The Search for the Perfect Striped Tee

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Last spring, I purchased a navy and white stripe bateau-neck tee from J. Crew (you can see me wearing it here). I bought it on a whim; it was on sale with an additional percentage off. I needed another striped shirt like I needed a hole in my head but I bought it anyway. A month later, I bought another in gray and white, and considered, but stopped myself from buying another navy one.

The Search for the Perfect Breton Striped Tee. Where to shop and find the perfect striped top for your closet by Wardrobe OxygenAnd now I am so emotionally and sartorially attached to that navy and white striped impulse buy I can’t imagine life without it. And it’s starting to give signs that the end is near. Under the arms, the navy stripes have bled so there’s a light blue halo in each pit. There’s tiny holes in the fabric right at my belly button, and the fabric is wearing into a cool vintage feel, but the type that one wrong move and the shirt may tear at a seam. But gosh I love this shirt. Unlike a classic Breton who has its white stripes twice as wide as the blue, I love that the stripes are equal in width. I love the weight – not linen thin, but not heavy and boxy. It has a hint of stretch, but not too stretchy or spongey. It’s square, but the fabric drapes nice so it doesn’t tent out from the boobs and hits at that perfect length on my hip where it’s cute to leave it untucked with shorts or jeans. I put it on with my beloved self-distressed denim shorts or a pair of dark slim jeans, muss up my hair and put on some kohl liner or red lipstick and pretend I am Kate Moss, or a chic French woman, and not a short chubby working mom in the suburbs. I envision my daughter opening a steamer trunk decades from now, pulling out this shirt, holding it up and still smelling a hint of me and my perfume on it, and remembering all the times I wore it, the adventures we shared while I was in the navy and white striped shirt.

the search for the perfect stripe teeBut really, I’m 40 and short and pudgy and wearing a tee shirt with holes and blue-stained armpits is not a Kate Moss moment. It’s a hot mess. So after wearing the shirt Labor Day weekend and coming to the non-Kate realization, I decided my mission was to find a worthy replacement. I don’t need okay – I already have dozens of okays. I need The One, and I was going to take the advice I’d give any of you to make it happen.

1. Go Back to the Retailer and See if they Have It or Similar

J. Crew Factory did not have this exact striped boatneck in stock, but they did have two striped boatneck tees available, one was on sale, and as usual, they were having an additional percentage off all their merchandise. Shall I find The One for less than $20? Should I purchase multiples just in case?

Factory Striped Boatneck Tee

This tee was white with slimmer darker stripes, but online it didn’t look like that drastic of a difference so I took a chance. I ordered it in Deep Orchid and Ivory in Large and Oxbow and Ivory in XL.

This is not a worthy equivalent. While these are perfectly fine striped tees, they’re too stretchy, the sleeves too fitted, the neck too high and wide, and the light ground too prominent. This is also a thin tee; you’d need to wear a nude seamless bra underneath. However, if you don’t have a striped shirt and want one to throw on with jeans on the weekend, it’s a nice choice for a nice price. The Deep Orchid is pretty fab in that it’s a dark purple but still gives the classic feel of navy.

Factory Long-Sleeve Striped Boatneck Tee

I didn’t even try this one on because like the other tees, the light ground was far more prominent. And in the case of this shirt, the light ground is “oat” which is a heathered oatmeal color that is not what I am looking for. Should have caught that before ordering, but I was drunk on Breton stripes.

2. Look on Resale Sites, Someone May Be Selling It!

I went to eBay and looked for J. Crew Stripe, since some may try to pass it off as non-Factory since the labels are the same. And I found it… in gray. It was good used condition, said worn only once and a small hole in the side. I still have my original gray and white shirt and like it and wear it often, but it’s not in as bad of shape and also… it doesn’t make my heart sing. But I bought it anyway for about $17.

The hole was 2” in length and there are two tiny holes at the belly button, just like on my navy and white shirt. Also it stinks of some nasty-ass detergent, cat pee, and smoke.  I checked Poshmark, and found three people also selling the gray version of this shirt. They were selling it for more than the eBay person so I went with eBay.  I shouldn’t have bought this. My mission was to find The One and The One is navy and white, not gray and white. However, I now have an alert set on eBay in case someone does list a navy and white version!

While searching eBay and Poshmark, I found a ton of striped tops from other retailers. One was a black and white striped ribbed top from ModCloth via eBay that could be off the shoulder, or just a wide neck. It’s similar to their Roller Derby Date Top, but longer in length and more ribbed of a knit. I ordered it and it’s pretty freaking awesome. It’s that type of off the shoulder that if need be, you can wear with a molded cup normal bra with the straps slid down. It’s opaque, stretchy and thick and not clingy and I think you should expect to see it soon on the blog or Instagram paired with a funky print full skirt. Yeah, eBay and Poshmark are dangerous places to visit if you’re easily swayed off course and my stripes love is pretty intense…

3. Go with Brands Known for This Type of Item

I own a Lands’ End striped tee, and while I like it, it’s not The One. I also own this one from L.L. Bean and it’s nice, but it’s not right for me. A fabulous reader from France gifted me a classic Breton tee from Armorlux and it’s amazing, but the white is prominent and there’s something about those wide navy stripes that I adore. St. James also has the mainly white ground, so I decided to check out the retailer I regularly recommend for Breton tees – Boden.

Boden Short Sleeve Breton

No idea why I ordered this in a 14; I know Boden tees run big. But for some reason I did. And just as expected, it’s too big. It looks very ordinary, reminds me very much of a striped tee I bought in a panic a year or two ago. I went to visit relatives down south and it was far hotter than expected; the whole family ran to the only clothing store in the vicinity, Walmart, and bought a couple shorts and lightweight tops. One was a navy tee with white stripes that got the job done, but looked so very… mom. It looked as though it should have been tucked into pleated khaki knee-length shorts and finished off with a pair of white sneakers and a sun visor. This Boden Short Sleeve Breton was a better quality and more expensive equivalent of that Walmart striped tee. And yeah, too much white.

Boden Long Sleeve Breton

It’s nice; if I had to compare to the one from J. Crew Factory, this one is much nicer quality, fit, and fabric. This one is not sheer, and the arms fit quite nicely (though a touch long for my 5’3” self). I ordered this one also in a 14, and think the 12 may have been too snug in the chest and upper arms. If I didn’t already own a dozen striped tees in this same exact white ground/navy thin stripe combo I would keep this one because it’s pretty classic and well made. I’m glad to know the shirt I regularly recommend is actually this classic, well-made, and flattering.

4. Consider Having the Piece Custom Made

WTF, who is going to spend a ton of money on having someone custom make you a TEE SHIRT. Are you KIDDING ME? But I decided to check out Etsy and see if there’s any striped tee sellers out there. Who knows, there may be someone who makes striped tees, maybe I can send one of the gray ones as a pattern if they have the right knit… you never know until you search, right?

Well there’s a couple retailers out there who make striped tops on Etsy, and the navy stripe is the same width as the white. But these retailers are in other countries, the material does not look correct, and the reviews are mega meh. So I did investigate, but I didn’t go this route.

5. Look for Inspiration; Visit Blogs with a Similar Aesthetic for Ideas Where to Shop

I looked at the pile of bags that need to be shipped back, all with lovely but not right striped tops. I looked at my drawer full of striped tees, my beloved Old Blue on top, mocking me with that worn azure armpit. I opened my phone, and went scrolling through Feedly, procrastinating on taping up the returns. And I came across this post from Girls of a Certain Age. Omigod… is that MY SHIRT? I headed over the J. Crew and this shirt comes in navy and white, and gosh it looks more like Old Blue than anything else I have seen online. Is this THE ONE????

IMG_2528Emerson at the beach in my beloved striped shirt – see those tres chic armpits and the holes in the front? 

I ordered two in Large and one in XL and will be sure to report back. Now, let me end this post and get these returns to the post office, I need my money back to buy more stripes!

Shop My Picks for Striped Tees:


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. Was going to pull the trigger and buy these since there was a discount and free shipping, but the promo does not apply to that item. Booo!

  2. So, I bought this shirt from J. Crew (not factory), I guess last spring. I loved it too for all the reasons you described. Mine also had the bleeding at the armpits, but I really hadn’t worn it that much, and had always washed it in gentle and line dried, so I am kind of ticked. I also ordered a fluorescent orange one – the color is weird, but I haven’t had problems with bleeding on that one (wore it yesterday in fact!). I’m really tempted by the orange one they have now as I love that color… Please report back – if this one doesn’t bleed I may go ahead and get another navy one.

  3. I Have to say, I thought it was just something that happened to the inexpensive tees that I purchased from Target and Old Navy, but the past few years I have gotten holes in J Jill tops, Loft tops, everywhere! The linen and linen blends seem to hold up longer, but in the end they still get hole-y. I am sick of throwing shirts away at the end of a 3 month season because I am embarassed to walk out of the house :-<

    I am too in search of that stripped tee, preferably 3/4 sleeves. I saw on some gossip site that the Duchess of Cambridge buys these tops –, and if it weren't for international currency conversion and shipping I might jump on it. 48 pounds may seem steep, but based on the money I have spent on other tops that are way to mom-ish, It does not seem bad…..

  4. I get holes in the very same spot in my cotton t-shirts…drive me nuts ! Have you checked on Thred Up ? I have found some great deals on the brands that I like. I hope you are able to find “the one”.

  5. I think your love of stripes is rubbing off on me! I got a nice long sleeved top from Sainsbury (a supermarket which does clothes) and an excellent 3/4 sleeve with a boat neck and nice banded seams from Laura Ashley. I did see some good-looking stripy tops in either Hobbs or LK Bennett a few months ago. Don’t know what shipping to the States is like… good luck, anyway!

  6. I love this post so much. It makes me feel less crazy for my “Zappos is going to ban me for the number of leopard heels that I have tried and sent back” adventures. I also have a love of a striped shirt and have many of the same issues as you – I’m well endowed on the top, 5’4, and not a waif. I will eagerly await your review of your latest J Crew attempt – if you like it, I’m ordering as well!

  7. I had a GAP t shirt from at least 10 years ago in constant rotation in my closet, just the right weight and always looked good. Mysteriously it vanished. I have since bought a replacement from L.L.Bean. good but not quite it. I feel your pain.

    1. About a year after this post I found my favorite t again. Right where it was supposed to be. I looked there several times. Mysterious twilight zone happens in my closet. Usually it goes away and never comes back. I got lucky this time.

  8. I’m wondering where J.Crew dumps their clothing that doesn’t sell? I can’t imagine they sell every single item of clothing that they throw on a rack.

    I’m having a similar issue with nail polish of all things. Specifically Bobbi Brown top coat. No longer being sold and nothing compares!

    Tiny holes at the belly in my shirts, too!

  9. I totally get this post. I’m currently wearing my favorite black and white striped top that I think I bought at Ross or some such place years ago. It has those tiny holes at the belly button and I’m mourning it’s eventual decay.

  10. I want the Gwen Stefani one you pinned. I love the diagonals created by the dolman sleeves, the drape, and the more open neck. I tried the LL Bean one a while back, and felt suffocated, but since there was plenty of room in the body and fabric was rather stiff, did not want to size up.

  11. Get out of my head! I bought that same shirt on your suggestion and I got the same bleeding armpits too, and my holes were at my shoulder, not the belly button. I wore it until it got too big and when it sold at a yard sale, I was sad. I have been scouring our Clothes Mentor and Poshmark for a while now with no luck. The closest I found was at TJ Maxx of all places, but it was a little too thin and scoop necked, but the stripes were right. I am holding on to the dream if you still are!

  12. I’m sitting on my couch, being lazy, & now I want to run up to J Crew & get that shirt!:) Actually, I have a very similar one in a lighter blue stripe that I picked up this past spring. It’s super comfortable but also has a better structure & fit than some of my cheaper tees. Striped shirts are one of my favorite clothing items too, yet I find myself frequently unhappy with many after a few wears. They shrink in length or end up with those awful little holes. That is aggravating & really a waste of money. I need try washing more of my tees without pants in the same load. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do to stop the little holes from wearing my shirts untucked. Wish there was a way to stop that. Good luck with your shirt!

    1. Are your holes little tiny pinprick ones? I have those too, all near the bottom of my tees and can’t figure out how it’s happening!

      1. Yes! I think the holes are caused by not tucking in shirts & then the fabric rubs against the buttons &/or snaps on our pants & jeans (someone else on here suggested that too). Also, I think some of my shirts get beaten up in the wash when they rub against zippers, buttons, etc. on other clothing items. I also do think that a lot of t-shirt type fabric is very low quality these days (Loft & Gap are 2 that come instantly to mind) & they disentegrate fairly quickly. It’s frustrating.

      2. I also think if you have a front-loading washer that really spins hard that the edges of things get forced into the drainage holes in the washer and that creates tears. With an inexpensive t-shirt like this it may be better to use the hand wash setting, which doesn’t spin so hard.

  13. Loved reading this — it’s nice to know I’m not the only one obsessed with finding the RIGHT ONE. 😀

  14. How nice that you found something you like and good tips for trying to replace. But if I were you I would, more than anything, be angry. A top that only lasts one year? I expect at least five and happier with ten…

    1. Normally I would agree, but this shirt has been through hell and back. It’s been in a lake and an ocean, been washed at least once weekly and almost every time put in the dryer, it’s been line dried in the hot sun, tied around my waist, tied around the strap of a bag, etc etc. Next two I get, one will be cared for properly while the other likely will go through such adventures again with me 🙂

      1. Well then it has earned its…. stripes. Good luck with the replacement. But I still don’t think the colour should run like that. After all, the lake and the ocean are cold water and shouldn’t do any damage. I think it is shoddy fabric, however comfortable, stylish and loveable. The holes are a little more forgiveable.

        1. I’m with Ruth on feeling pissed that a shirt that you bought last Spring had that much wear in one short season. Granted you bought it at J Crew Factory, but they aren’t Forever 21.

          As I noted further down, I think cheap clothes benefit from hand washing. I have a wonderful sweater I bought at the Gap Outlet, it was about $20 and it developed holes after going through my front-loading washer. Part of how they’re high efficiency is that they spin things almost dry. That’s hard on cheap textiles, particularly if they end up pressed against the drain holes of the drum. If something was cheap it needs extra care in the laundry room.

  15. I love striped T’s as well! You know how you got the holes? I couldn’t figure them out on my T’s either until I read that when you wear the shirt outside of jeans or pants with a metal button, and then lean into a counter (like when you wash dishes), it wears a hole into the fabric. Who knew?? Love your blog!

    1. Yeah, that’s basically a sign that we simply don’t make shirts out of decent material anymore. A good thick T-shirt or striped tee should take ages to wear a hole in it, but the fabric is so thin these days it hardly takes any use at all. I stopped buying Gap tees because they were so thin the hole would wear through after a week or so of me working at a job where I had to lean against a counter maybe four times a week.

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