How We Tested
We’re Megan McCarthy, the executive editor for growth, and Kyle Hamilton, a product test technician here at Reviewed. We are both people who wear clothing, and are both fond of T-shirts. Megan selected the shirts, designed the tests, ran the measurement tests before and after the shirts were washed and worn, and lead the visual tests. Kyle ran the laundry tests—every wash and dry cycle—ensuring that each wash was the same exact procedure each time.
It’s a minor scandal when a celebrity repeats an outfit, but everyday Americans don’t have to walk the red carpet on a daily basis. According to educator and textile expert Deborah Young, the assistant chair for textile science at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), most people wear the same 18 garments over and over again in any given month. So, if you’re an average American, you likely wear the same shirt about two or three times a month. Because we wanted to evaluate our picks based on how these shirts would look after six months of regular wear, we designed our tests to evaluate how well these T-shirts hold up over 15 wash and dry cycles.
The shirts: We decided to test the best T-shirts for men and the best T-shirts for women together. We chose our contenders based on suggestions from our product experts, Google search rankings, Amazon results, and other publication’s best T-shirt lists. For consistency, we ordered all the shirts in a size Large. Between the two lists, we had a total of 18 shirts, which ranged in price from $2.50 per shirt from both Hanes and Fruit of the Loom to $350 for a men’s shirt from The Row, a fashion brand founded by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. (The most expensive shirt in our Women’s test was the James Perse Luxe Lotus Jersey Tee, which we bought from jamesperse.com for $165.)
While the men’s T-shirts we tested were pretty much all the same style, the women’s contenders had more variety. We decided that, while style would be a variable in our testing, fit would not, due to its complexity and reliance on personal factors. (One woman may feel that a shirt looks great on her while another woman of the same size, height, and body type might not feel comfortable in it, even if it looks the same.) Because our goal was to find the shirts that will last over time, we decided to leave the fit question to the reader. We can find you the shirts that will last, you should use our research to pick out the ones you like the best.
Measurement testing: Cotton shirts are going to shrink, there’s no way to avoid it. What sets a quality shirt apart from a terrible garment is the amount of shrinkage. According to Young, acceptable shrinkage for knits is 5%. We measured the shirts when they were brand new to get our base measurements and after weeks of wear and wash testing, we measured the shirts again to see the differences.
To get our base figures, we used a flexible tape measure to measure four points on each shirt: 1) The length of the back of the shirt, from the back of the center neckline to the center hem, 2) The length of the front of the shirt, from the center neckline to the center hem, 3) The width across the front of the shirt, from armpit seam to armpit seam, and 4) The length of the arm, from the sleeve seam to the hem of the arm, along the seam. We also weighed the shirt using a Sartorius AY501 scale. Once the wash and wear tests were completed at the end of the month, we repeated the measuring and weighing process with each shirt. We calculated the differences between the before and after numbers to measure the shrinkage of each shirt, and compared the results among the contenders.
Wash testing: We always washed all 18 shirts together in one load, with two white towels added to the drum as ballast. We washed each load in a LG WT7300CW Top Load Washer on the delicate cycle, which used cold tap water. We used an exact measurement of 46ml of Persil liquid laundry detergent, the winner of our Best Laundry Detergent roundup, as the cleansing agent for each wash. When the wash was done, we dried the shirts in the delicate cycle using a Samsung DV431AEP/XAA Dryer. Each shirt was washed after it was worn, and every shirt went through a total of 15 wash and dry cycles.
Wear testing: We anonymized all of the shirts, to the best of our ability, by striking out the brand name with a Sharpie laundry marker and writing a number on the inside back neck of the shirt. We asked our Reviewed co-workers to wear a random shirt for a few hours around the office, and then answer a short survey ranking the shirt for comfort, style, and overall experience. A total of 12 Reviewed employees participated in the anonymous wear testing. This testing phase went on every work day for two weeks.
Visual tests: Once the wear and wash testing phases were completed, we hung the shirts on our best clothes hangers and visually evaluated each shirt on a three-point “rattiness” scale. A shirt received 3 points if it looked fairly new and kept it shape, 2 points if it looked well-loved but lived-in, and 1 point if it was beat to all hell.
Opacity testing: For the women’s roundup, we added an extra data point: How opaque is the shirt? A see-through shirt can be an embarassing on many levels, and we wanted to avoid recommending a shirt that would make its wearer feel exposed.
We ran all of our shirts through two opacity tests, one objective and one subjective. For our first test, Reviewed’s chief scientist Julia MacDougall set up a Konica Minolta CS-200 color/luminance reader that we usually use to test televisions and other light-emitting screens. In our darkened lab, she placed each shirt over the lens, and then measured the amount of light the reader received.
For the second test, our e-commerce editor Samantha Gordon tried on each of the shirts while a panel of Reviewed employees checked if we could spot her tattoos through the fabric. That measurement was on a three-point scale: 3 points if the shirt was completely opaque, 2 points if we could see that tattoos if we stared a bit, and 1 point if the tattoos were visible at first glance.
We calculated both tests into one opacity score and used that number to rank the shirts in our final rankings.
What You Should Know About White T-Shirts
Style icons from Jane Birkin to Kate Moss have turned plain white T-shirts into a staple of women’s fashion. The T-shirt is likely the most popular piece of clothing in the average American closet, and, odds are, you might be wearing one right now.
Traditional white T-shirts—and all of the shirts in our women’s roundup—are 100% cotton, although the type of cotton can differ among shirts. Standard cotton is a short staple cotton called “upland cotton.” Higher-quality cotton, like pima or Egyptian, is known as extra-long staple cotton. (You may have also heard of Supima cotton. Supima is the brand name of a nonprofit organization that promotes pima cotton and licenses that name to different manufacturers.) The difference between a short staple and a long staple is right there in the name. The fiber in standard cotton is about 1 ¾ inches long, while pima is 2 ½ or 3 inches. This fiber length is essential in ensuring a smooth finish in the fabric. As FIDM’s Young puts it, “the shorter the fiber, the more ends you have sticking out.”
T-shirts are also differentiated by the type of knit. The typical T-shirt is a jersey knit, which provides a comfortable amount of drape and doesn’t stretch out too far. Rib knit, another popular option, is stretchier and results in a more fitted look. Due to the fitted nature, rib knits are more popular with women’s styles.
But What About Pit Stains?
Yellow discoloration in your armpits isn’t the fault of your T-shirt. Blame the combination of your sweat with the aluminum from your antiperspirant for those awful shirt-killing stains. While the weight of a shirt can help prolong the stains from forming for a bit—thinner white shirts will show stains on the outside faster than thicker shirts—most stain prevention is best accomplished by pretreating your shirt before you wash it or switching up your deodorant to one without aluminum. Another trick to keep shirts pristine and white is somewhat counterintuitive: Go easy on the bleach. According to Young, overbleaching your shirt can cause the entire garment to yellow.
Other White T-Shirts We Tested
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Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.