Sometimes in life you’re not aware that you have a problem until one day someone offers you a solution. This is one of those times.
Out of the blue I received an email from Robert Kay, owner of new menswear brand Robert Owen. He wrote to let me know about his new venture, undershirts for gentlemen. Now, much as I’m a shirt-wearing sort of chap, almost never seen without a proper button-up shirt on me, I’d never really considered the matter of undershirts. An undershirt in this case is most commonly a cotton t-shirt to be worn under a shirt. Not exactly a new idea, I’ve been wearing white t-shirts under my shirts for years, and I notice most other guys do so as well. It makes good sense to do so, as it provides some extra warmth when it’s cold, giving you a thin layer of insulation allowing you to wear a shirt instead of something thicker. It provides a layer of absorption between body and thin shirt material, meaning your shirt won’t stick to your back if you’re a little clammy. And it means you can swap undershirts daily allowing you to use a shirt more times between washes, saving on the odious chore of ironing. Unless you’re a really sweaty monkey, in which case you’re probably beyond salvation in any case.
What I have found to be a problem is that the typical white cotton t-shirts I buy (and I tend to pay a little more for organic cotton, as you should do too) don’t hold their shape well at all. It doesn’t take all that many wears before that snug-fitting t-shirt is all lumpy and baggy and no longer works under a well-fitting shirt. Now, granted white cotton t-shirts are cheap, but I balk at replacing them after only a few wears, so what can we do?
Well, Robert Owen certainly has one solution. When I received my sample for this review I could immediately tell that this is very much upmarket from cheap t-shirts. Beautifully wrapped, reminding me of how expensive women’s lingerie would be presented, in tissue and a proper ribbon. Removing the white undershirt from the tissue I was thinking “ok, white t-shirt” and then I felt it. Wow! The fabric is quite incredibly soft and smooth, and flexible. Compare your average new cotton t-shirt to 60 grit sanding paper (office-monkeys that don’t get the comparison, stroke the back of your hand over your 3-day stubble for a similar effect).
How can this be? Well, we’re not talking a cotton t-shirt here, we’re dealing with a shirt in a jersey fabric woven from 95% bamboo rayon and 5% elastane. I know, it takes a leap of the imagination to accept that you can weave bamboo into a an incredible fabric like this, then again, WellDressedGirlfriend has been using yarn made of milk protein for recent knitting projects. It’s a brave new world! Bamboo is said to have a number of beneficial properties, such as being anti-bacterial and very much less environmentally harmful than cotton (this is debatable, according to Wikipedia, but I notice Robert has had a researcher put together a doc on this on his website, well done!). In this case though there are a couple of properties that are top of the list, this fabric is quite incredibly soft, it is stretchy and retains it’s shape and it can be washed in the usual way at 40 degrees. And while the fabric feels like a really expensive fabric with a high content of silk, the fact that it’s bamboo means it’s usable in the real world, not some silly hand-wash-only piece you fear to wear.
While a standard cotton t-shirt is a standard cotton t-shirt, Robert has made a number of design improvements in the creation of a dedicated undershirt. As soon as I’d unwrapped it, I noticed the quite deep V-neck. Now, normally this is the province of the douchebag and in this case we need to move past this. Notice how you can tell how many of your friends are wearing t-shirts under their shirts? Yes, you can see the t-shirt there, right where the top button is open, and it does not look good. For me this is a major blow against wearing a regular t-shirt under a nice shirt, as it can detract a lot from a look of the nice shirt. With the V-neck though, there is no visible t-shirt. Also, the length of the shirt is longer than usual, so you can tuck it in and it’ll stay tucked in throughout the day. The arms are also longer than usual. A t-shirt normally reaches to mid-biceps on me, where the undershirt reaches almost to my elbow. You know how women obsess about visible panty lines (with good reason, but we’ll not go there today), this is along the same lines. A t-shirt may give you a visible hem-line over your biceps. Some guys may obsess about this. The final improvement, and this is one medium-grade sweaty monkeys will appreciate, the fabric is double under the arms, hence absorbing light sweat and avoiding the marks and stains caused by sweat and antiperspirants.
I’ll admit, I really, really like this Robert Owen undershirt.
It’s marvellous. I wish I had a shelf stacked high with them, in both cream and white. The only factor in the way of this is the price. Much as I’d also like to have a shelf full of boxer shorts from Hamilton & Hare, when you’re used to spending around 4 pounds a piece, it is quite a leap to be looking at something around 10x that figure.
Then again, looking at factors such as how long the more expensive pieces will last, the greater utility of them, and let’s face it, how incredibly good they’ll make you feel (and we take it for granted that this a completely valid argument from women, so why not us middle-aged dads as well?), why not pamper yourself a little? It could have been very much worse, at least you’re not suddenly wanting a Harley Davidson and leather chaps.