growing a minimalist wardrobe: t-shirts.

May 30, 2019

For the past three years, I’ve resisted buying new t-shirts.

I love t-shirts. In fact, there’s not really a clothing item that I love more than a classic cotton t-shirt. I like the comfort and the mobility and the simple ease of a plain white tee and a pair of jeans. But since I couldn’t get past their short lifespan, I tried to force myself to stop wearing them.

Well. It’s hard to deny yourself something you really love. And so as the weather’s gotten warmer this year, I’ve decided to open myself back up to the possibility of dressing in the clothes that make me happiest. I turned with fresh eyes toward t-shirts in hopes that I might find something new or noteworthy. Below, a few things I’ve tried and a few that I’d love to:

+ For Days: There’s currently a long waitlist to get the chance to try these tees, but I have hunch the wait will be worth it. For Days is a closed-loop, zero-waste t-shirt company. The concept is impressive and inspiring: Each purchase of an organic t-shirt ($38) comes with a membership that allows you to swap out your existing tee for a new one, whenever you need to, and for only $8. The company accepts all of their tees (and others) back for recycling, closing the loop and building a circular economy. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s had the chance to give them a try! Update: Just this evening I had a chance to experience some of the For Days tees at the Good Stuff pop-up. As predicted, they look like solid staples, precisely what they purport to be.

+ Everlane: I’m no stranger to Everlane t-shirts, but I admit that until recently, I’d fallen out of love with them. When the last of my v-neck tees reached the end of their usefulness, I didn’t seek out new ones. But this season, their new Tiny Tee caught my eye and I’ve fallen for it hard. True to its name, it’s tiny, which makes it perfect for tucking into my favorite high-waisted jeans without needing to spend ten minutes tucking extra t-shirt around my bum. Even better, it’s made from 60% recycled cotton and it has a really lovely texture—not too stretchy, not too silky smooth, just kind of pleasantly soft and substantial feeling. The brand agreed to send me one of the off-white tiny tees to try and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for something with a short sleeve and a relatively cropped waist. Bonus: it has the perfect crew neck; not too tight, not too loose.

+ Outerknown: This is another tee that I haven’t tried myself but I’ve been impressed with what I’ve read about the company. The Vintage S.E.A. Shirt is made from 100% organic cotton and it looks light and breezy and maybe a little bit looser than some of the other fits listed here. All of the colors look beautiful, but true to form, I’m partial to the half light.

+ Lacausa: My friend Rita introduced me to Lacausa about a year ago and I’ve been really impressed with them from both an ethics and quality perspective. At my request, they sent me two of their Frank Tees to try earlier this spring and they’re terrific. They’re made from vintage 100% cotton jersey and while slightly less tiny than the tiny tee mentioned above, the slightly cropped hem moves easily between high-waisted pants and those with waists that are…less high. I love the moon colorway (currently sold out), because it reads as white, but isn’t, helping it to hide a host of sins, but mostly pit stains.

+ Marine Layer: These folks launched a recycling program late last year called ReSpun. Donated shirts are broken down and respun with recycled polyester in a closed-loop system that’s waterless and dye-free (the colors are achieved by blending batches of same-color recycled tees). It’s free to donate—in person or by mail—and Marine Layer gives customers a $5 credit per t-shirt they donate (up to $25).

+ Industry Standard: This company is known mostly for its jeans, but I’m a real proselytizer of their organic t-shirts. I have the Sylvie Tee in the perfect shade of creme and even after a few summers of regular wear, it still has life in it. The organic slub cotton is lovely and the off-white color is so perfect that I’ve forgiven the slight bit of extra room in the sleeves.

PS. In case you missed it, yesterday on Instagram I shared a new initiative as part of the #wearnext campaign: a textile drop-off map created by the DSNY, built to help keep New Yorker’s clothes out of the landfill.

PPS. More from me on responsible decluttering.

PPPS. I see a bright future for some of the tees in my collection. Speaking of: I recently came across the genius work of Tintoreria Project. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for them.

This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links.

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  • Reply helen May 31, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Just wanted to endorse the shirts mentioned in one of your previous t-shirt posts – Jungmaven! I *love* the 100% hemp tee, which I got as part of a 5 for $100 grab bag from the company. Highly recommended, perfect hang, nice weight, etc.

    Also, Erin, I loved hearing your interview on “Hey mama.” It was refreshing to hear someone talking about *not* being anxious about parenting (or at least, aiming for that). It reminded me that this too is a choice; that is, I can’t change the way in which the world structures and genders the work of parenting, but I can choose to limit my engagement with its assumptions about guilt, etc.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 31, 2019 at 10:37 am

      Yes! Jungmaven is great! Mine was quite roomy on me and eventually got too worn out for wear but agreed! (And thank you so much for listening!!)

  • Reply Jennifer C. May 31, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    I would also add Alabama Chanin t-shirts to the list. They are unisex in style, come in multiple weights, and made in Alabama from organic cotton, which is really important to me.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 31, 2019 at 12:44 pm

      I love Alabama Chanin!

  • Reply Nina May 31, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    I don’t find t-shirts to be especially short-lived – I guess maybe it depends on what your standards of presentability are?? I have some that are definitely more than a decade old. I avoid buying or making tees with elastane blended in, because they wear out much more quickly and can’t be washed hot to get rid of stains/smells, and I steer clear of super-fine ’tissue’ jersey. Also, I always choose 100% (organic) cotton but I was given a cotton/poly blend T as a gift a little while ago and was shocked how quickly it wore out. (Btw, for anyone wanting to sew their own, the Basic InstincT pattern from Secondo Piano is FREE and a really well-drafted basic cut.)

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 31, 2019 at 3:09 pm

      sure! also depends on how many you have, how often you wear, whether you’re breast-feeding et cetera!

      • Reply Nina June 1, 2019 at 12:00 pm

        Yes to all, and I guess hitching them up to nurse must stretch them out pretty badly. I also NEVER tumble-dry any of my clothes, they’re all hung to dry (inside, tiny flat) – I think that makes a huge difference.

        • Reply Kim P June 7, 2019 at 4:12 pm

          I agree; air drying t-shirts makes all of the difference.

  • Reply Amelia May 31, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    I am partial to Jungmaven hemp tees, they wear so well, and get so soft with age.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 1, 2019 at 6:59 am

      Glad! I one for a few years, too! Featured in past posts!

  • Reply Sarah May 31, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Also highly recommend Kotn!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 1, 2019 at 7:03 am

      Ah, yes! I meant to include those guys! I’ve never tried a t-shirt of theirs, but James has a pair of their sweatpants!

  • Reply Jess May 31, 2019 at 8:20 pm

    This round up is so very helpful, thank you Erin!

  • Reply MissEm June 1, 2019 at 11:36 pm

    So glad for this list! One thing I wish is that more places would include large chested or plus size models for t shirts, because they look so different on different bodies (necklines, stretch, etc), but I love having this good list. I’m so completely done with garbage “tissue tees” and “vintage style” which usually means see through and going to shred after a season.

    • Reply Aku June 3, 2019 at 5:03 pm

      For high quality plus size tees (and models of all kids), I love Universal Standard’s Tee Rex!

      • Reply Aku June 3, 2019 at 5:04 pm

        *of all kinds!

  • Reply heidi June 3, 2019 at 9:59 am

    i’m tall, so not really looking for cropped. any suggestions? i’m having the hardest time finding anything!

  • Reply Emily June 4, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    I like Pact organics also.

  • Reply Sommer June 8, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    Do you have a referral code for For Days if you are a member? Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 10, 2019 at 9:50 am

      I’m not positive how it works! I’m still on the waiting list.

      • Reply Sommer June 19, 2019 at 8:35 am

        Okay! Thank you. 🙂

  • Reply Rue June 14, 2019 at 10:08 am

    I’m really digging Everlane’s scoop neck linen t! Crew necks look weird on me, and this scoop is wide enough to avoid the “middle school boy” vibe (I’m petite) but still sits high on my chest. I took it on a trip and got several wears from every wash, even with no deodorant in sight. Linen is magic. It’s the wool of summer!

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