Plain White Tees: A Wardrobe Staple

By Caroline L Hamar, Contributor

What does James Dean in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ 1955, the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 in 1996 and Donatella Versace for 2005 Vogue, all have in common? The classic white tee. 

The t-shirt (most stylishly known to be a white t-shirt) is the most effort-less and understated garment imaginable still, it’s become a style must-have. The white tee has always acted as a blank canvas, allowing each film character or pop culture icon to transform it throughout time. However, it’s also been a literal blank canvas on which we have started printing our political and societal statements. This isn’t just a garment that’s been revolutionary in fashion, it’s also been the banner for many actual revolutionary movements…

The white t-shirt first appeared in 1913 when the U.S Navy brought in the garment for sailors, a 100% cotton tee was much more light, breathable and freeing than the wool garment previously worn. But who do we have to thank for the t-shirt becoming a fashion statement? The 1950s characters of Marlon Brando in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and the aforementioned, James Dean in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. These two firmly cemented the t-shirt as a style of non-conformity. 

However, Bruce Springsteen rocking the white tee on stage in the 80s as part of his ‘working man’ image definitely gave the t-shirt trend some fire. It was in the 80s when the t-shirt went through another style transformation; the t-shirt became part of the smart-causal look - think, Don Johnson in Miami Vice wearing one with a summer blazer, or when Karl Lagerfeld layered the iconic Chanel tweed jackets over plain t-shirts later in 1991. This was also when the t-shirt became a unisex garment (even a garment as simple as the t-shirt was given a gender!) 

But, some might say it was the 90s that gave us the t-shirt style we know and love today, specifically paired with blue jeans. Throughout the decades t-shirts hold some of the most iconic pop culture references and memorabilia of all time, especially from the 90s! From, “Skinny Bitch”, “That’s Hot,”, “Dump Him,” “I’m A Virgin, But This Is An Old T-shirt,” and “I am the American Dream” Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan really made slogan tees their own. The slogan tee has really become it’s own trend, inside of the white tee trend.

It might surprise you that the t-shirt is also, the most political fashion garment, taking the ‘slogan tee’ one step further many designers found a way to literally wear their political and social statements. In 2014, Fawcett Committee teamed up with Elle and Whistles for a campaign that saw the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Tracy Emin and many more famous faces sporting t-shirts that read ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like.’ The t-shirts? Sold out quickly. And, the message? Received loud and clear.

Another example is when Maria Grazia Chiuri debuted her first Dior collection as creative director in 2016 including a t-shirt with the slogan ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ - a fitting statement from the first ever female creative director in the brand. Also, the simple t-shirt had become a runway worthy garment! Vogue describes t-shirts as the “casual-cool uniform” - this is keeping your cool whilst making a loud statement. Statements are the new chic.

Slogan tees seemed to have evolved into, what we would call, statement tees. Why are theses statement tees so important? Because, it shows that fashion is always about something more. We are able to express our identity through it and in the case of these garments, literally spell out our opinions. When sitting on the train or in line at a shop there is a uplighting connection when reading the words of someone else’s t-shirt; it’s bringing ideas, movements and cultures out into the open.

Ideas such as, “Love Equals Love” and “Stronger Together” which are the sentiments embroidered on Sabinna's circular t-shirts, circular meaning, once you no longer want or need it you can send it back to the factory to be recycled - incredible considering 2 billion t-shirts get sold every year! “Still I Rise” is the empowering message on Birdsong’s Women’s Day t-shirt, a brand whose garments are a protest to the damage of the fashion industry. But, perhaps you need something a little more playful like, “Leave Drama To Shakespeare” or “To Spritz Or Not To Spritz” the witty words of Le Slap. Our designers are constantly taking this timeless style piece and transforming it with their words of wisdom, encouragement or sass. Discover all our slogan and statement tees below!  

Shop White Tees

Like what you've read? Share it with your community!