How do you stand out in a fashion landscape that’s drowning in logos, patterns and motifs? Buy something covered in Cyrillic script? Attach costume jewels to your sneakers? Cut up your clothes and clumsily sew them back together? These are all excellent ideas, well executed by some of our favourite designers, but while they may turn up the style volume, they don’t cut through the noise. To transcend in the current moment a man must rediscover the power of simplicity, and there’s no better expression of this than a white T-shirt
A White Tee is a blank canvas. Deployed well, it can express a variety of attitudes, and many different styles. There’s a white tee for the gym, a white tee for yardwork, a white tee for the weekend and a white tee for a dinner date; to be clear that’s four different T-shirts, and each one will have different properties. However, they’ll all seem like a breath of fresh air in these maximalist days. If you need more convincing, take inspiration from four men who wore them well, from American painter and sculptor Mr Frank Stella to French film star Mr Alain Delon. Even though they’re all ostensibly wearing the same garment, each of them makes a different impression by wearing his T-shirt in his own unique way.
The origins of the white T-shirt are in the sportswear of the 1920s and 1930s, but it started to take its current place in the male wardrobe in 1955 when Mr James Dean played Jim Stark in the movie Rebel Without A Cause. He wears a slubby white tee and portrays a troubled suburban kid whose difficult home life drives him towards delinquency. The movie helped to establish a new, casual image for a new, angst-ridden demographic – the youth. Less than 10 years later, Mr Steve McQueen, who presented as a complicated, blue-collar hell-raiser, was on the same page in his tight white T-shirt. Combining it, as here, with faded jeans and desert boots produces an unbeatable workwear look.
In 1964 the artist Mr Frank Stella was working on his “Protractor” series of paintings when he was photographed at home in New York. In theory, he’s wearing much the same outfit as Mr McQueen, but while he looks just as good as the actor, he certainly doesn’t project the same vibe. The white T-shirt seems to project an approachable personality; he has gone here for a slightly looser fit, which conveys a relaxed mood. Mr Richard Gere, meanwhile, is dressed as an Iowan farmer for the 1988 film Miles From Home. The storyline about hard times in America’s rural heartlands remains as relevant today as Mr Gere’s look. For the weekend, blue jeans, a belt with a good buckle, and a simple white tee are hard to beat.
Mr Gere’s rustic style strongly contrasts with the obvious refinement of Mr Alain Delon, who’s captured having lunch with the director Mr Luchino Visconti and the actress Ms Rossella Falk at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival. Mr Delon’s T-shirt is pristine and pressed, and while it must have seemed strikingly casual at the time, it’s nonetheless impeccable. These four images, all taken in very different environments, reveal the versatility of the white tee, and how well it can work everywhere from a farm to a film festival.
The men featured in this story are not associated with and do not endorse Curation .NYC or the products shown