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Denver Menswear Blog

Spotlight : Lady White and Co

Lady White Co and a brief history of the white tee shirt.

Written by Ryan Chang, with photographs by Raymond Molinar.


You may not realize it, but the white T-shirts underneath your button-down for the office, the patterned ones for the night out, and the ragged beaters for the yard work have a long history in American garment manufacturing. Just like your favorite pair of jeans, the perfection of the T-shirt began as a purely utilitarian piece of clothing.

Lady White Co factory photo by Raymon Molinar
Rolls of fabric at the Lady White Co factory. Photo by Raymond Molinar

While jeans have been experiencing a renaissance for the last decade or so, the humble T-shirt has been left by the wayside, but many brands have dedicated themselves to bringing customers high-quality T-shirts for just as long. High-quality fabrics, obsessive attention to detail, and above-par manufacturing set T-shirt-only lines like Velva Sheen and Whitesville (Toyo Enterprises) far apart from the crowd. So what’s in a T-shirt?

Just like your favorite pair of raw denim jeans, the T-shirt was borne out of necessity in the 19th-century. The basis for the modern T-shirt has its origins in undergarments. At that time, undergarments were often made of heavy woolen fabrics that covered the entire body and needed to be buttoned up--commonly known as Long John’s or Union Suits--which restricted movement. These were impractical in warmer weather and climates. As the century moved on, garment manufacturers improved their designs by removing buttons and making undergarments in stretchier cotton fabrics.

The result was the “Bachelor Undershirt” by Cooper Underwear Company (now Jockey) in 1904. This was the first undergarment that had, according to the advertisement, “no safety pins — no buttons — no needle — no thread.”

Bachelor Undershirt Advertisement Cooper Undershirt Co
Bachelor Undershirt Advertisement / Cooper Undershirt Co

This attracted the attention of the U.S. Navy, who commissioned their uniform designers to make their own version of these garments. The T-shirt as we know it now was born from the “Bachelor Undershirt” for Navy sailors and other enlisted men. As World War I approached, the U.S. Army also adopted the garment. Afterwards, returning soldiers wore their wartime clothing as every day casual wear, thus introducing the T-shirt to the civilian public. Fast forward to 1950s and ‘60s America, where Marlon Brando popularizes not only cuffed jeans in A Streetcar Named Desire, but also inspires millions of young men to wear their T-shirts as a standalone garment.

From the ‘60s up until now, the T-shirt not only stayed a fundamental undergarment, but also became standard casual and athletic wear. We now know the T-shirt as a vehicle for almost everything — business and music branding, protest signage, and pure aesthetic decoration. In a way, the simple brilliance of the T-shirt led to its own degradation. Swarms of fast-fashion brands today sell cheap excuses that are mere steps away from being disposable.

Now we’ve come full circle: it’s no coincidence that the Japanese revival of raw denim also brought back the honestly-made t-shirt, and inspired many US brands to follow suit. With several lines staking out their claims, what can be done with the humble t-shirt?

Enter Phil Proyce, owner and designer of Lady White Co., a California-based line devoted to producing the finest heritage-inspired athletic wear anywhere. Phil is doing something very unique and special with his T’s — the fabric is sourced from a family farm in North Carolina, and is then cut and sewn in Los Angeles.

Phil Proyce lady White Co by Raymond Molinar
Phil Proyce. Photo by Raymond Molinar

For Phil, the T-shirt is everything for everyday American casual wear, a garment that can be worn in a thousand ways for almost as many occasions. The design principles stem from athletic wear typical of the 1940’s and ‘50s, which featured narrow binded collars and a tubular knit for the body. In addition to the pleasing look of no side seams, tubular knits also hold their shape after multiple washings. Lady White also reinforces their shoulder seams with a chainstitch--like the hem of your raw denim--which strengthens the entire structure of the Tee while adding comfort. The armholes are set a bit higher than other T-shirts, but this lends a feeling of wearing something more than just a T-shirt: You’re wearing something that is carefully crafted, expertly manufactured, and lovingly showcased.

Lady White’s cotton starts with carded cotton that is then knit into a beautifully firm 6 oz. jersey. Carded cotton allows the shirt to give just enough stretch without totally becoming the misshapened mess that many T-shirts become. Carded cotton is also not unlike the stiff, slightly coarse feel raw denim against the hand: It’s telling you that these shirts are meant to be well-worn and well-loved, broken in by you to eventually become you.

Apart from the cotton, everything in Lady White’s development chain is less than 30 minutes away from their office in Los Angeles, CA. Phil says he wouldn’t have it any other way, and we wouldn’t want him to — these shirts are a testament to fair pricing practices matching up with quality, lasting manufacture.

Buy Lady White Co Tees:

Lady White Co factory photo by Raymon Molinar

Lady White Co factory photo by Raymon Molinar

Lady White Co factory photo by Raymon Molinar

Lady White Co factory photo by Raymon Molinar

Lady White Co factory. Photos by Raymond Molinar

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