The Hunt For LA’s Most Expensive T-Shirt

LA Vida: The Hunt For LA’s Most Expensive T-Shirt by Caleb Bacon
These Probably Aren't The Most Expensive T-Shirts in LA | Photo by Caleb Bacon for LAist

I recall a point early in the Bush Administration where I overheard an in-the-know friend dub Los Angeles “home of the $1,000 t-shirt.” I then heard it a few more times. It made me curious. But not curious enough to seek the pinnacle of casual couture. If a four-digit price-tag could be found attached to a t-shirt, I thought it best be discovered by someone else.

All of the talk on the Official Recession shook the above thought to the front of my mind. This created a sudden itch, needing scratching. I wondered in this troubled economy how much was the most expensive t-shirt in Los Angeles? Would it fetch $1,000? Would I desire to add it to my wardrobe? Or would it be so ugly it could be considered a modern art masterpiece?

This LAist scribe has decided to set out on that mission. There will be a few guidelines, of course. The buttonless, collarless t-shirt must be sold in Los Angeles County. Sorry ladies, it must be a men's short-sleeve t-shirt — this is our domain after all. It's also not limited to cotton. If the most expensive t-shirt in Los Angeles is made from bald eagle feathers, so be it (though that's pretty messed up.)

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The Great T-Shirt Hunt ‘09

I don’t imagine generic mall-hopping will yield Los Angeles’ most expensive t-shirt. I need to set out to shopping destinations loathed by the frugal. I’m guessing that the t-shirt I seek will probably be a product of an internationally fabulous designer, or a local up-and-comer trying to make a name. I'll visit LA's priciest and trendiest neighborhoods hoping to find such a garment.

Before leaving the comfort of my apartment I warm up my vocal chords before my bathroom mirror. Mispronunciation of a high-end sales clerks deified Euro-Bosses may yield stabwounds. That, and I don’t want to be labeled as one with hilltown roots. Perhaps that’s because it’s not that far from the truth.

Givenchy: Gee-vahn-shay...
Dolce and Gabbana: Gah-bah-na like ba-na-na...

Rodeo Driving

If you had asked me, while growing up in Upstate New York, where do the country’s most affluent shop, I would’ve quickly blurted out Beverly Hills. Years later my answer’s the same. I start at Rodeo Drive, and will be moving south, as I’ve found some free parking near the Beverly Hills sign. I quickly note the Giorgio Armani Boutique -- Mister Armani’s West Coast hub for his best and brightest threads.

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D&G, Rodeo Drive

A statuesque saleswoman wonders can she help me. “Take me to the boutique’s priciest men’s t-shirt.” She finds my particular curiosity unique and she guides me to a plain black t-shirt. My fingers glide over the perfectly-folded garment. They would be smiling if they could. This classic t-shirt is crafted from the sort of fine cashmere that civil wars are fought over.

Statuesque Sales Clerk: Mister Armani wears this very shirt daily.

If you’ve seen a picture this Italian Stallion, you’ve seen him in this shirt. I produce the hidden price tag and feel beginner’s luck upon me. This plain black t-shirt would fetch the royal sum of $1,850.00 plus tax.

Statuesque Sales Clerk: And here’s a light virgin wool sweater. It’s $3,000.00...

I move on. I don't want to be confused for a customer.

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Cotton Isn’t King

A trip to Dolce and Gabbana gives me the feeling that the City of Angel’s costliest t-shirt wasn’t going to be your typical cotton shirt. Their limited edition hand-painted t-shirt fetching $1,495 (left) turns my thinking in that direction. Quick math tells me $1,495 will buy me five of their normally priced shirts. Normal price being $295. After seeing a $995 polo shirt my mind wonders if $295 is a bargain.

Yves Ste.-Laurent's priciest t-shirt is cashmere, and it’s $795. Their finest cotton offering peaks at $600. Brioni has a silk t-shirt for $600. Versace’s near-museum boutique could only produce a $500 t-shirt.

Burberry, Zegna, Gianfranco Ferre and Louis Vuitton only have cotton, all priced $400 and less. By this point anything under $800 feels like a waste of my time. I note I’ve never felt this way. There’s something nice about it.

Gucci And Prada

Gucci’s white v-neck featuring a colorful nude mermaid comes in cashmere for $1,395 (right.) And, as some prefer hardcover novels to their lighter paperback counterparts, this same shirt could be had in cotton for $495. (If you’re using this article as a shopping guide, this shirt could be yours at Barney’s for $30 less.)

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The Prada store is quite the sight. It’s worth a trip unless you have a fear of intergalactic discotheques. They’re not big on short sleeved t’s but a silky long sleeve will only set you back $830. It must be ideal garb for an otherwordly Euro-rave.

Highest-End Department Stores

I hike up five floors to Barney’s Men’s department. I query a clerk in a well-fitting suit as to his store’s most expensive t-shirt. He thinks nothing of it, but struggles to answer as though this exchange occurs hourly, and the solution mysteriously slipped from between his ears. He tries to distract me with the new artsy t-shirt from Alexander McQueen for $295. It's "very popular" I am told. I scoff at this backwoods, thrift store effort. It's fun.

Neiman Marcus’ equivalent sales clerk was most proud of his store’s $625 Tom Ford t-shirt. I scoff more audibly this time. Does this man know what haute couture is on the shelf over at Armani? Beverly Hill’s swankest department stores fail me.

Signs of the Recessed Times

I find luxury shops not immune to hard times. Nowhere was a place priced to move as Hugo Boss on Rodeo. They don’t have any t-shirts over $150. Bright orange deep-discounts offers were featured on most racks. Rodeo Drive sported a few storefronts vacant save for For Lease signs. Some still feature remains of their recent failed tenants.

Today’s Trendy Brands

Having had enough of the international high-end, I move on to find the prized threads of local celebutants. They dwell on Melrose’s and Robertson. That’s where I’m off to, knowing garish, sparkling, colorful t-shirts are ahead. I ready my sunglasses.

On the most paparazzi-friendly block of Robertson you’ll find Kitson and Lisa Kline. I approach a modelesque employee at Kitson. She doesn't have the classic look of her Rodeo Drive equivalent, I bet there's a place for her in Maxim.

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Me: What’s your most expensive t-shirt?
Kitson Hottie: Great China Wall, $695.

She expels this with such quickness and surety that the ...“of course” is more than implied. Lisa Kline Men’s hot-girl next-door clerk couldn’t find anything for more than $150. Weak.

Today’s designs by Ed Hardy creator Christian Audigier seems unparalleled in popularity. At least taking a walk through the bottle service area of a Hollywood nightclub makes one think so. But I don’t covet these threads. Good thing, because Ed Hardy and Christian Audigier both let me down. They didn’t have the decency to sell a t-shirts for more than $200. Actually, Christian Audigier had a shirt on his signature label for $218. But it took rhinestone studs to earn that price.

I quickly shoot up the coast to Freecity’s Supershop in Malibu. Their logowear can also be found at Fred Segal. Their priciest t-shirt, only $230. I can only find joy in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean.

Fred Segal’s famous 75% off sale throws a wrench into my trip. The store was awash in thrifty seekers of high-profile threads. In fact the sale made it tough to figure out what was what at Fred Segal’s highest-of-high merchant Ron Herman. I run out of there. Don't they have the decency to put $1,000 t-shirts on prominent display? Don't they know that I shop...err, almost shop there?

I leave Melrose, thinking that it and Robertson are just nephew's to Rodeo Drive. I'm ready to crown Mister Armani winner of LA's Most Expensive T-Shirt. Good thing gold goes with black.

Mission Accomplished

I end my day with a victory iced coffee at Starbucks. I’m a bit famished and decide to take advantage of Starbucks’ recently expanded quick-food offerings. I go for their fruit and cheese "plate." I grab my wallet, firmly clutch it for an extra second as I realize they want $8 of my hard earned cash. I peel off a few bills, one at a time, and say goodbye to eight whole dollars. It sort of hurts.

I sit eating some not-quite-the-right-temperature cheese. My thoughts are of the afternoon. If I was to add up the price of each of those t-shirts, a mortgage down payment could be made. My brain computs what kind of luxury car could be purchased for the price a box of those Armani t-shirts.

This sort of thinking was making me anxious. After a minute I realized the anxiety was familiar. It was a friend. My body exhaled relief. I knew I was back to normal. I’m not supposed to enjoy such mountainous price-tags. I wear t-shirts priced with two-digits. I’m the guy that writes the weekly column Recession Obsession. I romanticize value. I hope you do too. We’re in a Recession you know!

The Most Expensive T-Shirt in Los Angeles: Giorgio Armani Plain Black Cashmere T-Shirt $1,850

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Photos by Caleb Bacon for LAist

What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a t-shirt? $1,850? Comment below!