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The Great White T-Shirt Review

Ah the t-shirt. Is there a more humble garment in the world of fashion? Something that can at once occupy a $10 three-pack and $300 one-pack but still look pretty much identical from more than a few yards away.

But not all t-shirts are created equal. In this review, we hoped to find just which tees came out on top by comparing white t-shirts from 18 different brands through an extensive battery of tests. This is the most exhaustive and intense review we’ve ever done here at Heddels and we’re proud to share our results.

If you want to cut to the chase and just add to cart, my favorite white t-shirt regardless of price is the Lady White Our White T-Shirt (2-pack available for $98 at Lost & Found) and my best value pick is the Kirkland Signature Crew Neck T-Shirt (6-pack available for $26 at Amazon, but I recommend sizing down).

Now if you’d like to know *why* I picked those two shirts, read on and read on for a good long while.

Why Should You Trust Me?

I’m the managing editor of Heddels and I’ve been writing about heritage clothing professionally for over six years. I’ve visited factories and studios all over the world and been able to meet and sample just about every brand we’ve featured on the site. I’ve reviewed dozens of jeans, boots, jackets, and everything in between. I’d also put good money that I’m the only person on the planet that’s had this variety of white t-shirts in front of them at the same time (or on them, for that matter).

Me wearing as many of the test t-shirts as possible.

Full disclosure, we do earn affiliate revenue from purchases of some of the tees in this review. But we only get to keep the earnings if the purchaser keeps the tee, so it’s in our best interest to promote the t-shirt we think is truly the best.

What Are Our Criteria and Who Are Our Competitors?

The subject of this review is the basic white t-shirt. We looked for tees that had the following characteristics:

  • 100% cotton knit fabric
  • Short, set-in sleeves (as opposed to raglan)
  • Crew neck collar
  • Plain white color
  • Minimal features or embellishments (i.e. no pockets, buttons, etc.)
  • Retail price of less than $100 per shirt

Based on that criteria, we purchased the following tees (listed in alphabetical order):

  1. 3sixteen – 2-Pack Heavyweight Tees
  2. American Apparel – Fine Jersey Crewneck T-Shirt
  3. Amazon Essentials – Basic White Tee 2-pack
  4. Dehen – Heavy Duty Tee
  5. Gildan – Classic Short Sleeve T-Shirt 5-Pack
  6. Glad Hand & Co. – Standard T-Shirt
  7. Hanes – Comfortsoft Crew 4-Pack
  8. Jungmaven – Basic Tee
  9. Kirkland Signature – 6-Pack Crew Neck T-Shirt
  10. Knickerbocker Mfg. Co. – Tube Tee
  11. Lady White – Our White Tee 2 Pack
  12. Left Field – Tube Tee 2 Pack
  13. Merz B. Schwanen – 1950s Organic Crew Neck
  14. Reigning Champ – Ringspun Jersey T-Shirt
  15. Sugar Cane – Whitesville 2-Pack
  16. Sunspel – Superfine T-Shirt
  17. Uniqlo – Supima Crew Neck T-Shirt
  18. Velva Sheen – 2-Pack S/S Crewneck Tee

Except for the Velva Sheen 2-pack (which was between seasons and unavailable anywhere else besides from the manufacturer), we purchased all of the reviewed t-shirts at retail price. This was to ensure we weren’t sent any “ringers” that were of a higher quality than what you might experience as a regular consumer.

THE TESTS

All of the above tees went through the same battery of objective and subjective tests (for multi-pack shirts, one tee was picked at random for the review). These tests included:

Quantitative Tests

Price Per Tee

As mentioned, we kept the price level below $100 per shirt with our cheapest shirt being the Gildan at $2 and the most expensive the Sunspel at $90. Tees usually fell within the range of disposable basics at less than $10 each, then there was a sharp step up to the premium offerings, which were mostly between $40 and $50.

Sunspel was the outlier, but if you want to spend more per shirt, you very well can! There were dozens of other shirts that fit our standards well above a hundred bucks. If you wanna take the Heddels challenge, Rick Owens, please send a large!

Measurements and Shrinkage

Tees were measured by the following dimensions:

  1. Sleeve length
  2. Neck diameter
  3. Shoulder to shoulder
  4. Sleeve height
  5. Pit to pit
  6. Front collar to front hem
  7. Hem width

We then summed all seven of these measurements for a metric we’re calling Total Linear Inches (TLI), which gives an estimate of the relative size of the garment.

Relative Size (Postwash Total Linear Inches)

All of these shirts were tagged “Large” by their manufacturer, but as you can see, there’s over 10% variance between Merz B., our smallest shirt, and Dehen, our largest.

Just because a shirt had a higher TLI, however, didn’t necessarily mean it fit larger. Lady White had the second smallest TLI, but the fit was way less restrictive than the Reigning Champ tee, which had eight extra inches, but a shorter shoulder to shoulder distance that made the whole shirt feel tighter.

We took these measurements both fresh out of the box, washed and tumbled dried each tee three times, and then measured them again to determine how much each garment will shrink after regular laundering. The shrinkage percentage we calculated by the difference between the box-fresh and laundered TLIs.

Shrinkage (Percentage of Total Linear Inches Lost in Laundry)

The variance here was ridiculous. Velva Sheen didn’t really shrink at all while Gildan and American Apparel lost the equivalent of a whole size in the wash.

I don’t consider shrinkage to necessarily be a bad thing, just something one must be aware of when making a purchase. Left Field states explicitly on the package that they expect the tee to shrink to size when washed and several other tees shrunk much more.

Weight and Weight Loss

We also weighed every tee straight out of the box and after laundering. The weight both before and after washing was divided by the TLI measurement to give an estimate of the fabric density of each tee, which is expressed in grams per Linear Inch.

Fabric Density (Postwash Grams Per Linear Inch)

The range here was extreme. The most expensive shirt in our test, Sunspel, used the lightest fabric at 1.08g/LI and one of the cheapest shirts, Kirkland Signature, used the heaviest at 2.03g/LI. Wearing a Kirkland Signature tee is the equivalent of wearing almost two Sunspels!

I’d define a lightweight tee as anything below 1.25g/LI (Sunspel and Jungmaven), midweight between 1.25 and 1.6g/LI (Merz B. through Hanes), and heavyweight as anything above 1.6g/LI (Glad Hand onwards).

Weight Loss (Percentage of Total Weight Lost in Laundry)

Now density doesn’t necessarily speak to how sturdy a tee is, but weight loss certainly does. This was the difference between weight measured before and after three washes and tumble dries, so essentially, how much of the tee disappeared in the lint trap? From here, we can extrapolate how quickly a shirt might degrade in the long run.

The results showed that the “sturdiest” American Apparel tee lost just 1.3% of its weight after washing while the Reigning Champ tee lost nearly four times as much (5%) under the same conditions.

Qualitative Tests

The results of these tests will be discussed at greater lengths in the description of each tee.

Sheerness/See-through Test

One of the most important qualities I look for in a white t-shirt is whether it actually looks like you’re wearing a t-shirt. To see whether you can see through the tee, we took a macro photo of a Heddels sticker under one layer of each shirt with the same lighting conditions. We did this to not only incept our logo into your brain but give you an example of just how much is visible through each tee’s fabric.

I personally like to leave a little bit to the imagination, but if you’re looking for something to help you win a wet t-shirt contest, this info will also be helpful for you.

Most Opaque – Dehen

Dehen sheerness.

Dehen is easily the most opaque of all the fabrics. I can barely read our logo and can only sort of squint out “Noodle”.

Most See-Through – Jungmaven

Jungmaven sheerness.

The sheerest tee is the Jungmaven, which is one of the lightest but also a blend of 30% hemp, which I guess makes it that much more see through than its lightweight compatriot, Sunspel.

Fabric Feel

This was fairly subjective, but is made to capture how the fabric feels against skin. It also takes into account the weight of the fabric and how it drapes.

Best Feel – Merz B. Schwanen

Macro of the knit on the Merz B. Schwanen t-shirt.

My favorite was the Merz B. Schwanen, which is also kind of cheating because it’s the only loopwheeled shirt we tested. It has a light and fluffy touch, but is also soft and resilient; something easily achieved by the super slow and low tension machines that knit the tee.

Worst Feel – Hanes

Macro of the knit on the Hanes tee.

Hanes was my least favorite. It has the hand feel of new cardboard and drapes much the same. The tee started chafing almost immediately after I put it on and was noticeably uncomfortable after a day of walking around.

Construction Quality and Finishing

How well constructed is this tee? Here we looked for things like fabric defects, loose threads, asymmetry, and other obsessive stuff.

We also looked at methods of construction like is the shirt tube knit or cut and overlocked? Are there blind or lock stitches on the hem? How substantial is the ribbing around the neck and did it wrinkle and buckle with shrinkage? How many tags are there and are they obtrusive and uncomfortable when being worn?

Best Construction – Lady White Co.

The QC on a Lady White t-shirt is jaw-droppingly impressive. All the overlocks are even without any of the raw edge exposed, the tags are all sewn on straight without any backtracking or missed stitches, the ribbing is even and sturdy, and the tee is tube knit so you don’t have to worry about any twisting on down the line.

Worst Construction – Gildan

There was a BB-sized hole in the Gildan tee. That’s enough to put it at the bottom of the heap, but there were also numerous loose threads, missed stitches, and the label was stamped on crooked. To its credit, the Gildan tee is 25 times cheaper than the Lady White but it only looks ~10 times cheaper.

Fit

This is probably the most subjective criteria of all, because everyone’s body is shaped differently and everyone is looking for a slightly different fit. I’m taking it purely for myself and I’m 6’1″ tall, weigh 180 pounds, and have a 42″ chest and a 34″ waist.

My ideal t-shirt fit is one where the shoulder seam ends right at the edge of my collar bone, the bottom hem sits about an inch below my belt buckle in the front and at the tops of the back pockets in the rear, the body runs straight or tapers slightly from the pit to the hem and moves with my body without being restrictive, the neck opening is large enough that I don’t feel like it’s chafing or choking but also doesn’t hang below my collar bone, and the sleeves fit closely enough that they aren’t constricting nor so large that they flare out from the body.

Best Fit – Lady White Co.

The-Great-White-T-Shirt-Review-lady-white-front-back

The Lady White is basically the Platonic ideal of all the characteristics I described above. Not too long, not too short; seam hits right at the shoulder; tight enough in the sleeves, neck, and body that it could be worn as an undershirt but loose enough that it’s not restrictive and could be worn on its own. This was actually the last tee I received for the test and as soon as I put it on, I knew, “Yep, this is the one.”

Worst Fit – Jungmaven

The-Great-White-T-Shirt-Review-jungmaven-front-back

The Jungmaven had the most unusual proportions of any tee I tried, and while I admire experimentation, this one didn’t really pan out. Its body length is an inch shorter than every other tee but it also has the widest pit to pit and neck measurement but the narrowest shoulders. Couple that with the thin drape of the fabric and you have this odd tent-like fit that doesn’t really flatter anything and left me with an exposed midriff with even the smallest of movements.

ALL THE TEES

So now that you know our winners and losers, we’re going to break down each tee individually with its own pros and cons and who might enjoy what it has to offer.

There are links below for detailed reviews of each individual shirt. The Best Overall and Best Value picks (Lady White and Kirkland Signature, respectively) are listed first and the other tees are unranked and alphabetical.

Everybody Else:

Conclusion

Looking at this many white t-shirts had the same effect on me as when you hear the same word over and over and over again. It no longer has any meaning and is just sort of an abstract mishmash of syllables (say “broccoli” out loud a dozen times to get what I’m talking about). It was only after passing this point of “tee decay” that I began to understand these shirts for their differences rather than their similarities.

There are a few decisions set for you when designing a white cotton t-shirt, but there are infinitely more one had to make:  What kind of cotton are we using? What is the exact shade of white we’re aiming for? What’s the angle going to be between the top and bottom of the sleeve? How stretchy is the ribbing going to be and how many stitches are going to secure it? Whether intentional or arbitrary, these questions and hundreds more had to be answered for all of the shirts I tested. And their success or failure was determined by how well those decisions were executed and how they worked together. The tees I liked the most were the ones that had a clear vision and executed it well, even if I didn’t much care for what that vision was.

Did you like this kind of review? Would you want to see us dissect other categories of clothing in excruciatingly detailed fashion? Let us know!