Why Would Someone Pay $150 for a White Tee Shirt?

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why some t-shirts cost so much by Wardrobe Oxygen

When some things become popular I really wonder what trendsetters were smoking. This is especially true when commonplace things have a fancy name slapped on them and they’re suddenly worth $500. I’m not going to spend my hard-earned money to advertise YOUR brand, especially if I can find similar at Target for a bundle less. This is how I have felt about tee shirts for a long while. Somehow, that which was purchased from Hanes or Fruit of the Loom is now worth $150 just because some hot designer decided to add it to his collection. No thank you.

When I was in college, my favorite v-neck (when you’re short and busty, v-necks are a godsend) came in a two-pack from Kmart and did just fine. When they got grubby, I’d bleach them, and replace them when they started to yellow. They were a classic, and looked great with my grunge, then preppy/minimalist aesthetic.

After college, I was a visual merchandiser for Express and fell hard for their “Metro” v-neck tees. Does anyone else remember these beauties? I had them in a rainbow of colors, but a half dozen in white (the ones from the Mariana Islands were a bit thinner but still opaque and had a better fit over my curves. Yeah, I was that much of a fan of these tees).

For my early ‘30s I bounced around budget-friendly retailers and nicer brands found at Marshalls and TJ Maxx. Most of these tees would last a season at most. When I switched to a desk job, I found white tees at my corporate attire stores; Ann Taylor was often where I’d find tees of high quality, though not always the best fit.

And here I am, a couple months from 40 and I’m realizing I have spent a boatload of money on white tee shirts that have never satisfied. Too thin, too tight, too boxy, too stretchy, not stretchy enough, just plain wrong. Hrm, maybe there is something to that $150 “perfect” tee shirt. If it truly IS perfect, it could end up saving me money in the long run.

I’m no longer a sloppy young kid who will destroy my tee shirt at a bar crawl or tailgate, I’ll keep the cheap tees for weekends but would like an awesome white tee for concerts, to wear under jackets, to pair with a sequined pencil or taffeta ball skirt. You know, that casually cool tee that looks perfectly worn and slouches in just that right way.

So I did my own white tee shirt science experiment, trying on and ordering over a dozen different shirts ranging in price to see if I could find my Tee Shirt Holy Grail and if a fancy brand and crazy pricetag does make for a better shirt. I originally planned to share each tee and rate it, but I learned from this process that a simple tee shirt is a very personal purchase. Like a pair of jeans or a tee shirt bra, what is Holy Grail for one is incredibly awful for the other. But what I did learn:

  • Price Does NOT Equal Quality. I was horrified by the quality of some of the pricier tee shirts. J Brand and James Perse both surprised me by the mediocre quality and construction for the price, especially after reading rave reviews from some of my favorite bloggers. An Old Navy Vintage V-neck, if you removed the tag, could be mistaken for many of the $60 – $90 tees I tried, showing that you don’t need a fancy label to get a good tee shirt.However, more expensive tee shirts more often than not had features that made them worth the money, and provide a better fit. Some had back seams, which really improved fit for my curvy figure. Some had no seams, which gave a more refined look and trimmer fit. A big place I noticed the difference was in sleeve length and width; more expensive tees had attention to detail and better fit in this area. Shoulders fit and didn’t just round into sleeves, necklines were made with care, not too wide or low but still a flattering and modern cut. A lot of them had cotton blends that made them drape better or have a different finish (for example this tee from A.L.C. was blended with cashmere, which helps explain the higher price).
  • Don’t Assume You Know Your Size. I wear a 12/14 and I have a large chest. Many of the brands known for expensive/fancy tees I knew didn’t sell clothing in my size, so I assumed their Large would be equivalent to an 8/10. For example, rag & bone’s Large is supposedly a 10/12 yet I found is almost too big for me (the Medium fit but too tight for my comfort). What is slouchy loose on a tall willowy model may be the perfectly not too fitted tee for a shorter curvy woman.
  • Just Because It’s a Tee Doesn't Mean You Can Abuse It. Whether it’s from Target or T by Alexander Wang, if it’s a Holy Grail tee for you, treat it like fine silk. These aren’t your father’s Fruit of the Looms, they’re a thinner cotton, often a blend, cut specifically to glide over a woman’s curves or slouch in just the right way. Throw them in a machine and let them tumble dry and no matter the cost you may end up with a misshapen dish rag. I recommend washing in a lingerie bag and letting air dry. If like me you don’t have room for a drying rack, do NOT line dry your tee. It will grow and likely end up with bumps in the shoulders. I take two pant hangers and fold it over both of them so it balances the weight and doesn’t end up with bends. Once dry, it can handle a couple minutes in the dryer to soften and get rid of any wrinkles.
  • Tee Shirt Bras Exist for a Reason. The current trend of tees is thin and broken-in, which can make a tee a bit transparent. A nude-to-you tee shirt bra (my favorite one), free of lace and decoration can become virtually invisible even under slub knits.
  • Know Your Tee’s Purpose. There’s tees to wear to the gym, tees to wear gardening or cleaning out the garage, tees to wear to your friend’s house with leggings and an oversized flannel shirt to watch movies. But then there’s tees that can replace a going out top for a night at a bar, tees you wear under a blazer for Sunday brunch or a casual office place, and tees you wear to dress down a more glamorous piece like a sequined jacket or my previously mentioned taffeta ball skirt. Know WHY you need such a tee shirt in your wardrobe before you shop so you get the right fit, neckline, and opacity.
  • No One Needs a $150 Shirt. Seriously, if you’re perfectly happy with the tees your currently own, don’t go trying on designer tee shirts. Your life will be perfectly lovely and stylish without having one in your wardrobe.  One thing I did learn from reading the reviews on tee shirts during this process is how people shop for all the wrong reasons.  Just because you own the tee shirt that your favorite actress or blogger owns doesn't mean you will look the same in it, or carry it off with the same panache.  Just because a certain brand is in your wardrobe doesn't mean you're fashionable.  It's okay to be inspired by another person, but you will never be fashionable if you're purchasing to imitate another or to impress with pricepoint or brand.  Style comes from knowing yourself and dressing the part, if you feel a tee shirt over a certain pricepoint is utterly ridiculous no matter the fit, that's knowing your personal style.  Stick to that, be true to yourself, and your style will shine.

As for me, I ended up buying two white tee shirts:

  • rag & bone “Classic V” (size Large) $80.00 – This isn’t tight, but it’s not sloppy or boxy. It’s sheer, but you can’t see my nude tee shirt bra (or belly button or the mole on my back) through it. It’s longer, which makes it easy to tuck in, but it seems to gather/slouch on my hips far better than any other long tee I’ve tried. The V is the perfect length for me (I was looking for a going out tee, not something that would be worn to work). The shoulders and sleeves fit perfectly, and the back seam gives the whole shirt a better drape and fit.
  • Free People Shredded Muscle Tee  (size Large, but I was tempted to size down to Medium and would if it was a darker color) $58.00 – This is a novelty tee for me, I mean who really NEEDS a shirt riddled with holes? I bought it at the end of August and loved it untucked with distressed denim shorts and my silver Birkenstocks for weekends, but now that it has gotten colder I’ve paired with slim jeans and booties for a night out with the girls, and also wore under a blazer for brunch and loved how the distressed tee contrasted with a traditional jacket. This is boxy, but the neck fits nicely (no need to stretch it out like I have to with so many crewnecks yet doesn’t fall off the shoulder), you can’t see my bra when I raise my arms, and it’s thin without being Saran wrap.

And now I’d love to hear from you, how much have you paid for a tee shirt? And if you’ve found your Holy Grail tee, please share in the comments along with your general body type. Your Holy Grail very well may be the tee another reader has been looking for all her life!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Enjoyed this post! Even if you’re willing to pay to get your clothes just right, finding the perfect pieces is an ongoing exercise. Glad you found your holy grail tee!

  2. Hmm… good question. I don’t think I’ve ever spent much on a t shirt but it is true that you sometimes get what you pay for. I have a couple of coloured t shirts with subtle patterns on the front from Max (a New Zealand chain store). I spent a bit more on them, but they’re really flatteringly cut, with nice designs on the front and I’ve been wearing them for years (like at least 4+ years).

    When it comes to white tees, I’m with the people who say they never last. I also stock up and replace plain black tees (though I did get an excellent one with some extra details from M & S. It wasn’t that expensive, though. Maybe around 20 or 25 pounds?).

  3. Great post and lots of good discussion! I can’t remember the most I’ve ever spent, but I’m sure it wasn’t more than $25. I usually get mine at TJMaxx because it’s nearby and I can run in at lunch. The key for me is washing after each wear. I used to wear a few times before washing, but read somewhere that you simply can’t wear a white T more than once because the combination of perspiration and deodorant are what causes the armpit yellowing. So now, I immediately spray the inside of the pits with Spray n Wash and wash everytime between wearings. It really seems to have helped cut down on they yellowing. Also, I learned a few years ago that you can make some things, like Old Navy T-shirts, last for several seasons simply by not drying them in the dryer. I know you said not to hang on a line, but I just throw my shirts over the line; I don’t use clothespins. They dry almost completely wrinkle free. I am starting year two of three or four Old Navy tees and they still look pretty darned good.

  4. Gap/Banana Republic tees are as expensive as I’ll go. I have a BR black T that still is black and no fading. I’ve also become a fan of refashioning/altering/tweaking my clothes to fit me. Boxy T? No problem-just a few new seams up the side. If you don’t have sewing skills, it is worth finding someone that does or going to a tailor.

  5. I have stopped purchasing Eddie Bauer. They were great for holding their color and lasting. My purchases from 2013 sill look nice and hold the color but the hems started falling about after about 6 months. It is OK for the bottom hem to fall as you can barely see it but if the hem comes apart at the neck or arms it looks funny.

  6. I generally like the way the Target Merona t-shirts fit me. When they get too stretched-out, thin, or worn, I just cut them up and then I have some great rags. It’s a win-win – I get a nice fitting inexpensive t-shirt for a year (sometimes two), and then some excellent all-cotton rags to use when it’s too worn to wear. But spending $150 on a t-shirt? Never. Just can’t do it. 😀

  7. I have two favorite t-shirts – one was $60 from Anthropologie, the other was $6 from Target. They’re both soft, drape nicely, look dressy, and make me look and feel great. I definitely think you can find a nice shirt at any price based on my luck with the Target tee, but I don’t mind paying more every now and then for a shirt that I really love and know I will get a lot of wear out of.

  8. I would pay $150 for the following t-shirt that–as far as I know–exists only in my imagination: bright white, substantial weight but good drape, smooth hand, tailored fit, cut long enough to stay tucked in but not long enough to sit on, hem that doesn’t curl after laundering, neckline that stays flat, sleeves ending just above the elbow.

  9. I love Cynthia Rowley tees that I find at TJMaxx & Marshalls. For me they have the perfect amount of stretch and I have found them in tons of colors, with long sleeves or short sleeves, V neck and scoop neck. Wash and toss in the dryer. The most I have paid is $13. They are not a tissue tee but a bit heavier stretchy knit. Love them and I don’t care if I only get one or two seasons out of the white ones snice the price is great.

    1. I love these too and find them at Marshalls although I usually find any color other than white. I wish I could find a white one in that brand.

  10. The most I’ve paid for a tee is NZ$59 (that’s about US$46). It’s one of my “going out” tee’s.
    I live in tee’s (a function of working in a soil science laboratory and an active lifestyle) and, as a busty gal, really struggle to find good quality, opaque t-shirts that fit.
    I used to buy 2-3 tee’s at a cost of around NZ$40 each at the start of each season but I haven’t been fussed on the silhouettes available the past couple of years. My latest go-to (and it kinda makes me cringe) is K-Mart where I’ve found a nice scoop neck tee that is mostly cotton (with some elastine), is not transparent (especially the white!) and comes in a bunch of colours for NZ$7.

    I envy the range that y’all have available to you in the States! I suppose I could internet shop but I’ve been burn so many times that I just don’t anymore.

  11. Wow, once you are into the land of white tees, I completely go down in price. I can’t imagine having a white tee shirt for more than one season. They always yellow under the arms, I’m always getting ink or spaghetti sauce on them, and, as you’ve said, tees don’t hold up well unless you care for them like fine lingerie and who has the time? I used to love Target tees (about 10 years ago!) but the quality seems to have gone down. I’m also curvy and short, and so many tees today don’t fit well on my body – either too long or when they shrink, become too short and creep up. All said, I wouldn’t pay more than $20 for a white tee and now that I think about it, I know longer own any. Grey is my go to white these days.

  12. I have never spent more than $40 for a tshirt. And most of the time I wait for these to go on sale. I find that I like the quality of the vintage Old Navy or JCREW tissue tees so I have never bothered to go up to the next level. Mostly because of all the reasons you mentioned. Many of these t-shirts are over priced not higher quality. But now you have me intrigued to try the Rag & Bone option. I will say on the flip side I have stopped buying Joe Fresh t-shirts because I found that after a couple of washes not only were they a completely different size, I just didn’t find myself wearing them because they didn’t fit perfectly. So no matter what the price tag, it is a waste of money if you never wear it.

  13. i have to agree with another commenter – i LOVE my Everlane tee! i’ve read so much about it on other blogs and i thought i’d give it a try since they’re only $15. it is the softest t-shirt i have ever worn in my entire life. i have the u-neck version, which is on the roomier side, but i’m tempted to get a v-neck and see what the difference is.

  14. I love Target’s Vintage V-Neck and Favorite V-Neck. The Vintage is my absolute favorite and is 100% cotton, but the website says it’s not sold in stores and lists 3 colors, yet I just stocked up on six this weekend in six different colors and patterns. They are usually on one of the display racks in a variety of colors. I like the 100% cotton and also the thinner v-neck. I use these for layering at work and also to wear to the gym and on weekends. Price is $10 each or 3/$27. Link (but check in store, not sure why they are listed this way on the website): http://www.target.com/p/women-s-vintage-v-neck-tee/-/A-15055870#?lnk=Grid_wmn_tee_0309_X0Y0W4|X0Y0W4|T:Template_Grid1A|C:CMS&intc=1586198|null

    The Favorite V-Neck is very nice too, same price but the sleeves are a bit shorter and the fabric is a rayon/spandex blend. The v-neck also has a wider hem. I really prefer the cotton, especially in the summer time, but these look a bit sleeker because of the fabric and also layer very well. They don’t hold wrinkles as well as the cotton, either, which makes them slightly easier to care for. http://www.target.com/p/women-s-favorite-short-sleeve-v-neck-tee/-/A-15631379#prodSlot=_1_2

    I wear a size 16/18 and buy these in XXL. They are not too tight and just the perfect amount of slouchy cool. They usually last me at least 9 months to a year before they start showing wear. I cycle through them and once they start getting beat up or out of shape, I will just wear them to the gym or on casual weekends, while the newer ones I wear for work and going out. I’ve been wearing these for a while, I prefer them over the Old Navy Vintage v-necks because the body has a bit more width and they don’t hug my stomach or highlight my rolls.

  15. I’m pretty much a fan of Gap’s Favorite tee – the one made infamous by Sharon Stone at the Oscar’s in the ’90s. I love that it’s a thicker weight, and the shoulders are pretty much perfect on my frame. They have v-neck, crew neck, long-sleeved and short… and they’ve lasted me for ages! And they easily go through the washer and dryer with no fears. I’m thankful that Gap hasn’t ever gotten rid of, or modified, this style in the 10 years I’ve been wearing them!

    1. I, too, have found Land’s End tees to work well for me. I prefer V-necks (for their visually slimming properties) but the scoop necks seem to be slightly less “tee-ish”; the neckline and sleeves have slightly dressier trim, if that makes sense. The neckline and sleeves of the V-necks are thicker. Either way, Land’s End tees are a nice length and nice quality. I caught several short sleeve ones on clearance the end of this summer season for $5.

      Other tees that have held up well for me are Jones New York, and the Kohl’s Sonoma brand.

    2. I have the LE relaxed fit supima cotton tees in nearly every color. I’m short, busty and in my 60’s and I like the relaxed fit for everyday wear. I also like their performance tees for everyday – I live in Hawaii where it’s hot and humid most of the year and this fabric breathes very well. My newest favorite tee is from Chico’s in a tiny black and white stripe, very soft. If it came in other colors, I would buy all of them

    3. I wear a 12/14, Med, Lrg, or XL depending on the manufacturer because sizing in the states is all over the place. I’ve tried to make LE work so many times and the fit just never worked. I feel like they’re having an identify crisis and can’t decide on a market and therefore fit.

  16. I never wore tees until I became a stay-at-home mom. I recently discovered Everlane and now live in their V-neck tees. They start at $15, are made in the USA, and come in a variety of colors. I wear a medium, which I wash on gentle and hang to dry.

    1. I LOVE Everlane, love what they are about, how their products are made and the quality. However I haven’t had luck with the line fitting me. I have their Weekender tote and Karl has their wallet, I just wish they had bigger sizes for those of us who are cusp, plus, and busty!

      1. Agreed on the “I just wish they had bigger sizes for those of us who are cusp, plus, and busty!” I love the idea of Everlane and would really like to check them out, but am like, “Hrm. I don’t know that these would fit my size 18 bod.”

        1. I so agree and I was so excited to try them. I am a 12-14 and busty. I have enough trouble accepting my body as is without being snubbed by apparel companies. I know I am over-reacting but this kind of thing hurts my feelings. I think there is more money in smaller sizes though because smaller women feel better about themselves and are willing to spend more money (of course there are exceptions) or appealing to larger women “cheapens the brand.”

          1. This is a great discussion. I’ve read articles that say many designer brands don’t make larger sizes because those of us in larger sizes aren’t willing to drop cash and make more of an investment in our wardrobes, either because we don’t feel we deserve it or we feel our current weight is temporary. I don’t think anyone feels it cheapens the brand, but more that more sizes costs more money to manufacture, and the larger the size the more complicated (because we all know a size 2X is not just an all over bigger version of a S). Brands need to see there’s a need and that their larger sizes will actually be purchased. Lately every time a jewelry brand contacts me I give them hell if they don’t offer longer than a 16″ chain or size 7 or 8 ring, if we all speak up and get LOUD and vote with our wallets, change could happen. If Everlane did consider us larger women (I’ve worked with them, the clothes don’t fit and I let them know and they sent me a bag and wallet instead but doubt they plan to change their current successful model any time soon) I’d buy the heck out of it and promote it like crazy on this blog. I love everything about them except their limited sizes.

          2. JC T shirts are too thin for me, LE too thick and too short.
            Gap’s favorite T is too broad in the back and neck line goes off if you have to size up for a D cup chest (I blame bad grading – this is a big manufacturer and should know better).
            EB hasn’t been a quality brand in a long time – almost 20 years now which makes me sad.

            My HG V neck tee is American Apparel’s Deep V. AA’s women’s line is sized contemporary like Everlane. I stay clear of
            it. But their Unisex line is comprehensive and I love that they have such a wide color palette. They are cut long which is great if you like to wear them un-tucked and have a long torso like me.

            Only thing that could ever be better is if they made a white V out of their tri-blend fabric. I easily have over 2 dz Vs in both long and short sleeve in that fabric. They get worn to the office and to concerts and wash like a dream. If AA released a white V in the tri-blend, I’d have an order in for 10 tomorrow morning.

  17. I am fairly sure that $39 is the most I have spent. I spend a good portion of my clothing budget on black and white Tees. But the possibility of underarm discoloration or staining would keep me from spending more. I recently purchased a silk tunic on vacation and paid more for it that any other piece of clothing I have ever owned. Figured that at age 65, I deserved one large splurge. Now, however, I am afraid to wear it lest I damage it in some way. I would feel the same way about an expensive T.

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