“Do I ever jump on bandwagons?” (The answer is no).
I am tickled by my friends who more fully explore trends that come and go (what seems like) so rapidly, but I have never been attracted to the latest ____. I tend to labor over more existential style conundrums like, what is the best plain white tee?
I suppose I have always preferred to focus on the best fitting, most flattering basics that I can throw on without a thought, and then layer on some visual interest with accessories like jewelry, a hat, fun shoes, or a slick bag. For loving fashion, I relish being able to get ready in 10 minutes and go!
Since 2013, I’ve been pretty happy with James Perse 100% cotton v-neck tees, made in Los Angeles, discovered at Nordstrom. At $60 apiece, they aren’t cheap, but the ~5 I’ve had over the years have held up impressively.
Of course, I’ve dabbled in other brands and tried trends like the boxy, oversized, and/or thicker, more structured shapes. None of them feel as good as the Size 1 James Perse v-neck, which hangs on my body just so. It flatters, leaving something to the imagination, but doesn’t envelop me.
For my purposes, it’s the best plain white tee.
Here’s a cheat sheet of brands I’ve tried, and my conclusions about them:
- Helmut Lang crew-neck tee with open slits and elastic straps at the back: purchased second-hand in Stockholm. Great thin cotton material, subtle sheen, flattering, no pilling. Garnered lots of comments and caught many eyes…but I grew out of it! Made in China.
- Naadam cashmere blend crew-neck tee: tried in New York store in October, fabric was surprisingly scratchy feeling. Made in…Peru? Can’t remember. Brand story is cool though.
- Eidos slub cotton wide-neck tee: boxier around the middle than I prefer, but a nice alternative to standard shapes. This brand is a more casual, contemporary sister of Isaia, known for its exquisite suiting. Made in Italy.
- Gap plain crew-neck pocket tee: great at first and after first few washes, but eventually lost all bright white luster. Use it for the gym now. But, wore it all over Manhattan as a good base layer. Made in Bangladesh (boo!).
- James Perse v-neck 100% cotton tees: maybe because I have a bigger chest, the v-neck works on me. I like the lighter colors because as they age, they still look fresh. Quality may have changed in recent years, hard to tell, but still my top choice.
- James Perse Cationic-dyed crewneck: is it strange that with an exotic treatment name and a blurred gray-white color, I’m instantly intrigued?
- Allsaints Figure Tee: purchased at Bloomingdale’s in New York. Great fit, makes me feel taller and slimmer. Quality over time is OK. Pricey – $70 retail. Made in Portugal. I actually like a lot of Allsaints pieces, just too bad there aren’t any stores nearby.
- Sunspel piqué tee: interesting textural twist on a standard crewneck tee. Fit is slightly boxy, but fitted up top. Made in Portugal and affordable for the good quality.
- John Elliott wide crewneck tee: I want to try these! Brand seems high quality, price point is reasonable ($80). Made in USA.
- ATM Anthony Thomas Melillo modal v-neck tee: silky soft, but made of synthetics (not sustainable). Not sure if, after some hours of sweating or wear, it would stretch out and look crummy. Made in Peru.
- Attachment 3/4 sleeve curved-hem crewneck tee: thin but beautiful stitching, seemed great quality. Made in Japan. Pricey ($180 retail).
- Bottega Veneta v-neck: purchased second-hand at BIVIO in Milan. Thick, soft, high-quality cotton tee. Easily been one of the best finds of my time in Italy. I’m starting to get too big for it though.
- Rick Owens 100% viscose crewneck: I tried, tried so hard to be on the Rick bandwagon (sometimes I do it!). But these synthetic shirts look great on the hanger, not so much on the body, especially if you sweat. They too easily look stretched out, floppy, sorta like they droop and collapse under their own weight. And they’re hand wash or dry clean only. Bought and subsequently resold THREE of these shirts.
- T by Alexander Wang cotton crewneck tee: I loved these as soon as I tried them, and bought several starting in 2015. I didn’t like that they were made in Vietnam, but the cut and drape was pretty fantastic. I still have that first one from Nordstrom in Chicago
- Prada 3-pack crewneck tees: for $260 or €180 for three, these are surprisingly affordable from Prada. But, they’re totally plain minus a triangular logo patch at the rear neckline. Neck opening was also slightly small/constricting. Made in Madagascar (!!!). Felt fine for a while, but I think they shrank or I got larger. Gave them all away.
- Everlane men’s tees of various iterations: these feel of similar quality to James Perse, though slightly “stiffer,” less pre-softened. They’re made in Los Angeles. Whether air (light), standard, or heavyweight, these don’t ever seem to fit or flatter me. Tight up top, too flowy toward the middle. Oh well, I tried!
Like great jeans, the effortless light blue button-down, and thin gray layering sweater (my favorite is 50-50 cotton and cashmere from Italian knitwear brand Colombo), the faultless plain white tee can be elusive.
And while price isn’t always a great indicator of quality, there is some correlation. I have found that James Perse sits at the comfortable intersection of price, quality, and durability. AND, the brand is widely available online and at Nordstrom stores around the U.S.