Undershirt Etiquette to Follow in Professional Settings

Have you ever wondered if it was more appropriate in a “professional” setting to go with or without an undershirt? What undershirt etiquette should be followed when wearing in an office and other similar environments?

Well this reader needed some expert advice.


Begin email

Henry Wants to Know about Undershirt Etiquette in Office Setting

Hey Tug,

undershirt wearing etiquette
An example of undershirt abuse and how you should not wear it.

I’m a huge fan of your undershirt blog.

After years of going undershirt-less, I realized that my very pale skin combined with my very dark chest hair resulted in some less than appealing outcomes for my outfit.

So, I started looking for undershirts and came across your blog.

I went with the Calvin Klein Flexible Fit crew neck and they have been pretty good so far.

They were a little pricey, so I only bought two at the time starting out.

They worked great under my button up shirts with a tie.

When the Problem Started

Fast forward a few months. I have just started a new job.

On the second day the only people wearing ties were me and the director of the place, so I knew the tie had to go after that.

The environment at this place is pretty casual. However, my position is such that it requires that I toe the line between projecting professionalism while still not looking too uptight and serious.

So, the compromise I came to was wearing button down shirts with the top collar button undone.

While previously I was always wearing my undershirts with a tie, so the collar wasn’t a concern, it is suddenly a concern since I have that collar unbuttoned.

I went out and bought some Calvin Klein Flexible Fit V-neck shirts, since they’re on sale right now and I needed them, thinking I could wear these with my shirts and not expose the collar of the undershirt at all.

For some of the shirts this works while for others it shows parts of the V (which I suspect is unacceptable) because with even one button unbuttoned, the neckline on the button down shirt plunges somewhat.

What Undershirt Wearing Etiquette to Follow?

I have seen a lot of men here in New York City sporting button down shirts with the top button unbuttoned with crew neck collars proudly exposed.

My understanding is that this is generally not a terribly fashionable thing to do.

However, if it’s that or show off my hair through my shirts, I’m going with the exposed crew neck collar.

Is it ok for the crew collar to stick out, assuming I want to convey that professional but not uptight image?

Or, do I need to find a V-neck undershirt with a neckline low enough that it won’t show at all?

If so, do you have a brand/shirt recommendation?

Or, could it be that a V-neck is OK even if it’s exposed a little?

On another note, how do you feel about the short sleeves on undershirts showing under a dress shirt?

Again, I have to hide the chest hair, so the shirt is a necessity for my white and light colored shirts, but you can sort of see the sleeves sometimes.

Cardinal sin or just something that people see and don’t really care about?

Obviously there’s a lot here, so feel free to pick and choose whatever you think is most interesting or relevant.

Again, love the blog and I hope I hear from you.

Thanks. Henry


End email

Undershirts in Professional Settings: My Response to Henry

Hey Henry,

I think I’ll make an article out of this, but to get you started, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts with you.

Exposed undershirt

If you ask any image consultant, you’ll likely hear this is a fashion crime punishable by death.

The truth is, though, that you see lots of guys doing just that.

I’m not suggesting that since they do it, it’s OK, but as long as your undershirt is crisp, clean, and has a nice collar on it, there’s really no harm in having your undershirt show through.

One way to make it less noticeable would be to wear a black undershirt with darker colors and a white or grey undershirt with lighter colors.

undershirts in professional settings

Chest hair showing

According to the rule book of undershirt etiquette, generally it’s not good to have chest hair showing in a professional environment.

If a v-neck won’t cover up your chest hair, wear a crew or an undershirt with a higher v-neck.

Alternatively you might want to consider trimming down the chest hair a little with your beard trimmer.

Although I don’t have a hairy chest, I started “manscaping” my chest about a year ago and I actually like the way it looks when trimmed.

Also, this allows me to wear a v-neck undershirt more often too.

Sleeves showing through

This really isn’t a problem at all.

I’d much rather see an undershirt showing through a dress shirt than hair, sweat, nipples, etc.

It tells me that a guy cares about his appearance enough to do something about it.

You might try wearing a grey undershirt under light colored shirts to see if it and the sleeves show through less than a white undershirt.

I’ve heard this many times before, but just have not taken the time to compare.

Recommendations for undershirts in professional settings

Well, there’s a ton out there to choose from.

For your particular need and if you’re looking to save a little money, you might want to try visiting a store like Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Mervyn’s, or Tuesday Morning and look for clearance undershirts made from a cotton/spandex blend.

Hope the above information helps out!

Keep me posted on what you decide to do and how it works out for you! thanks again for writing in!

Best,
Tug

Henry’s Response

Hey, thanks for your reply.

What you wrote is largely the conclusions I had come to myself.

I ended up opting for shaving at least the exposed part of my chest (my chest isn’t hairy enough for it to look odd or anything with a shirt off if I only shave that small area), wearing the v-neck and I think it’s been pretty good.

I have to agree that I think it is ideal to not have the undershirt showing if one is going for maximum professionalism, but I don’t think it is a capital crime or anything, fashion-wise or professionalism-wise, to let it show.

Obviously, I will need to try some things out over the next week or so to really decide how I feel overall, but I think I have a pretty good idea of where to go from here.

If I have any major revelations in the coming weeks, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Thanks for your advice and I hope the article turns out well.

Image credits: Featured image courtesy of Getty Images. Business casual look image above, courtesy of QG.com (The Guide To Business Casual)

Closing thoughts:

After looking through an hour’s worth of photos of some of the more current and trendy business casual looks using button down shirts, it seems pretty practical to be able to wear your button down shirt with one button open at the top and neither expose chest hair (if you weren’t wearing an undershirt) or your undershirt.

Follow the undershirt etiquette if you do have an outfit that exposes your undershirt. Be sure to keep it subtle and stylish!

8 thoughts on “Undershirt Etiquette to Follow in Professional Settings”

  1. Well, you have to differentiate what’s’fashionable’ from what looks good. Typically, the two couldn’t be further apart. An exposed crewneck looks cleaner most of the time. Some places tell you a plunging v-neck is what should be worn, but unless you’re a woman trying to show off what the doctor just gave you, this isn’t true. I mean, I guess they might be acceptable if you’re in the process of transitioning as well…

    Reply
  2. Dear Tug and H,
    My name is iris Zveibil, and i am a fashion designer. i read this letter as i read many others, and had to barge in.

    what H have been writing is the exact reason why my partner, Prof. Dudi Schwartz came to me for solution. Even Al dictated on his replay another problem that the undershirts are very warm although i disagree with Al that its OK to see the undershirt. Ever since the cowboy look men thought that it is OK to see the undershirt. Maybe even some think it is a “men’s look” but the fact is the crew neck gives a horizontal cut that makes you look with a shorter neck.

    since most men wear undershirt for personal reasons, (cover hair chest, sweat, etc) I would refer to the undershirt as the “Torso underwear”, since you don’t walk around with your underwear showing (unless you’re a teenager like my son :) you should not show your undershirt.

    About the hair trimming question, I believe it is a good solution, it gives a neat appearance. An aesthetic look, always gives a good impression. you shave your beard, its OK to trim a bit.. go for a deep v-neck undershirt which are hard to find but worth the search.

    good luck
    iris

    Reply
    • hey iris, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts about how to best wear an undershirt and what to look for.

      i see you and the professor have created a new undershirt product called shirt-less. did you want to send over a sample so i can take a look and share the news with my readers?

      if so, please email me directly at tug [@] undershirtguy [dot] com. thanks!

      Reply
  3. That picture of the guy in the oversized blue shirt and pleated pants?
    The exposed undershirt is the absolute LEAST of his problems…

    Reply
  4. A note about V-necks is if I wear a necklace, it tends to pop in/out as I move throughout the day. It’s annoying to me, so I’m still with crew-neck. And it’s costly buying shirts to find the right V-neck depth.

    Reply
  5. thanks for the input al!

    just to clarify – i don’t think i ever said men don’t look good with an open collar and a dark crew underneath. i just made one suggestion of pairing a dark undershirt with a darker shirt so your undershirt didn’t stand out as much :)

    for what it’s worth, i sometimes wear a black tank top under a white summer linen button shirt and i think that looks ok.

    Reply
  6. I think the white or blue button down dress shirt with the top two buttons open with a black crew undershirt is a heck of a good look. I see it all the time. I think it was popularized by NBC’s Brian Williams as he wears a white shirt (sort of a safari shirt) over a black crew or t-shirt when he is out of the studio on assignment.

    I’ve been wearing cotton Ts (Lands End) under my dress shirt but they are very, very warm, even in the winter. I’ve switched to a Poletarc poly shirt I get a REI which is much thinner and seems to breathe a whole lot better.

    I have to disagree with the undershirt expert here. Most men seem to look pretty good with an open collar and dark crew under it.

    Reply
  7. There is a prevailing thought that it’s not acceptable to wear an exposed undershirt, even though so many men do it. I would argue that because so many men do it, that it’s absolutely acceptable.
    The picture posted of an example is a problem because the guy’s clothes don’t fit properly, and his shirt collar is way unbuttoned. With one button unbuttoned, the undershirt is not a focal point.
    Bottom line: let your individual workplace be the barometer. If you are the only one in your office that is weaing an exposed undershirt, and that will make you uncomfortable, go for a deeper V-neck.

    Reply

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