentially, you want your tee to look effortless.
Worn, but not collapsing. Holding its shape, but not uncomfortably crisp. You have to hold your tee’s hand, give it time to fall into your body, and look after it. That way, it will flatter your body and be better positioned to fill the gaps in your wardrobe.
So...where do you get one of these magical items that can be used as a statement, an undershirt, a workout shirt, a layering piece, or even just a casual look? I always start with the Strategist - they have a list for everything, feminine and masculine. I also like reading about other people’s finds: for example, in this piece, Antoni (lol this is a Queer Eye heavy piece) talks about his favourite white tee. Ask other websites that you trust: for me, that’s checking in with Vogue, and then being realistic and looking at more ethical and upcycled items.
The last and worst thing about white tees is the yellowed pits. They are embarrassing and annoying and I always have to google how to fix it. Here’s what works: when your sweat and deodorant inevitably stain your tee (happens to literally everyone), you can clean it by following a variety of steps here - super easy to understand and you’ll hopefully have the ingredients already!
WEARING: my birthday last week heralded the arrival of this hugely coveted item. I am obsessed with bees, so it will be worn daily.
EATING: Butchie’s - the only chips that remotely resemble Aussie ones.
LISTENING TO: Chromatica, still.