Tag Archives: t-shirts

Discovering the Upscale T-shirt

25 Jul

I’ve been shopping at Target, Gap, and Old Navy for t-shirts for as long as I can remember. Why not – they are conveniently located, cheap, and when I see a color in a style that I like, I don’t think too hard about buying it. I wear it to bed, to the gym, and around town. It’s a no-brainer wardrobe item in the morning – paired with jeans and a hoodie or cardigan, it makes getting dressed effortless.

gap favorite tshirt

Gap's Favorite T-shirt is an economical and reliable layering piece. Yawn.

So what’s the problem? Well, the plain t-shirt is a bit like eating popcorn for lunch. It’s not that it’s bad for you, but if consumed in excess, it doesn’t leave room for more satisfying options. That’s how I recently found myself in a t-shirt fashion rut.

Seeking inspiration, I recently wandered into a boutique in downtown Palo Alto, enigmatically named GV, which keeps irregular store hours but carries a wonderfully edited selection of fashionable clothes sourced mostly from Paris and LA. Golrukh, the store’s owner and sole staffer, prides herself on scouring the fashion trade shows to bring her clients the freshest looks every season.  The store has the intimate feel of a Parisian clothing atelier – dimly lit, with just a little bit of this and that, from casual to evening wear, complete with a tasteful display of high-end underwear. The salesperson is tactful and attentive. Although I enjoyed looking at myself in the mirror wearing $180 haute couture jeans, strategically ripped and distressed, I passed on them after remembering that just about every pair of jeans I own are already stained or otherwise compromised by the demands of motherhood. After a few suggestions from Golrukh, though, I did fall in love with an $80 long sleeve cotton tunic by Nation Ltd.

nation ltd white tunic

In search of a more stylish alternative to t-shirt dressing, I paid $80 for a comfy, well-cut cotton tunic.

The irony of paying $80 for a t-shirt, after I had come into the store looking for a t-shirt alternative, does not escape me. So what gives? Well, these shirts have several upgrades from the basic model:

Feel: the light, gauzy all-cotton fabric is welcoming from the moment I put it on – it feels like something I could live in around the clock (although I don’t, to preserve its life span).

Cut: this top sits snugly below the hip, allowing ease of movement without looking baggy. The neckline is generous enough to flatter the neck and collarbone without being too baggy. It can be worn loose or belted.

Texture: the “burnout” semi-sheer fabric feels airy and feminine, and has more visual depth than solid cotton.

Color: I sprung for the shirt in white, as well as a shade of regal turquoise that makes my skin glow.

Golrukh is a great sales person. When she saw my hesitation with the price tag, she pointed out that a lot of busy moms choose these tops because “it’s the shirt you’ll wear day after day”. So far, she has been right – I reach for it every chance I get, especially the one in turquoise. (I am still afraid to wear white for anything but occasions that exclude children, but at least I know I have at least one clean white shirt in the closet when such an occasion arises.)

Golrukh also left me with a valuable bit of advice, worth passing along: even though these shirts are more expensive than the stuff you normally wear, she says, “Don’t save them for a special occasion. Wear them. Don’t worry if they cost a little more. Just wear them.” I thought about that, and decided to agree with her – it does not make sense to buy clothes you love, only to put them away in the closet waiting for that special occasion that happens all too rarely. So I decided to treat myself to a little everyday luxury in the form of an $80 t-shirt.

And has the theory proven out, do my $80 t-shirt days feel a little more special? Was it worth blowing my month’s clothing budget in a single shot? In a small way, yes – on my fancy t-shirt days, I pause to think about what shoes or pants to pair with the top, rather than picking up yesterday’s pants off the floor like a college student. The opportunity to wear a belt opens up fun possibilities as well. I treat my $80 t-shirt with extra love – I don’t put it in the dryer, and I try to hang it instead of stuffing it on the shelf with my other low-brow t-shirts. It feels good to wear something that has been well taken care of.

Despite all this devotion, it’s showing signs of wear – perhaps because the material is less beefy than a standard t-shirt, and perhaps because designers, like the Maytag man, don’t want their wares to last forever, to bring you back to the store to buy some more. And because the glow is fading, this love affair has a finite life span, limited by the power of the shirt to continue looking fabulous in the face of a full toddler assault. I am glad I turned the flirtation in the dressing room to a full-fledged fling, but it’s not going to last. When the sleeve finally snags on a tree branch, or my lap lands a stain that just won’t budge, the magic will be gone, and I will return to my stack of tried and true Target t-shirts. I will fondly remember my days with the $80 t-shirt, but when it’s time to update my wardrobe again, I’ll check Target and Gap first – chances are, a few seasons from now, they’ll have a pretty darn good knock-off.

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