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The Ultimate T-Shirt Buying Guide

How to Choose and Care for T-Shirts

Answers to questions about everything from mysterious holes to how to make your tee last.

By Rachel Shelasky
Yummie Tummie Rayon-Blend ShirtJens Mortensen 

“Why Do Tees Sprout Tiny Tears Near the Belly Button and Nowhere Else?”

This has baffled some Real Simple staffers, and a quick Internet search reveals we’re not the only ones. Posters’ theories range from the reasonable (abrasion from a belt) to the ridiculous (stomach acid leaking from the navel!). Our experts’ answers varied just as much:

 

  • “This mostly happens from rubbing against the waistband and the hardware of jeans—as well as seatbelts, desks, and countertops,” says Lissa Zwahlen, the design director of Alternative Apparel.
  • “The finer the fabric, the more prone the garment may be to holes,” says Pauline Sokol Nakios, the creative director and owner of Lilla P. “Choose a heavier tee that can withstand more wear and tear.”
  • “A T-shirt made from shorter fibers is more susceptible to breakage,” says Judith Gridley, the owner of Fabrics.net. She recommends long-staple Pima-cotton tees to avoid the problem.
  • “It depends on the fabric’s tensile strength, which means how much the material can stretch before fibers start to break. Since T-shirts tend to have more give in the midsection, that’s why holes appear there,” says Steve Boorstein, the host of the DVD Clothing Care: The Clothing Doctor’s Secrets to Taking Control ($20; clothingdoctor.info). He suggests opting for shirts blended with a synthetic fiber to give naturally stretchy cotton more strength.


“What’s Up With All the Thin T-shirts?”

Offering worn-in comfort and an alluring semi-sheer look, “tissue tees” are a huge trend that won’t be going away anytime soon, according to Stephanie Solomon, the operating vice president of women’s fashion direction for Bloomingdale’s. Their thinness makes them ideal for layering, which also keeps them from revealing too much. “Lightweight tees should be slightly oversize and drapey, never clingy,” says Pamella Protzel-Scott, the creative director of Splendid. If you prefer extra-thick fabric, try styles from Three Dots (shopthreedots.com) or Petit Bateau (petit-bateau.us).

“What’s the Best Way to Wash a T-shirt?”

If you want it to last for the long haul, wash it in cold water with similar colors on the gentle cycle. To dry, lay it flat or hang it. Avoid using the dryer. Even a little heat and agitation can cause fading and pilling and make sleeves twist and stretch out. If you must, tumble-dry on low. For tees with embellishments, such as beading, skip the dry cleaner, says Protzel-Scott: “The harsh chemicals can be damaging.” Instead, turn the top inside out and place it in a mesh laundry bag before machine washing, then air-dry.

 

“Is There a Tee That Slims You Down?”

It’s not cheap, but the top pictured above is worth its price for the things that you don’t see. It’s constructed of two layers—a spandex-packed liner that sucks you in and a drapey outer rayon blend that smooths—so no one will suspect a thing.

To buy: Yummie Tummie rayon-blend shirt, $98, yummielife.com.


 

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