In case you momentarily forgot which website you were reading, let me say right here up at the top that I am not a textile expert. I’m actually not even particularly fashionable. To me, obsessing about fashion is silly. There are better things to obsess about, such as the optimal marinade for skirt steak. The fact that I’m not qualified to opine about fashion, however, makes me absolutely well qualified to opine on something that symbolizes its opposite: the white T-shirt.
The white T-shirt is my kind of garment. It is utilitarian by design. Extensive research has taught me that its origin dates back to the Spanish-American War, when the Navy issued them as part of the standard uniform. “The word T-shirt became part of American English by the 1920s,” says a website I read. This makes it even better: Not only is the white T the garment of choice for those of us who despise having to choose garments, but it’s also quintessentially American.
In Amazon, there are 2.6 million results that come up when you search “Men’s White T-Shirt,” and while those get pretty interesting pretty fast (“Konflic NWT Men’s Giant Cross Graphic Designer MMA Muscle T-shirt”), reviewing all of them would take more time and effort than anyone has. Here, along with my research assistant (pictured at left), I’ve done my best to compile a range of recognizable brands at various price points, with some curveballs thrown in as well, because if you’re going to write about white T-shirts, you need to buy at least one of the outlandishly expensive ones, just to see how the other half lives. And actually, since that particular shirt is far and away the worst garment of the 14 brands I tried, we might as well just start there. Here is the definitive ranking of white T-shirts, from worst to best, with at-press-time prices from Amazon, plus a few from the brands’ sites themselves.
14. Hanro of Switzerland’s Cotton Superior
Price: $70 for a single damn shirt
These guys have one of those websites where everything is in black and white and the sexless models stare back at you like failed AI experiments (which actually sums up the Swiss in general, I’ve found). The shirt itself is made from a blend of cotton and “elastane” (aka spandex) and stretches like a pair of pantyhose. You’re not supposed to put it in the dryer. Now, I believe that if a T-shirt makes you feel like $70 worth of awesome when you wear it, then go right ahead and spend that money (you overpaid social-media marketing whiz, you). This shirt, however, makes me feel like a robot’s penis sheathed in a polymer condom. Knowing that there are people are out there actually wearing this somehow makes me feel both superior and inferior at the same time.
13. Levi’s 200 Series Cotton V-Neck
Price: $29.50 for a two-pack
I had high hopes for Levi’s. I have at least two pairs of their 511 jeans in heavy rotation at all times, and a lot of their flannels and jackets are the male equivalent of yoga pants, in that they’re basically designed like pajamas you can wear outside. But this “reengineered” V-neck blows. It’s not soft, it rides up in the armpits, and there’s an obnoxious square of red stitching sewn into the lower-right flank. White T-shirts should be white, period—no branding, no subtle flourish that whispers, “Dude, check it out, I’m wearing Levi’s.” Even the Swiss Robot Condom people know better.
12. Hanes’ Premium Crew Neck
Price: $10.99 per shirt
First of all, I didn’t even know you could buy individual Hanes T-shirts until I saw this one on a hanger in Target. Second of all: It was on a hanger. Hanging up a Hanes white T-shirt is like drinking Coors Light out of the Holy Grail. Also: it’s $11! That should get you at least four of these. This thing fits like a circus tent and has the texture of dried leaves.
11. Russell’s Athletic Men’s Basic Cotton T-Shirt
Price: $8.00 per shirt
If the military still issued white T-shirts, they’d hand this one out. (Actually, do they? Maybe they do.) This thing is sturdy, fits basically okay, and is approximately as soft as desert sand. Part of you will think this shirt is trying to undermine your long-held beliefs about morality, conformity, and imperialism. Another part is happy you can wear it 27 days in row in a state of neither comfort nor discomfort, dreaming of the day you can go home. Welcome to the suck.
10. Merona’s Men’s Crew Neck
Price: $12.99 per shirt
Did you know Target has its own clothing line? I mean, why not, right? Who wants to deal with pesky vendors when you can just own the whole supply chain? (Amirite, econ majors!?) Anyways, fit-wise, this shirt is very similar to the two before it, in that it cascades loosely down your torso, making it easy to conceal a handgun in your waistband, especially if you opt for the XXL. The Merona crew neck is ranked higher than the previous two, however, because it’s softer, even if that’s not a big selling point for NRA members.
9. Fruit of the Loom’s Men’s V-Neck
Price: $21.00 for a six-pack
If you’re like me and you’re buying Men’s XL V-necks from Fruit of the Loom, then this is the closest you’re ever going to get to having a six-pack. Zing! For real, though, Fruit of the Loom is making a clear statement with this shirt, no doubt based on years of marketing research, about who its core customers are: large dudes who need a layer of fabric to protect their $15 button-down from the Doritos-scented b.o. seeping out of their pores. And yet, this doesn’t make it a bad shirt, necessarily. It’s durable without feeling scratchy, and on those days when all your good white T-shirts are in the wash, it’ll get you through a Saturday morning without having to put on real clothes. Plus, who cares if you stain it with coffee/ketchup/blood (oh god, so much blood!)—there are five more where that one came from.
8. Hanes’ ComfortSoft V-Neck
Price: $21.00 for a five-pack
Me and my ComfortSoft V-Necks go back a long time—longer, in fact that my current relationship, which is approaching seven years. (Yes, Grandma, we’re getting married soon.) That’s saying something right there: These shirts have gone through hell and back, and they’ve got the pit stains to prove it. (There’s no yellow like the yellow of really old white-T-shirt pit stains. They’re like a great, aged cheese—funky and disgusting and better for it.) These shirts aren’t especially soft and don’t fit especially well, but they’re very lightweight for how durable they are.
7. American Giant’s Classic Crew Neck T-Shirt
Price: $24.50 per shirt
Some of you may recognize this brand as the makers of the so-called “best hoodie ever.” That’s bullshit. Their hoodie is nice, but it’s way too bulky, presumably in the name of durability. I don’t need a hoodie to withstand the apocalypse; I need a hoodie to feel like it’s made of bunny fur and baby’s laughter. Anyway, these guys make T-shirts, too. I’m a big fan of their black V-neck, but their white crew-neck feels like I’m wearing a flak jacket. Are people wearing these things into combat? This is an SF company hyped by tech folks. Does writing code require a garment that can withstand small arms fire? What am I missing here?
6. 2(X)IST’s Men’s Pima V-Neck
Price: $25.68 per shirt
This shirt is soft, lightweight, and form-fitting in a good way; it’s actually close to perfect. There’s just one major problem: “2(X)IST”? Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of brand name is that? It somehow combines the most annoying qualities of math and illiteracy in just five characters—well, seven if you count the parentheses, which, like … parentheses? In your brand name? If I wanted to play word games, I’d read an issue of Highlights, not go to the mall. These guys make underwear as well, which means an entire section of my Nordstrom’s is full of small signs that read like a bunch of cartoon characters swearing. @!%& you, 2(X)IST.
5. Polo’s Classic V-Neck
Price: $39.50 for a three-pack
The big knock against this otherwise fantastic shirt is it’s got one of those polo-player dudes embossed on the lower left side, just above your pelvic bone. Now, I don’t tuck in my white T-shirts (or any of my shirts, really—what am I, a junior high science teacher?), but if I did, I can imagine that little symbol of wealth and privilege slowly rubbing away a blister over the course of say, I dunno, a polo match. Then I’d come home and have this raw patch right in the place where the elastic band of my sweat shorts hugs my torso, and it’d hurt a little and be super annoying, and as I sat there in my sweat shorts watching Chopped and drinking cheap canned beer and eating spaghetti, I’d curse the day I attended a sporting event where rich dudes ride around on horses smacking a ball around to the delight of other rich people I have no business consorting with. Come to think of it, why did I even go to that polo match? Did I get a free ticket or something? Did someone put me on the list? Are there lists for polo matches? How did I wind up on a list for a polo match? That doesn’t sound like me at all.
4. American Apparel’s Fine Jersey Short Sleeve V-Neck
Price: $21.00 per shirt
Following the dismissal of racist clod and former CEO Dov Charney, American Apparel has slowly tried to back away from its image as the premier brand for 22-year-old runaways with daddy issues. This is a long road to hoe, however, and some reports indicate they may have to also back off the whole sweatshop-free thing in order to continue to compete. It’s all pretty depressing. Every other shirt on this list is made in places like India, Honduras, and Cambodia. I like American Apparel stuff. It fits well, feels nice, and allows me to indulge the fantasy that I might actually have a shot with that barista near my house who likes Cloud Nothings.
3. Calvin Klein’s Classic V-Neck Shirt
Price: $33.25 for a three-pack
Dear Calvin Klein V-Neck: We’ve been through some great times together, haven’t we? Remember when I wore you on the drive home from that aborted mountain-climbing trip where I fell into a glacier and almost died? You were with me when I finished that screenplay I’ll never sell. I was wearing you when we both discovered cheese enchiladas (sorry that stain never came out). I apologize for not ranking you in the No. 1 spot here. The thing is, this is a serious website, and this post may turn out to be the definitive list of men’s white T-shirts from now until the end of time, especially if the SEO team is on its game, which you really hope it would be by now. So thanks for understanding. You’ve always been there for me when I needed a high-quality white T whose armholes don’t squeeze my unimpressive biceps in an awkward way. I hope we can still be friends.
2. Kirkland aka Costco’s Men’s 100 Percent Pima Cotton
Price: $8.99 for a four-pack (!)
This is crazy, right? Not only am I telling you to buy white T-shirts at Costco, but I’m telling you to buy Costco’s brand of white T-shirts, the same brand that produces drums of vodka, buckets of vitamins, and slabs full of pre-sliced cheese. Well, here’s the craziest part: It’s not even because they’re the cheapest. As ridiculous as it sounds, Kirkland white T’s are just about as reliable as it gets. After two or three wash cycles, they become as soft as a vintage Journey concert T, and despite (or because of) the fact that they’re designed for America’s herd class, they fit the way a nice, normal T-shirt should: loose but not baggy, not accentuating the muscles so few of us have, but rather simply kind of laying there, not really trying too hard, which is exactly the mindset of the average white-T-shirt connoisseur. Revel in the synergy, dudes.
1. Michael Kors’ Soft Touch Cotton Modal V-Neck
Price: $36.75 for a three-pack
Fellas, I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to listen. (Ladies, I’m going to share something with the fellas, and I want you to thank me.) Michael Kors is the shit. I don’t know when this happened or how, because as mentioned, I don’t know things about fashion. All I know is that the dude’s white T-shirts are the sartorial equivalent of Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights: perfect in every way. They are supple to the touch, yet sturdy enough to hike a volcano in (I know this because I did it). They stretch, but they’re not stretchy. They fit perfectly, somehow hanging in such a way so as to subtly conceal one’s abdominal protrusion, should one have such a thing. What’s more: His other clothes are awesome, too. I picked up a couple shirts recently at the Macy’s One-Day Sale. Have you been to the Macy’s One-Day Sale? Oh, it’s great, they have deals on ev—HOLY SHIT WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME I KNOW MORE ABOUT CLOTHES THAN ANY MAN EVER SHOULD EXCEPT MICHAEL KORS HE RULES.
Garrett Kamps is a writer living in San Francisco. He’s @gkamps on Twitter.
Lead image by Jim Cooke.
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