The Comeback Of The Crew Neck

Prada crew neckPrada’s basic tee with a high crew neck. Photo: Jim Sim

During the pre-Chinese New Year shopping season in January this year, Prada discreetly released a few T-shirts with Oriental graphics to welcome the Year of the Monkey. There’s nothing extraordinary about that considering that Prada has been rather receptive to the needs of its Asian customers. What was interesting, however, was the style of the tee, particularly the neckline. Prada brought back something we had not seen for a while—not since the ’80s: the crew neck.

Once associated with basic T-shirts from basic wear brands such Anvil, the crew neck lost its appeal some time in the ’90s during the rise of the fashion tee—a style that has a slimmer fit (hence, also known as fashion fit). At that time, makers of undergarments such as Jockey were shifting the high neck line of the crew neck downwards to cater to those who prefer the tee unseen when shirts worn over them are not fastened to the last button at the neck.

When designers started introducing T-shirts as part of their merchandise mix, the crew neck went through a redesign too. As it became fashionable to wear the tee fitted—oftentimes tight—it was no longer attractive to sport the traditional fit that is snug around the neck. The rib-knit of the circular neck—once an inch wide (2.5cm)—became skinny or as narrow as 0.4 inch (1cm). In addition, the neckline is enlarged so that the round spreads over the shoulder. Towards the Noughties, as the Rick Owens aesthetic gripped a generation of Goths eager to shed the tight-fitting T-shirts of a previous era, the crew neck seemed destined for obscurity as the stretched, loose, and skinny-ribbed tee became a popular choice.

Uniqlo Crew Neck TeeUniqlo’s crew-neck T-shirts. Photos: Uniqlo

It requires no reminding that the T-shirt started as an undergarment and was worn beneath the shirt. Its popularity was augmented in the 1930s by American military men who saw them as a comfortable second skin beneath their uniforms. So meant to be worn under an outer that even as late as the ’60s, it was unusual to see G.I.-issued T-shirts worn alone, so much so that in Japan, during the Occupation, the locals were given to giggles when they saw American soldiers walking around simply in tees clinging to torso.

Just as we thought the traditional high-neck, crew-neck T-shirt is fast fading from popular styles and our fashion consciousness, it’s made a conspicuous comeback. And you know it’s here to infiltrate our wardrobes when even mass labels such as Uniqlo are introducing them (kudos to the Japanese label for being on trend). Uniqlo’s one-inch wide crew neck, although placed relatively high does not hug the neck uncomfortably. What’s especially fetching is that this classic neckline is paired with the new loose and boxy silhouette—the shape to have and to wear.

The crew neck’s re-appearance makes sense. Aesthetically, it is attractive when seen on the baggier, almost scrub-like shape of the tee, and is proportionately right in relation to the wider bodice and, unsurprisingly, wider and longer sleeves. In fact, with the drop-shoulder—a style of shoulder that has its seam shifted to the upper arm rather than positioned at the end of the shoulder—on tees now prevalent, the crew neck makes for a smarter-looking casual top. It’s time to resurrect those old Fruit of the Loom T-shirts and pretend the ’80s never left us.