DO THE WHITE THING

TRIED & TESTED: Ribbed, loose, tight, be-logoed - the white T- shirt comes in many forms. Our panellists slip into a selection
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The Independent Culture
The white T-shirt is enshrined in the wardrobe culture of the 20th century along with Levi's 501s and the black leather jacket. Originally a practical undergarment, it was first brought to public attention when Marlon Brando stepped on to the stage of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, his torso rippling beneath a tight white T. It has since become a fashion industry in its own right. Now the variety includes tight, baggy, ribbed, cropped, slogan-doused and designer-labelled versions, all vying for our attention. But which ones really deserve it?

THE PANEL

All the testers spend much of their time wearing a white T-shirt. Melanie Rickey is a fashion stylist and writer; Ray Duhanney is front of house manager at the Atlantic Bar and Grill; Fiona Sturges is a journalist; Rhidian Davis is a model; and Josh Rascal is a DJ.

THE TEST

The panel members wore each T-shirt for a day, first putting it through the rough and tumble of urban living, and then through the wash. The garments were judged on comfort, style, fit and appearance, at the start of wearing, during the test, and after the wash.

***ARMANI

pounds 39

At the expensive end of the range we tested, this round neck T-shirt flashed an "Armani Jeans Basic" logo across its front and came in two versions: fitted and loose. Fiona found the fitted option bizarre: "It's tight across the breasts, then it peculiarly goes out at the waist and rises up at the back." Josh found the loose one "large, shapeless, but easy to wear and probably quite decent fabric". Rhidian was satisfied by the "rim-like neck and almost rectangular sleeves", but less pleased that it made him look like a shopping bag. Both Rhidian and Ray felt the seams were poor quality, and were dismayed that even after the wash, the logo refused to disappear. All wearers agreed it was only worth the price if you wanted to be seen wearing Armani.

**CALVIN KLEIN

Women's pounds 26, men's pounds 29

One hundred per cent cotton, 100 per cent Calvin Klein. This loose T- shirt was cut straight and square, with a large CK Jeans logo planted on the chest. Melanie found the neck too tight and high, and thought the cut was boring. "Despite its authenticity, it still looks like it cost pounds 9.99 from the market." Fiona thought it was too big and too long. "For pounds 26, and considering the name, it's just not stylish enough." Josh decided the T-shirt was well-built. "The sleeves are a good length, and the whole thing's a solid, square shape. It doesn't go limp when it's worn." The logo weathered in the wash, but even then was deemed too obvious and unsubtle. Rhidian observed that, "People who met me while I was wearing it focused on an imaginary point somewhere between the logo and my face, unsure which they were talking to." All agreed that this one is for the teenage market.

*DIESEL

From pounds 16.99 to pounds 33.99

A selection of styles from Diesel's "modern basic" range were all seen to err on the tight side. Josh, wearing the "Thammer" thought it was snug, even though the turtle neck did "make me feel like someone in the medical profession." Fiona reckoned that her "Deny" top was the most flattering of the selection. "It's low-cut and ribbed - the two design features which specifically attract attention to the breasts." Ray was sold on the Seventies theme, but unimpressed with the lack of sleeves on his "Creck". Melanie thought the frills on the sleeves and the hem of "Alumina" were "pleasant, in a girly way", and Rhidian was charmed by the way "Ian" made him feel like "a waif-age space orphan from the planet Disco". Everyone found that the T-shirts seemed to have either shrunk or stretched after washing and Fiona's metal "D" badge started to come unthreaded. Maybe a case of style outstripping quality.

**GAP

Women's pounds 16.50, men's pounds 10.50

The contribution from Gap was certainly straightforward. No label, no features, just a plain white T-shirt. But the panel was divided. Fiona said it looked "boring, it could have come from a market stall for a fiver", and that it felt "like cardboard". Josh thought "it was a bit like wearing a sack - poor quality cotton and unflattering." Melanie found it "ridiculously large", but admitted it could be "good for lounging about on a Sunday, and roomy enough to do a rigorous spring clean." Ray thought it succeeded because it was "baggy, label-free, and might go well with a pair of Chinos". Rhidian, on the other hand, considered it "already a tedious old friend of the bottom drawer." Old favourite or old hat? The garment didn't gain points with washing, or lose any. Ironing seemed to be optional.

****LEVI'S

Ribbed pounds 18, non-ribbed pounds 10

Two versions of the classic. The non-ribbed was easy and loose-fitting, the ribbed was tight and flesh-hugging, with the magic added ingredient of 5 per cent Lycra. Both had discreet labels on the sleeves. Ray decided the ribbed model was the T-shirt for him. "It fits like my woman's arms around my body." Melanie thought it was "a good summer T-shirt, comfortably fitted and perfect to wear under things." Rhidian was astonished that his "instantly transformed the wearer into a square hunk of impossibly bright white trash." Josh enjoyed the loose option which he considered cool and uncomplicated. "It's got good sleeves, it hangs well and the logo isn't in your face," he said. While the panel agreed that the loose example washed well, there were mutterings that its ribbed counterpart shrunk a little, although wearing seemed to restore it to form. Melanie concluded, "It's a good one for the boys, and for the tom-boys."

*****MARKS & SPENCER

Women's pounds 14, men's pounds 9

Good old M&S. Their samples offered more than a little variety. An elongated ribbed T-shirt; a ribbed V-neck; a ribbed round-neck; and a plain round- neck garment. The ribbed round-neck was Melanie's favourite. "It fits like a dream, the cut on the sleeve is perfect and the vertical ribs give it a fresh, streamlined look." Josh was also impressed. "It's slinky but not too tight and the wider weave of the fabric has a weighty, durable feel to it. Result!" Fiona liked the fact that "it felt soft, feminine and flattering. A T-shirt that mothers and daughters would like." Ray thought it had a nice fit but didn't find the arms tight enough "for a real macho feel". Rhidian embraced the extra length of the V-neck example, combined with its unidentifiable plainness and legendary softness. Everyone agreed that the M&S samples washed and wore well, and they won hands down in the value for money stakes. Fiona praised their balance between fashion and practicality; Rhidian praised St Michael's triumph of content over style; and Melanie vowed to buy at least five as her summer staples.

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