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STYLE NEWS

Cult item: white T-shirt

By Matt Glazebrook, 13 September 2014

September 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 bit of underwear for American 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 versatile layered ensemble. Seriously, it's very hard to look bad in a clean (this is very important) and crisp white tee.

cult item: white t-shirt

Picture: Rex


It was in the 50s that the white T-shirt first emerged as 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).

 
cult item: white t-shirt

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.

cult item: white t-shirt

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 in brutally stylish revenge thriller Only God Forgives.

 
cult item: white t-shirt

Picture: Rex


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 Tinie Tempah, for example, who rocks his as a subtle counterpoint to a brilliantly dapper orange suit.

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