The basic white tee

When you’re petite, finding a basic item of clothing like a t-shirt can be an exercise in frustration. Most tees in regular sizes have all kinds of fit problems on petites, especially short-waisted petite pears: Shoulders too wide, necklines too low, body length too long, fitted waist too low, leading to unattractive bunching up at the hips.

To illustrate, look at the difference in fit of these two identical t-shirts on me. The one on the left is a women’s petite size XS, and the one on the right is a regular XS:

As you can see, even though these two shirts are identical in every way, the shirt on the left has the shoulders, waist, hip, and back length all in the right places, so it actually looks like it fits. In contrast, the regular shirt on the right looks like it doesn’t fit at all. The waist is actually sitting too far down towards my hips, bunching unattractively. The shoulder seams are sloppy. The length is too long, resulting in the hemline hitting too low, drawing the whole look downwards and making me look shorter:

This is a common problem for petites, especially short-waisted petites. The solution is to look for t-shirts specifically made for petites.

The trouble is, petite t-shirts are hard to find. Only a handful of brands make them, and asking for them generally leads to that confused salesperson look followed by a suggestion to “try a smaller size” or “check the juniors department”. Of course, neither of those options will work; we petites looking for tees that are proportionally shorter, not smaller all around:

So where should a petite gal look for her basic wardrobe staple? Here, I review plain white t-shirts from 7 different petite brands to compare and contrast:

Old Navy | GAP | Banana Republic | Lord & Taylor | Style & Co. | Eddie Bauer | Lands End

Old Navy

Old Navy has been my go-to source for inexpensive basic t-shirts in petite-friendly sizes for many years now. They’re the most reliable place to buy them, and while the styles do change slightly each season, they generally have a good selection of basics in different colours. While the quality isn’t the best, their wallet-friendly pricetags make them staple items in any petite woman’s t-shirt drawer.

There are always multiple style options for petites at Old Navy, from slim fit to relaxed to perfect crew neck to slub-knit. My current favourite is the EveryWear V-Neck, which is an 100% cotton tee with a slightly curved hem:

Old Navy EveryWear V-Neck Tee, size PXS. $14.99 CAD

I find these tees typically fit me best in a Petite XS, though some of the other styles are a better match in a PS. In fact, one of the reasons these fit so well is that they’re actually short enough at the torso for me. In fact, some longer-torsoed petites might actually find them too short, but I’m definitely not complaining! It’s so hard to find a t-shirt that hits at exactly the right place.

  • Pros: Inexpensive, great fit, range of colours, comfortable.
  • Cons: Some petites with longer torsos might find them too short. Not an issue for me!
  • Verdict: Two thumbs up! These t-shirts are a staple item.

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The GAP has long been the home of the jeans-and-t-shirt style that made them famous. For us petites, they remain a decent source of t-shirts in petite-friendly proportions, though these sizes can’t be found in stores so we need to order online. That’s okay, though; the GAP (and its sister brands Old Navy and Banana Republic) offer free shipping and free returns in Canada, which makes the process as easy as it can possibly be.

GAP has a number of different t-shirt styles in petite sizes. The most classic is probably the Modern V-Neck T-Shirt, which is a slim-fit tee with a supima cotton and modal blend, and just a little bit of stretch thanks to 3% elastine. It’s a good layering tee to wear under tops or sweaters, but can also be worn on it own:

GAP Modern V-Neck T-Shirt, size PXS. $24.95 CAD

In a petite XS, I found this to be too long and too clingy. It felt more like a regular length than a petite length. The fabric pulled and bunched and pulled around the hips. The minute I got this on, I knew it wasn’t going to work for me:

  • Pros: Classic styling, slim fit might work well on other body types.
  • Cons: Clingy fabric. Too long. Bunches at hips. Not flattering for pear-shaped petites.
  • Verdict: Thumbs down. There are better GAP styles for petites.

Another, more figure-flattering GAP style is their Vintage-Wash V-Neck, available in a range of colours in petite, regular and tall sizes.

GAP Vintage Wash V-Neck T-Shirt, size PXS. $24.95 CAD

Compared to the modern tee, the vintage-wash has a more relaxed fit, and is 100% cotton. In my size of petite XS, the fit on this one is decent — much better than the more slim-fit modern tee. But I still found it to be a bit long on me, especially compared to the much better-fitting (and cheaper) Old Navy tees. And, as an added downside, the fabric is quite thin and fairly see-through, which is definitely something I’m trying to avoid when it comes to a favourite white tee:

  • Pros: Decent fit. Cotton and comfortable.
  • Cons: Too long. Thin, see-through fabric.
  • Verdict: Thumbs down. Better than the modern tee, but not great.

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Banana Republic

The third and most expensive of the three sister brands, Banana Republic has long been a source of work-friendly wardrobe staples for petites. Their SUPIMA Cotton V-Neck Tees are available in sizes XXS to XL in both petite and regular sizes, in basic white and black. They are meant to be a slightly more upscale version of the similar offerings from GAP and Old Navy, with a slightly higher price tag to match:

Banana Republic Supima Cotton V-Neck T-Shirt, size PXS. $35 CAD

This is a v-neck tee with very minimal details. It has a slightly rounded hem, a relaxed fit, and is made from 100% supima cotton.

In my usual size of PXS, I found the fit to be generous, maybe even a bit big. The rounded hem isn’t the most flattering on a pear-shaped petite like myself, making me look sloppy and failing to define my waist. The cotton, while nice and thick, also seems to have a tendency to show wrinkles.

  • Pros: Luxurious SUPIMA cotton. Not see-through. Fits well.
  • Cons: Fit generous and a bit sloppy. Fabric shows wrinkles.
  • Verdict: Thumbs down. For the price, you can do better.

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Lord & Taylor

Sometimes it can feel like looking for that perfect petite t-shirt — the one with a classic fit that keeps its shape, has  opaque fabric, and looks great dressed up or down, is a bit like searching for a unicorn. Well, I’m happy to report that the Lord & Taylor Petite Essential V-Neck Tee is just such a unicorn:

Lord & Taylor Petite Essential V-Neck Tee, size PXS. $20.68 CAD

This basic v-neck in a cotton-elastine blend is one of my favourite go-to styles. It comes in a dozen rotating colours including classic white. I like that the fabric is thick enough to not be see-through, and just stretchy enough to flatter and hold its shape without clinging. The minimalist detailing makes this style timeless. In my size of PXS, the fit on this is about perfect, with the length hitting right at the top of my waistband:

Lord & Taylor will ship to Canada. If you don’t want to go that route, these are also often available at Hudson’s Bay.

  • Pros: Great fit. Holds its shape. Thick fabric that isn’t see-through.
  • Cons: Availability in Canada can be hit-or-miss.
  • Verdict: Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

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Style & Co. by Macy’s

Macy’s is a good go-to shopping stop for Canadians who don’t mind dipping a toe into cross-border shopping. Their house brand, Style&Co., is a good source for petite wardrobe basics at wallet-friendly price tags. Occasionally some of these items can be found at Hudson’s Bay, though availability can be hit-or-miss.

Style&Co.’s Petite V-Neck Pocket T-Shirt is a vintage-styled cotton tee available in a range of seasonal colours:

Style & Co. Petite V-Neck Pocket T-Shirt, size PS. $20.74 CAD at Macy’s

This basic 100% cotton tee has a curved hem, a v-neck that isn’t too deep, and single front pocket styling. I love the slightly heathered cotton that helps cut down on the see-through factor. The rolled sleeve also adds to the vintage style appeal.

I don’t actually own one of these in white at the moment, so here it is in another colour, just to show the fit:

  • Pros: Inexpensive, good fit, comfy, vintage appeal.
  • Cons: Fairly casual styling
  • Verdict: Thumbs up, but more for casual wear.

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Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer is another retailer with a decent selection of petite basics. Their Favourite V-Neck Tee is available in 15 different colours in petite, regular, tall, and plus sizes:

Eddie Bauer Favourite Short-Sleeve V-Neck T-Shirt, size Petite Small. $32 CAD

These 100% cotton tees have a classic slim fit and a slightly rounded reinforced neckline. The fabric has a nice weight and isn’t see-through. In a Petite Small — the smallest size available — I found this to be a bit too big; the body was slightly long on me. And, since the style is fitted, it clung in the wrong places and bunched at the hips. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either:

A note for Canadians: Eddie Bauer offers flat $10 shipping via FedEx on all Canadian orders, and free shipping over $125, but returns are an expensive hassle unless you happen to live near one of their Ontario stores. For us Montrealers, we’re stuck shipping back via FedEx, which can add up quick.

  • Pros: Fitted, nice weight to the fabric, classic
  • Cons: Too long, too clingy, expensive shipping and returns in Canada
  • Verdict: Thumbs down. Wish it were shorter.

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Lands End

Sportswear brands Lands End is another cross-border shopping source for basics in petite sizes. They have multiple t-shirts in petite sizes, including the Relaxed Supima Cotton V-Neck seen here:

Lands End Relaxed Supima Cotton V-Neck, size PXS. $27.60 CAD

This 100% Supima Cotton tee is available in a half-dozen colours in petite, regular and tall sizes. The fabric felt thin and cheap, and I noticed that it seemed to wrinkle easily. Plus, I found that even sizing down to a Petite XS didn’t really help the fit here, which was loose and boxy, albeit short enough for us short-torsoed petites. The boxy fit just ruined this one for me, though:

  • Pros: Comfortable, short enough for short-torseod petites.
  • Cons: Thin fabric, wrinkles easily, boxy fit.
  • Verdict: Two thumbs down. This is terrible.

Lands End has another t-shirt style that’s more fitted and less boxy — the All-Cotton Short Sleeve V-Neck:

Lands End All Cotton Short Sleeve V-Neck, size PXS. $27.60 CAD

The fit on this was much, much better. Less boxy, more flattering. The fabric felt thicker and more luxurious, too, and was far less see-through. And, best of all, this tee is actually short enough to properly fit my torso — a rarity! With the exchange rate and shipping, these are a bit pricey for what you get. Still, I quite like this one:

  • Pros: Actually short enough, good fit, nice thick fabric.
  • Cons: Shopping at Lands End is an expensive hassle for Canadians.
  • Verdict: Thumbs up, but ship to the border.

Note for Canadians: Lands End offers free shipping on purchases over $75, and $8 shipping otherwise. Plus, they tack on duties to your purchase. Return shipping costs $9.95 US (roughly $13 CAD). So shopping at Lands End is a risky proposition from Canada. Ship to the border instead if you can.

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The round-up

Ultimately, my favourites are the Old Navy Everywear for casual everyday, and the Lord & Taylor Essential for a bit of a dressier tee. The Style&Co. Pocket T-Shirt is also pretty decent, and the Lands End All Cotton Tee would be a great buy if it were easier to get in Canada. But the Old Navy and Lord & Taylor styles will likely remain my go-to styles.

I also have only focused on v-neck tees here, and haven’t showcased other necklines — mostly because I find a v-neck is the most flattering neckline on us petite pears, but also because I wanted to compare similar tees. I do find that a high-necked crew isn’t particularly flattering neckline on me, but I have a handful of scoop and round necked tees that I enjoy wearing as well. Try out different styles to get a sense of what works for your body.

There are a handful of other brands offering petite-friendly tees, including Caslon, Eileen Fisher, occasionally the odd one from ASOS or Anthropologie.Also, I’ve heard through the grapevine — though been unable to confirm — that UNIQLO’s tees, while not available in petite sizes, are made shorter and might work for some petites. YMMV.

But honestly, the stores listed above are a petite woman’s main reliable sources of tees. Personally, whenever I need to buy t-shirts, I usually wait for a sale at Old Navy or at Lord & Taylor and stock up on my faves.

If you, like me, are a short-torsoed petite woman who struggles to buy tees and tops, hopefully this was helpful. And I hope that more basic t-shirt brands will offer petite versions of their tees and tops in the future.

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