The Many Exteriors of a Quality T-Shirt

A high-quality shirt can be composed of extra-long staple cottons, merino wool, or even bamboo.

Copping a well-made t-shirt is all about adding a new layer to an already zen-like wardrobe. It’s a refreshing break from the hustle and research that encompasses purchasing other menswear pieces, like Italian-made button-ups, selvedge denim, or whatever else requiring serious decision making.

It’s just a totally different shopping vibe with t-shirts. Its more about going with instinct and deciding on what simply looks dope. Yes, it should be made high-quality material, and yes, there are brands that take this garment very seriously, but for the most part, the product specs are basic and fit is much more objective.

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SUPIMA Cotton: The Blue Label

SUPIMA Cotton: The Blue Label

But even a humble garment has its moment to shine and the simple t-shirt is now the foundation of the apparel game. From high-end long staple cottons to precision-made synthetic blends, there are fabrics that not only offer the buttery soft and smooth textures we look for, but also good enough to hold up with our lifestyles and get better with age.

Fabric. Fabric. Fabric. It’s what defines a high-quality t-shirt. And when referring to fabric, cotton will always be a focal point. But since most cotton is mass-produced, a premium tee must be made with the good stuff, which is only a small percentage of what gets planted. Yes, extra long staple cottons are much more exclusive and pricey, but are what equate to the lush and smooth textures we seek in our tees.

Merino wool is the reason for the ultimate travel tee.

Supima, Sea Island, and Giza 45 Egyptian cotton are just a few of the excellent long-staple varieties planted around the world, and are typically the main ingredients for some of the best-made t-shirts on the planet. They are super soft and get better with time, and if taken care of, will become a fixture for the long haul.

But it’s more than just cotton these days. What about the the ideal travel tee? One that looks tailor-made but is rugged enough to stay fresh even after weeks of wear? Merino wool could be the answer and is where high-end apparel design meets functionality. Not your typical wool, Merino makes for ultra fine threads that can create some of the softest and lightest fabrics that almost float on the body.

With moisture wicking properties suitable for performance apparel, durability that is built for the Himalayas, and bio-degradable properties good for our planet, it’s worth the investment and definitely fits the bill. And it doesn’t hold odors like cotton or polyester, so the ambitious explorer can keep it in a steady rotation for those long treks where minimal packing is a must.

A simple approach to create a well-made t-shirt.

A simple approach to create a well-made t-shirt.

And finally the garment industry is opening up to hemp, which has the potential to be a key component in the future of sustainable fabric production. Hopefully cultivation will start domestically so there won’t be a need to import it from growers in China. It’s such a unique plant, as it doesn’t require a lot of water, is simple to cultivate, grows lush, and can be even rain-fed.

Like high quality cotton, hemp fabrics can get softer with wear, but are actually stronger, so a good t-shirt will stretch less and maintain its shape. It’s also porous, so it’s super breathable and ideal for the summer months, offering the potential to be a real option in both sustainability and quality.

So can bamboo play a similar role as a new-school t-shirt fabric? Bamboo fabric is one of those two-toned dilemmas when considering the environmentally friendly attributes it’s heavily marketed as possessing. The main issue is that a majority is imported from Asia and produced as a rayon fabric, so we really don’t know the true sustainability in using it.

And finally the apparel industry is embracing hemp.

Pushing all that aside though, bamboo fabric is now being manufactured using the lyocell process, which is a much more sustainable method with practically zero waste. Similar to producing TENCEL, it’s a closed-loop system, as the fabrics derived are also higher in quality than bamboo rayon. So who knows, but maybe those lush green stalks may just actually be a sustainable cotton-alternative after all.

By this point, one should just throw out any mass-produced cotton or plastic-feeling polyester tee, but if there is still doubt, there is yet one more natural fabric option for the ultimate t-shirt. TENCEL fabric is derived from eucalyptus pulp fiber, and when blended with an extra long-staple cotton, it offers a smooth and almost peach-like fabric worthy to layer under a Canali sport coat.

The trees are harvested in Europe and the final product is a nod to the apparel industry’s strong connect with nature. A 100% TENCEL t-shirt is luxury and expect a premium price tag, but as in any high-quality garment, it’ll last for years and stay looking fresh.

It’s all about the exterior and the fabric is the definition of a t-shirt’s exterior. As with any piece of premium apparel, it should be about how it was made and the specific details. Forget about luxury brands with fat logos and heavy price tags. Think simple and high-quality shirts that will stay in the wardrobe and blend with the rest of our gear seamlessly.


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