We love dressing up as much as the next guy—and there are plenty of times you’ll hear us talk about the virtues of a perfectly-made suit. But, let’s face it, a man’s base outfit is a T-shirt and jeans. This is what you wear at home, on the weekends, at the ballpark, and with the kids. You probably spend more of your life in a T-shirt than you do in any other item of clothing.
Some T-shirts are better than others. (Admit it, that’s why everyone has their fave.) There are infinite options out there, but only some of them hug the body the right way – and retain their fit wash after wash. Here’s why the best T-shirts work so well – and how to find them in the first place.
FIRST, NAIL THE FIT
We’ve heard it said that only buff guys look good in T-shirts. We humbly disagree, but we get where that idea came from. In a plain T-shirt, the only thing that makes you “look good” is fit. And, sure, muscular guys have a head start.
But anyone can get fit right. Just be honest with yourself about what you need. First up: sleeves. These should end at mid-bicep. If they’re below the thickest part of the muscle, they’re too long. Also, they should gently hug your arm—so choose a shirt that’s appropriate. Don’t do hammer curls to try and grow into it.
If you’re slim, choose a shirt with a tailored torso so you don’t get swallowed up. If you’re not slim, give yourself more room (more than Ric Flair’s giving us below).
Remember that when a T-shirt hugs your chest, it will make your chest look bigger. But if you don’t want your chest to look bigger, or you don’t feel great about your level of pec firmness, don’t let it hug too tight.
Finally, your shirt should end just a few inches below your belt. No one should be able to see your stomach, but the shirt shouldn’t totally hide your bum. Most often, if the sleeve length is right on you, overall length will be too.
WHY FABRIC MATTERS
T-shirts come in all kinds of blends, but the 100% cotton tee is still the gold standard. Why? Because it’s soft, strong, and most breathable.
However, there’s something to be said for blends. A 50/50 polyester-cotton blend will be less apt to shrink in the wash, and wrinkles will shake out easily. Downside: it may pill more easily and make you sweat more.
In the end, our vote goes to cotton. If you’re worried about how it will wash, look for a pre-shrunk option.
A $70 TEE? IT COULD BE WORTH IT
We know, we know—anything more than $30 is steep for a T-shirt. But here’s one reason to pay more: sewing quality.
See, it’s easy to make a T-shirt. This is why factories can churn them out for $10. But with better seams and hems, your T-shirt will fit better and last longer. We could sit here and talk about tape seams and single versus triple needle stitching, but let’s be realistic. Price is often a proxy for quality of construction.
A brand focused on quality basics will give you seams that lie flat and move freely.
DRESS UP PLAIN WITH A POCKET
With a T-shirt, plain is good. But all-the-way, blank-canvas, just-a-white-crewneck plain can make you look like you’re in your undershirt. Or like you’re about to go for a run.
Easy solution, add a pocket. It has the barest hint of dressiness—but we’d never call it “dressy.”
TO V OR NOT TO V?
V-neck versus crew neck—people have deeply entrenched opinions about this. But, once again, your body is your guide.
A crew neck will make your frame look more square, so if you have a slight build, it’s the best option. Plus, if you’re tall and willowy, you don’t want a V-neck to elongate your already long neck. Flip the script: a V-neck is less boxy. And makes your neck look longer. So if you’re on the stockier side, this is a great way to break up your frame and add interest.
Just don’t go too deep on the V. The point of the V should fall below the dip in your collarbone, but above an imaginary line connecting the top of your armpits. A T-shirt that fits your guns, is built to survive many washes, and isn’t baring your man cleavage? Sounds like a new favourite shirt.
This story originally appeared on Menshealth.com