Sustainability is one reason: some of us (though many more are needed) have moved on from the notion of basics
being effectively disposable - a short-term, soul-destroying line of thought encouraged by fast fashion’s counter
movement of pricing such garments preposterously low, such that it hardly mattered if a t-shirt lost its shape or
discoloured after the first wash.
With textiles consumption responsible for some 10% of the EU’s environmental impact and with over half of clothing
ending up in landfill, buying less and better is the ethical choice. And that’s not to overlook the social impact:
ask yourself where the profit can possibly be in a £5 t-shirt - and there’s always profit - and the answer is in
squeezed worker pay and dodgy working conditions.
But the rise of the super-staple also reflects our broadly more casual way of dressing: clothing that used to worn
off-duty is increasingly worn in almost any setting - we no longer save our bucks for ‘statement’ pieces while
relegating expenditure on basics to a second thought. Clothing that used to be hidden under other clothes is now
centre stage; or, like accessories, have become deserving of more attention for the distinction they bring to
attire. If, as mother would warn, you can tell a man by his shoes, perhaps today his socks are more
With that has come a commensurate rise in clothing quality standards - even for our ‘basics’. This isn’t just
because quality lasts longer - assuming you’ve wisely paid over the historical odds for the labour that’s gone into
a garment, rather than the label that’s been sewn onto it - and so offers better overall value. It’s because it also
typically offers a better fit and, what’s just as important in garments typically worn next to the skin,
Rightly such products have to be fantastically well made to justify the prices. That Ka/Noa t-shirt, for example,
sees the jersey yarn-dyed from mako cotton and assembled with invisible stitching. Or those Pantherella socks, put
together slowly and so expensively with a 240-needle construction, in a fine micron wool of a quality more typically
used in better suiting and with the toe part hand-linked so as to be seamless. But all so that it’s durable and
Such standards may not be something a super-staple shouts - on anything less than a detailed examination, a white
t-shirt tends to look like any other white t-shirt - and that means such products are not the kind that everybody
gets. For some there’s a touch of emperor’s new clothes about it all. But for those that do get it, the experience
and enjoyment is in the wearing. One might even make claims to such products providing a touch of personal
validation in an uncertain world: because you’re worth it.
Maybe this explains why the clothing business is seeing the launch of more and more brands built less on a
lifestyle as a focus on a specific product category: a bid to make the very best of its kind, rather than to attempt
to make a little of everything. That, of course, is precisely the kind of approach that might be said to appeal
especially to the male mindset, not just because menswear is less subject to seasonal shifts in trends, and so freer
to put longevity first, but because men are partial to the anorakish attention of the specialist.
And to the thrill of the hunt. For basic basics are everywhere. But basics of a certain premium, that are simple
without being entirely generic, are still hard to find, precisely because - for the time being at least - demand
remains so particular. That too means we’re readier to pay for them when we find them. All basics are equal? Some
basics, it seems, are more equal than others.