Yes, The Perfect White T-Shirt Does Exist. How to Find It.

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SIMPLE IS hardest thing to secure in this world,” wrote George Sand (aka Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dudevant). In its heyday in the mid-19th century, women were more concerned with corsets and carriages than comfortable tops. But her statement can easily be applied to the modern quest for simplicity—in the form of a flawless plain white tee that is universally satisfying in terms of fit, look, and feel. It’s a fashion white whale.

Many try to catch this elusive cotton prey. In the mid-2000s, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen made the perfect tee their mission. They launched The Row line in 2006 and the extra-soft, airy, single-stitched white tee was one of the brand’s first outfits. In 2017, stylist Karla Welch and her client Justin Bieber tried their luck, designing several “perfect” options for men and women—including cut and sleeveless—under the x Karla label. Now sold by retailers including MatchesFashion.com, the tee has already satisfied a few lucky people, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Kaia Gerber. But for many, the hunt goes on.

GREAT WHITE SHIRT Fashion editor Sarah Harris gracefully paired a loose white tee with leather pants at London fashion week in 2018.


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The problem is that T-shirts are like a favorite food or romantic partner—most people’s requirements are idiosyncratic.

At 5 feet tall, Danielle Hurd, 26, a recent graduate from Toronto Metropolitan University, finds that even small sizes are too loose or too long.

Women’s style frustrates Emily Casey, 32, a software engineer in Brooklyn, tends to clump under her arms. She prefers Everlane’s XS men’s tee, which is small enough to flatter her body without straining her hips—a fit she finds relatively constant from season to season. José Ramón Reyes, founder of New York-based wardrobe consulting service Custom Projects, frequently alters T-shirts to accommodate clients’ particular tastes, customizing them and even adding shoulder pads.

But for those of us who can’t stick to customized basics, here’s a primer on the wide world of tees, and the best brands to try.

T-Shirt, $55, PrettiesVenice.com

1. Be My Baby

Itsy bitsy baby tees come in a variety of silhouettes and lengths, from just above the belly button to almost below the bust line. For his clients, New York stylist Ron Hartleben sometimes cuts the bottoms of the extra-large children’s Hanes T-shirts. If you’re not into DIY projects, OG’s baby tee brand, Pretties, is still producing its iconic shrunk 1990s style (pictured). Wary of showing too much skin? Mr. Reyes from Custom Project suggests wearing high-waisted pants or skirts, or opting for looser ones. “It feels a little less open,” he said.

T-shirt, $35, Aritzia.com

2. Appropriate Decision

Slim tees are a dime a dozen, but securing the right fit for your body is a rare accomplishment. Mr Hartleben’s advice is simple: Try before you buy. “Make an effort to physically walk into a store that has a T-shirt you’re interested in,” he says. Another pro tip: Focus on retailers that sell a variety of sizes and fabrics, like Uniqlo, which offers XXS to XXL, so, through the tireless twists and turns of the fitting room, you can find a tee of your kind—not too loose, not too tight .

T-shirt, $64, Monrow.com

3. Join Slub

The slub tee—with an irregularly woven and slightly textured cotton fabric—gives a relaxed feel. Mr. Hartleben prefers labels like Re/Done and James Perse because of their vintage feel. Re/Done “hit the nail on the head”, he said with a 90s-style slub formula. “The fabric is light enough to look really casual,” but you can still wear it with something more stylish, like a suit, she says. Another notable option: the Monrow T-shirt in sheer cotton (pictured), whose silhouette makes it easy to tuck in or pair with a blazer.

T-Shirt, $150, Toteme-Studio.com

4. Hit It Big

The term “oversize” is used indiscriminately, making it the most unreliable T-shirt descriptor. The label covers everything from slightly over-proportioned to too-loose henna fit, so it’s hard to tell if you’re getting something roomy or too bulky. The Totêm tee hits the sweet spot with ample sleeves and chest. The cut is relaxed but more subtle than, say, extra wide shoulders or knee-lengths.

T-shirt, $15, Uniqlo.com

5. About Money

Obviously, T-shirts inspire overthinking. But in a perfect world, they shouldn’t need to overspend. The Uniqlo tee (pictured) looks taller thanks to its thick cotton fabrication but is objectively priced at $15. Another budget brand, named by Mr. Reyes and Mr. Hartleben, is Kim Kardashian’s Skims, which offers a variety of fit sizes and cuts from XXS to 4X, starting at around $40.

SHARE YOUR MIND

Where do you find the perfect white T-shirt? Join the conversation below.

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