A reader wrote me a while back and asked whether or not it was ok to wear an undershirt by itself. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to take the time to write up a proper response, but I was able to turn to my friend Antonio Centeno, founder of A Tailored Suit and individual style expert who came to my rescue! He works with a talented group of young men who have been focusing on menswear and style, so we decided to ask one of them to take on the task of writing an article that addresses this particular topic.
Of course, I will put in my 2 cents at the end of the article as always so you can get my take on the subject matter. Here’s the reader’s original email:
love the blog, quick question for you. I am a long-time wearer of white crew-neck undershirts (now currently wearing Alfani). I’m picky about how they look, and usually have two requirements 1. thick collar. 2. tight fit (I’ll even buy a size smaller sometimes). My question for you is when it is ok to just wear an undershirt with no top over it. I usually do this on weekends when running errands, or if I’m in a club on a weekend and it gets hot, I’ll take my buttondown/pullover off when i’m wearing an undershirt. Someone told me recently that it looks bad, my thoughts are as long as the undershirt is not skimpy looking but fits well and looks good/clean, there shouldn’t be an issue. Any further guidance on this.
By Kyle Mountain
The undershirt is an extremely useful article of clothing. They’re very light, they help absorb perspiration, they add an extra layer in cold weather, and they’re very comfortable. The can be worn under t shirts, sweaters, dress shirts, and many other articles of clothing. Although the traditional function of the undershirt is well-known, many have asked whether the undershirt can be worn alone – as in, not under anything. To better determine the answer of this question, I’ll look at the pro’s and con’s of wearing an undershirt alone and then give my take on the question that has many guessing.
Reasons TO WEAR an Undershirt Alone:
- They’re very light
- Can be considered “casual”
- Requires minimal effort
- Will give a “clean” look
- Can be worn with nearly anything
Reasons NOT TO WEAR an Undershirt Alone:
- Undershirts are usually tight fitting – tighter than your average t shirt.
- They’re “under” shirts for a reason.
- Can’t wear an undershirt with them! (Sweat management issue)
- Display somewhat of a “rebellious” statement.
- May look disproportionate (ex. tight shirt with loose fit jeans)
My Take – I do not think men should wear undershirts alone, and here are my reasons why:
1) It wouldn’t be an undershirt if you didn’t wear it under anything. If you wear it with nothing, it simply becomes a t shirt – a very tight t shirt.
2) Undershirts are meant to be tight fitting so they hug the body. To wear one without anything else would demand, for one, that you have the proper physique to actually pull off a look like that. Someone of a thin and/or built stature would be in the minority of those who could actually wear it, but even then, it seems like a bit of a desperate attempt at attention seeking. It’s going to clearly show your body complexion and definition, but isn’t one of the points of wearing clothes to mask that a bit and leave some mystery to onlookers? Wearing an undershirt alone will bring attention to you, but probably in a negative way, as if you’re trying to flaunt.
3) Another issue with wearing undershirts alone is that you can’t wear an undershirt with them! If you’re going to wear one alone, the climate will have to be warm, maybe even hot, and if that’s the case there is a good chance that perspiration will find its way onto your shirt, once again drawing attention to yourself in a negative way. There’s almost nothing worse then having visible stains on your shirt, especially if they’re sweat stains – that has a way of simply ruining your whole day.
4) Another negative aspect of wearing an undershirt alone is the fact that it may manifest a disproportionate look within your wardrobe. Wearing a tight-fit shirt with a loose-fit pair of jeans might make your legs look bigger than you want.
Some may say that wearing an undershirt alone is a good look because it’s casual, light, clean and it requires minimal effort. I agree, but partly because the same thing could be said about a t shirt. If the shirt is not as tight as an undershirt, it’s a great look, but then it suddenly becomes a t shirt, no longer an undershirt. A looser-fitting, plain white t shirt is a great casual look, but at that point it’s no longer an undershirt. Undershirts, to my understanding, are meant to hug the body comfortably and tightly, so when they become looser, they’re not really undershirts anymore. Plus, another good thing about wearing a regular t shirt is that you can wear an undershirt or wife beater under it to help keep the sweat off the t.
Overall, part of me wants to accept the look of just an undershirt as ok because I am a huge undershirt fan – I wear one every day, no matter what, and I always wear one to bed as well. Although part of me wants that, the other part of me has to respect and agree with what the undershirt is – a shirt meant to be worn under something else.
So Tug, what’s your opinion?
Well, I’m glad you asked! First off, I want to address one of the points that Kyle made in his “Reasons Not To Wear” section:
- Undershirts are usually tight fitting – tighter than your average t shirt
It’s really funny that we haven’t addressed this point here before, but Kyle is spot on in saying that a properly fitting undershirt should be tight fitting. He’s not saying that an undershirt should be tight and uncomfortable. He’s actually saying that undershirts should fit close to your body and not have any excess fabric bulging out anywhere and to this point, I couldn’t agree with Kyle more.
I’ve long been a fan of light, fitted, stretchy undershirts that are cut longer mainly because they hug my body, keep me cool, don’t add any extra bulk under my outer clothing and they rarely, if ever come untucked. Now, as I see it, the problem with the most popular “average” undershirts (e.g. Hanes, FoTL) is they are more box cut and made out of cotton that isn’t as forgiving and stretchy as it should be. The problem is, that these undershirts either fit too loosely or are too snug and uncomfortable. They rarely, if ever fit the wearer “properly”. I mean, think about it, how can one undershirt pattern, cut to a set of generic sizes in a fabric (normally 100% cotton jersey) that doesn’t have a lot of stretch to it properly fit everyone? Answer: It can’t.
Disclaimer: Of course, Hanes & FoTL undershirts do fit many average sized guys ok. Also, Hanes & FoTL make a very reasonably priced product that most people can afford, so one could logically make the price/fit trade-off, depending on their own personal circumstance.
To make problems worse, since that IS the case, most guys wind up buying the larger sized undershirts so they’re not uncomfortable. This means they are are actually too big to be proper fitting undershirts, but they are baggy enough to wear casually by themselves. See, most of us guys are not in “perfect” shape. So, if we buy an undershirt that fits us properly (form fitting), we’re less likely to wear them by themselves because they wind up exposing all of our bodily flaws to the rest of the world. If we buy baggy undershirts (which most guys do), we can easily throw them on like we would any other t-shirt.
All the above ultimately manifests itself into guys wearing their plain white undershirts like they do any other t-shirt.
With all of the above said, this is my position on whether it’s ok to wear an undershirt by itself (for casual attire only):
- If your undershirt is clean, crisp, and fits and looks just like a regular unfitted casual t-shirt, go ahead and wear it
- If you’re in great shape and can pull off wearing a fitted shirt, as long as your undershirt is clean and crisp, go ahead strut your stuff – just make sure it’s not see-through. We definitely don’t need to or want to see your nipples
- If you’re bumming around the house or going to the gym, heading to the beach, walking your dog, or washing your car, feel free to wear your undershirt as long as it is clean
- Regarding the original reader’s question on whether or not it’s ok to take off his outershirt while at a bar and just wear his undershirt, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t recommend it. Of course, there could be circumstances where it would be ok. For example, if you’re at a beach bar and it’s beach attire, if your undershirt is crisp and clean and looks like a regular casual t-shirt, it’s probably ok
- Tank Tops / Wifebeaters – For better or worse, this article of clothing has become a staple in the american male’s and female’s casual wear attire. In general, I would offer the same general guidance to guys when wearing this type of undershirt. They can be worn by themselves at the gym, going to the beach, or other similar casual activities ONLY if they are clean, crisp, and look like standard tank tops. Otherwise guys, please stay away from wearing your ribbed tank top undershirts when you’re going out. If you really want to wear a tank, and its suitable attire for the venue you are going to, go out and buy a real outerwear tank top which will be made of a thicker and nicer fabric than your standard “wifebeater” ribbed tank top undershirt.