We Tried the New, No-Wash T-Shirts

Made of natural-fibre blends, these tees purport to stay fresh for multiple wears. Our men’s fashion editor attempted to make it through a month without stinking up the joint

By guest author Jacob Gallagher, the Men’s Fashion Editor at Off Duty for the Wall Street Journal, where he also writes a weekly column on style trends

Dirty Laundry

captions courtesy by WSJ

“DO I SMELL?” Over the past month, that question ran through my head during nearly all of my waking hours. For roughly 30 days, I have worn three T-shirts that are marketed as needing less frequent washing due to their odour-resistant and moisture-wicking properties. Instead of relegating them to the hamper after one wear as I do with regular cotton tees, I shook them out, praying a few hearty cracks would eradicate city stenches and any armpit musk. For the most part, it worked: Throughout my month of stink testing, I never detected any foul aromas. And, yes, my nose works.

As the environmental costs of fast fashion come to light, more retailers and clothing brands are turning to innovation to shrink their footprint on the planet. Some are working to eliminate their use of plastics. Others are developing new kinds of sustainable fabric. Designer Eileen Fisher, who spoke at last year’s Future of Everything Festival, offers a resale program for her clothes. 

Two of the three shirts I tested contained merino wool, which is said to resist odor naturally thanks to the fibre’s waxy coating, lanolin. Though merino-wool outdoor gear has been around since at least the mid-1990s when REI-type brands like Smartwool emerged, labels including Outlier, Unbound, Wool & Prince and Rhone have more recently begun to market basic merino-wool and wool-blend shirts for everyday wear.

On the day we spoke, Taylor Welden, a 35-year-old freelance industrial designer and senior editor at travel-gear website carryology.com, was wearing an Unbound merino-wool T-shirt for the fifth day in a row. “It smells brand new. It looks brand new,” he reported enthusiastically.

The shirts could certainly appeal to eco-conscious sorts who want to use their washing machines less, or fans of Marie Kondo’s joy-sparking approach to limiting one’s earthly stuff. Or travellers looking to maximize their carry-on capacity, like Zach Boyette, 27, an entrepreneur who has worked remotely while traveling for three years. The shirts have “totally changed the game for me,” said Mr. Boyette, whose entire T-shirt wardrobe consists of five Wool & Prince merino shirts that he tucks in his carry-on.

So, how often do you really need to wash these ambitious garments? Mac Bishop, the founder of Portland’s Wool & Prince, said he goes 20-plus wears before washing. Still, common sense prevails: If you spill coffee on the shirt, it is not going to magically evaporate. Just wash your tee. Mr. Boyette noted that if he is in a particularly hot place, he’ll wash his merino shirts more often.

With these guidelines in mind, I tried a black Unbound all-wool T-shirt, a cream-colored 78 % wool – 22 % nylon Wool & Prince T-shirt and non-wool one from New York company Pangaia. They all worked on the odour-resistance front. But, the woolly tees from Unbound and Wool & Prince clung itchily to my chest. I also struggled psychologically with the creamy hue of the Wool & Prince shirt’s natural undyed wool; it made the T-shirt look less fresh than one of pure-white cotton.

I preferred the T-shirt I tested from Pangaia, made of organic cotton and seaweed fibre and treated with peppermint oil. According to the brand’s website, the seaweed is moisture-absorbing and the peppermint oil has antibacterial properties. This shirt fit and felt like cotton but did not absorb scents like it. Alas, the brand printed its logo and the shirt’s composition on the shirt’s front. This regrettable detail let my co-workers detect too easily that I was wearing the same shirt, day after day. After day.