The T-Shirt Upgrade

6 Apr

Moms know there’s nothing more easy and comfortable than pulling on a t-shirt in the morning. Yet t-shirt dressing can sometimes make me feel like I am dressing for college finals and not for an adult existence. After all, how many fashionable possibilities can the t-shirt possibly offer? Add to that the fact that most of my t-shirts are either black or white, and I suddenly feel like I am in a fashion rut.

Unwilling to give up the ease and comfort of t-shirt dressing, I recently undertook an ambitious search for great t-shirts. After some hits and many misses, shopping online and in retail stores, I have decided that the key for looking great in a t-shirt is:

* flattering shape and fit,

* comfy and easy to wear,

* a color or pattern that makes me happy.

I recently discovered my new favorite t-shirt in a store at Title Nine. I have to confess I bought it on impulse – I was running late to my exercise class and realized halfway there that I had forgotten a gym shirt. I decided that a quick trip to the store to buy a fun new shirt sounded more appealing than ducking home to my toddler and babysitter – coming home and going again is somehow never a quick proposition. Just when I think I’m out the door again, my daughter wants *mommy* to take her to the potty/put on her shoes/give her the “lellow” spoon and not the pink spoon that the babysitter is offering her.

So, I popped into Palo Alto’s Title Nine store, and in no time, this t-shirt practically jumped into my arms. A quick trial in the dressing room sealed the deal. It wasn’t cheap, but I already know this is one I am going to wear all summer long, and beyond.

Ojai Clothing t-shirt at Title Nine

Pretty, comfortable and flattering - this top upgrades t-shirt dressing!

After a few weeks of wearing (and loving) this t-shirt, I returned to the web site of the manufacturer, Ojai Clothing. Browsing the web site made me glad I discovered my t-shirt in a store, because I am pretty sure I would not have shelled out almost $50 for a t-shirt based on just a photo. It’s hard to convey the softness and delicate texture of the fabric in a picture.  I was pleased to find more options on their web site – though just as with many other online shopping experiences, sometimes too many options lead to indecision, and not buying anything at all.

Ojai Clothing T-Shirts, Spring 2011

I have also been pleased with the shirred scoop neck 3/4 sleeve tees from Garnet Hill, a catalog company. I appreciate the way they fit – enough length to graze the waist and hip, and a pretty neckline which takes t-shirt dressing up a notch. I own two colors, white and coral, and reach for them regularly. They are some kind of synthetic blend, and to avoid fading and pilling, I always put them on a hanger to dry them. After a year of regular wear, they are still looking great. Sadly, they appear to be “so last season” because  they no longer appear on their web site.

I did, however, find the top below, which has the potential to serve the same purpose – to take the comfort of a t-shirt but offer the visual appeal of a blouse.

Garnet Hill Pima Cotton T-Shirt Blouse

This t-shirt by Garnet Hill may offer the comfort of a t-shirt but the appeal of a blouse. At $36, the price isn't bad, either!

Having acquired some good new t-shirts, I forced myself to give away some of the old t-shirts that I never wore anymore. The least flattering t-shirts were boxy in fit and had a high crew neck. I think I wore them when I didn’t really pay any attention to fit, but in retrospect, few necklines are less flattering than a high crew neck, which makes my long torso look even more square and shortens my neck. And pretending like I don’t have a waistline does nothing to make me feel pretty or feminine. T-shirts don’t have to be skin-tight, but some definition of the upper body is the norm these days, and that’s a good thing.

T-shirts are also an inexpensive way to add a pop of trendy color to an outfit. And, it turns out, giving some thought to color is the starting to point to a real outfit! We’re not talking about being a slave to matching colors in everything I wear, but staring with a fun t-shirt color is a mood-enhancer. My current favorites are lavender and any shade of aqua blue.  When I go shopping, I pay attention to colors that make me happy, and avoid the urge to rule them out for being “not my color” before trying on. After all, sometimes colors can surprise you.

When I have an extra half a minute to consider what I am wearing in the morning, I can turn a well-fitting t-shirt into an outfit with just one strategic accessory – whether it’s a necklace that complements the neckline, pretty earrings, or even a light scarf for those cool spring mornings. I hang my scarves right next to my tops in my closet so that combining them is a breeze. I also keep my favorite earrings and necklaces in one drawer of my jewelry box, and reach for them even on days that just include a trip to the playground and grocery store.  It makes an ordinary day feel more special somehow.  (I still face the challenge of organizing my jewelry collection, and most of it sits languishing in a fishing tackle box on my bathroom counter, but that’s a topic for another post.)

To complete my t-shirt roundup, one dud I will report is a v-neck t-shirt from Eddie Bauer. The ribbing around the neckline lost its shape after just two washes, and I was not able to repair it. In my mind, there is no excuse for charging good money for a poorly made and simply knit t-shirt, so have decided to avoid Eddie Bauer, at least until a more positive experience with them turns me back around.


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