Last week, I persuaded my nephew to help me to give the Jag a wash (yes, I finally found a use for him – and people say child labour is wrong).
First, we went to get changed into some old clothes that wouldn’t get ruined by the inevitable water fight that would break out later. I handed the boy an old T-shirt of his with a big cartoon character on the front, only for him to say: “It’s just not cool, Uncle David, I can’t wear that.” He’s nine years old.
This got me thinking about T-shirts, and about the way British males dress in general (and how our continental friends are inclined to dress far better than we do). In the UK, there is still a real dress-down culture that is dominated by ill-fitting T-shirts with comedy slogans, ironic pictures, funny graphics or huge logos emblazoned on them.
I’m not talking about children or even teenagers here, I’m talking about grown men. As I sit here writing this in a coffee shop in west London (oh God, I’m not turning into Carrie Bradshaw, am I?), there’s a guy wearing a pink T-shirt with Star Wars Storm Troopers on the front of it, and I’m just thinking, “Why?”
Presumably, he thinks it’s cool, and that other people will think the same, and will share his nostalgia for old sci-fi films, plus his sense of fun. He possibly thinks a pink Star Wars T-shirt is pretty witty.
The British sense of humour is, to me, the best in the world – however, almost any attempt at humour on the front of a T-shirt falls flat on its face. It’s lost on me. It seems it’s also lost on my nine-year old nephew who has grown out of funny, cartoon T-shirts in favour of something more simple and sharp. In that respect his grasp of style is more evolved than many grown men I’ve encountered. Maybe it’s something to do with his Spanish blood?
What isn’t lost on me, though, is the versatility of the classic T-shirt.
Simply put, it should be the main staple in any man’s wardrobe. I’m a huge advocate of men’s tailoring and bespoke suits, and I always say that men’s wardrobes should be based around tailoring, because compared to women we have a rather limited selection of items to choose from.
The items I wear the most, however, are T-shirts. During this hot summer, I have primarily been seen in a pair of tailored trousers and a T-shirt. Alone, this combination doesn’t necessarily work, but with the right shoes, watch and sunglasses, it makes for a simple, effective, smart and stylish ensemble.
T-shirts are adaptable to any outfit. I wear one under my double-breasted suit jackets so they look a lot less formal. If you want to show off a leather or driving jacket, a simple T-shirt cannot be beaten.
For such a humble garment, the T-shirt has been sported by many of the biggest male style icons and fashion influencers in history. Think Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, or Paul Newman in Eve Arnold’s famous photo of him at the Actors Studio in the mid 50s, or James Dean at the wheel of his Porsche Spyder (all of them looking effortlessly stylish in a plain white tee). Google images of Giorgio Armani, one of the great men’s fashion designers, and I promise you that half of them will show him in a plain black T-shirt.
Today’s style icons like a simple T-shirt too. David Beckham wears a plain tee and jeans arguably better than anybody. Ryan Gosling, in his latest films – “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Only God Forgives” – looks great in loose crew T-shirts, adapted either with the sleeves cut off or slightly rolled.
T-shirts can be used to great styling effect, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. There isn’t just one style: there are loose crew necks, regular crew necks, normal V necks, deep V necks, slim fitting T-shirts, wide bodied T-shirts, long sleeved, short sleeved, mid length sleeved. This is where the buyer has to choose the correct fit and style for their body type.
I personally never buy a regular neck T-shirt – they will always be loose or deeper cut and I’ll usually go for a slightly longer sleeve. And they are always from American Apparel, which stocks every type of T-shirt you could ever need – every cut, every style and every colour.
Choose the one that’s right for you. But remember just one thing, gentlemen. Before you head out to re-stock, there’s one common factor that makes a T-shirt a classic. No logos, no writing, no jokes, no images. As my nephew knows full well, it has to be PLAIN.