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Real Life Capsule Wardrobe: The Refined T-Shirt

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How to tell the difference between t-shirts, how to find a refined t-shirt that can dress up and down, what is the fabric content and the best place to find them in regular and plus sizes.

Not all t-shirts are created equal. There's the stiff square ones you get free for being part of a fun run, the lightweight v-necks you pick up at Target and wear with everything from sweatpants to ankle pants and a cardigan on Casual Friday, there's ones of silk and linen and those $200 ones that look an awful lot like the one you have from Target… and then there's the refined t-shirt. This is a shirt that is usually a blend of fabrics, usually containing a bit of stretch and a fabric called Modal, which is a type of rayon. Modal is what gives a t-shirt beautiful drape, a smoother, almost silky touch and look, and refined finish.  This is the kind of t-shirt you can throw on with a pair of jeans but also slip under a blazer or style with a skirt and heels.  Its versatility is what makes it a great addition to any capsule wardrobe.

In my real-life capsule wardrobe I added the T-Rex crewneck t-shirt from Universal Standard.  It's available in variety of colors and sizes and has become a favorite in my closet because of its weight, how well it holds up after laundering, and how nicely it fits curves.  As you saw in yesterday's post about the ivory blazer, I also have a refined t-shirt from Halogen. It's a lighter weight but also works in just as nice of a way.  These are shirts that bridge between a blouse and a t-shirt and the looks below will show its versatility.  For my real life capsule wardrobe a non-black and non-white color was a necessity to break up the neutrals. I chose grey because it can dress up nicely and works with most every color under the rainbow. However, this is a place in a capsule wardrobe where you can add a signature color to show your personality, or a non-neutral that acts like a neutral (blush pink, teal, plum, indigo).

Universal Standard petite T-Rex shirt and Talbots pink skinny jeans on Wardrobe Oxygent-shirt | jeans | scarf (old; similar) | sneakers

A plain t-shirt and jeans can look unfinished and too casual; switch to a colored jean and a refined t-shirt and you suddenly have an outfit. I added a scarf to pull separates together into an ensemble; a scarf can do a lot to elevate a look without losing comfort or ease.  I wore this running errands, though this would work for a community meeting, coffee with a friend, or other casual social situation.

what type of top to wear with linen pants

t-shirt | pants | shoes | necklace (old; similar) | earrings (a gift from reader Chris; old, more from the artist)

When wearing linen and other rumpled fabrics, they look more purposeful when paired with a refined fabric. I love these bright yellow linen pants (previously seen on the blog in this post), but find when I pair them with black, white, or a color it looks too cartoonish. Not only is this t-shirt a nice polished fabric that looks nice with linen, the grey color balances the brightness. I wore this look for a day when I worked at a coffee shop and then had a coffee date with a neighbor who wanted some business advice.

For the real life capsule wardrobe, I styled it three more ways to show its versatility.

universal standard capsule wardrobe lopok 7

blazer | t-shirt | belt | pumps | earrings | bracelet

This was an outfit that could have been in yesterday's post too!  Gotta love the versatility of an ivory blazer! This look is pretty simple, and appropriate for business casual office settings. The pants and jacket could be in the boardroom, but switching out a blouse for a refined t-shirt you look more relaxed and relatable. This is also a way to transition your work pieces outside of the office: by switching out a blouse for a refined t-shirt or trousers for jeans, corporate separates can live a second life on the weekend or after hours. Using an accessory like a statement belt, scarf, or larger necklace pulls the look together.

universal standard capsule wardrobe look 6

t-shirt | skirt | bandana | pumps | bag | earrings

A leatherette skirt can go from concert to corporate depending on how its styled.  If it was paired with a band t-shirt, it would read rocker. Pair with a Breton t-shirt and a denim jacket, and it's weekend. But with a refined t-shirt, the skirt can head into the office during the week without looking out of place.  All three outfits incorporate t-shirts, the difference is the type. The silky finish, rich color saturation, slightly longer sleeves… these are details that make a t-shirt wearable in a business casual office environment.

universal standard capsule wardrobe look 8

t-shirt | jeans | flats | bandana

And then well hey, this is how most t-shirts are worn, amirite? However, as stated above in the look with the pink jeans, the look is a bit more polished when the t-shirt is refined.  Again the addition of an accessory (I actually planned on wearing a long necklace but forgot it at home so added the bandana) is what elevates the look from something you wear around the house to something you can wear for a casual social situation. This could easily be elevated further by adding the ivory blazer or a cardigan. Switch out the skinny jeans for a wide-leg style and add the belt; this would also work great with a pair of colorful ankle pants.

I'm so glad this real life capsule wardrobe resonated with so many of you. Thank you for your comments, your emails, and your shares on social media. It's a lot easier to sit on my laptop and make collages, but seeing a body in the clothes makes the concept of a capsule wardrobe that much easier to digest. I hope to do more of these in the future and appreciate all feedback and social shares and pins of this content!


The t-shirt and skirt were gifts from Universal Standard, the pants a gift from WHBM. However, all items were included in this capsule because I actually love them and wear them.

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. Love this capsule! Are you wearing the leatherette skirt in regular or petite? I’m 5’4″, so I’m right on the border of what’s considered petite- I like the length of the skirt on you!

  2. Hi! Did you get the Universal Standard tee in regular or petite length? Very helpful to see your capsule actually on your body vs. just photos of the various pieces. Thanks!

  3. You’ve done a nice job with this series. I agree that seeing the capsule on someone is more creative than looking at a Polyvore. Did I read someplace that Polyvore had closed up?

    I have decided that a slightly lower neckline looks better on me. I don’t have concerns about covering up cleavage , I’m trying to avoid accentuating my double chin -a little more skin at the neck blends it better. I see Universal Standard has this T in a V-neck and think I’d go with that. it’s amazing how good the shirt works with the red and yellow pants. I think it’s back to the saturated colors together thing, somewhat like the red pants and the pink blazer. Nice job on your part!

    1. The V-Rex is also awesome I have it in the Burgundy color! I’m usually like you with necklines but switched it up for this capsule! And nothing replaced Polyvore and I am so upset about it. I made this capsule seeking out the images online and using PicMonkey’s collage tool.

  4. I liked the ivory blazer poet, but this one about a versatile tee shirt is really rocking.
    You ,the model, and you ,the writer ,just make this capsule seem so possible for me. You have informed me and encouraged me to adjust my eye.
    Thank you for showing that every piece doesn’t have to be the lone stunning star; that quiet simple items can combine to showcase the person inside the outfit. You, the genius.

  5. Always love capsules but this is capsule deluxe! Whole other level seeing you mix n match in person. And boy oh boy do you make the US tee look like something I need to buy.

  6. Love this series! As others have noted, it makes SO MUCH difference when the clothes in the capsule are worn by a real woman who put tremendous time, effort, and thought into her choices. My days involve toggling between babysitting for our 3-year-old granddaughter and arranging long-distance hospice care for my mother. I can’t thank you enough, Allie, for making the getting-dressed part of my day something I don’t have to think about. (But could you tell us how you tied your scarf, please?)

    1. Oh it’s my pleasure! And I tied it into a square knot, but then took the tips sticking out and tucked them into the knot so it ended up looking a bit like a bow πŸ™‚

  7. I actually just ordered this shirt in this same color! My friend is a huge Universal Standards fan and when she got a free shirt to give away, she picked me. I can’t wait until it gets here!

  8. Seeing the outfits on a person really does help. So many times I find that an outfit that looked good in my head or in a collage just does not work IRL. The lengths and shapes don’t always create the right proportions when worn. Thank you for always keeping it real!

  9. I’d add my voice to the throng–love these posts, and appreciate the way you break them down and show how these elements work in real life! I am trying to go on a shopping freeze and as part of it, purge my closet (why is this so difficult for some of us?! I get weirdly emotional about garments I really won’t ever wear, I know I need to Kondo!) and think about ways to mix up the items I have in new ways. So thank you! And the colored jean outfit is really cute.

  10. So helpful – could not agree more on the versatility of the refined tshirt – not to mention avoiding all the fit issues of button downs. One quick Q: can you provide names of any other places that are good to find these? I’m old school enough I still prefer shopping in bricks and mortar stores to online (and find it saves me time rather than having to ship returns when things don’t work out). thanks!

    1. Whew, I wish I knew. This is one of the hardest things I’ve been able to find and it seems malls are chock full of cheap t-shirts or overly trendy ones. Your best bet would be department stores where they may have brands like Lauren Ralph Lauren who often makes good t-shirts.

  11. Hello Alison! I recently started following your blog again and I’m so glad I did! I have seen several other bloggers who post capsule wardrobe photos, but have never seen anyone break it down quite the way you do! Thank you for that! I am in love with this capsule of yours, and also the way you break it down piece by piece. Other blogs I’ve followed have shown a collage of all the outfits and if I’m looking to see how they wore a piece similar to something I have, I have to sort through and pick out pics from a giant collage. Thank you for breaking it down and making it easy for us to see! I also am a curvy, petite and appreciate seeing someone like me in styles that I can appreciate and incorporate into my life. You rock girlfriend!

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