Style Upgrade: The Casual T-Shirt

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in an ongoing series covering quick and easy upgrades to style dilemmas a guy might face once in a while. For more entries in the series, click here.

Upgrading the humble T-shirt today. Rust V-neck by Pistol Lake (more on the brand in a bit!). Dark denim by Mott & Bow. Navy Rosen Runners by GREATS Brand. Sunglasses by Randoiph Engineering. Stainless steel dive watch by Invicta.
Upgrading the humble T-shirt today. Rust V-neck by Pistol Lake (more on the brand in a bit!). Dark denim by Mott & Bow. Navy Rosen Runners by GREATS Brand. Sunglasses by Randoiph Engineering. Stainless steel dive watch by Invicta.

It seems we’ve been heralding the start of spring weather here on The Style Guide for a number of weeks (at least if my spring style wish list is any indication), so that means a couple key things. Namely, a solid spring jacket and a stylish spring sweater are going to go far for you in the coming weeks (and on into cooler summer nights). Beyond that, what else is there to know? Quite a bit, actually. For one, plenty of us are going to find ourselves rocking more T-shirts and polos in the coming months than during fall or winter — likely on their own, or else after shedding a jacket or sweateer. For another, there are some definite ways to upgrade that T-shirt from a standard number. Perhaps you know the kind I’m talking about? A bit baggy, maybe a bit dirty, featuring an old logo (think the Abercrombie & Fitch tees of years gone by?). If that’s what you had in mind, know that there are far more wearable, far more stylish casual T-shirt options out there — and not a lot of them break the bank.

A neutral color, a trim fit and a not-too-deep V -- the hallmarks of a good V-neck.
A neutral color, a trim fit and a not-too-deep V — the hallmarks of a good V-neck.

By definition, you could consider a rugged short-sleeve henley part of the T-shirt category. But, we’re talking strictly tees here — things like a slim pocket tee, a heathered crewneck tee, or a reliable V-neck tee. You name a variation on a style within those three iterations, and it’s like that a great designer or brand has taken it upon themselves to perfect it. For you, my fellow T-shirt fan, that’s great news indeed. Take, for example, the surprisingly versatile V-neck tee. Pistol Lake crafts the particular tee you see at the top of the page, and its made-in-America ethos, slim fit and jersey fabric are all great qualities. The “V” itself in the right V-neck doesn’t dip too low (a la American Apparel), yet it still adds some nice visual interest as opposed to a plain crewneck. Mixing in some unexpected color here can be a good thing, too. I Keeping the fit slim is also positive. It’s definitely the most casual option of the bunch, but a good V-neck tee could even be rocked under a lightweight, unlined blazer on a hot (and not-too-dressy) workday. It would be wise to reach for an option that’s a bit more expensive — tees from retailers like H&M are often too flimsy (at least according to this menswear writer).

Just a white T-shirt? Think again. Slub cotton and a modern fit upgrade this Buck Mason number.
Just a white T-shirt? Think again. Slub cotton and a modern fit upgrade this Buck Mason number.

Designers and brands are also crafting variations on the crewneck, and packing in a  ton of simple style points in the process. Take Richer Poorer’s new pocket tees. They feature a workwear-inspired pocket, plus your pick of either a versatile Heather Grey or a just-different-enough Natural color. When you’re rocking a tee on its own (or even under a blazer), subtle changes in fabric and style details go a long way. Buck Mason is also a brand that’s taken on the tall task of upgrading the standard pocket tee — and they’re doing a great job at its. The White Slub Pocket Tee is cut to fit slim and trim, with exceptional-looking fabric. Either pick is a great option that can easily be worn on its own with slim stone chinos, dark denim or tailored sweatshorts. Of course, a heather pocket tee pairs perfectly with a rugged denim jacket, lest we forget.

One retailer, two solid T-shirt upgrades from JackThreads.
One retailer, two solid T-shirt upgrades from JackThreads.

But shelling out for the perfect tee doesn’t have to be expensive — even though some of the picks featured above lean a little pricey. JackThreads, as has seemed to be the case with its two seasonal collections, nails the price-quality equation in terms of knitwear. Namely, pieces like its Daily Vee in Heather Blue run for just $18 (or 2 for $30). Plus, the Daily Pocket Tee (pictured at left), offers the exact same deal and nice styling potential, to boot. If 30 bones strikes you as a lot for a T-shirt compared to a standard 3-pack of tees, know that the investment will pay off — this is a style upgrade we’re talking about, after all. In addition to reaching for deeper colors with some texture, mainstay brands like J. Crew turn out new T-shirt variations season after season. Take its textured pocket T-shirt, for example. Those bold stripes in an appropriately spring-like color make it a perfect tee to rock on its own.

An Affliction T-shirt, this is not. A sublte, stylish and sly effort from Todd Snyder.
An Affliction T-shirt, this is not. A subtle, stylish and sly effort from Todd Snyder.

Perhaps the most common stigma about the simple T-shirt is that, in this case, graphics should be thrown out entirely. While there’s a time and place for a loud graphic tee, this is …. not that time (sorry to disappoint). Luckily, classic (and classy) American menswear designers are turning instead to athletic inspiration to craft graphic tees that are decidedly more stylish than Ed Hardy tees. In particular, Style Guide favorite Todd Snyder is offering a cheeky take on the graphic tee as part of his collaboration with Champion, which mixes urban cool with vintage sportswear. Those are two very good things.

The biggest part about upgrading your T-shirt, however simple, might simply be checking out retailers (whether in-person or via online ordering) and trying on various styles. In particular, it’s worth a look into classic retailers like Old Navy, who can offer a huge (HUGE) range of options at really affordable prices with solid sizing. After all, you want a tee that fits modern (but not overly tight), and you want to pick up essential items that can be mixed in with other spring style classics. So, spending $170 on a T-shirt might not be the most economical or versatile for any of us. But, $30 for 2 stylish tees in versatile colors, for example? Now we’re talkin’. As we’re just into the start of spring, there’s plenty of time left for you to upgrade your T-shirt game. Let me know how your search goes over at The Style Guide’s Facebook page, or swing on through Twitter.

Stay stylish!

-Beau

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