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Tees, Please

The t-shirt.

It was propelled into popularity when Marlon Brando bared his (and his biceps) in A Streetcar Named Desire.

(That's right... I'm using my Apparel History classes!!)

They are an iconic part of American fashion.

We dress them up and down. Buy them in every color imaginable. Wear them to say where we have travelled, who we are voting for, our favorite team.

Wearing t-shirts as a means of self-expression became popular in the 1960's.

For me, it began in my teens.

I learned to screen print as a middle schooler.

By high school, I was buying men's white undershirts and using puffy paint to personalize them. (Puffy paint? Boy, did I just date myself.)

Throughout high school and college I designed spirit shirts and shirts for extracurricular clubs, getting to know my local screen printing shops and the language of their trade.

After graduation I moved to Seattle. Walking home from work, I passed some of the hippest thrift stores in the city. I filled my closet with vintage tees, washed and washed into a velvety softness, with that just-so fit that couldn't be emulated new off the rack.

In my mid 20's, I was creating the fit I sought by buying used men's t-shirts (usually with beer logos) at thrift stores, cutting them apart, and reassembling them.

The body changes. We age. Gain weight. Endure long hours in the office, pregnancies. Take-out and happy hours catch up to us in our thirties. We adjust our work place wardrobe to styles that suit a rounder self. We play with current fashions that flatter for date night.

But a t-shirt worn with jeans doesn't lie.

How do we come to terms when our once go-to no longer fits in a way that makes us feel good? I avoided t-shirts after having my twins. My uterus was...ambitious. I had to dress carefully to avoid comments about my "current" (read: none-existent) pregnancy, especially from customers at work. When I was 9 weeks pregnant with Eli, I started showing. After maternity clothes, I wore tops that accommodated breastfeeding, then went straight into a wardrobe that disguised the fact that I was in too much pain to wear a bra...baggy necklines that offered port access... button down tops for access to surgery drains.

Function function function.

It wasn't until this spring, when I started playing again, really playing, with my kids that I started missing my fun t-shirts.

And so we begin: what is my new perfect tee?

My requirements are: skin is ultra-sensitive after radiation.

-Breathable...natural fibers are a plus. Pima cotton? You're speaking my love language!

-Fitted without being binding...I have this weird thing about feeling trapped in my clothes.

-Plain or unique Nike Swoosh for this girl.

-Hold up in the wash without skewing (when the side seams twist to the side) or pilling.

-Flattering length.

I decided to test drive the contents of my t-shirt drawer for you. If you struggle with some of the same body issues that I do...breast removal, belly weight, radiation damage... hopefully you may find this post helpful.

If you don't share these issues? Well, perhaps you can at least chuckle at my attempts to be a fashion model. :)

Like my other posts on finding clothes after a double mastectomy, this isn't sponsored. I really did pull all of these t-shirts out of my dresser. (And one slightly damp off the line...can you spot it?)

I've scooped up many of these through off-price retailers like Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, and Zulily. But I have provided as much helpful information here as possible.

My Favorite Screen Printed Tees

Life is Good, Classic Fit

Women's XXL

50% Cotton, 50% Polyester

Things I love:

Flattering length and fit.

Super soft and lightweight...I've worn it for Hot Yoga and it dries within 30 minutes.

Vintage inspired screen prints.

Not crazy about:

A bit of pilling (I've been wearing and washing mine all summer) around the tummy and underarms.

Where I got it: Zulily, $12.99

Shop for your own here.

Life is Good, Fitted

Women's XXL

100% Cotton

Things I love:

Super soft.

Holding up really well in the wash.

Funky and fun screen print, and contrast stitching offers a fun pop of color on the side.

Not crazy about:

This might be a size too big for me. While it's comfortable, it looks a little sloppy around the hips, and the neckline shifts with movement.

Sunscreen on my radiated skin is a must with this style. If you're sensitive about yours showing, this neckline probably scoops too deep.

Where I got it: Zulily $8.99

Shop for you own here.


Women's 1X

50% Polyester, 37% Cotton, 13% Rayon

Things I love:

The slogan. Obviously. Don't be afraid of a graphic on your chest after a mastectomy.

This sleeveless top is cut as if it's waiting to have dolman sleeves sewn on, so some fabric covers the shoulders and a bit of the upper arms.

The flattering notches at the hips.

Not crazy about:

It's a little loose in the chest area.

The pilling (only recently, and it is about a year and a half old) makes it scratchy.

Let's talk about pilling for a minute. For cost savings, often the softer fibers in a blend (the cotton and the rayon, in this case) are short and/or weak (low quality). Over time, or with agitation, the strong polyester can break the other fibers, and the frayed ends roll into tiny balls...this is how pills are created. Washing in cold water, a gentle cycle, using a sweater or lingerie bag, and line drying can all help extend the life of a garment made with blends containing cotton and rayon.

Where I got it: Nordsrom Rack (probably about $25)

Shop the brand here.

I was a little surprised when I saw the photos of the next three grey novelty T-shirts. I know this...I've said this....Yet it was still eye-opening to see it on the screen....

Fitted is more flattering.

Next Level Apparel

(Men's? Women's?) L

50% Polyester, 25% Cotton, 25% Rayon

I've been self-conscious about wearing this shirt because of how fitted it is. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the pictures.

What I love:

Quality construction.

The length of the sleeves.

Not crazy about:

It's thicker and less breathable than the Life is Good Classic tees.

Still looks a little tight.

By the way, for you Chip and JoAnna Gaines fans, #DEMODAY is from the Magnolia remodel in Waco, Texas.

Jason and I got a good laugh over the placement and sentiments of the graphic. Too bad I didn't have it in time for my double mastectomy!

Where I got it: I stole it from my husband. It was a Father's Day gift from his parents. #terriblewife #fixerupperfan

Fifth Sun Premium Apparel

Men's XL

50% Cotton, 50% Polyester

What I love:

It fits a little looser than the #DEMODAY t-shirt.

It's comfortable, lightweight, and allows for free go-to for work around the yard and house.

Not crazy about:

These tees were designed to look and feel vintage. This one has a lot of pilling, and the other shirt I bought at the same time is literally sheer from washing.

Where I got it: Target, Young Men's Department, $12.99

Shop for your own here.


Men's XL

50% Cotton, 50% Polyester

What I love:

Very soft, high quality fabric,

Mickey Mouse makes my kids smile.

Not crazy about:

The fit looks much sloppier than I thought.

Where I got it: Marshalls, $6.00 on clearance!

You can buy this Mickey Mouse t-shirt at Target, but it is lighter weight and runs like my NASA t-shirt above.

Dressy Tees

Banana Republic

Women's XL

100% Viscose

What I love:

Banana Republic doesn't disappoint on quality.

Viscose is a high-end version of rayon...silky soft, not clingy, and unlikely to pill.

Flattering scoop at the hemline.

Breathes well, and, like the Signorelli tee above, its technically sleeveless.

The scoop neck is feminine, but not very deep...plenty modest for scars and radiation damage, or the full coverage bras needed with prosthetics.

Not crazy about:

Nothing really. It's seriously one of my favorites...I bought it in three colors.

This was a seasonal offering at Banana Republic (I got it last fall), so all I can recommend is that if you find something similar, take the time to try it on.

Ava & Viv

Women's 1X

100% Modal

What I love:

(Insert crying emoji.) What went wrong? This tunic from Target's plus size trend line doesn't look at all like I envisioned. It's a drapey, soft modal (another plant-based, man-made fabric like rayon), lighter weight than the viscose tee from Banana Republic.

I'm not crazy about:

I assumed the high-low hem and A-line cut would flatter my fuller figure. But seeing these photos, I realize that the tunic continues to flare out after hitting the fullest part of my belly...and what I thought was downplayed is accentuated. Bummer.

It is also baggy in the is apparently cut for a full bustline. Kudos to Ava & Viv for making this accommodation for the typical plus size customer...just not a win for me.

If you're a more classic pear shape, with less belly and more hips, this would probably be lovely on you!

"I'll teach you a yoga pose, Mommy. This is the airplane."

Where I got it: Target, Women's Plus Size, $24.99

I didn't see it on Target's website any longer, but this dressy tee by Ava & Viv, with a deep slit at the hips, looked similar, and quite pretty.

Gratuitous photo of super cute preschooler. You're welcome.

LuLaRoe Randy

Women's 2XL

95% Rayon, 5% Spandex

A raglan (baseball) tee wouldn't necessarily be on my "dressy" list if it weren't for the fabrication. This is a slinky, clingy rayon with a little stretch.

What I love:

Buttery softness.

Roomy sleeves.

A thousand color combinations and prints available.

Not crazy about:

The fabric isn't very forgiving of my...umm...jiggly bits.

Where I got it: LuLaRoe consultant, $35.00

You can find a local LuLaRoe consultant here.

Or shop with one of mine...Cyndi, Morgan, or Allie.

Favorite Work-Out Tee

Z BY zella

Women's 1X

63% Polyester, 32% Cotton, 5% Spandex

What I love:

Very fitted for yoga. (I've worn loose t-shirts and ended up with them hanging around my face during certain poses.)

Enough substance to feel like there's almost a little tummy control.

Light enough to dry within minutes.

Not crazy about:

There's obviously some empty space meant for breasts...for working out, I don't mind.

Where I got mine: Nordstrom Rack, $19.97

Shop for your own here.

The black leggings in this post are also Z BY zella. They are high waisted, offer tummy control, and were dry on the line in 30 minutes. I love them, and wish I had gotten three more for my yoga classes! (Nordstrom Rack, $29.97)

Who would have thought I'd have so much to say about such an unassuming staple? If you made it through this entire post...cheers! I hope you found it to be a bit helpful.

If you're a survivor, what do you find to be the most challenging clothing item to shop for post-treatment? Why?

Do you prefer shopping online? In a brick and mortar store? Have you tried pop-up boutiques like LuLaRoe?

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