growing a minimalist wardrobe: t-shirts.

July 9, 2015

growing a minimalist wardrobe: basic t-shirts | reading my tea leavesGive me a plain cotton tee and a pair of jeans and I’m happy. Heat waves and cold snaps notwithstanding, I could wear the classic combination nearly every single day and not get sick of it.

Forgive me the term, but there’s something undeniably chic about a plain cotton t-shirt. It can be a man’s t-shirt, it can be a crew neck, or a v-neck, it can pocketed or plain, a simple tee is going to look neat and clean and….here’s another buzz word for you…effortless, pretty much guaranteed.

Remember that talk about basics and layering? Keeping a solid collection of dependable basics makes living with fewer clothes possible for me in the first place. And that includes a handful of dependable tees. I have five tees in my drawer right now. They’re mostly v-necks, but lately I’m kind of digging the return to a more classic crew.
growing a minimalist wardrobe: basic t-shirts | reading my tea leavesBut despite all this talk of ease, a great tee can be difficult to nail down. I’ve had t-shirts that have lasted for years and years, and others that seem washed up and rung out after only one season. Anyone who’s bought the same t-shirt in multiples knows first hand that there’s often differences across dye lots. A blue shirt will wear differently than a white one. It comes down to science, mostly. And luck. Then there’s question of wear and body chemistry. For me a white t-shirt is a tricky thing to keep that way, especially if you take a close look at the arm pits. And I’ve ended up with weird stains under the arms of darker tees too. I’ve worn t-shirts backpacking and ended up with pilly spots. I’ve had others develop rips along the hemline. Suffice to say, a cotton t-shirt is not going to be the longest lasting article in your closet. When I do my regular closet sorting, it’s often the tees that need to get replaced first.

An ideal tee is one that’s well-fitting, as long lasting as can be reasonably expected, and somewhere close to the side of the affordable side of the spectrum.

You might swear by picking up a multi-pack of men’s white t-shirts, rolling up the sleeves, and calling it a day. I don’t blame you. But in case you’re looking for something that’s been made with a special effort toward sustainability, here are some of the best I’ve come across. If you have any to add, please do. growing a minimalist wardrobe: basic t-shirts | reading my tea leavesAlternative Apparel: A long-time player in the eco-friendly clothing game, Alternative Apparel’s Ideal Eco-Jersey T-Shirt is my favorite cut in their basics collection––a really classic crew with a well-loved look right off the shelf. (Full-disclosure: I haven’t been able to sort exactly what it means to be eco-jersey.) If you’re more into 100% cotton, they’ve got organic v-necks and organic pima cotton cap sleeves, too. (And if you’ve got a man in your life who needs dressing, they’ve got him taken care of.) Here’s their take on social responsibility. (Made in the USA.)

Bella + Canvas: These guys are committed to producing plain and simple high-quality tees from 100% combed and ring-spun cotton. Not sure what that means? They’ll tell you. Their sweatshop-free clothes are made in a solar-powered factory and shipped from a paperless warehouse. Here’s their complete line of women’s tees, available in a wide range of styles and colors. They’ve got men covered, too. Here’s a little more about the company. (Made in the USA.)
 
Be Good: I’ve never owned anything from this San Francisco company, but they’re high on my list of places to check out. They design their tees in California and use USDA-certified organic bamboo and cotton to produce their clothes in a BSCI-certified factory in China. Here’s more about their process. The women’s Spruce Top tees are made from organic bamboo and come in a range of nice colors. Their organic Pine Tees might be my next v-neck puchase, but their Powell Tees look like a perfect pocketless crew. Good for men, too. (Ethically made in China.)
 
Calder BlakeCalder Blake is committed to making long-lasting and simple clothes and their cotton jersey tees are no exception. Their Anais Tee has pretty draping on the sleeves to set it apart from the crowd. Here’s more about their design philosophy. (Made in the USA.) 
 
Everlane: I’ve been talking about these guys for awhile and I’ve been wearing their v-neck tees for several summers now (James is partial to their pocket-tees). I’ve found them to be sturdy, well-proportioned, long-lasting, versatile, and affordable without making too many compromises. Here’s a little bit more about the company, which prides itself on radical transparency. (Made in the USA.)
 
Fabrik: Fabrik stocks a 100% grown-in-the-USA supima cotton tee that’s been cut with a touch of elegance in mind. The Shell T-Shirt is currently 50% off during their end of season sale. (Sustainably made in Bali.)
 
LazloThis new company is making tees for men from 100% supima organic cotton. Their first production run of Heirloom Tees was designed and made in Michigan. It’s currently sold out, but there are more on the way. Sign up for their newsletter to stay up-to-date on the Kickstarter they plan to launch on July 21. (Made in the USA.)
 
ZadyThese guys mostly sell goods curated from other ethical producers, but they’re also working on clothes of their own making. Their .02 T-Shirt came out this summer. I was given one of these t-shirts to take for a test-drive and can attest to the fact that it’s something special. The cotton is incredibly soft, and the little cuffed sleeves and scooped back make it feel just a little bit nicer than your average tee. Huge bonus that it’s made from USDA-certified organic cotton that’s been, in their words, “grown, harvested, ginned, baled, spun, knit, cut, sewn, and dyed in the USA.” Here’s Zady’s manifesto. (Made in the USA.)
growing a minimalist wardrobe: basic t-shirts | reading my tea leavesIf you’re just getting started on the road to a minimalist wardrobe, here are the first steps: One
Two
Three
Four
& Five

If you’re on the hunt, here are a few resources for swimwear, activewear, underwear and even babywear. If you’re experiencing sticker shock, here’s my take on affordability.

You Might Also Like

47 Comments

  • Reply Loribeth Tanner July 9, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I have two everlane gray v-neck tees and they are my go-to for everything! I wear them with jeans, shorts, pencil skirts with a blazer on top…basically my whole wardrobe. I like the gray because it hides potential armpit stains and possible coffee spills throughout the day!

  • Reply Jillian L. Schweitzer July 9, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    This is great! I've been on the hunt for a good basic white and grey tee for ages now. Normally, my local thrift store delivers, but sadly haven't been able to find anything that works in that dept.

  • Reply Elizabeth Suelzer July 9, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you for posting this! Three years ago I made a commitment to only buy clothes for myself that were either made in the USA, made from ethically managed companies, or purchased second-hand. It's nice to see curated lists like this and finding out about new companies to buy from.

  • Reply emily July 9, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I love a white tee and jeans, but I find that they only look effortless and chic on thin women. Since gaining 30 lbs during my second pregnancy, my go to jeans plus white tee look more sloppy and didn't make an effort than effortless. Sad! But it might be I just need to find a new cut. I'm holding out hope.

    • Reply Anonymous July 10, 2015 at 5:52 am

      Yep. On us larger people it just says sloppy. We also get the short end of the stick on finding ethically sourced clothes.

  • Reply Lauren Martin July 9, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Great post! I'm still building my capsule wardrobe and will be posting more about it once we move into our travel trailer. But the T-shirt conversation is definitely an important one. It's so easy to get consumed with all types of Tees, but I'm on a mission to find the perfect ones and this post was very helpful! thanks!!

    xx
    Lauren Jade
    Lauren Jade Lately
    'Simplify Life, Maximize Happiness'

  • Reply Anonymous July 9, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    I used to get the same problem with the strange stains under the armpits. the day i stopped using spray on deodorants and switched to deodorant cream, i've not had any marks at all. I now throw out t-shirts when they get holes in instead of after a few months when the pits get wierd!

    • Reply Gianna Nicolay July 9, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      tell me more about this magical deodorant cream that makes marks not happen!? i must know.

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Hmm. I have to admit that for a long time I blamed my deodorant, but I've found that I can yellow-up a tee whether I'm wearing standard drugstore-variety deodorant, cream deodorant, or nothing at all! Sweat stains aside, I am a cream deodorant devotee! I love Soapwalla and Schmidt's the best!

    • Reply emily July 10, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      I used to yellow up all my white shirts, but I started using Adidas cotton tech (no aluminum) deodorant and have never had that problem since. I've been using it for about 6 years. Unfortunately, I can only find it at Walgreens.

    • Reply admin July 10, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      Hmm. I have to admit that for a long time I blamed my deodorant, but I've found that I can yellow-up a tee whether I'm wearing standard drugstore-variety deodorant, cream deodorant, or nothing at all! Sweat stains aside, I am a cream deodorant devotee! I love Soapwalla and Schmidt's the best!

    • Reply Claire July 12, 2015 at 12:10 am

      totally agree with Emily, it seems the yellow color comes from the aluminium from the deidorant reacting with laundry detergent. i've switched to non-alu deo and it really helps (+ it's probably more healthy) i use the Biotherm deo, which works fine http://www.biotherm.ca/product/DEO-PURE-Natural-Protect,default,pd.html#start=3&cgid=body-deodorants

    • Reply Erin July 12, 2015 at 2:33 am

      Think it's really also a question of body chemistry. I've worn natural for years and still get yellow!

    • Reply admin July 12, 2015 at 2:33 am

      Think it's really also a question of body chemistry. I've worn natural for years and still get yellow!

    • Reply Claire July 12, 2015 at 8:41 am

      might be, sweat is evacuating toxins from our skin after all!

  • Reply Autumn July 9, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    This series is one of my favorites – actually, I believe it's how I stumbled upon Reading My Tea Leaves. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply emma summer July 9, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    I recently did a big review! (http://www.yourfonderheart.com/2015/05/the-great-t-shirt-review-of-2015.html?m=1) and though I know madewell doesn't score ethical points, I just love their slub pocket vneck so so much. that and my everlane tees are the ones I wear daily that both look great and stand up to wash and wear. I have had several people tell me their everlane shirts fall apart but for me the opposite is true. they are some of my most well made cotton basics.

  • Reply Archana July 9, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Erin,

    Have you given linen tshirts a try ? Cotton is a cash crop which requires lots of pesticides and when you go organic, they need lots more land to create that one tshirt. My family does cotton farming and more I see of it, more I don't want to wear one.

    I am secretly praying the whole world will fall in love with linen.

    • Reply Erin July 9, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      Oh man, definitely. A case of the more you know! I love linen—no doubt I would love linen tees, too!

    • Reply admin July 9, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      Oh man, definitely. A case of the more you know! I love linen—no doubt I would love linen tees, too!

  • Reply omoriala July 9, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    I am also a big fan of Everlane's tees, and I own identical 6 white V-necks as part of my own jeans + tees uniform : ) However, one thing that troubles me with their transparency messaging is that they don't seem to address the question "Why not use organic cotton?" I've been meaning to send them an email about this to find out…

  • Reply joan July 9, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Years ago a friend of mine said to me I always look "well put together" (not by a long shot ;), but it was nice to hear. My wardrobe is 95% tees and jeans. Mostly I bought v-necks, but now taking care of a one year old I've shifted to crew. He tends to pull himself up by hanging on to the neck rim of a shirt. I don't want to be flashing everyone. 🙂
    BeGood's t-shirts are great!! Soft, comfortable and wahes up well. I'll try Everlane again. I bought a couple a few years ago and they didn't last for me, but I've read lately that people love them. Definitely will check out the other sites.

  • Reply Abby Porter July 9, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Personally, I'm done with Everlane. Almost everything I've bought from them (and friends have bought from them) fell apart, tore, or got holes after the first few wears. I kept trying them, because I love the style, but after my brand new sweater totally unraveled during my first wear, I was officially done.

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      Fascinating. I own a fair number of their clothes at this stage—from t-shirts to sweatshirt to dresses—and that's never been my experience! So sorry you haven't had good luck with them.

    • Reply admin July 10, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      Fascinating. I own a fair number of their clothes at this stage—from t-shirts to sweatshirt to dresses—and that's never been my experience! So sorry you haven't had good luck with them.

  • Reply Nicole July 10, 2015 at 2:03 am

    Groceries Apparel is another great eco friendly and sustainable brand that's made in LA!

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      Awesome! Thanks for mentioning!

    • Reply admin July 10, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      Awesome! Thanks for mentioning!

  • Reply Joanna July 10, 2015 at 6:04 am

    I love Splendid tees. They're just so super soft, I wear the long sleeve versions in the winter and short sleeves and tanks in the summer. Also a fan of their sweatpants. Most of their clothes are made in the USA (not shoes and certain other pieces—always check the label/description). The prices can definitely be a bit steep, but Splendid clothing can frequently be found on outlet retailers such as myhabit, ideeli, etc!

    • Reply Erin July 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Their sweatpants always look so comfy! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Reply admin July 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Their sweatpants always look so comfy! Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Reply Kaolee Hoyle July 10, 2015 at 6:23 am

    Thanks for the brand suggestions. I haven't heard of a lot of these. I love myself a white t-shirt, but grey has been my go-to t-shirt color since they never pill, and they never get stained 🙂

  • Reply Kit July 10, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Ahh, the love of a good tee. I was amazed to find I didn't own any beyond two merino wool ones for hiking and to shove under jumpers in winter. Luckily, I remedied that recently (although I do wish Everyone would ship to the UK, their collection is so simple and elegant) after I decided to write a little about capsule wardrobes (http://www.folklore-blog.com/2015/02/21/capsule-wardrobe-3/) and suddenly realised I should follow my own advice!

    Thanks for the heads-up on some other ethical alternatives to the mainstay of high streets and malls; it's great that more people are only buying what they need, buying ethically and from companies who are slowing the whole process down.

    Here's to a kinder, slower world 🙂

  • Reply Amy @ The American-Made Guide to Life July 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Great list of t-shirt options. Why is it so hard to find a good basic tee?! Lately been stocking up on Everlane's v-neck tees. Also love the short sleeve and 3/4 sleeved ones from Three Dots.

  • Reply Jordanna— The House of Muses July 10, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    I SO love the Everlane tees. I'll be getting a few more sometime shortly! 🙂 They really hold up well and have such a great shape.

  • Reply welliewalks July 13, 2015 at 1:44 am

    i'm enjoying these roundups! thanks for all the work you put into them! i love my everlane tee and also the tees i have from Taylor Stitch. i wrote a short post about them here, if you'd like a look: http://janejojulia.weebly.com/blog/taylor-stitch

  • Reply mandy February 14, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Do you have any suggestions for fitted t-shirts? I’ve been searching high and low for them (even non-ethically sourced, non-organic), and I can’t find anything. I’m petite, and wearing loose-fitting shirts (which is very much in style) makes me look like I stole someone’s clothes.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 15, 2016 at 11:58 am

      Have you taken a look at Be Good? I feel like some of their fits are on the more fitted side! https://begoodclothes.com/

  • Reply Anna February 16, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    I must say, this post has been an incredibly valuable resource these past few months as I work on my messy closet. Thank you for all this information! How has the Zady tee held up for you? I am considering buying one and want to know if it is worthwhile.

  • Reply Morgan April 23, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    I second Anna’s question; how does the Zady tee hold up? And, how sheer is it comparatively? I can’t seem to find answers anywhere else :-).

    • Reply Erin Boyle April 24, 2016 at 9:30 am

      I’ve loved the Zady tee. The cotton one is my favorite—it drapes in such a lovely way and it’s super soft. As for being sheer, I’ve never really thought about it. It’s a white cotton t-shirt, so it’s not something I’d probably wear bralass, but I’ve never worried about it either!

      • Reply Morgan April 25, 2016 at 8:39 pm

        Erin, thanks for the reply. I wouldn’t plan to go braless (well, I guess you never know!) but I would likely wear with a nude bra, so hopefully not a huge issue. It sounds like such a lovely tee; you’ve inspired me to purchase the special edition one being sold now! I can’t wait to check it out.

        • Reply Erin Boyle April 25, 2016 at 8:45 pm

          Awesome! Hope you love it!

  • Reply Susie R. May 8, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Would you say the Everlane T’s run true to size, big, or small?

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 8, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      You know, I would say that the different styles really vary on this a bit, but generally true to size.

  • Reply Emily August 23, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Green Label Organic t-shirts are amazing. I’ve owned four so far. The other day, one finally developed a hole in the wash…after six years of near-constant wear.

    So, I ordered four more today, because they have a free shipping deal if you buy more than $50 of product. One in black, one in a sky blue, two with prints. *sigh*

    Can’t wait for my new shirts to come in the mail! Made in the USA, too. 🙂

  • Reply lj September 18, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    I was excited to make my first purchase from Everlane and purchased 3 different styles of white tees. I could not have been more disappointed that each tee was entirely sheer! Such a let down! Grana remains my favorite brand of tee, & their white tee is not sheer.

  • Leave a Reply

    Comments are moderated to ensure that this space is one that promotes positivity, community, and all-around good vibes.