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I Tested 5 White T-Shirts to Find the Best One
04.18.17
5 T Shirts I Tested Out Man Repeller-0967_Prices_38

There are two schools of thought surrounding white T-shirt wearing: those who say it is impossible to keep them in good condition and thus, why invest, and those who truly believe quality is not a myth; that the right white tee can change your life. I have oscillated between both schools at various stages of my life, but have never actually stopped to ask myself: What is the difference, really, between the Hanes T-shirts I used to buy from the pharmacy in three-packs, and generation T by Alexander Wang, which arguably heralded the expensive T-shirt trend?

Are expensive T-shirts really worth their fiscal salt? Determined to find out, I spent the past week arduously wearing T-shirts priced between $5 and $320, acting like a judge committed to the tenets of a meritocracy in one of those dog shows. Let me tell you, the results will surprise you. Floor you, even. This is truly the most important work I will likely do in this lifetime! While I was testing the $50 shirt, I even thought I should submit myself for a Pulitzer. (You just let me know when the hyperbole gets annoying.)

To remain organized and fair, I developed three qualification factors upon which the shirts would be judged: fabric (how soft, rigid, clingy or not), fit (boxy, fitted, short, long) and ability to withstand a full day without becoming haggard. The highest score a tee could accrue is 3, the lowest is negative 3. Let’s begin!

Office Apropos April Group 2 Man Repeller-0922

Hanes, $5

I started with the cheapest shirt, which was by Hanes. You can buy a pack of three for $15 but I warn you, the shirts are very long (-1 for fit). The shirt is 100% cotton and there’s a definite rigidness to the fabric, which I like. It makes rolling up the sleeves and ensuring they stay put, like hairspray on a Texan, an easy feat (+1 for fabric). Unfortunately, it does not tuck into high-waist pants or shorts very well, but could serve the purpose of eager shirt dress if belted and worn with, you know, knee-cap leggings. Very Carrie Bradshaw, if I may say so myself. I wore the shirt for approximately five hours and by day’s end, I smelled like a two-day old onion, which suggests the fabric, though cotton, is not breathable (-1 for ability to withstand a full day without becoming haggard).

Total score: -1

Office Apropos April Group 2 Man Repeller-0938

Everlane, $16

Love the fit on this guy — he is super boxy — and appreciate the boob pocket. I like to stick things in there like singular, dried pickles and Barbie shoes, etc (+1 for fit). Fabric wise, though, it was nearly impossible to iron out the wrinkles, which is cool because metaphorically speaking, it is very Man Repeller (we try not to iron out the literary and cultural wrinkles). For the sake of this test, though, I wondered how useful this shirt would be outside the confines of athleisure. It is also 100% cotton, and considerably softer than the former Hanes tee, so for that it’s -1 re: wrinkles and +1 re: cotton, yielding a score of 0 for fabric. How did it fare the rest of the day? I didn’t smell bad, but I didn’t look fresh either, so it earns a neutral 0 once again.

Total score: 1

Office Apropos April Group 2 Man Repeller-0913

Industry of All Nations, $38

This shirt was more eggshell than white, but it certainly still served the purpose of making me look casual-n-cool. It was soft like the Everlane shirt (a good thing, +1), but I prefer stark white to eggshell most days of the week (-1) thus bringing the fabric point to a neutral 0. I found the shirt to be a bit fitted for my taste, though I am sure it would tuck really nicely into a high-waist, A-line skirt, or something sequined or whatever — but then again, it might not be quite “sleek” enough to wear in that way. The crewneck was a bit tight (I tend to like more of my collarbone exposed), as were the sleeves, but the length of was good. Overall, it loses a point for fit (-1) because of the crewneck and arm holes, but wins one for ability to endure a day without making me feel like spoiled produce — it’s organic cotton! Soft to the touch! (+1)

Total score: 0

Office Apropos April Group 2 Man Repeller-0898

3×1, $125

I feel great in this one. Somehow my shoulders look broader (possibly due to larger arm holes and more rigid stitching at the shoulders?), the fit is quite boxy, the shirt is short enough to be tucked into high-waist stuff but also long enough to be left out without looking awkward. It kind of just floats. The weight of the cotton is medium, so it’s not clingy and it’s not exactly rigid, either. +1 for fabric. Another point for fit (+1) because I feel like a delicate quarterback which is the nicest compliment I have ever given myself. And per its ability to endure a day? 1 tomato-sauce stain (my fault), and some very light pilling; -1.

Total score: 2

Office Apropos April Group 2 Man Repeller-0917

The Row, $320

Well, this one is practically like wearing angel foreskin. It is by far the softest of the five, but with great softness comes a little clinginess, even though there is not even a single percentage point of jersey in the top. It doesn’t cling so much, but I can see how it might — and there’s no real blousing that occurs when it’s tucked. I am big on blousing. Not the shirt’s fault, but it earns a neutral zero for fit and a 1 for fabric. This is primarily because it is 100% cotton, but makes me feel like I am lathering expensive Row cream over the top of my body or something. As you might guess, it endured a day fairly well — even through an anxiety spiral that provoked stress sweats.

It gets +1 for breathability, which brings the total score to a 2.

Conclusion: Given the scoring, The Row shirt and the 3×1 shirt are technically tied, but I liked the 3×1 one version better. I’d probably wear the Everlane one second, even though it got a 1, which makes me feel like I am a conflicted judge, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone likes T-shirts for different reasons; it seems we are living in the style’s golden age because the offering is so expansive, the standards so high and for the majority of consumers, the outcome is satisfaction (this is not proven, but doesn’t it have a ring to it?).

My only residual question is: How is it that each of these shirts is 100% cotton, but yet feel entirely different from one another?

Photos by Edith Young; market assistance by Elizabeth Tamkin.

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  • You should try the Everlane U-Necks, they’re a little “thinner” than the box cut ones and look good all day + they don’t wrinkle as badly.

    • Kattigans

      +1 for this comment..I was thinking the same thing. Love the u neck white tee. Only draw back is when washed the neckline gets that wrinkle in it that’s a B to iron out. Supposedly they were working on this a while ago.

  • Adrianna

    It would have been interesting to do this test without labels and price tags

  • Great public service you’re doing here, Leandra. Useful for those of us who can’t invest the $320.00 to test drive a tee shirt. Love the 3×1 shirt on you best.

  • Username

    People who wear expensive t shirts have to console themselves and justify their purchases so their intelligence is not called into question

  • I am very much a heavier more structured cotton kind of gal. Never going to spend more than I strictly need to on a t-shirt though

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • So who told you I have been thinking about … upping my white tee game recently?

  • Kay Nguyen

    I personally don’t know anybody who wears $100+ white t shirt but I guess it’s not for everybody, I heard uniqlo has great t shirts, you should check them out <3

    https://www.myblackcloset.com/

  • Hahaha at “delicate quarterback”. On you, I like the 3×1 the best, because the cut has the most style. However, at that price point, pilling is unacceptable.

    As to your question on why 100% cotton shirts all feel different: I think it’s because there are different grades of cotton. Just like there are different grades of silk and cashmere. So like, a cashmere from Uniqlo won’t feel as nice as a cashmere from The Row.

    How to get a good white T-shirt for cheap: get it secondhand. My favorite one is an Isabel Marant linen T I got from a consignment shop. I haven’t found any other that’s better. Although I’m now scoping ATM Anthony Thomas Melillo because I love boy fit T-shirts. Gotta find a sale, though.

    • orthostice

      Only Uniqlo cashmere basically is as good as The Row: http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/09/why-is-uniqlo-cashmere-so-cheap.html

      • Thanks for the link. Just because the cashmere comes from the same place doesn’t mean it’s the same grade. And I’m more likely to take that article with a grain of salt since it seemed biased towards Uniqlo. The original question was why does something that’s 100% cotton not feel the same across different T-shirts, not if something is as “good”. I stand by my original answer 🙂

        • orthostice

          Sorry – realise my reply sounded a little snarky. I think my general point (from seeing ‘behind the scenes’) is that price/name brand unfortunately doesn’t always correlate with quality.

          • 100% agree with you that high price does not always equal high quality. And for most people, the Uniqlo cashmere will check all the boxes for their needs, and that’s totally OK.

  • I’m a sucker for Levi’s Perfect Jersey Tee. It’s only $30, super soft v-neck and a little slouchy: just my style.

    • freudianslippers

      I have discovered Levi’s t-shirts and will never go back!! I also like that their brand is (fairly) sustainable. I have two of their crewneck pocket t-shirts and I wear them every single week.

  • Haley Nahman

    Hanes should just smack a logo on that photo of you and call it an ad

  • Imaiya Ravichandran

    “I like to stick things in there like singular, dried pickles and Barbie shoes, etc”

    hahahhaha

  • Caro A

    Yep, there are different grades of cotton. There are also different finishes that the designers and manufacturers can apply, for example a mercerized cotton- where the cotton yarn is soaked in an alkali bath thus plumping the fiber and making it softer and more lustrous.

    I buy cheap white tees because the armpits get yellow SO SO quickly. And I’ve worn the gamut of tees, too.

    • Jeanie

      Just FYI, the armpits are probably yellow from your antiperspirant. The ones containing aluminum do that.

      • Adrianna

        I’ve heard that, but I can attest that the armpits can still get yellow stains even if you barely wear antiperspirant.

        • KikiFlynn

          Pre-treating with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide sometimes does the trick.

          • Kyky

            It’s actually the metabolic by-products of the microorganisms that live on your skin. They’re probably metabolizing natural oils your body secretes.

        • Jeanie

          That sucks. I’m lucky it’s no longer a problem with me.

  • Merrynell

    I think I’ll pick up a pack of Hanes and cut them at different lengths: for tucking in, for leaving untucked but not looking uncool, and for wearing like a tunic.

  • Em

    Tuesday articles are on 🔥🔥🔥 today. Leandra, after listening to your most recent monocycle episode, I can assure you that you have your groove. It was never lost!

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    The Hanes shirts actually come in different lengths and fits if I’m not mistaken. I think you got the “classic” version. I suffer from hyperhidrosis so the idea of spending a ton of money on white tees that will eventually have horrid yellow pit stains is not justifiable for me. I get most of my tees, tanks and camis from Forever 21. They cost between $1.90 for camis (you read that right) and $10 for tees. And they come in various lengths. I tend to like the tees that aren’t super cropped or short. Target also has some really great tees as well that are inexpensive. And pockets are no bueno if you’re larger than a C cup! They just make it look like I’m offering my boobs as gifts.

    • lateshift

      fwiw, you can get the everlane T without the pocket….not sure why she went with this version

  • starryhye

    I’ve been wondering about the Everlane tees. I’ve heard good things for them, and the price point is good. Honestly though, I have a tough time keeping my whites looking freshy fresh from season to season. Between my slurping tomato sauce tendencies and crossbody purse causing pilling, it’s tough to justify anything over $20. Target’s $9.99 v-neck tees have been my go-to for a few years now. The fit is good (slim but not clingy) and the v hits just the right spot (not too low, not too high).

  • The Keep Collection

    Leandra! You make such a delicate quarterback! 3×1 is my favorite, too. Also, here’s some wishful thinking: if you ever feel updating this list, try out the shirt I’ve designed for The Keep Collection (I sent one to you & Amelia in the Fall, so perhaps you have it in your sample annals somewhere). It’s boxy, cropped, has diagonal side seams & features a modified mandarin collar – so! It’s perfect. (Though it is a Supima/Micromodal blend, thus possibly ineligible? That said, it’s got the angel foreskin point.)

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bf2005ef61e592c7fb92c6c2c569237d805dc9de9a04827fcd3a544b79405338.jpg

  • Net Nlix

    Lizzy Hadfield has a series on youtube called Testing Basics where she does this same thing with all sorts of wardrobe basics. Check it out!

    • I love Lizzy, and testing basics are so different from the “standart” videos on youtube, can’t wait for the next one!

    • Nicole

      Can second this — I found Lizzy about a week ago and have watched all the testing basics episodes that caught my eye, and then some, just because I loved the format and her as a person so much :–)

  • Elizabeth Van Schaick Armstron

    Oh the white T conundrum. I veered sharply away from t shirts several years ago after seeing photos of myself that were terribly unflattering, so now I own and wear a wide variety of other more structured tops. However I do find myself reaching for the white T frequently for simplicity and comfort, whether the bottom is super casual or luxe. The challenge of white T reviews are: everyone has different ideals for size, fit, shape, fabric, style and price point; we have different ways of wearing it in combo w other pieces; and there are too many hundreds and hundreds of makers and styles to review enough of them. I am happy with my white T from Uniqlo — stretchy enough but not clingy, thick enough to not be seethrough but not bulky. Ann Taylor does a T with a seam down the middle of the back and wide turned hem on bottom that has a curvy enough shape. I own it in black, but the white is prob great too. It does seem outrageous to pay more than about 50 for such a simple basic. As for pit stains, there is a special cleaning product for that (search ‘how to remove underarm stains’). I also heard crushed aspirin can work.

    • b.e.g.

      As for pit stains: I have found it is best to prevent them than to try to remove them. Change to crystal deodorant instead of anti-perspirant. Toms is pretty good, but there are others. I use the roll-on, takes a while to dry, sometimes have to use hair dryer if I’m in a hurry. No more stained tees or shirt button downs. Or, believe it or not, no white residue, so gross on black sleeveless garments. It is the best fashion decision I’ve ever made (other than Marni shoes).

  • devilwearsnada

    when available, Reformation has fantastic fitting tees for the low low (~$28)

    • Leandra Medine

      I find them a bit clingy, but they are soooooo soft

      • Francine S

        I love the Asos tee’s that come in packs of two.

  • chouette

    The secret to Hanes tees is getting boy’s sizes! A boy’s XL on me is my ideal fit and nowhere near as long as the men’s ones. I tend to like my tees boxy but tight, if that makes sense?

  • Katie N.

    Where’s Petit bateau!?!? They’re like legendary T-shirts! I once worked there in college and got free T-shirts and four years later they’re still like brand new and fit amazing ! I have a feeling they would win hands down.

    • M.a.s.r.

      I second petit bateau! It’s like you can’t kill them. I have two that seriously feel brand new after like 6 years of life in my closet. Worth every $$.

  • Sarah

    This post is so relevant to my interests haha… It would be amazing to see a comparison with all the MR employees, so we could see the fit on Amelia vs Harling vs Leandra, etc

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I buy inexpensive white tees because the armpits yellow and I always seem to spill something when I wear white. My last one was Eddie Bauer from Sam’s Club, less than $10. I could not imagine spending $320 for a white tee or any other shirt, for that matter.

  • MMR

    I wish I had the money for a $320 t-shirt

  • Katy

    The Theory white tee I bought this winter was life-changing. And they make a variety of fits and cuts.

  • Hannah

    These madewell t shirts are great. My favorites. Seem similar to the 3×1. https://www.madewell.com/madewell_category/TEESANDMORE/shortsleeve/PRDOVR~G5518/G5518.jsp

  • orthostice

    I would have liked this testing to be price blind considering the rankings literally went in ascending price order.

  • ali

    this is annoying of me because i work at ban.do, but our white tees are my favorite of all time and i am super picky. the shoulder seams hit where they should, the arms flair out a little so they aren’t tight, and there’s a very subtle A-line to the body making them perfect for tucking. and they aren’t see-through! it’s 30 dollars and you can find it here ok bye sorry for the sales pitch!!! https://www.bando.com/collections/tops/products/self-expression-tee

  • Ami Savage

    I love the green sunglasses!!

  • Vanessa Gentile

    To answer your last question – watch this super cool vid/project by NPR. Each manufacturer has its own special formula for producing cotton! http://apps.npr.org/tshirt/#/title

  • Jade Laflamme

    Thanks Madame Medine for this practical article showing off the honest fits of the white tee! Love your work.
    The 3×1 fits the best by far. Although, for a juicy fruit eater, spending 135$ on a white tee is a major risk.
    Any recommendation for a 40$ budget?

  • Hansika Vijayaraghavan

    I’m a Fiber Science major at Cornell University and I’m doing research on cotton processing to see what nanoparticles make it softer or rougher 🙂

  • Kyky

    Leandra – you’re adorable. Can you tell me more about those neon green sunglasses in the Everlane pic? Thank you!

  • Mo Moore

    target little boys section extra large white t shirt is my fave thing i own

  • Abbie

    Does anyone know who makes those great green sunglasses she’s wearing with the everlane tee?

  • Julia

    The 3×1 shirt actually would have earned 1 point total if its +1, +1, -1.

  • Karrie Douglas

    Kotn is the best tee going. I can’t recommend it enough – https://ca.kotn.com/

  • That was interesting! I am a big fan of white t shirts however I prefer them with a unique minimal design. I would go with a bulk of medium-range-price tees with a cool design on them (or I simply print my own on them) rather than buying those crazy expensive ones!
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2f55afa1fce951ba88cff44542d83cc1483b38211a3d05a7c83ae535e84fe8e4.png

  • Adriana

    Tests should include the “after wash” effect…

  • Covfefe

    What are those fluo green sunglasses Leandra?? I love them so much !!

  • Pudenda Shenanigans

    Try Talbots or Isaac Mizrahi, they are a great style and fabric. I am not kidding, they are my Holy Grail of t-shirts.