White Tees, the essential wardrobe ingredient (and not just in The Bear)
Finding the perfect white tee is, to some, a challenge. The costume designers of ‘The Bear’ rose to the occasion, curating an impressive collection of well-designed white tees for the series protagonist, Chef Carmen Berzatto, and reminding the world of the power of a good white tee.
After the release of season one, menswear enthusiasts unanimously deemed Chef Carmy’s tees to be the “perfect white tees” and with the launch of season two in Canada last week, fashion enthusiasts are again admiring the beauty of a minimalist menswear wardrobe.
So, we’re breaking down what the deal is with seemingly simple white tees, and the historical and cultural factors that make them truly perfect.
The white tee shirt was originally designed as undergarments for the US military but gained popularity through iconic moments in film. In 1951, Marlon Brando famously wore a plain tee in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ It was seen as underwear at the time, and considered quite provocative. Subsequently, in 1955, James Dean’s rebellious portrayal in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ established the white tee along with blue jeans and a leather jacket as the teenage uniform for rebellion. In the 1960s and 70s, counterculture groups embraced the tee as a canvas for spreading social messages.
In addition to social messages, streetwear brands in the 90s began using pop culture references on the white tee, as seen in 1996’s ‘Trainspotting.’ In the film, admired for its wardrobe design, Ewan McGregor’s character, Mark Renton, frequently wore graphic tees cropped and boxy in all the right ways. Over the last three decades, the white tee has transcended cultures, classes, and genders to become a timeless, unisex wardrobe staple embraced worldwide. To this day, that subtle, understated sex appeal of the crisp white tee remains.
In recent years, workwear has emerged as one of the biggest influences in menswear, with the white t-shirt standing out as a staple. Historically devoid of prominent branding, workwear’s resurgence has driven a shift away from heavily branded products towards premium, unbranded, classics. This has led to significant growth in the market for premium white tees, with brands like Sunspel leading the way. Priced at $70, Sunspels tee’s seem far too expensive to the average consumer but menswear enthusiasts who appreciate the enduring appeal of unbranded classics are willing to invest in quality basics.
Global instability and growing concerns about sustainability have also fueled consumers’ desire for timeless, functional, and high-quality garments, cementing the white t-shirt’s place as a staple in menswear.
In ‘The Bear’ chef Carmen is seen striding through the bustling kitchen wearing a crisp white tee shirt in almost every scene. The flawless fit and refined structure of his tees sparked curiosity among menswear enthusiasts wanting to uncover the source.
Speculation on Reddit pointed towards Merz b. Schwanen, a German brand producing shirts using the traditional continuous loop knitting method employed a century ago. The pilot’s costume designer, Cristina Spiridakis, confirmed this speculation. Additionally, costume designer Courtney Wheeler, revealed that Carmy’s wardrobe also features Whitesville T-shirts with tubular knit construction.
Carmy’s wardrobe choices reflect his interests and values as a chef, influenced by New York City’s macho culinary culture. His affinity for vintage fashion, demonstrated by his collection of selvedge Levi’s and denim jackets, highlights his appreciation for quality and enduring classics. Wearing tees made the old-school way with meticulous craftsmanship and vintage-inspired construction align with Carmy’s appreciation for classic Americana fashion and lifestyle.
‘The Bear’ reminds us of the timeless appeal of this classic menswear wardrobe essential, proving that the perfect white tee is truly deserving of a chef’s kiss.
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