T-shirts are one of the most basic and most beloved types of shirts in the U.S., as well as in countries across the globe. As a comfortable and versatile choice of top, T-shirts are enjoyed by men, women, and children of all ages. T-shirts are easy to wear and can be styled as part of a fashionable outfit.
The T-shirt is named for the silhouette that it creates. If you lay a T-shirt on a flat surface, you’ll see that the arms and the torso of the shirt roughly form the letter “T”. Simple and straightforward, it’s not hard to see why this shirt became a classic staple of men’s and women’s wardrobes.
The T-shirt has been around since the late 1900s. The first T-shirts were made by workers who snipped their jumpsuits into two pieces to manage hot weather. In 1898, the earliest official T-shirt was made. This was at the time of the Mexican-American War, and in 1913, the U.S. Navy distributed T-shirts as approved undershirts.
T-shirts have come a long way since the 1900s. Now, T-shirts come in all different cuts, styles, and fabrics, with options available for all sorts of occasions. Here, we’ll cover some of the main T-shirt types, along with the key characteristics for each type.
The Crew Neck T-Shirt
The crew neck T-shirt is the classic, standard t-shirt type. With a round neckline that sits close to the neck, crew neck T-shirts have never (and likely will never) go out of style. The simple design looks great on people of all shapes and can be worn for all sorts of casual occasions.
The origins of the crew neck T-shirt go back to the early 1900s with the United States Navy. Marines were issues white crew neck T-shirts at this time to wear mainly as undershirts. These shirts served the purpose of absorbing sweat and being a garment that could get dirty to leave the uniform as pristine as possible. When World War II ended, former marines kept wearing the crew neck undershirts for casual attire. So, the garment caught on as a trend in the United States.
- Crew neck sweaters are great for layering because of their simple design that fits closely at the neck. Especially in menswear, you’ll see crew neck T-shirts worn underneath sweaters for extra warmth during the cold winter months.
- The white crew neck T-shirt is a classic American shirt, having been made popular by Hollywood stars James Dean and Marlon Brando around the 1950s.
- A crew neck T-shirt makes an excellent undershirt for athletes who need to absorb sweat underneath their uniforms. In fact, crew neck T-shirts were an essential in early American football attire because the players needed a shirt to soak up their sweat as they played.
The V-Neck T-Shirt
The V-neck T-shirt is an extremely popular T-shirt type worn by both men and women. As the name suggests, a V-neck shirt has a neckline in the shape of a V. This shows more of the chest and sits further away from the neck than a crew neck shirt.
V-neck T-shirts came into fashion in the 1960s. In this decade, with war era had ended and fashions were becoming more adventurous. Bright colors and louder styles were becoming popular, so variations of the basic T-shirt were born. Among these variations emerged the V-neck T-shirt.
- V-neck T-shirts have necklines that vary in depth. While some sit relatively high up on the chest, others plunge low and show more of the chest. Generally speaking, V-neck shirts made for men do not plunge as low as those made for women. Men’s fashion experts recommend for men to opt for V-neck shirts with necklines that drop no lower than the level of the armpits.
- With a neckline that extends downward to a point, V-necks have an effect of lengthening the face. This is a flattering choice for individuals with round or square-shaped faces.
- V-neck T-shirts present a great opportunity to show off a necklace. The plunging V will make the charm or chain of the necklace stand out. Pairing a necklace with a V-neck T-shirt is also a simple but effective way to dress up the shirt for a special occasion.
- A V-neck T-shirt looks particularly stylish when paired with a blazer for either men or women. The lower neckline provides contrast between the lapels of the blazer and the V-neck itself.
The Henley T-Shirt
A henley is a type of shirt characterized by a neckline with a button placket. The placket is positioned pointing downward from the center of the neckline. There are usually at least two buttons on the placket of a henley, but no more than five.
The henley design came to be in the 1800s. At this time, henleys were invented as an undershirt – in 1839, the henley was the uniform for the rowers in Henley-on-Thames, from which the name of this type of shirt was derived. Henleys didn’t gain momentum as a style outside of rowing until the 70s when they were incorporated into Ralph Lauren’s collection.
White henley T-shirts have a relaxed, beachy style. This was a particularly popular style in the early 2000s when brands like Hollister, Abercrombie, and American Eagle were all the rage. White henleys are still worn today, often paired with jeans, as a breezy, casual garment for day-to-day wear.
- Henley T-shirts provide the comfort and versatility of a regular T-shirt, but with added visual detail. This makes for a more interesting design that you can use to switch up your outfits.
- Henley T-shirts are a common choice among men, but select henley T-shirt styles for women exist, too. This style is more popular for men because it has a masculine look, but it can work well for boyfriend styles worn by women.
- Henley T-shirts are a variation on the polo shirt, but with no collar. Without a collar, henley shirts have a more casual, relaxed look. But, they still have the sporty touch that you get with a polo shirt.
- Henley T-shirts are great for layering in cooler weather. Underneath a jacket, cardigan, or sport coat, the added visual detail of a henley will make for a pulled-together outfit.
The Polo Collar T-Shirt
The polo shirt is a unique variety of T-shirt because of its collar and neckline. A polo shirt has a full collar and buttoned placket. The placket typically only has two or three buttons. While polo shirts are most often designed and worn by men, there are polo shirt styles that are worn by women, too.
While the early history of the polo shirt is somewhat hazy, it’s thought to date back to the late 1800s in India. At this time and place, the game polo was invented. The first polo club was started by British soldiers stationed in Manipur, India and gained popularity with British troops over the years. The polo shirt came to be when the regular garment of the era, a cotton long-sleeved shirt, moved around and became uncomfortable while running in a game of polo. Buttons were added to secure the collars to the shirts during the game, and the polo shirt was born.
The polo shirt came to the United States after John E. Brooks, related to the Brooks Brothers brand of apparel, saw the design on polo players during a visit in England. This idea turned into the button-down dress shirt offered by Brooks Brothers, but they eventually began to sell polo shirts as we know them today.
Polo T-shirts are considered to be one of the most versatile pieces in a man’s wardrobe. Considering the origins of this garment, it’s a clear choice to wear while playing sports and tennis. Nowadays, you can even find polo shirts constructed from lightweight, breathable fabrics to wear while working out. But, polo shirts can also be worn as business attire when paired with slacks and a blazer. Even for casual occasions and social get-togethers, polo shirts are a comfortable, put-together option.
- Polo shirts have a preppy look for both men and women. Especially in pastel tones and paired with chinos and a sweater, polos are a must-have for anyone who loves the preppy style.
- Polo T-shirts are one of the most popular garments for men during the summer months. The collar adds the sophistication of a long-sleeved button-down, but the short sleeves are appropriate for warm weather.
- It’s generally recommended for polo shirts to have a snug, but not tight, fit. These shirts are generally made from cotton, so the fabric won’t hug the body too tightly. But, there shouldn’t be a large amount of excess fabric, either. Check the fit of the sleeves of a polo shirt by making sure that you can comfortably place a finger between the fabric and your arm.
- Some people may opt to pop the collar of a polo shirt for a more fun, youthful look. Popping the color of a polo shirt can make it a garment to wear for a night out. It may also provide sun protection for the neck while you’re outside.
The Raglan T-Shirt
A raglan shirt is different from other types of shirts because of the sleeves, which are the same color as the collar, but different colors from the torso of the shirt. The sleeves and the torso of a raglan shirt appear to be two separate sections, making it reminiscent of a baseball shirt.
Raglan shirts have an interesting history. The name for this garment comes from Lord Raglan, who was the first Baron Raglan. He lived during the late 1700s through the mid-1800s and was an officer in the British army. In the Battle of Waterloo, Lord Raglan lost his arm. After this, to enable Lord Raglan to use his arm, the raglan sleeve was created. It provided a larger range of motion in the arm when compared to other shirts with a secured sleeve head.
Raglan T-shirts traditionally have three-quarter-length sleeves. But, there are also raglan shirts with short sleeves that are expected from a T-shirt. The sleeve length isn’t what characterizes a raglan T-shirt, but rather the extension of the sleeves into the collar.
- Raglan T-shirts traditionally have a white torso section with a solid color for the collar and sleeve section. Blue, red, and black are the original colors for a raglan shirt, but nowadays, you can find them in all sorts of color combinations.
- The color sectioning of a raglan T-shirt is the same as the coloring of shirts worn by baseball players. So, raglan shirts may also be called baseball shirts and have an undeniably sporty look.
- Raglan T-shirts have a comfortable, relaxed fit that doesn’t hug too closely to the body. While a raglan shirt shouldn’t be baggy, it shouldn’t be skin-tight, either. The relaxed fit is part of what makes raglan shirts a popular choice for casual wear.
- Raglan T-shirts are popular among men and women, but are also a great choice for kids. The comfortable fit and range of color options make this shirt design a hit for kids of all ages.
The Cap Sleeve T-Shirt
The cap sleeve T-shirt is a mainstay of women’s wardrobes and has been for several years. This sleeve design differs from that of other types of T-shirts because it extends just far enough to cover the shoulders, whereas other T-shirt sleeves extend to the middle of the upper arm.
Cap sleeve T-shirts were worn by soldiers in WWI underneath their uniforms as an undergarment. While cap sleeves continued to be worn in the decades that followed, they weren’t seen as an attractive women’s garment until the 1990s. At this time, cap sleeve T-shirts were frequently worn by women as a casual top to pair with jeans, shorts, or casual skirts.
- Since cap sleeves don’t cover underneath of the arms, as other types of T-shirts do, a cap-sleeve T-shirt may be a cooler and more comfortable T-shirt option in warm weather.
- Cap sleeve T-shirts have a tighter fit that more closely hugs the body than other types of T-shirts.
- Cap sleeves are typically worn by women because the fit is tight around the shoulder. Men generally have broader shoulders, so cap sleeves may feel constricted.
- Cap sleeve T-shirts make great layering shirts. This simple, flattering, and form-fitting design may be worn underneath a cardigan, blazer, or even overalls for a flattering, layered look.
The Patterned T-Shirt
Patterned T-shirts are in style now more men and women alike. The classic T-shirt was a simple white. But, prints small and large, loud and subtle add a stylish, eye-catching touch to the traditional T-shirt design.
Screen-printed T-shirts came to be in the 1960s, approximately. At this time, screen printing started being used as a method for decorating T-shirt. Hippies, protestors, and musicians were among the first to wear this type of patterned T-shirt.
Patterned T-shirts come in all variations of print and color. Designs may be geometric, floral, striped, polka dotted, or truly any print that you can imagine. Patterned T-shirts provide wearers an opportunity to express themselves and stand out from the crowd.
- Men can dress up a patterned shirt to wear to events by tucking it into a pair of trousers and pairing it with a blazer or sports jacket.
- If you opt for a patterned T-shirt, choose a subtle, neutral pant to pair with it. Plain jeans or a simple pair of chinos are good options. The patterned T-shirt should be the star of this ensemble; wearing a pair of statement pants may make the outfit appear busy or chaotic.
- Patterned T-shirts can be made with any variety of neckline. However, this type of T-shirt will typically have a simple crew or scoop neckline so that the print can stand out.
- Patterned T-shirts are different from logo T-shirts because the pattern is consistent and covers the entire shirt, not just the front.
The Pocket T-Shirt
A popular T-shirt style for men and women is a simple T-shirt with a small pocket on the breast. The pocket is usually positioned over the left breast, but it may be to either side. The pocket can be just for decoration or it may be large and sturdy enough to hold small belongings, such as a pen or a house key.
Pockets were added to T-shirt designs around the 1950s. At this time, T-shirts were becoming more popular to wear on their own, not just as undershirts, and design details were starting to be added. Smoking was common at this time and T-shirt pockets were often perfectly sized to store a pack of cigarettes.
- While T-shirts for both men and women may feature chest pockets, the pockets on women’s designs are usually smaller and decorative, while men’s options are larger and functional.
- T-shirt pockets may be the same color as the rest of the shirt, or they may be an entirely different color. Chest pockets of a different color provide contrast and variety for greater visual interest.
- A pocket T-shirt is a casual garment that’s ideal for day-to-day wear. The pocket adds extra detail to draw the eye and provide variety from basic T-shirts.
Lisa has a Bachelor’s of Science in Communication Arts. She is an experienced blogger who enjoys researching interesting facts, ideas, products, and other compelling concepts. In addition to writing, she likes photography and Photoshop.