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Goldberg: From basic to high fashion, T-shirts are wardrobe must

In a series of Gap TV commercials this fall, Madonna gets into the groove dressed in low-rise cropped cords and a ribbed white tank top. So if the simple tank top is good enough for the material girl, it must be for the rest of us. As a matter of fact, in recent years, the basic T-shirt has become a staple in most women’s wardrobe, with or without the superstar’s endorsement.

And for most 21st century women, that’s good news. T-shirts not only work well with jeans and evening wear, but also they’re reasonably priced — compared to silk, for example — and extremely comfortable — compared to those button-up, man-tailored shirts popular in the 1980s. T-shirts coupled with business suits are now the power suit. A fitted T-shirt with a long skirt is perfect attire for a casual meeting or weekend brunch. Throw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt for a day of errands or a night out with the girls.

These days, T-shirts come in all sorts of styles, from scalloped spandex varieties to peasant style. But it’s the basic, crewneck T-shirt that has become a fundamental part of most women’s wardrobe. I always have about a dozen black T-shirts on hand. It’s not as many as it sounds. The stack includes about 3-4 each of sleeveless (for the summer), short-sleeves (for the fall and spring), and long-sleeves (for winter).

Although it’s become a cliché for artists and writers, black works best in New York City and for traveling. It doesn’t show dirt and matches everything. Bold fashionatos will have a spectrum of colors, including white — more power to them! I did once buy and still have a stack of white T-shirts, which I’ve never worn. I have ventured into grey recently. It’s a start.

I also always wait for sales and recycle out the faded ones as I add new ones. I do have my favorite brand but I’ll reveal that later.

For now, let’s take a look at the results of a survey “What’s your favorite T-shirt brand?” published by Lucky, the national magazine about shopping. Gap was the clear winner at 33 percent. Other mainstream brands ranked as follows: Banana Republic (14.3 percent), J. Crew (8 percent) and Fruit of the Loom (6.3 percent.) High-end brands Juicy Couture and Michael Stars tied at 9.3 percent, and Velvet and James Perse came in at 3 percent. Other upscale brands that made the cut included Petit Bateau (7.3 percent) and Three Dots (6.3 percent.)

Old standbys maintains its own stock of basic T-shirts all year, and the rest are seasonal. One year-round favorite is the “Favorite T,” made of 100 percent cotton. The short-sleeve Favorite T retails for $14.50 and the long sleeve for $16.50. But both can be found on sale for as low as $6.99. (I know because I recently picked up a long-sleeved gray Favorite T for $6.99.) The extremely soft “Seamless Ts,” made of 89 percent cotton and 11 percent Lycra, offers a “closer fit,” says a Gap company representative. The short-sleeve seamless T-shirt retails for $18.50 and the long-sleeve for $22.

Colors vary by the season. This past spring, pink was hot (many of which ended up on the $6.99 rack at the end of the season). Blues, lavender and a pale pink dominate the shelves this fall. also stocks several styles year-round. The “Girls T,” a.k.a. the basic, 100 percent crewneck T-shirt, retails for $14.50. It “hits at the hips” and offers a looser fit, similar to the old BVD-type T-shirt. The “Baby T” often shows off some skin. Baby Ts, made of 95 percent cotton and 5 percent spandex, retail for $24. The high-end “Seamless T,” priced at $44, is not available online but can be found at select stores nationwide.

Of course, there’s always — the least expensive of the Gap Inc.-owned stores. I still find the Gap and the Banana Republic make higher quality T-shirts and if purchased on sale, they are a better deal than Old Navy’s offers at full price.

Fans of the T-shirts will have to settle for men’s T-shirts, for now. The company still does not make a women’s T-shirt, confirms costumer service representative Teresa Sikes. The men’s T-shirts are sold at brick-and-mortar stores, such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, Meijer and Value City, she adds., a cyber favorite of online sale shoppers, makes it easy for consumers. The company has smartly separated its classic Ts into a special section.

T-shirts with attitude
For the upscale crowd, high-end T-shirts have surfaced on the market. Most of these designer-made T-shirts range from $25 to $70 and can be found at upscale stores and specialty shops nationwide. Stylish varieties can sell for well over $100.

Most top designer brands are available at, a one-stop, high-end T-shirt shop based in Manhattan “These (T-shirts) are usually more innovative in both style and fabric,” says Carol Adler, who founded the shop in 1998. “You wear it now and everyone else will be wearing it in six months … They aren’t as much a T-shirt as they are fashion,” she says.

Each company has made a mark in the T-shirt world with a few styles and fabrics that have become “classic” and/or major trends, Adler adds. Recently, Juicy Couture has been a trendsetter for teens, she explains. “I have customers not only in the USA but in Europe and the Far East jumping on every style I put online buying anything that has the Juicy name on it.”

About Three Dots, she says, “Perhaps they are a bit more sophisticated than the others. I can spot a Three Dots T-shirt down the block.”

Many celebs don these designer T-shirts. In her last film, J. Lo wore a Michael Stars T-shirt. Cameron Diaz, Pink and Jennifer Aniston have all worn Velvet T-shirts. Marisa Tomei, Moby and Matt Damon have been spotted in James Pearse T-shirts.

Many of these designers have flashy Web sites to showcase their wares but cyber shoppers can’t purchase directly from most of them yet. Both and have online search engines on their Web sites to help consumers locate a store near them. plans to launch an e-commerce site soon. Currently, the T-shirts are sold at brick-and-mortar stores, such as Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. Designer currently sells his collection at, a one-stop shop for high-end boutiques.

Michael Stars is one of the few designers who have set up shop online. Check out the palette of fall colors at Shipping is free on orders more than $50.

My all-time favorite, however, remains Eddie Bauer. They seem to best stand the test of time. At, the basic T-shirt cost $14.50 for sleeveless to $20 for long-sleeve. Of course, I’ve never spent more than $9.99 on either.

And now that the T-shirt is fashionable, do you think there’s the possibility that round-toed flats may replace those pointy, painful high-heel shoes anytime soon?

Teri Goldberg is’s shopping writer. Write to her at