Back to Basics: The Hanes Beefy-T

Man wearing a white T-shirt
Image credit: Julian Myles on Unsplash

My store of T-shirts gets a lot of use at this time of year. The last gasp of summer is when I am most eager to eke out the last bit of use from all my warm-weather garments while the climate still allows, and T-shirts tend to top this particular list.

As a result, come the end of summer, my trusty tees are invariably gasping for a break after several months of hard work only to be thrust straight into the autumn shift. At this point they’re worn with increasingly heavy layers until rain and cold weather makes them wholly unfeasible as anything other than base layers. The best-looking ones are then granted some well-earned rest while the remaining crew of crew necks keep on slogging it out as underwear until springtime when the whole cycle starts again.  

Like most people, my closet is absolutely crawling with T-shirts. Band tees, merch tees, promotional tees, plain white tees, miscellaneous printed ones, ones bought as souvenirs, and ones gotten who knows how and who knows where. There are just about enough of them that at any moment they are liable to be condemned as a hoard and hauled away for my own safety. 

Despite this apparent zealotry, though, I’m not much of a T-shirt snob. There are plenty of clothing-based hills I’m willing to die on, but buying fancy cotton tops isn’t one of them. I’ve long been happy making do with the basics: Uniqlo, Fruit of the Loom, a bunch of old ones with labels now washed and faded beyond all recognition. Whatever looks, feels, and lasts well enough will do me just fine. About the only things I tend to insist on are that they are 100% cotton and (more importantly for our present purposes) that they have as small a price tag as possible.

Lest this sound like I’m advocating for a kind of disposability in clothing, rest assured that while I’m loath to spend a lot on T-shirts, I nevertheless insist on getting more than my money’s worth. Much to the chagrin of certain loved ones, I insist on wearing T-shirts to the point of discolouration or ragged near-transparency. In fact, like many a fan of well-worn vintage tops, I tend to like them more once they show the marks of having lived a little. Once mine have grown a bit too unsightly, though, they are given a second life as purely homebound leisurewear before eventually being retired to some other non-habilatory purpose (Making braided rugs has long been a favoured pastime in my family to this end). 

All of this puts me in mind of a recent article by Derek Guy at Put This On in which he usefully clarifies that cheap clothing and fast fashion are not synonymous. He points out that ‘many companies sell cheap, mass-produced clothes but aren’t fast fashion’ and goes on to list examples like Dickies, Carhartt, L.L.Bean, and — the brand I want to talk about here — Hanes.

Hanes has been supplying clothing basics since it was founded in 1901 in North Carolina by John Wesley Hanes. It’s best known for making affordable socks, underwear, and, beginning circa 1930, T-shirts. Hanes also has the distinction of being the first company to produce T-shirts for promotional purposes, specifically for the 1939 release of The Wizard of Oz

In later decades the brand would continue to dabble in canny marketing outings, such as celebrity endorsements in the 2000s by Michael Jordan, Damon Wayans, Matthew Perry, Marisa Tomei, and others. It has also branched out into sponsorships, including backing the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and collaborations, perhaps most famously with the streetwear brand Supreme.

Hanes’ best-known outing, however, has long been its flagship item, the Beefy-T. It came on the scene in 1975 and was apparently so called for being a heavier, roomier alternative to the typical T-shirts available at the time. The Beefy-T has been regarded as a staple ever since, including within the menswear set. Derek Guy himself has long recommended them as an affordable T-shirt option and a personal go-to.  

Despite the Beefy-T’s reputation as a reliable beater and my aforementioned long-standing love of cheap crew necks, I weirdly bought one for the first time just a few months ago. This oversight is down to Hanes not being as prominent where I grew up in South Africa and, it seems, in Britain where I live now. Since moving to the UK, I’ve mostly been contenting myself with the various wares I mentioned earlier. Having recently realised that my store of public-facing white tees was beginning to run low, however, I finally got myself one of these Beefy boys and have since worn it more than any other tee this summer. 

This prominent place in my shirt rotation is down to a couple of factors, fit being chief among them. Contrary to the erstwhile roominess cited above, I like that it has a classic fit that has also gotten a bit more snug with a few washes. This makes it ideal for the workwear-centred combos I’m drawn to on days when I manage to convince myself I can pull off a convincing James Dean act (I assure you — and this will surprise no one — I can’t). Also, counter to what the name ‘Beefy-T’ might conjure, it isn’t quite as thick as you might expect, clocking in at around 6.1 ounces per square yard (which is roughly 188 GSM or grams per square metre). It’s also made of ring-spun cotton, which makes it softer out-the-box, and is tube-knit to avoid the need for side seams, both being features that tick all the right boxes for T-shirt enthusiasts. 

Of course, the thing that I like most is the price, which, even with the present bout of price inflation, currently sits at around £12 on Amazon. At that price, I don’t imagine this will be the last one I’ll buy, especially given my penny-pinching proclivities. I just can’t help it: I like them as cheap as they can be, so, unsurprisingly, I bloody love a Beefy-T.

Flat-lay of a white Hanes Beefy-T shirt
Image is my own / All rights reserved