Gone Shopping: One Man’s Quest In Search of Undershirts

A few months back, a reader wrote in with a few suggestions for my blog and while he was at it, he also wrote and contributed what turned out to be a wildly popular piece on why he likes to wear wifebeaters.

Well “C” in Cali is back and this time he decided to chronicle his experience at several of the big retailers while looking to replenish his undershirt stock.

Personally, my two favorite undershirt retailers have been Macy’s (for the variety) and Target (for the price). However, I now find myself looking to sites like freshpair.com, barenecessities.com, and hisroom.com for the sheer volume of undershirt brands, variety and styles they have on their sites is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Gone Shopping

Written By: “C” in Cali

Men may be programmed to be hunter-gatherers, but we seem to rarely hunt and gather at the local mall. Ask most males past puberty if they want to “hang” at the mall, and you’re likely to be told that the mall is one of Dante’s recently discovered lower circles and it is best avoided.

guy-shopping-for-undershirts

Sometimes, though, we must confront the mall rats, food courts, Muzak, and maps labeled “you are here” to restock undershirts. I recently set out to five brick-and-mortar establishments to freshen up my collection and, coincidentally, see how familiar retailers treat men’s undershirts.

My mall visit was not a scientific study, but going in search of undershirts at five national chains yielded some interesting insights. Both men and women buy men’s undershirts. This struck me as a worthy observation because I can’t imagine too many men buying women’s undergarments at, say, Victoria Secret.

Women seemed to spend less time in the men’s undershirt department than men. I noticed that most women shoppers searched for size, plopped a package in their cart or under their arms and moved on; most men looked for style, held to a package they liked and continued to look for a different package (and frequently bought both).

Lastly, I noted that men seemed more daring in their purchases, if you can call color-shopping and grabbing an extra package of a different style undershirt daring consumer behavior. No one but me seemed to consult a shopping list.I thought that T.J. Maxx, Target, J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Nordstrom would give me a cross section of undershirt styles and price points. Only T.J. Maxx was outside the mall.

Undershirts are seldom given prime location in the stores, and only Macy’s gave considerable square footage to the products. Now let’s go shopping.

T.J. Maxx

This is clearly the treasure-hunt store, and like an occasional treasure hunt, you can find something worthwhile. The undershirt department consisted of three short aisles with no real order to them.

Some of the packages had been slit open by ferocious undershirt buyers who had a need to touch the goods, and there were far too many stray shirts marooned in the metal pipe display racks. There was a surfeit of large and extra large sizes and almost more black and gray than white.

The marketing seemed to be “designer cheap” as I found 2(x)ist, Polo, and lots of Tommy Hilfiger T-shirts and tank tops among a host of no-name products. Prices were definitely cheap, but I left empty-handed because I feel that undershirts should be treated with respect.

Bottom Line: Hit or miss, designer labels at bargain basement prices, not a lot of loving in displays.

Target

This chain goes to great lengths in creating a pleasant shopping environment, even though burdened with shopping carts.

The mens’ underwear department is functional and generally tidy with undershirts relegated to two separate areas: the Target house brand—Merona—and the “Evolve” line from 2(x)ist are neatly packaged on hooks on the upper deck, while Hanes-land can be found in steerage across a back wall.

Packages are sorted in both areas by size, not style, so expect to find black T shirts near white athletic shirts. Target understands price points with almost everything at $9.99 adjusted only for quantity. A three-pack of Hanes wife beaters was $9.99, and a two-pack of what proved to be very comfortable Merona cotton/microfiber beaters was also $9.99. The Evolve line seems made exclusively for Target.

I noticed a similar pattern with Hanes’ “premium” packages. The premium high V-neck by Hanes is worth attention if you have shunned that style undershirt because of drooping vee lines that look just a bit nerdy and dated. If you prefer wife beaters, the premium athletic shirts by Hanes offer an interesting twist—literally.

The two shoulder straps are bound together with no real material inside the banding. This makes for a comfortable, sturdy, and highly functional beater—and at a great price. There were a few Fruit of the Loom offerings, but mostly in the boxer section nested among the undershirts.

Bottom Line: Easy to navigate the merchandise; limited brand selection, great value.

J.C. Penney

If you are a regular reader of Tug’s site, you know that there is a faithful group of people who are loyal to the Stafford line of Penney’s house-brand undershirts. Stafford is almost too well represented, monopolizing shelf space at the expense of other brands.

You will, however, find Jockey and the Levi (who knew?) brand of undershirts. And, for those with a long memory, this is one of those rare stores where you can still find the BVD brand.

I was feeling retro, so I bought a pack of BVD tank tops. They fit well and haven’t sagged on me yet. BVD also manufactures a particularly comfy boxer. Prices are in the low to mid category.

Bottom Line: Purely functional and unexciting. Dependable and reasonably priced, but not fashion forward.

Macy’s

The sheer variety of undershirt brands at Macy’s may make your torso spin. You almost need a guide book to the department. I counted over ten designer labels well represented in all styles, materials, colors and price points.

The undershirts are well displayed and neatly ordered in plexiglass bins with additional free standing display areas. Starting with T-shirts, you will find lots of Calvin Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren, and even Armani and Sean John. Jockey holds court, though, with lots of shelf space. A Hugo Boss offering of three cotton crew necks was appealing on the quality scale.

Prices are higher than in the three stores reported above with three Jockey T-shirts going for somewhere around $20.00. But, there are many stock-up sales, so look for frequent “end caps.” Macy’s had the greatest variety of V-neck shirts. Particularly interesting brands are the Jockey 3-D Innovation and Jockey Modern Classics.

The collars are higher and the V lines less sinking. The same variety of designers can be found in athletic shirts. Not much for the muscle T-shirt crowd, though a Jockey Echelon sleeveless was nice to the touch.

Bottom Line: The brick and mortar mother-lode of undershirts, strong style sense and high quality with commensurate price points.

Nordstrom

The service and just about everything else at Nordstrom is justifiable legendary. Of the five stores I toured, this was the only one where someone actually offered to help me find what I was looking for. Undershirts don’t get much star treatment, however.

T-shirts and V-neck shirts were represented by Calvin Klein, 2(x)ist, and Polo. A Hugo Boss athletic shirt had wide banding on the arm holes and a look of comfort, but do I really want to wear Hugo’s name? The Nordstrom brand was represented in only T-shirts and V-neck shirts. No tank tops were to be found in a store brand.

Prices are surprisingly reasonable, in line with Macy’s and other higher end department stores.

Bottom Line: go for the shopping experience, not for the undershirts.

The undershirt purist may spend more time out of the box (stores, that is), but what made for an enjoyable shopping spree at these familiar places was the fact that at least some of the national chains are making efforts to go beyond plastic-packaged “three-fers” and looking to bring variety to what has too long been a staple purchase.

In case you’re wondering, my final tally was: six micro-fiber Merona white tank tops from Target, four white Jockey modern classic cotton V-necks from Macy’s, and for old time’s sake, three ribbed gray BVD beaters and tartan boxers from J.C. Penney.

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