One of the first things I noticed about my fiancé Jacob was his arms. When we met (the day I moved into our apartment building) he was wearing a black T-shirt, and the sleeves fell in a way that perfectly framed his sculpted-but-not-too-sculpted biceps. It reminded me of an amateur boxer on his way home from the gym. At the time I was working as a style writer at GQ, which made me a little bit arrogant about men’s basics, so after we’d been dating a while, and after I’d seen him in countless versions of the same T-shirt, I suggested he try another more expensive brand. I was trying to gauge his interest to help me get him a fancy gift that he’d actually appreciate, but he made it very clear that he didn’t want anything fancier. He explained that the only T-shirts he wears are Russell Athletic tees and that he buys them only at Modell’s. (He is also loyal to the brand’s cotton sweatshirts.)
When I asked him recently how he came to love these particular T-shirts, he said he’d started shopping at Modell’s during a “health goth” phase. On one trip, he bought some because they were on sale for just $5. He likes the cut, the fact that they’re made out of “stiff cotton that holds its form,” and that they come in many different colors including “multiple shades of gray.” Jacob’s style is minimal and practical; he mostly wears black jeans and T-shirts. And he hates shopping for clothes, so the fact that he found something he likes enough to buy over and over again is a big deal. Not long after I suggested he branch out, we went to Modell’s together — I needed long underwear and he needed to restock on tees. It was one of the more romantic evenings we’ve spent together. Seriously. Flowers and hand-holding are great, but for me, there is nothing sexier than shopping for clothes with a man who knows exactly what he wants.
I didn’t know it then, and I don’t know that he knew it either, but Jacob’s taste in T-shirts and sweatshirts is extremely legit. In 1930, Russell Athletic invented the classic cotton crew neck sweatshirt, one of the most influential articles of men’s clothing ever. It was introduced as an alternative to the itchy wool football jerseys players wore (and sweated through) during games, and it soon morphed into an essential part of every cool person’s wardrobe.
The brand’s basic cotton T-shirts have a similar utilitarian style: They’re thicker than a lot of men’s T-shirts, with a boxy fit. Personally, I hate it when T-shirts are too long in the torso or when they look slinky rather than crisp, and Russell Athletic tees suffer from neither of those issues; the bottom hem lands at the waistband of Jacob’s jeans and, though they’re not oversized, they hold their shape rather than molding to his body. At GQ, I was a fan of brands like Buck Mason, Battenwear, Jungmaven, and Levis Vintage Clothing for men because of their quality materials, attention to detail, and vintage styling. But while they’re all great choices, they’re not all the best choice for every man. A T-shirt has to make you feel confident and comfortable — even sexy. Jacob found the ones that make him feel good and never looked back.
Plus, they last forever. Over the three years of our relationship, I have watched as he wears them to work, while working out, and while literally digging in the dirt (gardening). He has spilled every kind of food on them while cooking dinner for us every night, yet you’d never know it. He’s had the ones he wears now for over five years, and they still look just as crisp as when they were brand new. His only complaint is that, because they’re made of 100 percent cotton, they have shrunk a tiny bit. To me, that’s not a bad thing. I actually like when they’re a touch smaller on him. But also, it makes them fit me better.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.