Time for tees
There’s something about the arrival of spring, the sun shining, the birds tweeting and that hint of warmer summer days to come, that has got me excited about wearing T-shirts again, this time unencumbered by winter cardis and jackets.
As well as being one of the most useful pieces in my wardrobe, tees for me are bound up with nostalgia. They remind me of sunshine and happy holidays as a child in Cornwall and Brittany; of ice-creams and seaside and being together as a family. They also remind me of being at school in the 1980s, sporting my favourite oversized bright orange tee with the words ‘Relax’ from Frankie Goes to Hollywood emblazoned across the front, and then later, when I moved to London and started working for a fashion mail-order company, buying a 100% cotton Ralph Lauren tee for the princely sum of £45 (what seemed to me like a small fortune for a T-shirt 20 years ago), which felt fabulous.
Tees have followed me right through life and, as you probably know, are the reason John and I started Kettlewell in the first place, wanting to provide this simple basic to the very highest quality and in a range of colours that had never been done before.
I also love the fact that few other items of clothing have such a long, cool and varied past – something my daughter, Tash, and I discovered a couple of years ago when we went along to the History of the Tee exhibition at the V&A. Did you know, for example, that the T-shirt is 106 years old, originating from underwear and only officially becoming outerwear in 1913 when it became regulation uniform for the US Navy? It grew in popularity as sport became a common activity, and was a teenage staple in the 1950s, due in no small part to the dashing screen icons of the day like James Dean and Marlon Brando, and in the 1960s the T-shirt became a pop art canvas for boutique designers. Flick through any fashion magazine today and you won’t be able to turn for images of the slogan tee, saying it loud and proud. The tee has certainly earned its place in fashion history.
From a design point of view, people tend to assume that nothing could be simpler than a tee, but as we have come to realise over the years, the basics can often be the most difficult to perfect, as there’s no hiding from the shape, fabric and stitching. The hard-working tee must accommodate the tall, short, straight, curvy, broad shouldered, narrow shouldered, busty and flat-chested among us (I’m always amazed by how many different body shapes actually fit into a size M), as well as those who like a smooth fabric, a thick cotton or one with stretch. Then there’s the question of how short or long do you like your sleeve, which colour to choose from your seasonal palette (if you’ve had your colours analysed you’ll know about wearing your best colours close to your face), and what sort of neckline flatters your shape, from v and crew to scoop and boat. Who would have thought that such a simple basic could throw up so many choices?
Style considerations aside, the T-shirt has always been a wardrobe stalwart for me – versatile, feminine, hard-working, super-comfortable… and always, at the back of my mind, evoking memories of childhood holidays and ice-cream. Roll on summer.