Today we’ll be comparing two staples of men’s clothing, muscle shirts and tank tops. We’ll also explore where to buy a muscle shirt, and why you should wear them.
This article comes from my buddy C in Cali who broaches the topic of men’s muscle shirts and how and where they might fit in a man’s undershirt collection.
What Are Muscle Shirts?
As its name implies, the muscle shirt likely got its start in the gym, where its lack of sleeves provides for flexible body movement.
Somehow, this shirt conjures up an image of something you wear when pumping iron or washing the car.
But, can it be taken seriously as an undershirt option for business wear? And why isn’t it a more popular choice?
The muscle shirt is not a mainstream undershirt choice for a few reasons: it requires that its wearer has a better than average physical shape.
The shirt itself lacks “bling” and reduces the undershirt choice to pure function over fashion. Then, there is the question of whether its lack of sleeves is intentional or the result of someone’s frustration with the yellow stains on their crew neck T-shirt sleeves.
They also don’t appear to have much of a following: when did you last see one worn in the movies or on a television show? (Apologies to Tony Danza).
Why I Wear Muscle Shirts
Selecting an undershirt style can be a challenge because we each have our own take on comfort and image.
Crew neck T-shirts, V-neck undershirts, and tank tops provide us with unique benefits.
It’s not surprising that a crew neck T-shirt is often the default undershirt because it’s a safe choice: not edgy like a tank top or “properly” fashionable like a V-neck. Aside from these mainstream styles, there is yet another undershirt style that often seems ignored — the muscle shirt.
Where To Buy Muscle Shirts
Before we dive too deep into how to wear a muscle shirt, let’s jot down a few good buying options.
The best way to find them is as follows:
- Try searching for “muscle shirt” on Amazon, like this one. To refine your search further, add either “men” or “women,” depending on who you’re buying for.
- Visit Google Images, and do the same search as above. You’ll quickly find various options available at Walmart.com, Startee Apparel, Overstock.com, Old Navy, or Next Level Apparel.
Can You Layer a Tank Top Under a Muscle Shirt?
Generally speaking, sleeveless muscle shirts are athletic wear, worn alone. That said, some men prefer to wear them as undershirts as well.
So, I was a bit surprised to read in TUG’s blog that a reader asked about layering a tank top under a muscle shirt — not so much for the perfectly valid layering question as for the admission that at least one reader faithfully wears a muscle shirt.
Should we follow suit and add the muscle shirt to our inventory of undershirts?
I decided to test drive one to see if I could answer that question.
What I found was warmth, comfort, ease of movement, a clean look beneath a dress shirt and a strong need to get to the gym more often to give the shirt its due
Muscle Shirt vs. Tank Top: Trade-Offs
Before adopting a muscle shirt, be prepared to make lots of undershirt trade-offs. Let’s pit them against each other in a tank top vs muscle shirt challenge.
First off, a muscle shirt is a hybrid that borrows from all three popular styles. Like the crew neck and the V-neck, it offers nearly full coverage and a high neckline to keep you warm and well presented.
The Upside: It is generally inconspicuous so that the real attention can be focused on the outer shirt (and those bulging muscles). Like the tank top, it affords ease of movement and comfort because it has the athletic shirt’s open arm structure.
The Downside: Due to its lack of sleeves, the muscle shirt does not prevent yellow stains on cotton shirts like the crew neck or V-neck because it has no barrier layer against perspiration or deodorant stains.
It also lacks the considerable freedom in the neck area provided by the tank top. Unlike the tank top or V-neck, the muscle shirt can show an unappealing wedge of white with an open-collared shirt.
But, it comes without the tank top or V-neck show-through lines.
Sounds like wearing a muscle shirt is an exercise in compromise. But, there remain some good reasons to consider adding them to your undershirt inventory.
4 Reasons to Wear a Muscle Shirt
1. Fit and Shape
Aside from image and our perceptions of comfort, a deciding factor in choosing an undershirt style is whether we seek full coverage or partial coverage.
The muscle shirt appeals to the former camp since it is really little more than a sleeveless crew neck T-shirt. This, of course, is ideal for cooler climates or for men who like to cover skin and chest hair.
And, if you like full coverage around your neck, the muscle shirt obliges. It fills out the torso and, if properly maintained, keeps its full body shape.
This coverage helps provide a nice pallet for a good dress shirt for professional wear.
If you fall into the partial coverage camp, a muscle shirt doesn’t measure up because, aside from the lack of sleeves, it’s “another” crew neck T. What sets it apart is its lack of sleeves.
This means that you can throw your arms in the air without fear of pulling or tearing the shirt. You’ll also bypass the crew neck problem of having sleeves “ride up” as the shirt ages, or as you move.
The lack of sleeves also offers a little more cooling in warm weather.
In short, what the muscle shirt lacks in uniqueness, it makes up for in its simplicity and functionality.
Though some might think the shape of the muscle shirt looks unfinished, that’s the point: the sleeves are deliberately missing.
2. Muscle Shirt Comfort
We all define comfort in different ways.
The muscle shirt is comfortable with the exception of the high neckline that some of us find confining.
I rarely wear crew necks and muscle shirts because I don’t like the tightness around the neck. You can avoid this by wearing a v-neck muscle shirt or a tank top.
One great thing about muscle shirts for men is that they cover our torsos well, without the annoyance of sleeves.
Unfortunately, some manufacturers use heavy material or bulky collar lines.
If that is not an issue for you, you will find the muscle shirt comfortable. Especially if you are accustomed to crew-neck shirts.
A versatile undershirt is one that you can wear as a base layer in more than one setting.
By that definition, the muscle shirt is a versatile garment.
There is a downside to crew neck muscle shirts, however. Like crew-neck t-shirts, a crew muscle shirt will be visible when you are wearing a shirt with an open collar. This distracts from the dress shirt’s color and style (stripes, solids, or checks).
Even worse, a conspicuous undershirt beneath a polo shirt can come across as a little nerdy, so versatility may not extend to casual occasions unless you wear it alone. For example, you could easily wear a muscle shirt solo to something like a cookout, the beach or the gym.
4. Overall Appearance of Sleeveless Muscle Shirts
As its name suggests, the muscle shirt is not for everyone, especially considering that its overall appearance is dependent on the wearer’s body profile.
Sadly, not all of us have the necessary profile to do the shirt justice. This may account for the shirt’s lack of mainstream wear.
But, even without the necessary goods to adopt these shirts for their intended use, muscle shirts can be put to good use as an alternative to your usual undershirt style selections.
If you’ve worked hard at developing a good body and strong arms, go for it — it will accentuate the results of your hard labor better than other undershirt alternatives.