The real star of The Bear is Carmy’s perfect white t-shirt | Fashion

Why has The Bear, an American series ostensibly about a Chicago restaurateur, become the most talked about men’s fashion show on television?

The answer comes down to one item of clothing: a white T-shirt. In nearly every scene, its chef protagonist Carmy Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White, can be seen strode through the kitchen, temples bulging, sweat reaching the sizzling point, in a perfect white T-shirt that does. look like the James Dean of the kitchen. pass.

The T-shirt comes from Merz b. Schwanen, a German brand that began manufacturing its iconic white shirts after the brand’s current owners discovered that their company still had an old loopwheel factory from the 1920s, complete with the original loopwheel cotton cylinders. They got the factory back up and running, making shirts in a way similar to how they would have been made 100 years ago – knit as one continuous loop of fabric. The only difference now? They cost just under $100.

The bear’s choice of T-shirt is no accident, however. Carmy Berzatto is an award-winning New York chef who has been shaped by the city’s macho culinary culture. In the opening episode, it’s clear he’s also a vintage fashion obsessive, with so many immaculate pieces that even his home oven is stocked with vintage Levi’s and denim jackets. As his restaurant struggles to pay his bills, he reluctantly sells his 1955 Levi’s Type III trucker jacket.

Sure, he’d want a T-shirt that has the authenticity of vintage American workwear, but the price tag of a filet mignon.

Cristina Spiridakis, the pilot’s costume designer for The Bear, said these choices were meant to reflect Carmy’s sense of perfectionism. “It was never intended to be ‘elegant’ per se…” she told GQ. “Carmy is a person who appreciates quality and classics, items that last, that aren’t fussy or trendy – things created with respect for the item itself.”

He’s not alone – the market for high-end white t-shirts has exploded in recent years, following the success of British basics brand Sunspel, whose plain white t-shirts sell for around $70. This brand became so popular that they ended up dressing both Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.

“For many, it will seem absurd to pay so much money for a plain white t-shirt,” says Michael Fisher, creative director of trend forecaster Fashion Snoops. “But one thing that will always be constant in menswear is the fetishism of things like t-shirts, denim and other workwear styles.” Just this week, someone paid $76,000 for a pair of vintage Levi’s found in a mine shaft. “There’s definitely still a market for high-end classics that come with a backstory,” he says. “Being aware of a lesser-known brand is really more valuable to a lot of guys than wearing runway designers.”

White t-shirts were first mass-produced for the US Army, which ordered shirts and boxers for every soldier in the early 20th century. But they became an iconic fashion piece in the early 1950s after Marlon Brando’s A Streetcar Named Desire and James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause, in which the two actors played on the military sense of masculinity but added a sense of rebellion post-war. The Bear may be nodding to a particular kind of retro masculinity, but from Saint Laurent to Celine to Main Street, the white T-shirt remains a key part of every menswear moment.

But is it worth paying so much for a t-shirt? I ordered a Merz b Schwanen shirt, and it arrived in a brown wooden box with a leaflet about its history, looking more like a bottle of whiskey than underwear. It looked and felt light, and clung to my body well and didn’t lose its shape throughout the day.

But the real test was in the kitchen – and as I prepared to cook my breakfast, the obvious problem with The Bear’s fashionable vanity was exposed. It’s absolutely terrifying to cook in a $100 white garment knowing that even the tiniest drop of hot sauce could render it essentially worthless. Perhaps it’s a true testament to Carmy’s culinary skills that he’s confident he can get through the day with the ever-immaculate shirt, but with a denim apron. But by frying an egg on the entry level, I can’t wait to dive back into something less expensive.