What garment that nobody sees can still make or break your outfit?
It has a huge influence on your outfit’s comfort and fit.
Also, how you wear it can determine whether you look stylish or sloppy.
Years ago, when more men wore a shirt and tie to the office every day, undershirts were seen as an essential. Nowadays, they can be confusing, especially for men who are new to all-day, every-day business attire. So, should you be wearing an undershirt? And what do you need to know about this often-overlooked layer? Read on to find out.
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#1. Should I Wear An Undershirt?
The purpose of an undershirt is to minimize sweat and deodorant stains on the rest of your clothes. It extends the life of dress shirts because it allows them to stay cleaner. You can wash them, say, every other time or every three times you wear them, rather than on every single wear.
It also makes dress shirts and suits look neater by providing an extra layer below a light dress shirt, hiding your nipples and chest hair so they don’t show through.
Long-sleeved and thermal undershirts are designed specifically to adapt a dress shirt and trousers or a business suit to cold weather. This is a good trick for making your wardrobe more interchangeable, since it’ll allow you to wear similar outfits through more seasons.
You’ll most likely want to go without an undershirt in very hot weather (an extra layer on your core organs is not what you need in the middle of July). The rest of the time, wear one.
#2. What Is An Undershirt?
An undershirt is a base layer, so it is not meant to be seen. Showing your undershirt is showing your underwear: not stylish.
A good undershirt should be tight-fitting and slightly stretchy in order for your other clothes to completely hide it. It should also be lightweight to avoid visible lines or looking bulky.
#3. History Of Men’s Undershirts
Ancient Chinese and Roman soldiers wore undershirts to protect their outer clothes, which were usually handmade and expensive to replace. In more recent history, he US Navy and Coast Guard issued undershirts for warmth and sweat protection, and they are still part of military uniforms today.
The T-shirt as we know it came from military men wearing their undershirts on the outside – a look that seemed much more revealing and sexy at the time than it does now. It was popularized by Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Wild One” and by James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”.
#4. Men’s Undershirt Styles
- Tank top – sleeveless, doesn’t do much to absorb sweat, just hides nipples. Tends to show visible lines through a shirt. Best avoided.
- V-neck – allows you to leave your top shirt button undone without showing your undershirt. A deep v-neck undershirt won’t show even when the top two shirt buttons are unbuttoned.
- Crew neck – the one that evolved into the t-shirt. The most common undershirt on the planet. Wear this when you wear a tie – the line of a ‘v’ neck will show under a fully buttoned dress shirt. Don’t wear a crew neck if you plan to take your tie off unless you have a lot of upper chest hair or a tattoo or mark you want to hide.
- Long sleeve – for warmth, often thermal underwear.
- Compression – for flattening lumps and bumps such as gynecomastia (man boobs).
#5. Men’s Undershirt Colors
Wear an undershirt that’s close to your skin tone. It doesn’t need to match exactly, but if it actively contrasts with your skin color, your undershirt will be very visible under your regular shirt.
A dark gray, brown, or black undershirt blends in against darker skin tones. If you have a lighter skin tone, light gray, beige, or white undershirts will work best for you.
A white undershirt under a white shirt on a white guy can be surprisingly obvious, and light gray can make a thin shirt look dingy, so if you can’t find an undershirt to match your skin tone, you may look better without one under very lightweight shirts. Check before you leave the house.
#6. Men’s Undershirt Fabrics
Undershirt fabric should be fairly thin and stretchy to prevent it from showing through. You have a wide choice of good options:
- 100% cotton is durable and trustworthy. Go for a higher-quality cotton like Egyptian or Pima cotton if possible.
- Another good choice is stretch modal blends, a combination of cotton and synthetic fibers that create a smooth look and stretchy feel that retains its shape.
- Merino wool is amazing – you can wear it for over a week without smelling. It comes in lighter weights (under 190 gsm) for warmer weather too.
- Finally, there are modern technical fabrics, often synthetic, that are specially designed with sweatproof or moisture-wicking properties.
#7. How Should An Undershirt Fit?
Your undershirt should be close-fitting with small armholes to prevent wrinkles and allow it to absorb sweat under your arms.
Don’t get one that’s TOO tight – it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. The ideal fit conforms to your body as closely as possible without restricting you.
Make sure it’s long enough to stay tucked in and make sure the neck opening is about the same size as your dress shirt collar. You especially don’t want bunching around your neck: not only does it look bad, it’ll annoy you all day.
As with most clothing purchases, when it comes to undershirts, you get what you pay for. Cheaper undershirts are often baggy, causing unsightly bunches of fabric around your waist. A well-fitted undershirt smooths out the torso so your shirt lies flat across your body.
#8. Can I Wear A T-Shirt As An Undershirt?
In general, no. T-shirts are thicker and looser and it will show.
The exception to this is when you’re bundling up in the winter and your under-t-shirt is lost under thick layers. But at that point, it’s more efficient just to wear a thermal or henley instead.
#9. Can I Wear An Undershirt Alone?
Not a good look. Today’s mass-market undershirts are tighter than t-shirts and cling to your body. Even if you have the physique to pull it off it, looks a bit desperate for attention. It can also mess with the proportions of your outfit, making your legs look awkwardly large, especially if you pair a thin tight top with thicker and looser jeans.
The last reason not to wear an undershirt alone? You can’t wear an undershirt under it to absorb sweat. Under an actual t-shirt, you have that option.
#10. Men’s Undershirt Rules
A quick summary of what we’ve learned today:
#1. Undershirts are underwear. Don’t let them show unless they’re hiding chest hair, tattoos, or other marks.
#2. Your undershirt should be thin, stretchy, and close-fitting.
#3. If you have light skin, your best undershirt colors are white, light gray, or beige.
#4. If you have dark skin, your best undershirt colors are brown, dark gray, or black.
#5. Collar and tie? Wear a crew neck.
#6. Collar, no tie, smooth upper chest? Wear a deep v-neck.
#7. Collar, no tie, hairy upper chest? Wear a crew neck.
#8. Tank tops are a waste of time.
#9. Your t-shirt is not an undershirt.
#10. Your undershirt is not a t-shirt.
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