Wednesday, 15 October 2014

In Praise of the Humble White Tee Shirt

My friend E. collects white shirts. She used to have a closet full. And I used to tease her because we'd go shopping and she'd try on beautiful sweaters or blouses in lovely colours, and then go home with a white shirt. Nothing wrong with a white shirt. They are iconic, after all. A fashion staple. I even own a couple.

But I think amidst all this white shirt worship we often overlook the humble white tee shirt. I'm extremely partial to a white tee shirt. And don't tell E. but... I will confess that I own...well....several.

And I think that I'm not the only one. 

Whether it's James Dean... Who can imagine him in Rebel Without a Cause without that white tee shirt? Not me. Next to Brando's in A Streetcar Named Desire, it's perhaps the most famous white tee shirt ever.

Or the long reigning queen of understated chic, Lauren Hutton... Here she is in her white tee.

And now.
Or much lauded style icons Charlotte Gainsbourg and Gwyneth Paltrow...


...everyone loves a white tee shirt. It's the true neutral. And pardon my double negative but...nothing doesn't go with a white tee. 

Even the revered style guru Ines de la Fressange, much better known for her white shirts, can be seen sporting the occasional white tee. I love how she's layering it, here, under her black sweater.

I was sitting on my exercise bike the other day, listening to my i-pod and leafing through the October issue of Vogue, and I spied several white tee shirts. 

Like this one, on Ines de la Fressange again, in an ad for her collaboration collection with Uniqlo, the Japanese "fast fashion" retailer. You can see her whole fall 2014 collection here on the Vogue UK website.

Or these two in ads for the fall collection by Brunello Cucinelli.


Then I looked at my fall inspiration board, and I noticed that a couple of the outfits featured white tee shirts. And I hadn't even been conscious of them before, just clipped the shots because I liked the overall look. 

So, it seems if you want to do understated chic. Casual elegance. You need a white tee. 

Well, I'm all over that, my dears. Or it's all over me, as the case may be.

I love my white Theory tee with my leather pants. This tee shirt is my favourite; it's long-sleeved, a bit stretchy, longer in the back, with side slits. It falls away from the body, perfect for middle age middle. I think it looks good with my Smythe blazer, or even with my Theory anorak. Maybe for dinner (or a drink) with the girls.


For shopping, I'd wear the same tee with this wool Elie Tahari coat and black Theory leggings...and my new Stuart Weitzman loafers.

I also love my white, long-sleeved Gap tee shirt. In fact, I love long-sleeved Gap tee shirts period. For a run-around look, on a rainy day, I'd wear my Gap tee with my J-brand jeans, loafers, and a rain coat.


There's a great collection of simple white tee shirts on I'd wear either of these outfits.... in fact I have worn these outfits...well kinda.


Except this look. Nooooooo. No. No. No. Grunge is back...but not in my closet. I was too old for it the first time around. I confess to owning a plaid shirt... but I wear it with a cami underneath and my jeans. NOT tied around my waist.

I remember picking my niece R. up at the airport one day in the 1990's when she came to Ottawa for a visit. She was sixteen and I swear she was wearing her shirt... just like this. Well, not exactly HER shirt; I think it was her grandfather's old work shirt. Oh, the sighs from my mother who had tried to convince R. that she did not want to wear her grandfather's shirt on the plane. But R. just smiled and tied it a little tighter. I must remember to ask her if she's embracing grunge this time round.

Yep. I'd be lost without my white tee shirt collection. As I said before... I own several. These are the long-sleeved ones. I also have a few short-sleeved versions packed away with the rest of my summer wardrobe. I definitely should NOT have been teasing my friend E. about her white shirts.

Unlike the iconic white button-front shirt, which appears on every list of wardrobe "must-haves" that I've ever read, the white tee shirt seems to fly under the radar. But that doesn't make it any less iconic... one might even say historically iconic. A wardrobe staple that transcends the decades. Great for the 20-somethings or for the 50-somethings. 

Everyone needs one... or four.

As Stanley Kowalski, aka Marlon Brando, famously did NOT say in the movie A Streetcar Named Desire..... "Stellaaaaaa. Love the white tee shirt! I've got one very like it."


Oh dear. Very bad English teacher joke. My apologies to Tennessee Williams. 

Do you have any white tee shirts in your closet?

Linking up this week with Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, Thursday Blog Hop at Over 50, Feeling 40, and Favourite Fashion Friday at Penniless Socialite


  1. I just ordered a plain white long sleeve tee from gap after reading this post :) I have trouble seeing the potential in plain clothing items, but they really can be quite versatile.

    1. Hope you like your Gap tee. Thanks for reading.

  2. Like you I have several, in both short and long sleeves. I look for cotton or a cotton/linen blend, substantial enough that they are not in any way see through. They make a great base layer at this time of year, under a cardigan or shirt for a bit more warmth. Love how you have styled yours!

    1. I agree...about the see through thing...otherwise one has to remember to NOT take one's jacket off! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I didn't used to find white flattering, but it seems to brighten my aging (aged?) complexion and current hair colour now, and the last few summers a white T (usually from the Gap) has become a wardrobe essential (and yes, have more than one!). Your fun post makes me think I should click back and order a few currently on sale at The Gap. . .

    1. I've been buying Gap tee shirts on sale, on-line lately. Just waiting for the 60% off sale and then snapping up a couple. I love the "Gap Fit" and the "Favourite Crew."

  4. Great post, Susan. James Dean is a white tee is fairly perfect. I love my GAP white tees all year-round. Thanks for sharing with Visible Monday! xo

    1. Thanks Patti. I've missed the last couple of Visible Mondays because we were away, without internet. Glad to be back.

  5. I love Ines' collection! You are so right ...a great white tee is a must...loved the post and your styles gave me an inspiration idea! Thanks!

  6. Actually I don't have a classic white t-shirt as I'm very particular about wearing certain colours and neutrals. A white against my skin is far too dazzling so I tend to stick to ivory or cream. They are so versatile though. I take your point about not wanting to look like a 16 year old with a plaid shirt around the waist! I loved reading this. I'm new to Patti's link-up!

    1. I guess cream or ivory is the same that it's not colour or pattern. I have to be careful...certain creams or beiges make me look like I have the flu!
      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. I've been on quest for a white T that I like for some time ... and I came home with one this very afternoon! Light weight, neckline floating right between crew and scoop, deep curved hem, a darling little pocket and to make it perfect, it skims without clinging.
    So happy I stopped by to see you looking so cool and casual-chic in yours. Your photos make a great tutorial ... thank you!

    1. Thanks Jan. Congrats on finding the perfect white's not easy.

  8. You are so cool! I want to be like you! I love your sense of style! I am a vneck hoarder, myself, and I LOVE how you have reminded me that the tshirt is still very inspiring - fashion speak!
    xo/Riva (fellow IFB Links a la Moder)

    1. Thanks, Riva. I love a v-neck too...except on me they look best with a cami underneath, effectively making them into a crew neck! Thanks for stopping by.


All comments, ideas, commiserations, questions, complaints... are most welcome.