THE T-SHIRT

Sunspel played a pivotal role in the birth of this universal wardrobe staple; a part of our heritage that we like to think gives us a certain expertise when it comes to knowing exactly what it takes to make the best t-shirt possible. 

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The origins of the t-shirt can be traced back to as early as 1913 when the US Navy replaced the standard issue square-necked, shoulder-buttoning shirt, with a woollen, cropped sleeve undershirt.  As exporters of cotton underwear throughout the British Empire, Sunspel perfected the art of making these undershirts softer, lighter, more breathable and ultimately more comfortable than ever before. This was a defining moment in the development of the t-shirt as we know it today.
The cotton undershirt was soon adopted by both the military and the navy, and when veterans returned from the battlefield and began wearing their uniform trousers with their undershirts as casual clothing, the t-shirt became synonymous with bravery and heroism.

The natural choice of the freedom fighter and the rebel, and a symbol of rock and roll defiance, the t-shirt was propelled to iconic status in the 1950s when it was championed by brooding mavericks of the silver screen such as Marlon Brando and James Dean.

It was around this time that the Sunspel t-shirt reached its now-iconic simplicity: the buttons which had originally featured below the neck were gone, long sleeves were now short, and cuffs, pockets and collars were all removed.

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Today, our made in England t-shirts are almost identical to this original design from the 1950s, save for a few minor changes here and there – the most crucial being the fabric. Quality 82 (fondly referred to as Q82) is a unique jersey that is constructed from long-staple cotton. The cotton is handpicked to ensure that only the highest quality fibres are selected, before being combed to remove any imperfections. The fibres are then twisted together to create a strong, smooth, fine cotton thread that won’t tangle through being worn or washed. This twist makes it a supremely clean yarn, though it is still passed over a flame to remove any overhanging ends. The yarn is then double spun to remove any remaining impurities.

We knit Q82 on a circular machine and use blowers to remove any loose fibres to ensure a flawless finish. It might be said that this is something of a laborious process, but we think that the resulting jersey – which is not only long-lasting but also the lightest and the softest that we have ever felt – is worth every effort.

The enduring appeal of the t-shirt can largely be attributed to its versatility. Pair a crisp white t-shirt with jeans and the resulting look is as cool today, as it was at its inception in the 1950s. That said, a classic t-shirt worn with good tailoring is almost unbeatable when it comes to achieving effortless style.