The Plain White T

The T-shirt has become an essential staple in our wardrobes, as omnipresent as a pair of jeans, and often worn with a pair.  Over the years, many prints, logos, and bands have been sported on T-shirts, but there’s one fashion perennial that just can’t be improved on –  the plain white T.

The plain white T came into its own in the fifties, attaining the pinnacle of cool when worn by such major stars as James Dean, Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley.  White cotton jersey crewneck T-shirts had been standard military issue clothing during World War II, derived from vests worn in the Navy; however, they were so practical and stylish that nobody wanted to give them up in civilian life. In fact, back at the beginning of the century, the vest had been part of an allover garment known as the Union Suit, a kind of proto Onesie.  However, by the sixties, the white T-shirt reigned supreme – it was a perfect unisex piece of clothing.

However, I think we’re all agreed that men can really benefit from wearing one – and it’s scientifically proven. Research has found that women find a man in a plain white T-shirt up to 12 per cent more attractive. And there’s a reason – the T-shirt appears to broaden the shoulders and slim the waist, which produces a more V-shaped body, regarded as the ideal masculine silhouette.

The 70s may not have been the most stylish of decades, as T-shirts were covered by band logos, or dipped in tie dye. But in the 80s the white T came back big, and I mean BIG. Oversized T-shirts were all the rage, and top British bands like Wham!

and Frankie Goes To Hollywood used MTV to make them the choice of a new generation. Slogan tees ruled, whether the Frankie Says series or the ‘Choose Life’ series by Katherine Hamnett, as enthusiastically worn by Wham!

At the opposite end of the style spectrum, 80s skinheads would wear fitted white tees with relaxed sleeves rolled up to the shoulder beneath braces and tucked into cuffed hem jeans. In the nineties, grunge would see a different approach with a more relaxed but distressed look take hold. Meanwhile Karl Lagerfeld was taking the plain white T onto the catwalk, while hip hop and club culture would see skater and surfer style explode in dayglo style.


Today, the plain white T is as practical and iconic a garment as ever, and an indispensable part of anyone’s wardrobe, especially for the Summer.

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