Classic American Style: The White T-shirt

James Dean white t-shirt 
The whole point of this blog series, from the very beginning, was to showcase figures of classic American style, trying to stay away from the too obvious choices and be open to new faces, to modern women of our time who embody natural beauty and lasting style. It felt much more relevant and interesting an approach. But with men, it’s different. Steve McQueen, James Dean and Paul Newman would look just as relevant today as they looked back then dressed in the way they did. Which was, well, cool, that certain ineffable quality that made them look great seemingly no matter what they wore (a quality that not even the men of today considered the most stylish seem to reach that easily). With a focus on comfort, they looked as if they didn’t give clothes a moment’s thought.
Classic American style the white t-shirt 
I guess I have always paid at least the same attention to men’s style as I have to women’s. Here is the thing. It is the men’s style that affords me more focus and inspiration when referencing my own personal style and updating my wardrobe. Not necessarily in terms of borrowing the exact pieces a man’s wardrobe consists of (although, who denies the utter attractiveness such pieces exude when combined with feminine details and the balance is just right?), but the idea that looking good doesn’t have to mean standing out. Just wear what makes you feel like yourself – it may very well always be some version of the same, and that’s perfectly fine.

This all is to say that this bunch of handsome and stylish men makes the best case for the most fundamental garment of the American style canon: the highly adaptable, much more than utilitarian plain white t-shirt. It’s usually in the company of the other fundamental American piece, jeans (and who can go wrong with that association?), with maybe different accessorising and a healthy dose of individuality. But you’ve got to give credit to Steve McQueen (right photo, below) for taking the look a little further and wearing the basic white t-shirt with tailored trousers (a detail I noticed in a close-up shot), and his signature chukka suede boots, of course.
Classic American style the white t-shirt
Steve McQueen white t-shirt 
Probably the only one of the younger generation of actors who could be placed right next to the other greats of cinema, sartorially speaking, was River Phoenix. Unfortunately, his untimely death in 1993, when he was only 23, deprived us not only of a great actor, but of a style role model, too. It is also true that his tragic ending is part of what keeps our fascination with River alive, just as in the case of James Dean. But I choose to believe that his cinematic path would have been a great one. It’s sad enough when we lose talented, beautiful, wonderful young people, and I am not talking just about famous figures, so I need to believe that and they deserve us to imagine that they would have had a bright future.
Classic American style - the white t-shirt - River Phoenix
photos: 1-James Dean, Corbis, 1955 / 2-James Dean on the set of “Rebel without A Cause”, Warner Brothers / 3-Paul Newman by Stephanie Chernikowski, Rome, 1965 / 4-Clint Eastwood by Douglas James, 1972 / 5-Steve McQueen on set, Judith Jamison/Barry Feinstein Photography Inc. / 6-Steve McQueen by Cal West, Cycle World magazine, 1964 / 7-River Phoenix by Lance Staedler

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