Give me a plain cotton tee and a pair of jeans and I’m happy. Heat waves and cold snaps notwithstanding, I could wear the classic combination nearly every single day and not get sick of it.
Forgive me the term, but there’s something undeniably chic about a plain cotton t-shirt. It can be a man’s t-shirt, it can be a crew neck, or a v-neck, it can pocketed or plain, a simple tee is going to look neat and clean and….here’s another buzz word for you…effortless, pretty much guaranteed.
Remember that talk about basics and layering? Keeping a solid collection of dependable basics makes living with fewer clothes possible for me in the first place. And that includes a handful of dependable tees. I have five tees in my drawer right now. They’re mostly v-necks, but lately I’m kind of digging the return to a more classic crew. But despite all this talk of ease, a great tee can be difficult to nail down. I’ve had t-shirts that have lasted for years and years, and others that seem washed up and rung out after only one season. Anyone who’s bought the same t-shirt in multiples knows first hand that there’s often differences across dye lots. A blue shirt will wear differently than a white one. It comes down to science, mostly. And luck. Then there’s question of wear and body chemistry. For me a white t-shirt is a tricky thing to keep that way, especially if you take a close look at the arm pits. And I’ve ended up with weird stains under the arms of darker tees too. I’ve worn t-shirts backpacking and ended up with pilly spots. I’ve had others develop rips along the hemline. Suffice to say, a cotton t-shirt is not going to be the longest lasting article in your closet. When I do my regular closet sorting, it’s often the tees that need to get replaced first.
An ideal tee is one that’s well-fitting, as long lasting as can be reasonably expected, and somewhere close to the side of the affordable side of the spectrum.
You might swear by picking up a multi-pack of men’s white t-shirts, rolling up the sleeves, and calling it a day. I don’t blame you. But in case you’re looking for something that’s been made with a special effort toward sustainability, here are some of the best I’ve come across. If you have any to add, please do. Alternative Apparel: A long-time player in the eco-friendly clothing game, Alternative Apparel’s Ideal Eco-Jersey T-Shirt is my favorite cut in their basics collection––a really classic crew with a well-loved look right off the shelf. (Full-disclosure: I haven’t been able to sort exactly what it means to be eco-jersey.) If you’re more into 100% cotton, they’ve got organic v-necks and organic pima cotton cap sleeves, too. (And if you’ve got a man in your life who needs dressing, they’ve got him taken care of.) Here’s their take on social responsibility. (Made in the USA.)
Bella + Canvas: These guys are committed to producing plain and simple high-quality tees from 100% combed and ring-spun cotton. Not sure what that means? They’ll tell you. Their sweatshop-free clothes are made in a solar-powered factory and shipped from a paperless warehouse. Here’s their complete line of women’s tees, available in a wide range of styles and colors. They’ve got men covered, too. Here’s a little more about the company. (Made in the USA.)
Be Good: I’ve never owned anything from this San Francisco company, but they’re high on my list of places to check out. They design their tees in California and use USDA-certified organic bamboo and cotton to produce their clothes in a BSCI-certified factory in China. Here’s more about their process. The women’s Spruce Top tees are made from organic bamboo and come in a range of nice colors. Their organic Pine Tees might be my next v-neck puchase, but their Powell Tees look like a perfect pocketless crew. Good for men, too. (Ethically made in China.)
Calder Blake: Calder Blake is committed to making long-lasting and simple clothes and their cotton jersey tees are no exception. Their Anais Tee has pretty draping on the sleeves to set it apart from the crowd. Here’s more about their design philosophy. (Made in the USA.)
Everlane: I’ve been talking about these guys for awhile and I’ve been wearing their v-neck tees for several summers now (James is partial to their pocket-tees). I’ve found them to be sturdy, well-proportioned, long-lasting, versatile, and affordable without making too many compromises. Here’s a little bit more about the company, which prides itself on radical transparency. (Made in the USA.)
Fabrik: Fabrik stocks a 100% grown-in-the-USA supima cotton tee that’s been cut with a touch of elegance in mind. The Shell T-Shirt is currently 50% off during their end of season sale. (Sustainably made in Bali.)
Lazlo: This new company is making tees for men from 100% supima organic cotton. Their first production run of Heirloom Tees was designed and made in Michigan. It’s currently sold out, but there are more on the way. Sign up for their newsletter to stay up-to-date on the Kickstarter they plan to launch on July 21. (Made in the USA.)
Zady: These guys mostly sell goods curated from other ethical producers, but they’re also working on clothes of their own making. Their .02 T-Shirt came out this summer. I was given one of these t-shirts to take for a test-drive and can attest to the fact that it’s something special. The cotton is incredibly soft, and the little cuffed sleeves and scooped back make it feel just a little bit nicer than your average tee. Huge bonus that it’s made from USDA-certified organic cotton that’s been, in their words, “grown, harvested, ginned, baled, spun, knit, cut, sewn, and dyed in the USA.” Here’s Zady’s manifesto. (Made in the USA.) If you’re just getting started on the road to a minimalist wardrobe, here are the first steps: One Two Three Four & Five