One of the most versatile items in a man’s wardrobe is the tee shirt. In basic colors and paired with jeans, it’s an iconic vision that somehow manages to be both a classic staple and a symbol of rebellion; think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause or a young, smoldering Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.
More recently, with advances in fabric technology and the emergence of fast fashion, the ubiquitous tee is having a bit of a renaissance. And it’s the black tee shirt that leads the way, whether as casual wear, or dressed up with nontraditional materials or worn under a blazer. But to truly understand what makes a good tee shirt requires a short order education in cotton types.
Types of Cotton
Your fingers can often tell the difference between high-quality cotton and more ubiquitous fabrics. That’s the difference you can feel in a set of all-cotton bed linens with a high thread count. Less understood is that most consumer goods made from cotton are made from what is known as upland cotton.
It’s estimated that 90 percent of the cotton goods in the world are made from American upland cotton lines. The other, higher-end fabrics are what is known as long-staple cottons; the most expensive of which is Sea Island cotton, grown from a black seed cotton that was once thought to be extinct.
Other cottons, like Egyptian cottons are also long-staple breeds, meaning that the fibers produced by the plants are longer than traditional upland cotton. Pima cotton also has longer fibers, and the trademark name Supima refers to an American-grown long staple cotton typically found in luxury sheets and shirts. Short staple cottons produce more coarse feeling fabric and are typically used in products like denim.
With that little lesson out of the way, you’ve got all the tools you need to pick out a new black tee shirt. And whether you want to spend pocket change or break the bank, there’s literally a good choice of black tee shirts at every price point. Here are the top 10 standouts that combine quality and high style.
The Best Fast-Fashion Black Tees
One of my favorite fast-fashion retailers is Japanese giant Uniqlo. This forward-looking company (they manufacture many products out of recycled plastic bottles and produces a line of sustainable denim) has expanded its United States footprint greatly in the past few years, with 56 retail outlets from New York to Hawaii. They label their approach to fashion as what the brand calls “life wear,” focusing on details and practicality, along with a surprising level of quality at a fast-fashion price point. They offer a range of tee-shirts for men, including more than twenty options in black ranging from crewnecks to v-necks to long sleeve options, but two choices stand out for their combination of form, function and value.
The Uniqlo Packaged Dry Crew Neck Tee is available in the basic three color palette of black, white and gray, and offers a long-lasting blend of cotton and polyester that is breathable, wrinkle-resistant, easy care and best of all, affordable. At a regular retail price of under $8, it is one of the most affordable options on our list, and it frequently goes on sale at the end of every season. At that price, it’s easy to stock up each time the price drops.
Those who prefer the familiar feel of an all-cotton option will love the Supima cotton short sleeve option, which I prefer in a v-neck tee shirt. The basic black model is also available in 8 other colors. Though the label price starts at $14.90, they are typically available during seasonal sales for around $10 each. It’s a tee shirt that elicits huge customer loyalty and is one of Uniqlo’s staple offerings. Customers routinely cite the value, fit and finish of the fabric in reviews that average 4.5 stars out of 5.
Fashion giant Gap offers a line of tee-shirts familiar to anyone who has ever walked through an American mall. Their basic black tee is made from garment washed cotton, which manages the neat trick of feeling broken in but still having the rich dark black color you associate with a new shirt. At under $20, it’s one of the retailer’s staple offerings. Their basic black offerings include a long-sleeve model as well as v-neck and Henley options. The crew and v-necks are also available in a 2-pack.
Like Uniqlo, Gap offers larger sizes ranging up to XXXL. So whether you are a slim fit or a husky fit, there are short sleeve tee shirts and long sleeve tee shirt options for everyone.
The Best Environmentally Conscious Black Tees
A more environmentally conscious choice that doesn’t break the bank is recycled cotton trash tee from Los Angeles-based retailer Everybody.World. This tee is cut, sewn and garment dyed in Los Angeles.
And the “Trash” collection repurposes cotton waste from the manufacturing process to make brand new garments, reducing the need for pesticides, water and other resource-intensive practices that are typical of textile manufacturing. The company also offers a contributor collection, with pieces designed by what they call “everyday extraordinary people,” who receive 10 percent of the sales from their designs.
Everybody.World co-founder Carolina Crespo is a first-generation American and the daughter of Mexican immigrants who ran a factory in downtown LA for decades from the 1970s, while her partner Iris Alonzo is a fifth-generation Angeleno.
Together the two offer a number of innovative products and include pricing for bulk purchases on their website. A dozen trash tees purchased at one time brings the price per shirt down to just $18.
The Best High-End Black Tees
If Everybody.World is the newcomer, Swiss company HANRO is at the opposite end of the spectrum, offering an array of high-end lingerie and undergarments for 136 years.
Their most traditional men’s options include their Living tee, with a ribbed collar and straight hem, which represents the most basic of high-end choices. For a slightly more refined (and expensive option), Hanro offers a v-neck in luxurious Sea Island cotton; while the $178 price tag can induce a bit of sticker shock, the silk-like feel and long-lasting quality make Sea Island shirts a solid investment. Sea Island cotton shirts were the favorite of noted spy novelist Ian Fleming and his most famous character, licensed to kill British superspy, James Bond.
Another Los Angeles-based innovator is the menswear company Buck Mason, which uses an approach influenced by architecture to create signature classic pieces designed to last more than one season. As the website says, they offer “clean straightforward basics that stand the test of time.” A tee shirt was the first product of this digitally native brand, but they now have brick and mortar outlets in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
Their Pima Curved Hem Tee is a classic take with a loose silhouette and a curved bottom hem that allows for freedom of movement and is inspired by the outline of the three-quarter sleeve baseball tee shirts the company co-founders knew from their youth. Founded in 2013, that initial tee-shirt was a hit after a glowing review in the Wall Street Journal helped sell six figures worth of shirts in just two days.
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The Best Online-Only Black Tee
Our third and final Los Angeles-based company is MNML, which is a complete online-only enterprise. With no retail stores and no retail customers to sell their products at inflated prices, MNML keeps prices and production deliberately low; a lack of excess inventory means stable prices year-round at a surprisingly affordable price point.
The Everyday Tee offers a relaxed fit in soft cotton with an extended shoulder line that allows the shirt to have the drapey and familiar look of an old favorite right out of the mailbox. The rest of the company product line includes an array of denim and other casual wardrobe pieces, including flannel shirts and color tees.
The Best Traditional Black Tee
An option for a more traditional tee-shirt and jeans look is the Figure Crew from ALLSAINTS. Made with raw edges, it’s the contemporary version of the kind of vintage tee city shoppers hope to find when scouring second hand stores. The Figure Crew is also part of ALLSAINTS’s efforts to support sustainable farming of cotton and is available in 14 colors beyond the traditional jet black.
The Best Tech Fabric Black Tee
And while there is no shortage of options in technical fabrics for those more active days, it’s hard to find a selection that offers the right combination of breathability, style and fashion-oriented fit. And it comes from a surprising choice, the yoga-centered athletic fashion companion Lululemon. This Vancouver, British Columbia-headquartered company, is familiar to fashion mavens as the home of the first popular national lines of clothing focused on yoga.
And the Metal Vent Breathe Tee takes all that technical know-how from years of studio workouts and combines it into a sleek, slim classic fit men’s tee that offers four-way stretch and seamless construction to eliminate irritating chafing from unfinished seams. You can transition this tee from under a button-down shirt to afternoon activewear seamlessly.
There is a black tee shirt out there for every body type from crew neck tee shirts to pocket tees. These bestsellers come in a range of sizes and styles, from slim to heavyweight. You don’t have to settle for a white cotton tee shirt from Hanes anymore. Up your game with one of these men’s tee shirts today.
You might also be interested in: The 19 Best Undershirts For Men [Ranked]
The 10 Best Black Tees:
- Uniqlo Packaged Dry Crew Neck Tee
- Uniqlo Supima Cotton Short Sleeve
- Gap Basic Black Tee
- Everybody.World Recycled Cotton Trash Tee
- HANRO Living Tee
- HANRO Sea Island Cotton Short Sleeve V-Neck Shirt
- Buck Mason Pima Curved Hem Tee
- MNML Everyday Tee
- ALLSAINTS Figure Crew
- Lululemon Metal Vent Breathe Tee
Steve Kistulentzview post
Steve Kistulentz is the author of the novel Panorama, a must read selected by publications as diverse as Entertainment Weekly and the New York Post. He is also the author of two collections of poetry, Little Black Daydream (2012), an editor’s choice selection in the University of Akron Press Series in Poetry, and The Luckless Age (2010), selected from over 700 manuscripts as the winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award. He teaches at Saint Leo University in Florida, where he serves as director of the graduate creative writing program.view post