There’s nothing like an old, faded, incredibly comfortable T-shirt. It carries years of stories in its washed-out threads. While it takes years to get there, the process is well worth it. The process is far easier than breaking in an Oxford or a polo, too, meaning the fade of your dreams is achievable much faster.
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What Makes a Good T-shirt?
The best T-shirts are uncomplicated, but because of their simplicity, the smallest details have substantial effects. The material, the knit, the seams, the silhouette, the hem, the neckline — all these parts (and more) come together to create a garment that transcends social and economic divisions. So if you invest in a quality tee now — our favorites are below — you’re sure to be rewarded in coming years, as the garment will just keep getting better.
A contrarian would say the best come in those little plastic bags — in packs of five, six or eight. And while they certainly are no marvel of manual labor, they get the job done and prove the most economical for a lot of people. I won't go as far to recommend buying those basic bulk-made ones, but I will offer options in the middle ground between them and a few of the $120 or even $150 dollar options out there.
But even these won't endure like the expensive versions. "No one really wants to invest in quality sewing because the more time you spend on the garment, the more expensive it gets," Bayard Winthrop of American Giant says. But "you need the highest-quality materials (such as fabric, yarn) to produce a quality garment," he adds.
You can learn more about how to spot a well-made T-shirt here.
Why Blank Is Better
While graphic T-shirts are cool, blank ones are better. They work with more outfits, whether that be a corduroy suit with one underneath, as a base layer for a hoodie or sweater or alone atop a pair of jeans. "A good tee will change your life," Damien Fahrenfort, Co-Founder of General Admission, says. "Why? Because they pair well with any pant or short and can be dressed up or down — something I believe worth investing money into."
Not only does a nice blank T-shirt show restraint — you could've totally worn that crusty tank top — but it signals sartorial fortitude. When others bend and bust out their band tees, you stayed blank.
How We Tested
Our testers — Associate Editor Evan Malachosky and a number of style experts, like Michael Williams, founder of A Continuous Lean, for example — wore a number of T-shirts from well-known brands and rising upstarts alike. They recorded how they looked, fit and withstood a few wash cycles. These responses informed this list.
“I have always tended to gravitate towards heavier T-Shirts. I don’t like when a T is too clingy — a good drape and shape is what I am looking for. The classic 50/50 cotton-polyester tee is solid, but when I discovered Los Angeles Apparel’s 6.5oz, I knew I had found my perfect one. These shirts fit well, have a good amount of heft and hold their shape really well. They’re all I’ve ever wanted in a shirt. If they keep making them, I will keep wearing them, indefinitely.” — Michael Williams, Founder of A Continuous Lean
"A lot of the higher-end brands’ tees don’t fit me as I’m 6’3″ and pretty lanky. But A.P.C. makes an XXL, which pretty much sits in-between L and XL. I got a $100 [gift card] to A.P.C. and a tee was all I could buy with it. I’ve since bought four others from them and they just seem to hang off you and wash better. Each season they stay relatively consistent with the colors and fits. If you’re at the stage where less is more, their tees are for you." — Damien Fahrenfort, Co-Founder of General Admission
"My favorite T-shirt of the past year is Merz b. Schwanen’s high-end two-needle version of their basic t-shirt. The fabric is unreal, and I don’t think most people realize how nice a T-shirt fabric can be until they handle one of these. It’s made of organic Greek cotton on a vintage loopwheeling machine in Germany. Fit is perfect, slim and it has no exterior branding. I own multiples in nearly every color they’re made in.” — Kiya Babzani, Co-Owner of Self Edge
"I have been wearing this T-shirt for a year now. One of my former employees designs the line and produces it in LA. It’s the perfect T-shirt. The fit is spot on — a bit more roomy. It’s a T-shirt that can stand on its own. The fabric is perfect as is the neck binding. It’s a tall order to tick this many boxes.” — Todd Barket, Creative Director of Quince
"After years of bouncing between brands and cuts, I’ve landed on New York’s 3Sixteen brand and their plain Heavyweight T-Shirts — with and without the pocket. The fit and cut are perfect for me: as a stocky and average-height guy, most shirts are either too snug in the chest or too long on the hem. 3Sixteen gets me perfectly with a Made-in-the-USA heavyweight cotton t-shirt that just works. Highly recommended." — Jeff Carvalho, Co-Founder of Highsnobiety