I hate buying T-shirts.
Not because I dislike them. Actually, it's the opposite. After a good pair of jeans and a well-tailored charcoal suit, a great fitting black t-shirt is one of the best pieces of a man's wardrobe.
You can dress it up with a blazer, or dress it down with jeans and boots.
You can layer it under a sweater, or wear it while doing chores around the house.
I love them because of their versatility.
I hate them because I can never find the perfect one.
That's not to say I don't like my shirts. But every time I purchase one I'm just slightly disappointed. The fit is off, it shrinks too much, It's too baggy in the wrong areas, it makes me look too big, or it makes me look too small.
It seem's like such a straightforward item of clothing, but it's quite the contrary and that's why shopping for one is so frustrating.
I'll get to some suggestions for brands in a bit, but let's talk first about what makes a great t-shirt. Everyone's body is different, so it's imperative you know what to look for when shopping so you can find your perfect shirt.
What makes a great T-shirt?
Many things, but hands down, fit is the most important aspect of a shirt.
When shopping for suits and jackets, the material is a very big concern. Is it going to make you sweat? will it hold up under bad weather? Will it last? I'm going to spend a lot of money on it, so it f-ing better.
T-shirts are cheap and the material is usually cotton or a cotton blend. That's probably why I've been willing to buy so many in my quest for the perfect one.
Here's how the perfect t-shirt should fit:
The sleeves should be tight enough to lightly hug the bicep and tricep
The sleeve should fall around the mid-bicep or slightly above it
The T-shirt should taper down towards the waist, creating a V-like figure.
Get a V-neck if you feel comfortable in them. It helps create the appearance of broader shoulders and can make you look slimmer.
The bottom of the shirt should hit just below the waistline, somewhere around the pockets.
There should be no loose fabric on the sides.
If you're in shape, it should be a lighter weight fabric, as this will contour your body better.
It should be made from decent material and hold its shape.
These are the essentials for a standard tee. Of course, you can play around with the dimensions a bit to suit personal preference. Some like their shirts longer, the sleeve a little higher, etc. But these dimensions will give you the most versatile tee you can pair with pretty much anything.
Although not as important as say a suit, T-shirt fabric does matter. Mainly because you want it to last and hold it's form. Pretty much every tee will be cotton or a cotton blend of some sort, usually containing polyester or another synthetic material. Here's the lowdown:
100% Cotton: The classic. It's comfy and breathable but prone to shrinkage and wrinkles.
Cotton/Poly: Maintains shape and is not going to wrinkle much but is less breathable. Zara makes a basic V-neck T-Shirt that is my absolute favorite for myself. It runs small so size up if you decide to try it.
Cotton/Rayon or Modal: Another great blend. Again, less prone to wrinkles but softer to the touch than poly and feels great against your skin. More susceptible to damage than the other two.
Tri-Blend: Combine the best of everything. More form fitting than standard cotton, less prone to wrinkles and will hold up well. Since these hug your body a bit more, they work best if you don't have a big belly.
A quick word on cotton. Pretty much every T-shirt will contain cotton. In order to have your garment last as long as you'd like, it's better to have quality cotton. These are just T-shirts and thus, relatively inexpensive, but if you really want an A+ tee, go for Supima cotton or combed cotton. Something decent quality. The better the cotton, the better your shirt will maintain it's form.
How to buy a T-shirt
So now we know what makes a great shirt. Great fit and a fabric blend that works for you. When you're shopping, here's what you need to keep in mind:
Try it on first, and when buying online, make sure they offer a return policy. I've assumed that a shirt will look great on me while it's sitting on the rack, later to find out it makes me look like I'm wearing a wet cardboard box. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but you will never know how well it works for you until it's on your body.
Do the box test. Spread out your arms to make a T. How much extra fabric is on the sides of the shirt? Does it look like a box or does it create a V shape? If it looks too boxy, ditch it.
Look for tailored fit or slim fit shirts. Don't let the name fool you. These fits are usually what a tee ought to look like.
The fit should nearly match how you want it to look once it is washed. If the fit is just a bit big, that's the shirt I usually go with. I don't mean a size up, I mean literally just a little bigger than you'd like. This way I can have a buffer against a bit of shrinking which will invariably happen once it's washed.
Go with your gut. If your initial reaction is that you look fat in the shirt, you probably do. If you think you look like a douche, you probably do. Don't become a perfectionist but trust your instincts and ask yourself "Will I wear this?" and you'll instantly know if you should purchase. Buying clothes is ultimately a skill that you need to develop. Once you see how you can look better, you'll know exactly what to buy once you walk into any store.
Other T-shirt Tips:
Men always seem to wear T-shirts that are too large. Try a size down to see if it fits you more stylishly.
Start with the staple colors for men: Black, white, grey, navy. Then branch out to other colors that work well for you.
Hang dry your tees to help them last longer.
Vintage tees or vintage style tees are great. They're lightweight, fit well, and provide a bit more style than a standard tee.
If you have a bit of a gut, get something that fits well near the chest and arms, but remains a bit loser throughout the torso. This will minimize the appearance of a larger stomach without having to wear a bulky T-shirt.
As always, let me know if you have any questions.
Good luck men!