Earlier this year I decided my wardrobe needed a little bit of a refresh. I hadn’t seriously bought new clothes in at least a year and my day-to-day outfit had gone from somewhat put-together to jeans + tech company t-shirt. Fortunately I work at a job where that’s fine, but I can certainly do better.
For the last several months I’ve been thinking my wardrobe needs a little bit of a refresh. I haven’t seriously bought new clothes in at least a year and my day-to-day outfit has gone from somewhat put-together to jeans + tech company t-shirt. Fortunately I work at a job where that’s fine, but I can certainly do better, and for the past several weeks that’s what I’ve been working on.
Although a number of categories of my wardrobe need work, I decided to start with the shirts since they had the most room for improvement. I wasn’t planning on making a huge jump - I’m sticking with the t-shirt form for the most part, but a nicely made, solid-color t-shirt or v-neck has a much better look than something I got for free covered in a big tech logo. Whether standalone or layered with a sweater or jacket, it’s casual but can still look good, and is well within the standard San Francisco going-out dress code.
I’d been curious about merino wool t-shirts for awhile, so this seemed like a great opportunity to take the plunge and try them out for myself. Their sweat-wicking, odor-repellent, wrinkle-resistant, heat-regulating properties were all appealing to me, especially if they could pull it off while looking like a normal shirt. I need shirts that can handle typical bay area 20º swings in temperature, I enjoy biking to work so having shirts geared towards more athletic uses is helpful, and I travel frequently so wrinkle resistance is important when tossing my clothes in a bag for the weekend. I wanted to stay away from cotton shirts because they lack all of these qualities, and most synthetic material I’ve seen isn’t tailored in a way that I could wear it out to dinner, whether in color, fit, or simply how the cloth falls.
So with it decided that I’d only look through wool options for now, I went to work finding and ordering shirts from a bunch of companies, all of which I’d heard good things about. In the end, I tried clothes from Mission Workshop, Outlier, Woolly, Taylor Stitch, Oliver, and Wool & Price. Mostly t-shirts, but some other items caught my eye and I gave them a try as well. I wish I could say I liked and kept them all, but that wasn’t the case. Also, the one major drawback of merino wool is that it’s absurdly expensive. I couldn’t afford to keep everything even if it was all perfect. So, without further ado…
Mission Workshop was the first place I went to try out some wool shirts since it’s on my commute home. I believe they’re known primarily for their bags, but I was quite impressed with their clothing options as well. They’re all geared towards cycling, and are designed to be versatile and durable while still looking good. As for the t-shirts specifically, I didn’t end up purchasing any. The material was nice, soft and a bit stretchy, the colors were solid and understated, but the fit, for me, was a bit tight for daily wear. I could see these being great undershirts, or shirts to wear while biking to work, but I’d never wear them at work.
If you spend enough time on the traveling corners of reddit or listening to @benjaminbrooks, you’re bound to hear about Outlier early and often, and with good reason. They have a full line of clothing built from the ground up to look great while being able to handle anything life throws at them. I’ve seen numerous blogs about people cutting their possessions down to a pair of pants and handful of t-shirts from Outlier, and only wearing those for a year or more. All the while they’re traveling, hiking, biking, rock climbing, and sometimes going into an office, and the clothes handle every situation perfectly.
With that level of endorsement, I had to try out their clothes. I ordered both their ultrafine and lighter runweight t-shirts to try, and really liked both - all the hearsay did not lead me wrong with this company, and the shirts fell in line with my high expectations. That said… I didn’t end up keeping them either, at least for now. Compared with some of the other shirts, the fit was just a little funny in both lines of shirt - a little loose, and a few inches longer than I would expect, causing the fabric to bunch up weirdly below my waist. The ultrafine fabric was great, and while I would love the runweight for more athletic pursuits, I found it too thin to wear casually. The material doesn’t hold shape very well (like what you’d expect from synthetic fabrics), so ends up not being super flattering for someone like myself who isn’t in perfect physical shape. After sending these shirts in, however, I heard back from Outlier that the shirts are designed a little big because they’ll shrink down to a better fit the first time through the wash. Should I find myself in need of another shirt soon, I’ll probably get one of these.
Compared to all the other companies I tried, Woolly was the most unknown, and I didn’t really know what to expect. What I did know though was that they make 100% merino wool t-shirts, and they were running a big sale, making their shirts around half the price of some of the others. It was worth a shot, even if I ended up again sending all the shirts back. The first problem with Woolly are their colors - I either have the option of some basic black, gray, and off-white, or if I want more variety, they only have pretty loud and bright options. I like to have some color, but more on the dark or neutral side, so I ordered the heather gray and off-white. They turned out about as expected, but had the same problem as the runweight Outlier shirt where they just weren’t substantial enough for daily wear. Otherwise though they really are great shirts - the softest ones I could find, so I’d highly recommend them as undershirts or specifically as fitness clothing.
I found Taylor Stitch’s wool offering after my initial run of t-shirt try-ons, so was originally going to save them for later in the year when I might want to jump back in and grow the wardrobe a bit. Fortunately for them and me, however, I noticed they have a 100% wool henley. Before this wool experiment, my favorite shirt of all time was a green, cotton, long-sleeved henley from Marine Layer. It’s super soft, fits me perfectly, and looks great. The idea of a wool version was immediately appealing, and Taylor Stitch delivered. The fabric is extremely soft, substantial enough to still be somewhat flattering, and of course 100% wool. I’m wearing it right now as I type this, and it might be my new favorite shirt. The one flaw of the shirt is that the sleeves were a little long, but I took it into their store and they offered to hem the sleeves for free. I’ve not owned this shirt for several months, and it’s held up great. It’s perfect for the cool-weathered bike ride in the morning to work, wearing all day in an air-conditioned office, then on my warmer, more strenuous (uphill) bike ride home it doesn’t get too hot. Additionally, the odor-resistant properties have proved true. As long as I hang the shirt up between uses it doesn’t require a wash until several wears or after a particularly tough bike ride home where I get super sweaty.
Next up is Olivers. They make a number of different garments with the theme of looking good yet being ready for anything, and I’ll definitely try their synthetic shorts and pants at some point. This time around I got some of their wool items - Porter long sleeve t-shirt, and convoy short sleeve t-shirt. The short-sleeve shirt is great. It’s a crew-neck, very soft, and balances a tight fit with substantial fabric perfectly for my body shape. I’d have no trouble wearing this all day at work and then keeping it on for an evening run, and in fact I’ve done exactly that. I’ve worn it on up to an 18 mile run and it wore great. Breathable enough for the mid-60º weather, no chaffing, and it looked good. The long-sleeve Porter was a bit less desirable unfortunately. The fabric was the least-soft of all the shirts I tried, though I’m sure it would be a bit better after a few washes, and the collar is a bit odd - about double the thickness of a standard t-shirt collar. It was also the heaviest fabric I tried, and with spring and summer approaching when I tried it on, I didn’t know how often I would wear something like it.
Wool and Prince
Thanks to folks like @stammy, I’ve been hearing more and more good things about this company recently - all for good reason. I kept not one but two t-shirts I ordered from Wool and Prince. The fabric is amazingly soft, and of a perfect weight for either a base layer in the cold, or standalone on a warm day, whatever the activity. The color selection is the best of any of these companies, with several interesting but not overwhelming options to choose from. Lastly, for me, the fit is amazing - a little loose at first, but right on the money after a wash. Over the last several months I’ve really come to love these t-shirts. They’re great day-to-day regardless of what I’m up to. Biking to work, playing an impromptu game of basketball over lunch, etc. they handle it all. I’ll wear one traveling on a plane all day, hang it up overnight, then wear it again the next day with no hint of airplane or body stink. I wore one backpacking for two full days with my dog and a 50 lb pack and I could hardly tell it was dirty (although I immediately put it in the wash due to poison oak exposure). Despite all that, the shirts are still in great shape. They’re pretty much perfect.
That’s a Wrap
All of these shirts, even the ones I sent back, are extremely well-made, and will likely be the best t-shirt you’ve ever owned. I didn’t send these t-shirts back because I didn’t like them, but because I found ones that were the best for me. Hopefully this write-up helps you do the same.