When I first told my friend that I was learning how to sew, she said "Great! Please make the perfect t-shirt, because that is what's missing". I was a little taken aback, as I hadn't given t-shirts a lot of thought. This was in 2009, and knitwear had not yet evolved into the more fashion-forward category of apparel that we experience now, almost six years later.
When I was growing up, t-shirts were mostly door prizes or souvenirs, which were then worn as workout gear, or lawn-maintenance attire. Then polyester must have suddenly come into its own, along with fleece, polypropylene...suddenly it seemed that sweat-wicking, moisture-hating performance fabrics exploded as an entire category. Workout gear was using materials that do not absorb water, and moisture-loving cotton was pushed out. T-shirts fell to the bottom of our drawers for a while. Then rayon got blended into cotton, and so did modal and all kinds of other fibers, natural and not, and t-shirts and other loungewear emerged softer and with considerable drape. Lululemon was everywhere, loungewear moved out of the bedroom, Anthropologie upped its knitwear game, and suddenly soft, flowing cotton-esque fabric was being used for dresses, skirts, and shirts that go to work or dinner.
Anyway, this is my version of events, as a keenly interested, semi-self-taught observer. Given my additional observations as an innocent bystander next to the trajectory of my husband's career in oil and gas, I'm also tempted to add my two cents about how the change in fiber preference and the evolution of the modern t-shirt (and related costs) dovetails with availability of a variety of oil-derived materials, but we will save those notions for another post.
What's the point of all this? My concern is that, after all of those evolutionary miracles, I am still not satisfied with most t-shirts. My friend's comment, which at first I did not take seriously, now rings in my mind as I try to get dressed every day. We want t-shirts that behave like real shirts. As our cultural waistline continues to expand, we want the comfort and forgiving stretch of the t-shirt. Since we are no longer willing to use free time to iron button-downs or replace buttons, and we want to be able to use the lowly t-shirt as a respectable garment, it must look and act more grown up. It must fit. It must not be huge, too tight, or too short. It must be long enough. It must not be see-through. It must, please in the name of all things holy, not stink five minutes after we start wearing it.
All of those things that we want from our more modern, more comfortable shirts have practical impacts on the materials and techniques that are chosen to make these wearable miracles. Check back soon for both further discussion and updates on my own experiment in making my perfect long-sleeve winter tee.