For more of the Cut’s favorite fashion, beauty, and home finds, sign up for the weekly Cut Shop Newsletter.
Let’s start by pinpointing exactly what purpose a white T-shirt serves in your wardrobe so that we can evaluate special-occasion equivalents accordingly:
- (1) It’s versatile. A nearly literal blank canvas, it goes with everything from jeans to fancy skirts. It looks great styled cleanly or adorned with a jumble of necklaces, and it layers seamlessly under sweaters and jackets.
- (2) It’s comfortable. The kind of blissful garment that never troubles you with too-tightness or itchiness or wayward jabs and pinches. You can throw it on for any occasion or outing without giving a second thought to whether it might hamper your ability to move, breathe, or enjoy yourself.
- (3) It’s trendless. The same plain white T-shirt you owned in college still holds up a decade later.
- (4) It’s machine washable. You can sweat in it, pack it in a suitcase, spill ketchup on it … no biggie. One trip through the wash, and it’s good as new.
In sum, it’s the ultimate wardrobe workhouse, omnipotent in almost every sense, except for one thing — the crux of the question you’ve posed: a white T-shirt is inherently un-special. In some ways, that’s the beauty of it — a white T-shirt is what you make of it! On the other hand, its otherwise super-heroic qualities have effectively whetted your palate, raising your standards for what a single garment can accomplish, hence the desire to outfit your “special occasion” wardrobe with pieces that are similarly industrious.
At least, that’s what I’m assuming. So here are my suggestions:
A slightly off-the-shoulder, black long-sleeved cotton jersey T-shirt
I got this one in college (see: aforementioned point No. 3) at an Urban Outfitters. The tag has long since fallen off, so I honestly can’t remember. That’s not important, though. What’s important is the silhouette (just off the shoulder enough to frame your collarbones but not so off the shoulder that it looks like a relic of 2016) and material (cotton, which is sweat-friendly and machine washable). A definitive wardrobe workhouse, it’s the top I reach for on any chilly-weather nighttime occasion that requires my outfit to look a bit special, but I don’t have the time or inclination to put too much effort in, and I need to not only trust but know that my outfit is going to do its job. And it always does.
A chic button-up
Sibling is a really clever brand that repairs and tailors secondhand men’s button-downs, turning them into artful, one-of-a-kind tops. They immediately came to mind when I was thinking about how to answer this question because button-ups are an obvious equivalent to white T-shirts, and Sibling’s iterations specifically check that “special” box thanks to the uniqueness of each design. They’re slightly less of a blank canvas as a result, but still quite classic and wearable.
Special Equivalents of a White T-Shirt: Warm-Weather Edition
A sculptural cutout tank top
A close cousin to a white T-shirt: the humble tank top! But with a special-occasion twist that doesn’t detract from versatility and comfort. I have this style in gray from the brand K.ngsley, which is one of its more cropped designs and pairs beautifully with high-waisted pants. However, I’m also a huge fan of the fuller-length options.
They’re easy, layerable pieces that also stand alone as the focal point of an entire outfit, which is no simple feat.
A white eyelet short-sleeved button-up
This one from Éliou is probably my No. 1 most-packed warm-weather travel item – and it’s on sale! I find it to be just as versatile, comfortable, and trendless as my favorite white T-shirts, but more special-occasion friendly thanks to the tailored silhouette and subtle detailing.
When shopping for one of these, don’t neglect the men’s section! They often have the best selection.