A T-shirt is one of the most fundamental elements of wardrobes the world round, spanning genders, cultures, climates, ages, and shapes. But maddeningly, a good travel T-shirt can be hard to find. Because a good travel T-shirt is more than just what meets the eye.
For starters, a good travel T-shirt should be offered in sizes at least from 0 to 18, and ideally it should be versatile: a fit for a beach day and a business meeting. For me, 5’11” with a long torso, a good travel T-shirt should also hit hip length. It should be suitable for layering. Perhaps most importantly, it should also be engineered with sustainability in mind, from responsible labor to farming practices. Materials—like wool, silk, linen, hemp—should be organic and low impact.
Taken together, these qualities don’t come cheap—they add up. And to be honest, I haven’t always thought this way. But after a pandemic-induced closet purge, I looked around at stacks of T-shirts and realized something: Was it really better to spend $10 on a shirt if I would have to buy another version of that $10 shirt in four months? Was it really better to be purchasing shirts that—while more affordable upfront—were falling apart faster, and I had to wash more often? That were made from synthetic fibers and would sit in a landfill, unable to biodegrade? I decided not.
Since then, I’ve committed to buying better: fewer shirts, yes, but also those of higher quality. It takes more research and money on my end, but I like to think that I’m doing something small for the planet—and staying comfortable in the process.
Wool Crew Neck T-Shirt by Unbound Merino
Buy now: $80, unboundmerino.com
A logoless tee has power: It can be worn on the plane and to a business meeting. That’s not a stretch if you’ve got a superfine merino wool crew in your arsenal. Thanks to wool’s waxy coating, lanolin, which helps draw moisture away and serve as a sort of natural deterrent against odors, this shirt is a dynamic pick for something light and breathable—and that you can wear multiple times before having to throw it in the wash. (The company promises that it can go weeks without a wash, which I was admittedly skeptical about but have found to be true.) If you have to wash while on the road, the ultra-light shirt is hard to wrinkle and is incredibly quick-drying. Made from 100 percent certified Australian merino, this tee is biodegradable and so soft it will make you forget everything you ever thought about wool being itchy. Bonus: Fewer washes mean you can pack less.
Journey Short Sleeve Crew by Ibex
Buy now: $88, ibex.com
Since 1997, Boulder, Colorado–based Ibex has been producing products made from sustainably sourced merino wool. Ibex has a number of comfortable T-shirts in its product catalog, but my top pick is the short-sleeve crew, which is made with 89 percent merino wool and 11 percent nylon, giving it the moisture-wicking qualities characteristic of a merino product as well as a nylon core for serious stretch and durability. Offered in black, deep ocean (blue), light gold, salmon, and wave lite (green), the tee is tagless, weighs a quarter of a pound, and hits comfortably below the waist. Shirts are Woolmark certified—meaning they have been independently audited as having the highest quality wool—and Ibex has a number of environmental certifications, including the Global Organic Textile Standard (organic fibers; sustainable processing and manufacturing). For its breathability and flex, I love—and wear—this shirt most as a first layer when hiking, biking, and adventuring with my dog.
Lorel Tee by Jungmaven
Buy now: $50, jungmaven.com
Made of majority hemp, Jungmaven products, including this Lorel tee, arrive feeling soft and worn in. (In addition to being one of the stronger textile fabrics, hemp requires about half the water that cotton does and is completely biodegradable.) After countless washes and stains, the tee has only gotten softer—but somehow has the same shape it did the first day I wore it. And boy, have I worn it: on its own to brunch in New Orleans, under a blazer at a swanky new London cocktail bar, and over a bathing suit to swim at parks in St. Louis. The brand’s Wild Eyes long-sleeve T-shirt—designed by California textile artists and hand-stamped—has also become a recent favorite and is one I’ve started to pack as a stylish layer on longer flights when the AC is a little too cool.
Katherine LaGrave Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at AFAR focused on features and essays.