In my recent post about the “30 wears initiative,” I lamented the lack of quality in many of the t-shirts own and asked for readers’ suggestions on where to find tees that will last for 30 or more wears. Thankfully, I received many helpful replies! Since I know I’m not alone in my frustration regarding garment quality, I decided to consolidate this advice into a smart shopping resource that can easily be accessed on the blog.
Past Posts on Quality Issues
Clothing quality issues have also been the focus of several previous articles, including a very popular guest post from 2014, so please refer to the links below if you’d like to learn more. I also recently created a blog category on Clothing Quality & Sustainability where you can view all of the posts I’ve published on that topic.
- Where to Find Quality Clothing
- How to Tell if a Garment is Well-Made
- Some Thoughts and Links on Ethical Shopping
- Useful Links: Fast Fashion and Ethical Shopping
- Buyer Beware: The Dangers of “Fast Fashion”
- Sometimes Cheap is Really More Expensive
- The Real Investment Pieces You Should Own
On Including Retail Links in Posts
Since many of the readers of this blog are dealing with compulsive shopping issues (although certainly not all… some of you are mostly interested in wardrobe management and addressing your “closet chaos”), I don’t feature retail ads on the page and I typically do not include links to shopping sites, either. I want to be part of the solution for fellow shopaholics rather than yet another person who is contributing to the problem. However, I also want to assist you all in shopping smarter whenever possible. Since clothing quality has plummeted dramatically in recent years, I feel that many of us can benefit from advice on where to find garments that will last.
Even if we decide to take a shopping hiatus, we’ll eventually need to shop again. The objective for most of us is not to stop shopping altogether, but rather to buy in a more conscious, deliberate, and balanced manner. Posts related to clothing quality will assist us in this endeavor. Although I included links to retail sites in my previous post on quality clothing, I’m not going to do so today. It’s easy to Google a retailer to learn about them, plus I’m sure some of you would would prefer to visit a brick-and-mortar store to inspect merchandise and try things on anyway. The last thing I want to do is unnecessarily tempt any of you to overshop, so I’ll just stick to manufacturer and product names in this post and leave out the links.
Caring for Knits
Before we get into the brand recommendations, I want to share the wonderful tips that were offered related to caring for knit items. The way we launder our wardrobe pieces can make a big difference in terms of how long they will last. While my husband’s t-shirts seem to be fairly indestructible, I’ve found that mine are a lot more delicate and require special care. I almost never put them in the dryer unless they will otherwise lose their shape (as has been the case for many of my old workout tees). Sadly, however, even with treating my tees with proverbial “kid gloves,” many of them still haven’t lasted anywhere close to the 30 wears target I wrote about a few posts ago. I’d hate to think of how quickly they would have worn out otherwise! Hopefully, if we employ some of the suggestions below, we’ll find that our knit items will last longer.
- My tees go into dryer on extra-low for about 5-10 minutes just to slightly dry them. Then I hand-shape them and hang them on racks in my guest room under a ceiling fan to dry.
- I don’t dry my t-shirts. I lay them flat to dry.
- Cold water wash, line dry.
- I don’t put mine in the dryer (I line dry). I wonder if this is why some people’s t-shirts only last a matter of months. I have never had one last so little time, even the cheap ones.
- I line dry everything. I just use my tumble dryer for towels, to fluff them up after they are dry and to ‘air’ bedding so I can wash it and get it back on the bed the same day.
- I line dry or hang on a “clothes horse” overnight, then do a quick 10-minute warm tumble to soften and get rid of fluff. My stuff lasts years and years! I think tumble dryers are the enemy of cotton.
- I don’t put most of my clothes in the dryer and that helps a lot of them to last longer. But my t-shirts are STILL not lasting more than 15 or 20 wears.
- I try not to put knitwear in the dryer unless it’s made of certain fabrics, like bamboo or modal, because it twists sideways and never goes back straight. I probably shouldn’t put bamboo in the dryer, either, because it goes fluffy and pills after a few washes.
- I never tumble dry t-shirts, just line dry, and always iron. I think this does help prolong the life of all garments (I actually quite like ironing!).
- I wash either by hand in cold water or on delicate cycle in the washer and then hang to dry. So far, my t-shirts have been worn 30 times plus and are holding up well.
- I don’t put knit items in the dryer at all because they’re easier to shape by hand and hang to dry. The heat destroys the spandex that is in a lot of knits, so it’s better to not dry for a longer lifespan. Also, I use powdered Vitamin C in the wash and rinse cycles to neutralize the chlorine in the water and minimize fading.
- I wash all my good tees in cold water and hang them to dry.
- I launder knit tops inside-out in net bags in cold water and dry them inside-out on delicate cycle.
Some Comments about Fabric
Respondents also had a lot to say about the fabric content of t-shirts, which has a lot to do with whether or not they will last. I found this feedback especially interesting, as it seems that the 100% cotton tees that I’ve preferred may not be the best way to go. There are some contradicting opinions here in terms of spandex, but it seems that fabric blends may be more durable overall than pure cotton.
- I find that fabric content is one of the best indicators for long-wearing tees. High spandex content is usually a good indicator that the fabric will stay soft and smooth after washing, and should hold its original shape well.
- I’ve often wondered what the perfect tee fabric would be and in what quantities. This year, I’ve bought some that are 17% linen and 83% polyester. I know polyester always gets a bad rap, but this combo appears to have the drape, slub, handle, and easy-care elements I’m into. I’ve discovered that I like 2% Lycra in my jeans and dislike 100% cotton anything. It certainly helps to know these things!
- I try to steer clear of rayon, as it doesn’t seem to last.
- I dislike cotton/spandex blends, as I’ve found that manufacturers add spandex in order to disguise a lower grade of cotton.
- My favorite tees are the ones with all cotton except about 5 % of spandex. They hold their shape well.
- Currently I have been having better luck with linen tees and I prefer them.
- Modal is a robust fiber for t-shirts, I’ve found.
About the List…
Now it’s time to share the recommendations I received from readers! A few brands were mentioned by multiple people, so I will call out each manufacturer and then list specific comments underneath the name. Those brands that were mentioned only once, as well as comments that specified multiple brands, are listed under a single section towards the end.
As I know I have some readers in both the UK and Australia, I’ve included specific brand recommendations for those countries as well, although you’ll hopefully be able to acquire some of the other brands covered in this post, too.
The Clear Winner – Uniqlo!
One brand was mentioned far more often than any other, and that’s Uniqlo! This low-cost Japanese company has locations throughout Asia, as well as in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Australia, and throughout the United States (but not yet here in San Diego, sadly). Uniqlo’s t-shirts all appear to cost less than $20, which goes to show that quality and durability is not only about price! They offer many different styles and colors in both solid and graphic tees and in various sleeve lengths. Here’s what respondents had to say about Uniqlo knits:
- Uniqlo is really decent for basics. I wear their camisoles and tights exclusively, and LOVE their cardigans. I also bought an emergency pair of their “trouser leggings” while in England and they are now one of my favorite pairs of pants. They will definitely have items in your jewel tones and are also always running sales. And they offer a recycling program for their own clothes when you’re done with them.
- Uniqlo t shirts are Pima cotton and have a good feel. I haven’t had them long enough to know how they will hold up.
- Believe it or not, Uniqlo makes very nice cotton/Lycra t-shirts at an affordable price point.
- Uniqlo has decent quality for a cheap, fast-fashion brand.
- Uniqlo tees hold up really well to lots of washes and wears. I usually get the V-neck ones or the crew necks.
- Uniqlo – we have a lot of their kids clothes and they’re indestructible.
- I’m wearing a Uniqlo top right now that cost me £0.99 and has already had more than 30 wears.
- I love the Supima cotton range at Uniqlo. So soft and so many pretty colors and styles.
British retailer Boden was also mentioned multiple times. Boden primarily sells online by mail order and catalog to consumers in the UK, US, Germany, and Australia. They are known for their bright patterned clothing and casual basics, and offer collections for men and children as well as women. Here are some of the comments I received about Boden:
- I have had good wear from Boden t-shirts.
- I second Boden cotton tees. Mine have held up well to weekly wear and washes.
- I will echo those mentioning Boden for t-shirts. I shop almost exclusively at Boden and Ann Taylor/Loft for work stuff because their sizing is fairly consistent and the quality is good. I recently branched out and bought a few casual pieces from Boden, including their Breton shirt in short and long sleeves, and they are fantastic. Durable material, thicker fabric, and classic styles. Their stuff is a little more expensive ($35-$45 for a shirt), but if you can catch their stuff on promotion, you can get some fantastic deals.
Eileen Fisher was also mentioned as offering high quality, long-lasting knit pieces. This brand is known for their simple, sustainable designs in classic stylings. Their items tend to be on the pricey side, but they received high praise overall.
- Eileen Fisher – costly but her pieces hold up very well in my experience.
- I don’t have any linen EF items, but the knit ones I have launder well. I have a couple of the scoop neck tunics from Nordstrom and one other knit top. The heavily worn one shows a few pills under the arm but otherwise looks pretty good given that it’s now 3+ years old with significant wear.
- Eileen Fisher has great quality basics at a high price. These items look a little nicer and last well.
- I’ve had excellent experiences with Eileen Fisher silk tees.
Lands’ End is an American clothing retailer that specializes in casual clothing, luggage, and home furnishings. Their clothing is available online and in Sears stores. Quite a few people mentioned that Lands’ End tees have worked well for them, although one person lamented a decline in quality as of late.
- I’ve had good luck with Lands’ End T-shirts, although lately the fabric quality is less reliable than in the past. I prefer 100% cotton or with 2-3% spandex for a little stretch. Their cotton/modal blends are too thin feeling, but that’s just my own preference. The “shaped” fit is probably better for layering, but I also like the “relaxed” fit. I stock up on needed colors/styles when I have a high-value discount code and only order from the sale/clearance section of their website.
- As for quality knits, yes, they are hard to find. One brand I like is Lands’ End. Not the most fashion forward, but good quality.
- As a rule I have had the best luck with the cotton/modal blend tees from Lands’ End.
- I’ve found Lands’ End tees to be well-made and wash and dry beautifully. I’ve got a couple that I’m favorably impressed with so far.
- Lands’ End cuts have improved, but the quality has declined.
- You should definitely have a look into Everlane. Really high quality and timeless styles!
- My Everlane linen tees have washed well and get worn a lot.
- Jill – Mine last for years, butI do have quite a lot of them in many different styles.
- Jill, 100% Pima tees.
- The J. Jill Pima is so soft and drapes well.
- I’ve also found that Lane Bryant t-shirts hold up well, although they have recently rebranded toward the teen market, so I’ll have to watch the quality.
- I get mine from Lane Bryant and they last a good 5 years, through camping, washer/dryer, exercising, etc. The only ones I don’t like are the 100% cotton.
- Target’s Merona 3/4 sleeve boat-neck tee has become my go-to for spring and summer. I only found them last year, so I’m not sure of their lifespan.
- I have had good luck with Target for basics.
- Target’s tees have held up surprisingly well.
- I’ve had tees from Target last for years
- Old navy Vintage tees hold up surprisingly well.
- I also have some Old Navy t-shirts that have lasted well, and for under $7.
I was surprised to see a few readers call out Nordstrom as having good quality tees, as the ones I’ve purchased from there over the past few years have been disappointing, as I mentioned in my “30 wears initiative” post. However, my Nordstrom tees from previous years were great, so perhaps it’s a declining quality issue. It also seems to make a difference which styles of tees are purchased, with the linen and long-sleeved tees receiving higher marks for quality.
- Nordstrom’s tees are generally good, but they’re making them much thinner lately, which I really don’t like.
- Nordstrom’s Caslon brand seems to wear well in the long-sleeved version.
- I’ve had really good luck with the Nordstrom brands Caslon and Halogen.
- I bought 3 new Caslon linen tees from Nordstrom this year and they’ve been worn 20+ times and are doing well.
Thrift / Consignment / eBay
- Thrift stores and consignment stores. I’m guessing the previous owner already got some wears out of them. If they still look good, they’re sturdy enough to last a while.
- Most of my tees are bought secondhand or on eBay for lower prices. It works well for me.
A number of other brands were mentioned just once by respondents, but I wanted to make sure to include this information as well. It may be worthwhile checking out these items, too, in your search for t-shirts that will stand the test of time.
- For t-shirts, I recommend the Three Dots brand, particularly the 100% cotton shirts that are made in the U.S. Some of mine are 4+ years old, have been worn dozens of times, and are only just fading a bit (I generally machine wash and line dry). They’re relatively pricey, but none of them have pilled or stretched, and sometimes they have pretty good sales. They also make some shirts that are a cotton/modal or viscose blend, but I haven’t found those to be as high quality.
- L. Bean makes decent quality clothes, though their cuts may be a bit boxy.
- I like Peruvian Connection turtlenecks. I have had some for nearly ten years and worn them 200+ times. No pilling or fading, and I have yet to replace one. The colors don’t match the catalogs and you have to pay for exchange or return shipping, but the quality is excellent.
- I recently bought some Patagonia tees. They are pricy but seem very durable and well-made, and I like their manufacturing practices. I think they may last 30 wears.
- Tommy Bahama tees wash and wear great and even tolerate the dryer with no shrinking or “misshapenness”.
- I have a few tops/knits from Zara that I’ve been wearing regularly for the past 2 years and they have held together really well. I also never put any of my clothes in the dryer, so that could help as well.
- I am curious about American Apparel tees and may try one next time I need a white tee.
- Talbots tees work well for me.
- I love Macy’s Charter Club Pima cotton knit tops
- Cut Loose makes a linen/cotton blend tee that I’ve worn at least thirty times, but the color is starting to fade.
- I’ve had excellent experiences with GapFit tees.
- I have to say that mine have come from such a variety of sources that I’ve found that price or label really don’t guarantee anything! I’ve had tees from Target last for years, but more expensive ones from Madewell have done well, too.
- I looked over my t-shirt wears from January 2015 through today. The winners: Boden, Talbots, Jones, and Eileen Fisher linen tees. All have been worn 20+ times per year and are still going strong.
- My favorite knit tops are from J.C.Penney, Talbot’s, J. Jill, and Ann Taylor.
Brands That Are Not Recommended
A few respondents mentioned some t-shirt brands that haven’t worked well for them. For the sake of completeness, I have included this feedback here as well.
- I’ve been kind of underwhelmed with the quality of tees I’ve gotten at J. Crew and Anthropologie.
- I’ve had seam issues with J. Crew tees. Their tees are in good colors, but they can be so thin that my bra shows through!
- I’ve been underwhelmed with Old Navy.
- I swore off any Banana Republic or Ann Taylor tees, even linen, no matter the sale price, as the quality is low and they do not last or wash well. I also avoid any of those very thin cotton tees that seem so light and airy (I had some from Madewell and J Crew). The fibers wear out and they get small holes in them quickly.
- The tees that have been losers for me came from either the Eddie Bauer or James Perse brands. (Note from Debbie: Eddie Bauer was my go-to t-shirt brand for years, but I won’t buy from them anymore because the tees lose their shape quickly and bell out at the bottom).
- This summer, I bought a couple of linen mix tees from Asda (George), £5 each. I’ve already worn/washed over a dozen times, and they’re still great. I don’t know if I just got lucky, though. I’ve asked for a couple of other colours for Christmas, so fingers crossed!
- Stretchy tanks, the kind you wear as underwear (I’d call them vests, but that will only make sense to my UK friends :)) from Marks & Spencer, last forever and cost under a fiver. I finally had to throw one out last week as the Lycra had started to break down. It never saw the inside of a dryer and reached the giddy heights of 112 wears!
- Yep, M&S essential t-shirts for me, too. They last until I get bored with them.
- It’s probably not much use to most people here, but my one t-shirt that has been worn more than thirty times (and is still in great condition) is from an Australian brand called Trenery (available from David Jones and in standalone stores).
- I had a JAG t-shirt that lasted forever. They are owned by the same company who owns Saba and Sportscraft. I find that groups of companies tend to have similar quality products.
- I have had good luck with most mid-range Australian stores (Just Jeans, Portmans, and Myer brands, as well as other brands they sell). Staying away from cheaper stores (Kmart, Jay Jays, etc.) seems to be the best idea.
I hope you found this round-up of quality t-shirt brands helpful. If you have additional feedback you’d like to add, please do so. The more the merrier! Also feel free to mention where you’ve found quality clothing, shoes, and accessories in general. I just focused on t-shirts in this post because that’s been a particular problem area for me and other people. Clothing quality is a big issue for all of us, so whatever we can to help each other make better purchasing decisions will serve us well. Thank you and have a wonderful weekend!