x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Man's basic instinct is the plain white T-shirt

The white T-shirt is the single most versatile garment in a man's wardrobe. Call it an all-purpose purchase, one that looks good on anyone, as long as it's clean and it fits.

In 1974, Frank Sinatra organised a fundraiser for the actor James Stacy, after a motorcycle crash left him a multiple amputee. It was attended by Hollywood's hottest: Sammy Davis Jr, John Lennon and Clint Eastwood all came in their best black tie.

Steve McQueen, true to his anti-hero persona, showed up in a white T-shirt and blue jeans. Sinatra took no offence - McQueen, dressed down, looked dashing.

The white T-shirt is the single most versatile garment in a man's wardrobe. Whether you're wearing it under a blue suit or with a pair of swimming shorts, the white tee works. Call it an all-purpose purchase, one that looks good on anyone, as long as it's clean and it fits - not tight, short in the sleeves, not too long at the waist.

It's flattering to most body types, too. If you don't have a chest built to fill a shirt, wear it under a button-down Oxford shirt or a tailored jacket.

The film actor James Dean was a fan. Flinging a leather jacket over his shoulder, he looked good while appearing not to give a toss. He knew, too, that white shirts are never better than when paired with well-worn blue jeans.

Not all white shirts are created equal. I've sworn by the cheap-as-chips classic cotton crew neck from Hanes - Dh47 for a five-pack at Carrefour, the last time I checked. It's soft and tagless, so you won't be itching on the neck.

On occasion my Hanes T-shirts have shrunk in the wash, so I've turned to Calvin Klein's classic crew, Dh120 for a three-pack. Costs more, yes, but it's an all-around shirt you can wear on and off the couch.

My favourites are the ones made by James Perse. Although pricey at around Dh250 a pop at Boutique1 stores, the Californian clothing brand sells the softest, lightest shirts. I own a pair - a crew neck and a V-neck - and I wear them in bed, for a quick supermarket run, at a dinner out, at work. I've worn them to death for two years, but they've never shrunk. In fact, the more I wash them, the softer they become.

Last January, my friend Philip asked me to help him shop for a new wardrobe. He was changing jobs - from a strictly suit-and-tie workplace to a more casual advertising firm.

He deemed shopping a tedious exercise but had no choice. At the mall, I hand-picked pieces for him, only to be met with an "I can't pull that off". This I found absurd because I've always believed that looking great requires nothing but a bit of effort and an open mind. But I'm aware a cultural stigma of fashion exists among men - a macho mentality drilled in our heads with every sniggering "compliment" from friends: why are you so dressed? Where are you going?

Could I blame Philip for wanting to avoid attention with bold patterns? It was when I presented him with simple combinations of white shirts with blazers and cardigans, matched with dark denim and chinos, that things started to look up. All it took was a plain cotton garment to break the barrier blocking him from looking his best.

 

James Gabrillo is the assistant Arts & Life editor at The National

 

jgabrillo@thenational.ae