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A simple white T-shirt

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That’s what I’ve wanted for some time.

My T-shirt collection has somehow dwindled to three: a supremely comfortable light grey race T-shirt from a local Pepsi 10-K race, perhaps four years old; a bright orange, not-comfortable University of Virginia shirt (not comfortable because the cotton’s too heavy); and a black, coming-apart-at-the-seams, maybe eight-years-old, wonderfully soft shirt from a now-defunct in-line skate company that says, “Leave your shoes on” (their product, which sadly never caught on, was in-line skates that you attached to your street shoes).

I never buy T-shirts because invariably they become unwearably uncomfortable after a wash or two, changing shape unpredictably and what-have-you.

Rather, I simply use the ones I get at various events like road races and skate races, discarding the uncomfortable ones into my junk pile, for use cleaning the oven and suchlike, and reserving the rare comfy ones for my everyday use.

Which is not to say I actually dress up to the extent of requiring a T-shirt daily.

Most days are happily spent here at home in my PJs, which consist of ultra-soft and worn OR scrub tops and bottoms – cut off just above the knee – stolen from hospitals I’ve worked in all over the country.

I have a lifetime supply – literally.

I have closets with hundreds of tops and bottoms, folded and stacked, ready to carry me late into this century in cashmere-soft cotton. But I digress.

When I saw, in last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, that the paper’s “Cranky Consumer” column, by Suein Hwang – one of the paper’s better writers – was headlined “Finding the Right White T-Shirt,” I knew I was gonna soon have the information I wanted and needed to resupply my T-shirt larder.

The paper collected 20+ T-shirts from various manufacturers, and convened a panel of fashion experts to judge them.

Then they narrowed the group down to four finalists: the hip, $45 C&C California; the $40 Juicy Couture; the $16.50 Banana Republic; and the $15 Classic Girl.

The winner: Banana Republic.


I started planning the logistics of an afternoon trip there, but then realized I could probably get their T-shirts online.

Good idea, Joe: why waste your time and energy to not get what you want, when instead, without any effort at all, they’ll bring them right to your front door?

I just ordered three here.

Bonus: they’re 3 for $39 on the website.

Here’s the Journal article, for those who love the “juicy” details:

Finding the Right White T-Shirt

Not since the days of the young James Dean has the white T-shirt attracted so much buzz.

After years of being a lowly stepchild to the fashion business, the humble T-shirt has emerged as a serious fashion item, with numerous new labels competing for attention.

Department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue are now dedicating swaths of their sales floor to the new “haute” T-shirts, each individually displayed on a clothes hanger.

C&C California, a super-hot T-shirt brand that started in Los Angeles in 2002, sold $25 million worth of its tanks and tees last year, six times what it sold the year before.

In this remarkably crowded field, what really separates one T-shirt from another?

And is it ever worth paying $40 for a piece of cotton jersey that once never cost more than $15?

Locating that perfect tee – the most complicated simple garment in the world – is about as easy as turning fish and butter into a four-star sole meunière.

It should be flattering but not too tight, and comfortable without being sloppy.

It also shouldn’t emerge from the dryer looking like a doll dress.

We collected 20-odd T-shirts and convened a panel of fashion experts to judge them.

Then we had the four finalists evaluated by textile lab Hamby Textiles- assessing such factors as yarn count, shrinkage, and stitches per inch.

In the end, the T-shirt that came out on top was one that cost $16.50.

Narrowing down our first 20 shirts (with labels covered up) raised fierce emotions among the panelists.

“This has got a really horrible neckline,” said Simon Ungless, head of San Francisco’s American Academy of Art’s graduate fashion program, pitching a Hanes shirt onto the floor.

“Look at that shiny piping!” he said, pointing at a Calida, a Swiss underwear brand. “It’s absolutely revolting.”

Over the next hour, the judges tore apart one T-shirt’s “wimpy neck” and collectively gasped at another shirt’s ill-made, puckered sleeve.

One of the priciest T-shirts in the contest was the fashionable C&C, touted on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show and evangelized by trend titans Vogue and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Meant to resemble an old, worn-out T-shirt, it has fashion followers raving about the thinness of its fabric, which makes it easy to layer with other tees.

C&C shirts are also cut unusually long, helping cover the midriff gap created by the trendy low-rise pant.

The judges raved about C&C’s classic cut and its vintage look.

C&C made the final cut, as did the “Classic Girl” model from American Apparel, a Los Angeles-based T-shirt manufacturer that has recently branched into the retail business, opening stores in New York and L.A. as well as an online shop.

Banana Republic was in the running, and successful boutique brand Juicy Couture made a distant fourth, despite a little fabric loop in the back that attracted some jeers.

We sent the finalists off to the textile lab, and, one week and $800 worth of tests later, we got a report.

The champ: Banana Republic, which at $16.50 was one of the least expensive shirts in the competition.

Ann Brooks, manager of Hamby’s physical testing laboratory, noted that the shirt retained a good appearance after being washed and shrank just 2.8% lengthwise and 1.4% crosswise.

Juicy Couture came in a close second, while American Apparel was knocked for shrinking 8.6% crosswise.

The worst performer: C&C, which shrank 7% crosswise and was the only shirt to win an “Unattractive” rating after being washed.

Ms. Brooks said the shirt was too loosely knit and that if she had bought the shirt, she’d probably return it.

“Overall poor quality and construction,” she writes.

And that was before she found out the shirt costs $45.

C&C co-founder Claire Stansfield gasped a bit when told about the durability test.

“If we’re not as durable as the next guy, it’s OK with us, because that’s the nature of our T-shirt.

We wanted what happens when you’ve had a T-shirt 12 or 13 years,” she explained.

We did emerge with a few insights into buying a T-shirt.

To check for quality, hold the garment up to the light and look for thick and thin places.

Also, look to see that the garment is cut on the straight grain of the fabric.

Take the shirt off the hanger, lay it out on the nearest available flat surface, and take a good hard look to ensure the T-shirt lies absolutely flat.

To keep the perfect tee in perfect shape, boutique owners have one other suggestion: Get it dry-cleaned or hand-washed.

Apparently, maintaining that hip, well-washed look dictates as little washing as possible.

* * *

SHIRT/PRICE: Banana Republic/$16.50
FABRIC WEIGHT (OZ/SQ YD): 6.88 (heaviest)
LAUNDRY SHRINKAGE: 2.8% lengthwise, 1.4% crosswise
STYLE FACTOR: Classic All-American T-shirt.
COMMENT: Fitting Choice. Overall good appearance and well constructed.

* * *

SHIRT/PRICE: C&C California/$45
LAUNDRY SHRINKAGE: 4.3% lengthwise, 7% crosswise
STYLE FACTOR: Thin, apparently, is in; this is almost translucent. Hip extra-long cut.
COMMENT: Vintage look is very “right now.” But fabric has many thick and thin places. Overall poor quality.

* * *

SHIRT/PRICE: Juicy Couture/$40
LAUNDRY SHRINKAGE: 2.8% lengthwise, 1.4% crosswise
STYLE FACTOR: “I don’t get” the fabric loop in back, one panelist said. Super-skinny fit.
COMMENT: Attractive shirt, without many thin places.

* * *

SHIRT/PRICE: Classic Girl/$15
LAUNDRY SHRINKAGE: 4.3% lengthwise, 8.6% crosswise
STYLE FACTOR: Similar to the Banana Republic, but less stretchy.
COMMENT: Loosely knit, lightweight, with thin places in fabric.

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