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Small Changes: Shabby vs. Chic T-shirt

Small Changes: Shabby vs. Chic T-shirt

Small Changes with Big Impact

Some of the most entertaining posts from The Oatmeal (one of my favorite cartoonists) are contained in his Minor Differences series. I think of this series often in daily life, and while I lack the artistic chops to create entertaining graphics, I want to adapt a similar, more practical version of the concept here to illustrate how some small changes can pack a big punch.

First up, a wardrobe item.

Shabby T-shirt vs. Chic T-shirt

In many professions (academia included), it is completely acceptable to wear a T-shirt to work. However – and this is an important however – the type of T-shirt matters. Many people have the misconception that all T-shirts are created equally, but this is untrue. T-shirts vary wildly in both style and price, from the fugly freebies you get at conventions, to disturbingly priced fashionista favorites (I see you, The Row, charging $280 for a damn tee). But somewhere in the middle is a moderately priced wardrobe workhorse that will keep you comfortable yet presentable across a wide range of settings. I therefore emphatically recommend investing in several perfect-fitting tees – preferably in neutral hues* to maximize their usefulness. And if you’re on the fence about what makes a shabby vs. a chic T-shirt, here are a few pointers.

Shabby T-shirt:

  • May be boxy and ill-fitting
  • May be of thick, stiff fabric
  • May feature a logo
  • May have words on it
  • May be discolored, torn, and/or stained from wash and wear
  • May have been free**
  • Is not something you should wear in a professional setting

Chic T-shirt:

  • Fits you appropriately (neither hugging nor gaping awkwardly)
  • Has smooth, flowy fabric
  • Is either a single color or a tasteful subtle pattern
  • Is attractive
  • Is versatile (e.g., could be worn to the beach or under a classy blazer)
  • Is something you could envision a very put-together person wearing

A nice T-shirt will generally set you back between $10 and $30, and while that may seem like a lot of money for a T-shirt, I swear this is some of the best money you can invest in professional attire. T-shirts are fantastic staples because they are comfy, are great for layering, wash easily, and are versatile. If you buy them in only gray, black, and white (as I do), they go with nearly everything, eliminating the need to actually plan an outfit most days.


Some Examples of Chic T-shirts:




*As mentioned, my favorite t-shirt colors are gray, black, and white. White is tricky for women though, because it must be thick enough that it does not reveal even a skin-colored bra.

**If you have a sense of style and know how to rock a (possibly wacky) free t-shirt in a fashionable way, then rock on – nothing against that. But that is advanced stuff and may be best left to the pros.


Shabby T-shirt image modified from Duncan Hull, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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