Undershirt or T-shirt

Undershirt or T-shirt

Q. What is the current appropriate undershirt neckline? When I wear a dress shirt without a tie, should the T-shirt show at the neck, and when I wear a white dress shirt, what should show through? Is it really necessary to wear a T-shirt under a dress shirt?

A. You seem to be using the terms, undershirt and T-shirt interchangeably. Men often interchange the two, but the truth is they are two different garments with two different purposes.

They are different in several ways: An undershirt is supposed to be worn and not seen, and a T-shirt is an item of clothing that is designed to be seen. While an undershirt is actually underwear, a T-shirt is streetwear (a polo shirt without a collar or buttons). If you go into a brick and mortar store to buy them, they are in two different departments: men’s underwear and men’s sportswear.

The undershirt has a few functions:

  1. By providing a sweat buffer, this inner layer protects your dress shirts from sweat and from deodorant stains;
  2. It prolongs the life of your shirts; and
  3. It is an extra layer that can help keep you warm. Investing in a quality undershirt is a low-cost way to ensure that your shirts look better and last longer.

Even though it is useful, an undershirt that is visible can spoil a stylish outfit. Wearing a crewneck undershirt that shows at the neck of an open shirt is a very casual look. It was popular awhile back when wearing an open-at-the-neck shirt with khakis or jeans. But nowadays, when men often wear dress shirts without a tie and with dress trousers, the look has changed. Not only does the visible undershirt fabric break the smooth visual line, but it is like revealing your underwear. Not the best look. Stylish men prefer the extra layer under their shirts not to show. A visible undershirt under your dress shirt is distracting and can ruin an otherwise elegant appearance.

In my opinion, the only time to wear a crewneck undershirt is when you are wearing a tie and plan to keep your shirt buttoned. With an open shirt, a V-neck undershirt is your best choice so it does not show.

As to whether a tank top type undershirt (that old-fashioned scoop necked and armless style) is a better option: Because of their low neckline, tank tops are not visible – a big plus. But their disadvantage is they are cut so low at the arm that they do not protect a dress shirt from perspiration.

On the other hand, a T-shirt is a poor choice as an inner layer. By definition, a T-shirt is a casual collarless knit sport shirt. Its thicker fabric is bulky and results in visible sleeve lines that can show through from under a dress shirt. It won’t give you the smooth fit you want under a shirt.

A well-fitted undershirt smooths out the torso so your shirt lies flat across your body. All undershirts are not equal. Better quality shows in the fit and fabric. Be sure it fits closely and has small armholes. Too-big undershirts cause bunching, resulting in a sloppy look. And if it’s not long enough, it comes untucked easily. The ideal fit is one that conforms to your body as closely as possible while still allowing you comfort and freedom of movement.

As for fabric, thinner, high quality cotton is best. It eliminates visible chest hair, tattoos, and any skin imperfections that could show through a light-colored shirt. Also, you want to hide any signs of the undershirt itself, so it is not visible through the shirt’s fabric.

You asked why you should wear an undershirt at all under a dress shirt. The most important reason is to protect your dress shirt. An undershirt helps absorb sweat, preventing it from reaching your shirt. No one wants visible wet armpit stains. Finally they help your dress shirts last longer.

The answer is what you want seen. A dress shirt is intended to be the focus, an undershirt peeking out, perspiration showing, ridges that are visible, all distract. When you want to be casual, then wear a nice T-shirt and show that off.

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MAKE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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