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STYLE AND CULTURE

CULT ITEM: WHITE T-SHIRT

By Matt Glazebrook, June 8, 2018

Summer is a great time to stock up on basics for the new season and basics don't come much more basic than the white T-shirt. Indeed, the humble white tee didn't even begin life as a garment designed for public consumption, but as a comfy piece of underwear for sailors to sport under their navy uniform. Fast forward 100 years, however, and the joys of a crisp, icy crew neck are something to be shouted about — whether proudly displayed as a standalone item or worn as the core of a versatile layered ensemble. Seriously, it's very hard to look bad in a clean (this is very important) and crisp white tee.

Actor James Dean wearing a white T-shirt | ASOS Style Feed

Picture: Rex

It was in the '50s that the white T-shirt first emerged as a cult-style staple, thanks in no small measure to iconic appearances on the chests of Marlon Brando (in A Streetcar Named Desire and The Wild One) and James Dean (in Rebel Without A Cause).
Actor Johnny Depp wearing a white T-shirt | ASOS Style Feed

Picture: Rex

While Brando's undershirt-as-outershirt statement was a show of rough-hewn machismo, Dean brought an outsider vulnerability to his white top and it's this rebel spirit that has been carried forward by countless outcasts and rock'n'rollers since. Notably Johnny Depp, whose turn as pretty-boy greaser Wade Walker in John Waters' 1990 cult classic Cry-Baby may well have represented peak handsome.
Actor Ryan Gosling wearing a white T-shirt | ASOS Style Feed

Picture: AllStar

Not that the white tee has completely moved on from its rugged, Brando-esque roots. A slim-but-not-skinny number, sleeves a little rolled up to better show off your guns (and maybe a prison-style tattoo), is hard to beat if you're shooting for the mean and moody tough-guy look. This was ably demonstrated by Ryan Gosling as Julian Thompson in brutally stylish revenge thriller Only God Forgives.
A street-styler wearing a white T-shirt and a teal co-ord | ASOS Style Feed

Picture: Getty

The great thing about the white T-shirt is that it functions equally as a simple and foolproof outfit anchor and as a blank canvas upon which to build something much more adventurous. See this street styler, for example, who rocks his with a nice summer-ready teal co-ord. Too suave.

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