Before discussing how to dress up a T-shirt, let’s first get something out of the way: there are very few things more appealing, more comfortable, or more quintessentially cool than this classic wardrobe item.
The ubiquitous short-sleeved knit we all know and love has been around since the late 19th century (when they were actually worn solely as men’s undergarments—scandalous), but it wasn’t until the rebellious American teens of the 1950s wore them as fashion pieces that T-shirts began to achieve their iconic status in our everyday wardrobes. Still, despite their unwavering popularity ever since, the T-shirt is usually associated with a casual vibe, relegated to errands, gym sessions, or lounging.
We’re here to assure you there’s a way to make T-shirts look super chic for dates, drinks, parties, and even super-fancy events. All you need to make it work is a little creativity and confidence. Let’s cover a few easy rules for how to dress up a T-shirt.
1. Consider the Cut
When it comes to looking polished, silhouette is always key. A general rule of thumb? The more figure-flattering an item, the more put-together it looks. (This is why a crisply tailored suit usually looks more formal than one that’s loose.) With that in mind, choose a T-shirt with a slimmer fit, and skip styles with a chest pocket—these just add unnecessary bulk. Look for a higher crew neck or sharp, not-too-low V-neckline, and be sure to choose fitted sleeves, too. Three-quarter or half-length tend to look more formal than cap sleeves.
2. Material Matters
Loose, thin cottons are lovely on hot summer days, but in T-shirt form, they often run the risk of appearing flimsy and sheer, which sometimes can appear sloppy. For a more sophisticated vibe, choose tighter knits instead: they have more body, are more opaque, and also lend more structure, allowing the T-shirt to hold its shape. Alternatively, experiment with T-shirts in unexpected fabrics like silk, Lurex, or linen for a more fashionable twist.
3. Don’t Skip the Prints
Sure, a crisp white T-shirt has a certain freshness, but a patterned T-shirt can be equally chic. Stripes are a no-brainer, especially in nautical navy or mod black and white. The high-contrast pattern catches the eye and lends visual interest, automatically elevating even the most simple jeans. Perhaps even more intriguing are T-shirts patterned in more complex variations, such as florals, paisley, checks, or plaid. Pair these with solid-colored separates or—better yet—other printed pieces in similar hues for a high-fashion look that stands out in the crowd.
4. Remember the Extras
Here’s why Hollywood stylists are so lauded: they know that a truly good look is all about the little extras—every outfit needs a little zhushing before it’s ready for public viewing. So, take a page from their book and do the same. If you’re wearing a high-waisted style, tuck your T-shirt in to smoothly emphasize your waist and let your silhouette shine; try cuffing the sleeves by folding up once or twice. And, of course, don’t forget accessories. A statement necklace that sits right at the neckline can add instant glamour. A knotted silk neckerchief will add a bit of French-inspired whimsy. Or, try something more unexpected: a wide belt cinched at the waist over a T-shirt that’s been left untucked, or—for an even more directional look—layer a fitted corset-style tank on top.