Could the Deep V-Neck Be Making a Return?
The unexpected comeback of the ultimate emblem of mid-2000s metrosexuality
Left: Dries Van Noten runway, Paris June 2019. Photograph by IMAXTree. Centre: Rick Owens runway, Paris June 2019. Photograph by Estrop/Getty Images. Right: Prada runway, Milan January 2019. Photograph by IMAXTree
I have some news. It’s a little bit shocking. Are you sitting down? OK, here it goes: the Deep V-neck is making a return. Yes, the Deep V – aka the “Get Lost In My Bermuda Hair Triangle”, aka the “Oh My God Did All Your Clothes Get Stolen And This Was The Only Thing Left At Topman And They Were Actually Giving Them Away Because That’s How Unpopular They Are?” – T-shirt is back.
One could of course argue that the Deep V never really arrived – a piece of clothing that only ever danced around the edges of the mainstream, along with Mr John Mayer’s idea of wearing two polo shirts at once, and Mr David Beckham’s sarongs. Yes, in the mid-2000s, there was a period where a Deep V, worn with skinny jeans and dirty hair, signified a certain rock ’n’ roll lassitude that people seemed to think was acceptable at the time. But while, in the meantime, the skinny jean has gone from strength to strength, its former wardrobe mate has nigh on disappeared. That is, until this troubled year of 2019.
Like Batman in the hands of Mr Christopher Nolan, the Deep V has a long and tortuous origin story. Where exactly did this unlikely garment come from? Well, T-Shirts – crew-neck ones – have existed since the late 19th century. First they were the top half of a thin cotton jumpsuit or “union suit”, hacked into two sections by labourers on sweltering summer days. Then in 1904, the Cooper Underwear Company (which is still going by the way) made the first manufactured T-shirt for the masses. They swiftly became a US military staple, but social etiquette dictated that they must always be worn under other items and never, ever seen on their own.
But in 1955, Mr James Dean and Rebel Without A Cause happened. Costume designer Mr Moss Mabry paired Mr Dean’s all-American appeal with a red nylon jacket, Lee 101 Rider jeans and, of course, a white T-shirt. The screen vibrated with his brooding, moral decay, which spoke loudly to a generation of lost teenagers.
Since then, T-shirts have become part of the fabric of social history. Highlights include punk-era Ms Vivienne Westwood and her trompe l’oeil corset T-shirt, Ms Katherine Hamnett wearing one of her anti-nuclear tees when she met British prime minister Ms Margaret Thatcher, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood telling us all to relax. Today, we’re drowning in politically- and socially-charged slogan T-shirts that are available from every corner of the internet, at every possible price point.
But what about the history of the V-neck? Unfortunately, its backstory is far less readily available. In fact, no one is really sure why it was created, but it was probably so that men could wear an invisible layer under their summer shirts when they wanted to undo the top button. (Sidenote: Was the past really cold? Why this constant need to layer under things, even in July?)
However, by the 1970s, V-necks (shallow ones) had graduated to a top layer. Your dad probably wore one with cut-off denim shorts, knee-high socks and sneakers. And boy does he look good in those sepia photos that your mum strokes lovingly when she’s pawing through the family albums. Of course, adidas is the most memorable hawker of this look, with its original trefoil three-stripe tees still popular today. Thus the look stayed until the 2000s, when a more playful attitude to V-necks began to emerge and with that came the Deep V.
This shift was largely down to metrosexuality – remember that? It was those three years when men were actively encouraged to be more fragrant, to try headbands and sport jeans so skinny they couldn’t walk downstairs in them. The Deep V gradually became the archetypal metrosexual piece, and wearing one was the boldest and most eloquent way of communicating that you spent time and money on your appearance, and that you were proud of that.
Mr Rick Owens, Paris June 2019. Photograph by Estrop/Getty Images
So what exactly does a deep-V T-shirt say today? Five years ago, I would have replied that it says – no, screams – a big fat no. Where did that monstrosity come from? Why is it being made? Who is it for? Post-metrosexuality, the Deep V always seemed like the wardrobe equivalent of WKD: tacky, unappealing and definitely a last resort. I would avoid the man wearing it on a night out and also, possibly, feel a little bit sorry for him. Did he lose a bet?
But something has shifted. Two months ago, Mr Rick Owens sent models down the runway in floaty examples of deep (deep) V-neck T-shirts that matched their floaty hair, and I’ll admit I was bemused at first. Mr Owens himself has always been a proud exponent of the Deep V (and wore one that dipped all the way down to his abs at his latest show) – so I assumed this was just one man's quixotic quest to make them happen.
Upon further investigation, however, it seems Deep Vs, or at least V shapes, are everywhere, but now they’re no longer relegated solely to T-shirts. Prada and Gucci are weaving them into their covetable chunky knits; Jay-Z and Mr Donald Glover are wearing bold-hued suits with gold chains and, deep breath, nothing underneath. At his SS20 show, Mr Dries van Noten unzipped and unbuttoned jackets and shirts to the navel, exposing slivers of chest and pectorals in a way that no longer seems aggressive and attention seeking, but instead is relaxed, sophisticated, and only a little bit flouncy. The Deep V has transcended the mere T-shirt. It is now more an idea than an item. It has been redefined, reformatted, and is consequently sidling into photocalls and creeping onto the catwalk and – goddammit – it works!
But why is this happening? Perhaps it has something to do with social mores – masculinity is currently in a very strange place. As we all are encouraged to take a long hard look at the world in which we live – and how we conduct ourselves within it – men are being asked to relinquish any adherence to the traditional notions of masculinity that would’ve once governed their forefathers. And that’s a good thing. Because when you don’t have to operate within a strict framework, you can really start to express yourself. And as those rules slowly disappear, so too do the associations we have with certain items of clothing, and the people who wear them.
No longer must you be a man who documents his work-out and smoothie routine on Instagram or aspires to be part of Love Island 2020 or waxes his chest in order to wear a Deep V. Instead you can pair them with whatever body, and attitude, you like. And, yes, why not, even a chain. Because like the suit with no shirt (the commando suit?) and the man who believes in rejecting worn-out notions of what a man should be, Deep Vs are still resolutely masculine. But they’re also playful, insouciant and irreverent. In many ways they're just as rebellious as Mr James Dean’s white T-shirt was when he wore it all those years ago. We’re convinced – well, sort of. Are you?