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  • Writer's pictureJulia Gordon

The Reimagination of the White T-Shirt

Fashion’s most basic piece is making bold headlines. But what does its second life tell us about dressing itself?

 


As I watched Doja Cat slink down the Met Gala carpet in her revealing Vetements look, my mind spiraled. She’s wearing a T-shirt!!! Is she wearing a T-shirt? Huh, she is wearing a T-shirt. I must be missing something, I thought. Maybe the whole thing is made of ceramic? Or crystals? But no, just an ungodly amount of hair gel. Was it innovative? Too off-theme? Cool? Two months later, I still can’t land on a firm conclusion. What I can say, with absolute confidence, is that Vetements’s creative director Guram Gvasalia made a bold runway choice with what is perhaps the safest garment in fashion.


Ask anyone — a stylist, a celebrity, your friend from work, your dad — for their absolute closet must-have and they’ll likely say the same thing: a solid white T-shirt. It’s classic, comfortable, and versatile. In today’s world of the Y2K-obsessed public and the borderline straight-out-of-the-Capital-in-the-Hunger-Games runway realm, the white T-shirt is the great equalizer. It can be $10 or $9,100 — yes, Bottega Veneta actually sells a plain white tee for that much and hurry, there’s only one extra-small left! 


While the white T-shirt is many things, it is almost never striking or courageous. But recently, it has been appearing on runways outside of its usual parameters; not as a base but as the piece. Doja Cat’s look was bold because it wasn’t bold. She stood out because, in a sea of extravagance, she wore something designed to blend in.


Charli XCX at the 2024 Met Gala

And she wasn’t the only one. Charli XCX also appeared at fashion’s biggest event in a white T-shirt dress. From a distance, her custom Marni gown, designed by Francesco Risso, appeared to be a delicate white mermaid dress embellished with sequins and beads. But upon closer inspection, the wispy fabric is a collage of vintage T-shirts, carefully stitched together in an ode to the 360 singer’s punk style. 


“Francesco and I both liked the idea of taking the most simple item—the white T-shirt—and building something extravagant from it,” Charli told Vogue


Lucie Bouteille, a vintage store owner from Paris, agrees with the singer’s sentiment. “I love when brands rework basics because there’s always a new twist,” she told me. She also emphasized the functionality of rudimentary garments. “You can be stylish and practical and not hurt when you wear it.” 


Not only did Charli look cool, she looked comfortable. Unlike Tyla, who had to be carried up the carpet stairs, and Kim Kardashian, whose tiny corset gave me second-hand breathing problems, Charli’s look offered a sense of relatability. 


L-R: Anne Hathaway dressed in Gap by Zac Posen, Gap by Zac Posen

For those who didn’t tune in on the first Monday in May, it was hard to miss the moment Anne Hathaway broke the internet with her Gap T-shirt dress, designed by Zac Posen. The actress stunned at a Bulgari event in an elevated version of a white button-down, which is itself an elevated version of the white T-shirt.


Designing this custom white shirt dress was an exciting opportunity to reimagine Gap's classic white shirt,” Posen said in a press release. And the public agreed. An almost identical version of the gown, going for only $158, sold out in minutes on the Gap website. 


So what is it about this timeless garment that’s sparking intrigue? One theory, proposed by my friend Ali, a vintage seller based in East London, is that after two decades of logomania and over-the-top fashion, we crave simplicity. This rings true when we consider 2023’s quiet luxury trend — think Gwyneth Paltrow’s courtroom chic and Succession’s final season — characterized by timeless pieces, neutral colors, and a lack of insignia. 


From a creativity standpoint, a return to basics can push the boundaries of one’s artistry. To take something as timeless as a solid white T-shirt and reimagine it to represent the zeitgeist is, in some ways, more philosophically inspiring than creating something totally new. 


“You have all these people working in the fashion industry, trying to be eclectic, forcing it,” Ali told me. And while he wasn’t a fan of Doja Cat’s Met look, believing it was inspired more by her nipples than a desire to reinvent a modern classic, he recognizes why it stood out. It was more relatable to the average person than a gown embellished with 2.8 million beads that took over 13,500 hours to craft. While I admire the intricate craftsmanship of Gigi Hadid’s look, and I adore Thom Browne, it made me conscious of the fact that I was sitting in my friend’s apartment, watching the Vogue livestream on a second-hand television; that only an act of divine intervention would welcome me into the elite world of celebrities and haute-couture.


But anyone can rock a white T-shirt. 🌀


 

Julia Gordon is a budding journalist based in New York, and sometimes Chicago, and sometimes South Florida. She is obsessed with finding the perfect pair of baggy jeans and geeks out over curating hyper-specific Spotify playlists. She covers all things fashion and personal style on her own Substack Wear it Well

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