The white T-shirt is probably the most iconic piece of clothing ever created. It has become part of the uniform for the contemporary man, a garment of unpretentious class to be accessorised with everything from designer suits to weathered jeans to a pair of swim shorts. Yet the white T-shirt is woven into cultural history, signifying the birth of 1950s youth culture – think Marlon Brando in The Wild One, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

Brando and Dean are American icons, yet their signature T-shirts owed much to a quintessentially British brand – Sunspel. Founded in 1860 by Thomas Hill, Sunspel has been making garments in the UK for more than 150 years. In the early 20th century, this included a long-sleeve cotton undergarment for use in the tropics. Over time, the original item was modified, taking inspiration from the States as well as the navy wool flannelette undershirt worn by the US Navy. Josh Simms, author of Icons of Men’s Style, writes that “inevitably the two garments got it together, and in the cross pollination of smart ideas, the T-shirt as we know it was born.”

Sunspel is no less culturally storied than the garment it helped create. After all, how many brands can link the Rolling Stones, James Bond, and one of the most iconic TV adverts ever shot? Charlie Watts has his Sunspel T-shirts specially customised to aid his drumming; model Nick Kamen wore Sunspel boxer shorts in the famed 1980s Levi’s ‘launderette’ advert; and Sunspel’s Riviera polo shirt helped rebrand 007 for a new era when it appeared on Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. You don’t get much cooler than that.

Thus the enduring power of a great brand: Sunspel’s manufacturing process is exhaustive. Long cotton fibres are meticulously combed to ensure the highest possible quality. These fibres are then woven together to create the thread which will form the Sunspel garment – one that will be soft, lightweight and extremely comfortable to wear, without losing its shape or compromising on durability.

Central to the brand’s ethos is its longevity, a fixed point of reference in a constantly evolving world. Sunspel has been producing T-shirts in the same Long Eaton factory since 1937 – indeed it is the only British T-shirt-based brand still making in England. Much has changed over the past 150 years, both in how we create garments and how we wear them, yet Sunspel has never compromised in its pursuit of sartorial quality, and it never will.

For your next white T-shirt order, you know where to go. After all, when you wear a piece of history, you really should wear the best.

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