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Lesbians Taught Me About the Perfect Tiny White T-Shirts

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Sophie Kemp

The other month, I found myself in a booth at the Commodore on trial by a triumvirate of men’s fashion writers. We were at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and I was flirting with one of the guys by making a lot of eye contact. He was wearing this huge wool coat and a vintage Rolex and had floppy, perfect hair. I couldn’t stop looking at him. The topic of conversation turned to wardrobe staples — as these things go among this particular taxonomy of triumvirates — and someone mentioned an affinity for the perfect white T-shirt, because what else would you talk about? I had a response.

“The perfect white T-shirt,” I said, sipping a piña colada and weaving my hair through one of my hoop earrings, “is a Hanes little boy’s crew neck. Like, from the pack.” The triumvirate looked at me like I was a genius. A Hanes T-shirt? For boys? I was not sure why they did not stand up and start clapping and whistling and stomping their feet and being like, “Sophie, Sophie, we love Sophie!” As always, I was happy to educate.

The party moved to a karaoke bar in Bushwick. I gave the guy I was flirting with my number and I then dematerialized into a cab. When he didn’t text me by Monday, I sent an email to his work account that went like this: “This is completely unhinged because i have already like, given you my number etc. but i woke up this morning being like what if i *emailed* the cute guy from the party … regards, sophie.” Unsurprisingly, he still did not respond, even though I was being extremely charming. But this was okay, because I am really good at being rejected by men. And women too, for that matter. It is by being rejected by lesbians that I found out about the magic of buying packs of cheap white T-shirts.

One of the most embarrassing things about me is that I am a bisexual. There’s nothing wrong with having this be your sexuality. I’ve identified this way since I was 20 years old and had a blue undercut and went to liberal arts college. But in my eyes, bisexuality can be tacky — on par with admitting that you are a natural-wine lover or are from a suburb of Albany (two of my other identities). It’s like an eye roll. An “Oh, you too?” It does not matter if you are the kind of cool bisexual who goes on a European sex vacation with a they/them who has really tasteful stick-and-poke tattoos, or you really like Fever Ray. It is just corny no matter how you spin it.

But it is also a blessing (and a constant, Sisyphean existential crisis) to not have much of a gender preference for partners. And through my journey of being about 50 percent gay, I’ve taken plenty of style notes. Here is what I have learned: The hottest, most confident lesbians and enbies always seem to own tight white T-shirts by the pack. Once I nailed this semiotically, I decided that I wanted in. I wanted to be an outrageously confident tiny white-T-shirt queer woman.

I do not know how I landed on Hanes as my brand of choice. It is not like I tried pack after pack of different brands of T-shirts until I found the right one. I think I just one day thought to myself, “Okay, yeah, I am probably going to be a Hanes girl.” And now I wear my little white T-shirts (in medium) everywhere, with everything. On a date at a dive bar, paired with a bright red Comme des Garçons miniskirt purchased at the Front General Store in Dumbo, a little pop of M.A.C’s Ruby Woo on the Cupid’s bow. To my aisle-stocking shift at the Park Slope Food Coop, with bike shorts and a pair of Merrells, hoping to one day be “discovered” by fellow member Ben Lerner.

Did I mention they’re really sexy and soft, too? My Hanes are a little bit see-through and a little high-cut on the shoulder, which means that when I wear one, everyone gets to see what my nipples look like and find out that I do not shave my underarms, both of which I think are actually a natural accessory in any outfit. These shirts are also pretty cheap, so when you spill coffee on yourself because you have diagnosably bad hand-eye coordination, you have four other shirts in the pack to choose from.

But more than anything, my white T-shirts make me feel glamorous, they make me feel queer in a milieu where most people probably clock me as a straight girl because I’m so femme and am as boy-crazy as I am girl-crazy. My tiny white T-shirts are the most important wardrobe staple I own. They’ve helped me figure out how to queer myself in the straight world, even if it is corny.

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Lesbians Taught Me About the Perfect Tiny White T-Shirts