Marlon Brando channels a new sex appeal with it in A Street Car Named Desire. “The Rolling Stones” wore theirs with leather. Madonna wore it with pearls and black net stockings. TLC cut theirs at the midriff. Classic white tees have been a timeless staple of wardrobes for decades, even centuries.
From medieval times as an early undergarment symbolizing humility to the modern runways of Europe, white t-shirts have spanned eras, cultures and styles. As Vogue’s Laird Borrelli-Persson concludes, “Its very plainness, after all, leaves room for self-invention, the root of the American dream.”
In 1864, William Cotton, an English inventor, brought t-shirts to the masses with the introduction of commercial knitting machines. Around the same time, weekends were introduced into daily life and, as a result, workers required more comfortable leisurewear. The modern white tee made its debut, however, in 1901, when P. Hanes Knitting Company introduced a two-piece underwear set that looked similar to today’s white tee. Worn by soldiers, workers, athletes, families and edgy celebrities, the classic white tee has left its mark on unisex fashion the world over.
One of the few items in your closet that will never go out of style, a white t-shirt can be dressed up or down. No wardrobe is complete without one (or several). Clothing Shop Online breaks down five ways to style a classic white tee shirt for both men and women:
Wear with a suit
Pairing a white tee with a well-tailored suit elevates a classic style while lending what Italians call sprezzatura, referring to a certain nonchalance that makes style feel effortless but still elegant. The low-high pairing, popularized in the 1980s and seen on Miami Vice, works well in an array of business situations. However, to pull off this look in a business situation, make sure your white tee is fitted, rather than loose, so that it doesn’t add unnecessary bulk to a likely fitted suit. A simple white tee also looks more elevated if coupled with a neutral, solid-colored suit rather than one made of patterns like plaid, which are often more traditional, and may clash depending on the fit of both.
Men can wear a classic white tee with a neutral suit in grey, tan, even navy. If you’re wearing this combination for a non-business situation, or a more informal one, you can even wear a white tee shirt with cropped, suited paints and leather loafers or crisp, white trainers like Adidas Stan Smiths. Women can do the same, but they have a few more options. For example, women can wear a fitted white tee shirt with either cropped, tight suit pants or wide-leg options. Heels or leather booties pair well with cropped, suit pants, a blazer, and tee, elongating the leg while still looking chic.
For a relaxed look + denim
It worked for James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. And it works for Kylie Jenner stepping off of a private jet. Channel your inner cool without having to try hard. An update on James Dean’s timeless look, men can wear a fitted white tee shirt under a bomber jacket with denim and white sneakers or tennis shoes. A men’s white crew-neck shirt, fitted at the waist, can emphasize a tapered waist. For an extra twist, try a white tee with a rounded drop-tail left untucked over your pants; however, make sure your crew neck’s collar lines up with that of your jacket to keep your outfit looking tailored rather than messy. This easy look transitions well from work to drinks.
Women can pair a white BELLA+CANVAS tee with cropped vintage Levi’s or wide-leg pants in a neutral color. A long cardigan with loose sleeves and sneakers or leather slip-ons can finish this look. From the 1960s to today, women can trust this iconic look in a pinch. If you want to dress it up, but still look casual, simply wear bold red lipstick and strappy heels.
You can also pair your white tee with a tailored wool coat and trainers for a relaxed look in colder weather.
Few things look better with a leather jacket than a class white tee. James Dean embodied post-war rebellion when he wore his with leather and selvage denim, influencing generations to come. Leather and a classic white tee lend an iconic, rock and roll look. Roll up your sleeves and tuck your shirt in or keep things untucked and rolled down. Women can pair this look with a bold lipstick or a smoky eye and nude lip. Add a mini-skirt or tight, black denim and heels or leather booties to finish this look.
Worn to the gym or dinner out, we’ve shown before how the athleisure trend has evolved and continues to dominate fashion. You can wear a white tee with leggings or joggers. To elevate this look, throw on a tailored wool coat and pair with trainers. White tees look particularly striking worn with white or neutral bottoms under a camel coat or a bomber jacket. This look works out to dinner, a concert, or running errands around town.
Classic white tee + chinos
Chinos, whether short or long, look really crisp worn with a classic white tee. Choose chinos in a light grey or tan with sneakers or trainers for warmer weather. To polish this look, add your favorite sunglasses and a denim jacket if you’re wearing it out. You can also wear black chinos with a fitted white tee tucked in or out and paired with black, short boots, and a bomber jacket or denim jacket. Just make sure your chinos are tailored and fit you properly so this look remains crisp.
The classic white tee is an iconic look that will continue to be a global fashion staple. To keep on top of these trends and how to style them, consider these insights from Clothing Shop Online!