The Top 7 Differences Between Undershirts & T-Shirts

I’ve always found it interesting how society, as well as companies gravitate to using certain words, even though what they are really talking about is something different. For example, undershirts vs t-shirts, deodorants vs antiperspirants, and plenty of other things.

The difference itself may be subtle, or it may not be.

Take these examples to clarify:

When People Say ThisThey Actually Mean This
Pit StainsPerson sweating in the underarm area
Wife-BeaterRibbed tank top
UnderwearUndershirts and Underwear

Sometimes, the confusion comes from society itself, but sometimes it’s a by-product of how the market describes its own products. You might be thinking how could anyone possibly mix up undershirts and regular tees.

Case-in-point, some of the the major Undershirt/Underwear companies don’t label any difference between undershirts and regular tees.

In other words, they describe and market their undershirts as “T-shirts”.

jockey undershirt vs t-shirt referring to undershirts as t-shirts in their online navigation

To this day, I still do not quite understand the rationale behind this. That is to say, it just feels confusing to me.

I would love to hear from one of the majors who currently do this and learn why it is so.

Undershirts vs T-Shirts: Casey’s Confused!

Here’s a question from a reader who was curious about this very topic:

Hi Tug,

I just recently discovered your blog and was wondering if you could do a compare contrast of Hanes undershirts and regular tees.

That would be awesome.

Also, do you have any suggestions on how to prevent undershirt shrinkage in the wash?

My white Hanes always seem to shrink. Could that be because I use hot water when washing my whites?

Thanks for your time!

P.S. Some of your posts and comments (i.e. sending the guy from AGT free undershirts) make me think you’re a genuinely nice guy, and that’s great to see on the internet!

The Difference between Undershirts and Regular Tees

Hey Casey!

Good to hear from you buddy and thanks for your question and kind words :)

The simple answer to your question about the difference between Hanes undershirts and their t-shirts is fabric weight. Undershirts are usually made with lighter/thinner fabric so they offer coverage & protection, without being too warm to wear under clothes.

T-shirts generally have heavy fabric/thicker since they are typically worn alone.

I’m super sensitive to fabric weight and prefer wearing thin, lightweight undershirts. So, you won’t normally see me trying to sport a typical tee as an undershirt.

If the t-shirt is super lightweight, then maybe, but there are several other differences between undershirts and t-shirts. See the top 7 differences down below.

To Fight Shrinking

Shrinkage is kind of a complicated question to answer. But, when there’s a problem there’s a solution too.

Many things go into why a tee shirt or undershirt will shrink, but the best way to minimize shrinkage is:

  1. Wash in cold and then hang or lay flat to dry
  2. Purchase undershirts that are pre-washed/pre-shrunk

Since fabric is made on a regular basis, you’ll likely find the shrinkage to be slightly different from purchase to purchase. Of course, that depends on whether or not the company has done a really good job in maintaining quality assurance making the shrinkage in each batch of fabric roughly the same – which they should be doing.

Hope the above information helps out. Let me know if you have any other questions!

Top 7 Differences Between A T-Shirt & Undershirt

T-shirts are generally thicker so they can be worn by themselves.Undershirts should be thinner — to keep you cool.
T-shirts are mostly worn by themselves, without an undershirt. They come in direct contact with sweat, body oils, and odors. They should be washed after every wear.Undershirts provide a layer of defense between your body and your shirt. They will protect your shirts from sweat, stains, & odors. Since your outer shirt will stay cleaner, you may wear it more than once before washing.
 T-shirts are shorter, so they can be worn untucked, without being too long.Undershirts are longer so they stay tucked. 
 T-shirt sleeves are generally longer since they are worn by themselves.Undershirts have shorter sleeves, so they can be worn under short-sleeve shirts, such as polo shirts, as well as long sleeve shirts. 
 T-shirts have a shallower v-neck. While deep v-neck t-shirts do exist, they are not widely worn. Undershirts have deeper v-necks. This keeps the collar hidden with an open collar. 
 T-shirts are looser fitting to accommodate different body styles, and mask any perceived imperfections (belly, love handles, puffy nipples, etc.)Undershirts are close fitting or fitted so they don’t add extra bulk under your clothes. 
 T-shirts are outerwear, though can be also used for layering to achieve a particular style/look.Undershirts are underwear. The general rule of thumb is that they should remain hidden, like underwear.

Visual Guide

To help illustrate the difference, here is a visual guide showing the difference between t-shirts and undershirts.

T-Shirt vs Undershirt: Top 7 Differences

18 thoughts on “The Top 7 Differences Between Undershirts & T-Shirts”

    • heya mike — there isn’t a simple yes or no answer to your question about whether or not it’s ok to wear an undershirt to the gym.

      the short answer is that it depends.

      if your undershirt look and fits more like a white t-shirt (loose and not see through), and you’d be ok wearing a white t-shirt to the gym, then yes — go ahead and wear the undershirt to the gym.

      if your undershirt is fitted, and if you’re not in the greatest shape — then you may not want to wear the undershirt to work out.

      of course, if you don’t care what anyone else thinks, then do what you want (:

      all the above said, why not just find an inexpensive gym shirt? or what about just wearing a outer t-shirt?

      i don’t know about you, but i sweat a lot when i go to the gym, and i prefer wearing performance wicking shirts that dry pretty fast.

      hope the info helps!

  1. This is a great article!! Thank you for posting it on this site.

    Streetstyle or street fashion are the terms used to describe a more casual look that often involves t-shirts. I use that style often with my models and I like to use fine white t-shirts to show off this handsome look. Some of the better t-shirts that you feature on this site are perfect for that style and are a fine cross-over from an undershirt to a t-shirt look. The street style is often a layered look and many fine white t-shirts look amazing under a blazer, sweater or an open shirt along with a pair of fine jeans or other trousers.

    Keep up your fine site. I always enjoy reading your reviews.

    Paul Nixdorf

  2. Here in India we call an undershirt a Banian. A Tshirt is actually what you call a golf shirt in US. I am not sure where exactly the word banian came from! I would still prefer something like an undershirt to be more clear since a Tshirt can still be worn upon a half cut or an A-Shirt but on jockey website both Tshirt and undershirt look the same.

    • hi santosh,

      good to hear from you and thanks for your thoughts on undershirts vs. t-shirts.

      jockey primarily creates “underclothing”, or rather, tops and bottoms to be worn underneath other clothing. so, even though they call men’s tops “t-shirts”, they are really designed as “undershirts”.

      of course as mo from jockey said, many of their stay cool t-shirt (undershirt) customers wear them as both undershirts and t-shirts.

      although not in this article, i have described the main differences between undershirts and t-shirts in another article. those being weight, body length, v-neck depth, sleeve length, and body fit.

  3. Dear Tug,

    Your careful consideration of cloth and critic of discrepancy between claim and reality sounds if you are a genuine advocate for us undershirters!

    Right on, T-shirt inspector!

    PS: I need to know if I should exploit kids and their mamas who make undershirts which are sold cheap or should I spend lots of money on another manufacture?

  4. Tug – 
    I think Jockey can bring a little light on your undershirt vs. t-shirt question here. Sorry for not weighing in earlier!
    Your response to a reader asking the difference between t-shirt and undershirt is accurate – it’s basically fabric weight.

    We also believe that it’s good practice to use current and common vernacular, and from a practica standpoint, “t-shirt” works best for Jockey categorically on, as we’re piling all t-shirt-like products into one category to enable easy navigation for consumers.

    Furthermore, we’re often using “t-shirt” to describe “undershirts” because in this day and age many people are using lighter weight “undershirts” as outerwear “t-shirts,” and who are we to discourage that? In fact, our Jockey staycool t-shirt is a great example: Our research shows that 75%+ of men wear staycool as an undershirt AND an outerwear t-shirt. This is for a few reasons:  side seaming, weight of fabric, and trim and depth of collar.

    Finally, it’s interesting to note a little history here behind t-shirts. The t-shirt was named b/c of physical similarity to the letter T, and Jockey is credited with inventing the modern-day t-shirt for the USC football team in 1932.

    Whew! Who knew t-shirts could be so interesting? (Well, YOU did, Tug!) Good topic! Keep up the great work.

    • Neither that Jockey spokesman nor you, Tug, say anything about how the heavier weight of the T-shirt, if the difference to undershirt is only or also this feature, relates to lifespan, durability, hole-resistance, or whatever you want to call it. In the case of a manufacturer who is not forced by the consumers or by advertising promoting durability of their product by the competition, it is not surprising he is silent on this issue. He wants to make profit, and the easiest way is by selling more! But you are our guardian angel, unless you fall into temptation.

      • heya peter!

        surprising as it may be, fabric thickness (or weight) does not directly determine the lifespan of a garment.

        manufacturing quality, usage and care does. unfortunately, there is no clear-cut way to determine manufacturing quality, from a consumer point of view.

        of course, there are always exceptions to these rules.

        i shall not fall into temptation.

      • Good grief! Fabric thickness or weight doesn’t determine lifespan? That is counterintuitive! If I don’t want my safe robbed, I build thicker walls! If I don’t want my bicycle stolen, I use a thicker lock!

        If you, undershirt god, cannot develop measurements for quality – who can?

        If you check the discussion on shirt quality accompanying Matt Spaiser’s article Anatomy of a Turnball & Asser shirt at his blog or website The Suits of James Bond, you can find comments about various shirts made by different shirtmakers which are reports on quality. Your Jockey spokesman reminds me of a big church known for treating opposition by never mentioning them – murder by silence.

      • note i said “does not directly determine…” (:

        if the walls of your safe were thicker, but the hinges on the door or pins holding the door in place were made of plastic, i could gain access to your valuables.

        same is true with any garment — though we are talking t-shirts (and/or undershirts). if the thicker shirt was sewn with one thread per inch, but the thinner one was sewn with 10, which one do you think would come apart quicker? if the thick t-shirt were sewn by someone with one week of experience, but the thin one was sewn (by hand or machine) by someone with 15 years of experience, which one do you think would stay constructed longer?

        my point is construction is just as important, or potentially more important, than the actual thickness of the fabric.

        companies talk about “quality”, but what they say and what they actually do in practice can be different and the consumer buying blindly for the first time will be none-the-wiser.

    • I hope when a new social order develops where marketing is transformed so the consumers determine what is manufactured, that the above style of propaganda becomes extinct. It’s incredible how these marketing manipulators avoid comparison of their products with the products of the competition. It reminds me of the good old device of totalitarian regimes to eliminate or neutralize their opponents by never mentioning them.

  5. Terminology & Co: Response to ‘Difference between an Undershirt and a T-shirt’

    Dear ‘tug’,
    First of all, I think it is good that you have taken the trouble to establish a neutral web site where the topic ‘undershirt’ or ‘T-shirt’ can be discussed by those interested, where questions are answered, and where various product versions and styles are described. Even though undershirts are merely underwear and are not as attractive or ‘glamorous’ as the clothes worn over them, they still deserve our attention. After all, undershirts are closest to our skin and are therefore especially important with respect to health, hygiene, comfort, and protection against the cold. Continue the good work!

    The use of the various terms for designating ‘undershirts’ and ‘T-shirts’ is somewhat confusing and is probably due to a number of causes. First of all, it is often a matter of habit within a given area or community or family. People become accustomed to using certain expressions, even if they are not strictly correct or exact. Furthermore, the choice of words differs from region to region, even within a given language. For instance, the usual terms in British usage differ from those in American usage. Similar differences also occur in other languages, such as German and French. The preferences in terminology may also change in the course of time. All of this can be quite confusing.

    Moreover, the vast assortment of different styles and fabrics currently available may cause confusion in deciding how to call a particular type of T-shirt or undershirt. Intermediate versions, such as sleeveless ‘muscle’ shirts, may also add to the confusion. When I was a kid, we did not have such a wide variety of undershirt types. When my parents spoke of an ‘undershirt’, they always meant a white rib-knit, sleeveless tank-style undershirt, and this is the reason why I always use the term ‘undershirt’ in this sense. Both my father and I always wore rib-knit tank undershirts. On the other hand, T-shirts were always called ‘T-shirts’ (at least in my family). Admittedly, we had less choice at that time, and our parents usually had more of a say in determining what we kids had to wear anyway. However, there was not so much confusion of terms for these garments, at least within a given area, and that made it easier to know what was meant.

    In this context, you may have noted that in my previous comments I have always taken the trouble to distinguish carefully between a ‘T-shirt’, on the one hand, and a ‘rib-knit tank-style or athletic-style (sleeveless) undershirt’, on the other hand. I have done this in order to avoid any possible confusion, and shall continue doing so in any future comments, too, even at the expense of using more words. I hope that this is ok.

    Incidentally, flat-knit or smooth-knit tank-style undershirts were entirely unknown to me when I was a kid. Maybe they already existed, but I do not recall having ever seen one at that time. Our undershirts were all rib-knit. Colored T-shirts were available, but I do not remember having seen colored tank shirts, except in neutral shades such as light gray or beige or “military” khaki. Undershirts in more intensive colors evidently appeared on the market some time later.

    Many of the statements which I have made here are based on my own personal experience and on my own personal opinions. Therefore, none of this stuff should be regarded as ‘objective’ in any way or taken all too seriously, although I hope that some of it might be useful.

    Best regards, ken

    • This guy makes problems where there aren’t any. Simon Crompton of Permanent Style claims undershirts are of American origin. T-shirts for him are worn like a shirt. You already pointed out elsewhere, Tug, the English sometimes refer to undershirts as vests, which clarifies why the English refer to vests as waistcoats. I resent very much someone who claims there exist problems in French and German, but doesn’t say what they are. I speak German and my girlfriend teaches French. We don’t try to cause problems which don’t exist.


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