Is it Okay to Wear a Tank Top Undershirt Underneath a T-Shirt?

I’ve got a back-log of questions I have to get to, but in the meantime, here’s a question from a reader who wondered if it was ok to wear a tank top undershirt / wifebeater under his work t-shirt.

Dear Tug,

I am an electrical service tech and need to look presentable for customers. 

I wear a cheap navy blue screen printed Fruit of the Loom t-shirt as my uniform.  Even in the winter, I am given only this type of shirt to wear no matter what. 

In these autumn months, I find it easier to use an undershirt rather than a hoodie to fend off the sniffles. 

I don’t care for sleeved undershirts because of the difficulty in tucking away the inner sleeves. 

So, I have tried the Jockey Echelon muscle tee to avoid the telltale neckline of a tank top undershirt. 

However, I much prefer the fit and toasty comfort of a ribbed tank. 

My question is this: 

Is it perceived as “weird” to wear a tank top undershirt under a thin, tightish t-shirt? 

That is – is it weird to see the shape of the lower-cut neckline rise through? 

While we’re on the issue, how about under an even tighter “fitted” short sleeve shirt?

Thanks a lot.

– Jay

Wearing Tank Top Undershirt Under A T-Shirt: Example

Wear Tank Top Undershirt Under T-Shirt

Wearing A Ribbed Tank Under A T-Shirt – My Response

Hey Jay,

Good question. Couple of comments here:

wearing-a-tank-top-under-a-t-shirtUndershirt Sleeves Extending Past T-Shirt Sleeves

If you are finding that the sleeves of a regular undershirt peek out from underneath your regular outer short-sleeve t-shirt, the undershirt either doesn’t fit you right in the shoulders, or the sleeves are really too long.

In general, I’ve found the problem with sleeve length on an undershirt to be more about the shoulders not fitting right, where the shoulder seam falls down on my bicep area instead of in line with the corner of my shoulder.

Also, as you have probably already found if you’ve experimented with jockey products, there are a lot of lightweight fitted undershirts available now-a-days that will fit nice and close around your arms/biceps.

So if you find something that fits you properly, you shouldn’t have to tuck in your sleeves.

Wearing Tank Top Under T-Shirt

With regard to whether or not it’s ok to wear a tank top undershirt under a thin t-shirt, where you might be able to see the u-shape tank neckline underneath, it is absolutely ok for a couple reasons.

First, it is providing a benefiting function (keeping you toasty) that allows you to stay comfortable without over dressing.

Second, I think the look of a tank outline underneath your outer shirt looks perfectly fine.

In fact, I’ve been seeing this “look” a lot lately out in the LA/Hollywood area and the look is really growing on me.

Not that it really matters that a bunch of other guys are doing it, but at least you won’t be alone out there!

Lastly, if you’re in relatively good shape, I’m sure the ladies won’t mind looking at you in a tight fitting tank/t-shirt combination either ;)

Good luck and keep me posted on what you decide to do!



10/14/2009 Update:

While it might be ok to wear a tank under a t-shirt, there are some circumstances where you don’t want to wear a tank under a dress shirt.

Here’s a picture I found today on veritas men’s style blog that demonstrates how a tank (and a crew neck) can look under a light-colored button up dress shirt.

Tank Top Undershirt Under Button Up Shirt

Personally, I think the crew neck undershirt look is ok here, as long as the collar on the undershirt is crisp and new looking.

I’m not a big fan of the tank look here to the left under the pink shirt.

Although, I will say that a tank can have it’s place under a button up shirt.  Case in point, a picture of our beloved President.



6 thoughts on “Is it Okay to Wear a Tank Top Undershirt Underneath a T-Shirt?”

  1. Dear ‘tug’, this is a reply to the following article on your site:
    Is it Okay to Wear a Tank Top Undershirt under a T-Shirt?
    I recently discovered your website in the course of a ‘bing-beta’ search in a somewhat different context. I read J’s inquiry and your answer, as well as Fred’s reply, with interest, since this topic concerns me, too. I am sure that much of this has already been said or published before, but I still hope that my comments will not be considered to be too long-winded, and that some of them may even be useful. I fully agree with the opinions which you have expressed, and I wish to comment on the various points set forth. I myself have always worn a sleeveless ‘tank-style’ or ‘athletic’ cotton rib-knit undershirt under my T-shirt since I was a kid. This is surely a result of parental influence and probably also a matter of habit. For one thing, these rib undershirts were very common in our predominantly French Canadian community (and in those of some other nationalities, too) in New England. They are also quite widespread here in Europe, including Germany. I have occasionally observed guys with the ‘look’ of a slightly to moderately visible tank-top neckline under their T-shirt here too. Furthermore, the frequency of this ‘look’ seems to be quite independent of the wearer’s age bracket. At least the cases which I observed were almost evenly distributed among more mature adults, young adults, teen-age boys, and children). I presume that there are many more such cases which I simply did not notice, but I do not know whether this is more or less frequent here than in your area. In any event, these observations confirm your statement that at least a small ‘bunch of other guys are doing it’, and that ‘you won’t be alone out there’. O yeah, as far as the ‘ladies looking at you in this combination’ are concerned, I might add the following: My girlfriend, whom I have known for many years, has never objected to my wearing a rib undershirt under a tight-fitting white T-shirt, even if the outline happens to be visible underneath…
    Of course, my T-shirts, too, are ‘thin and tight’, as ‘J’ mentioned. After all, they must fit! I would not be at all comfortable in an oversized T shirt in which I can get ‘lost’. I do not recall ever having heard any adverse comments from anyone who was ‘offended’ by seeing the outline of my rib undershirt under my T-shirt. I also have a few of those skin-tight “fitted” T-shirts which ‘J’ mentioned, and I have not had any problem with these either. Is J’s ‘cheap blue T-shirt’, as he calls it, dark blue or light blue? Obviously, the ‘show-though’ effect is less severe with colored T-shirts than with white ones, although I personally prefer to wear white T-shirts and white rib undershirts, since these are free of synthetic dyes. On particular occasions where I wish to be more ‘dressed up’, I simply wear a dress shirt and suit-coat or blazer over my T-shirt, and then nobody sees my rib undershirt under all of that. The same applies when I wear a sweater or a flannel shirt over my T-shirt.
    In the summer, when the weather is warm and humid, I often do not wear anything over my T-shirt. However, I still wear a tank-style rib undershirt underneath. First of all, the undershirt absorbs some of the perspiration before it reaches the T-shirt, and second, it fits especially well and gives me additional comfort. In this respect, I think it is worth mentioning that I have always worn tank-style undershirts of the rib-knit type, rather than the ‘smooth-knit’ type. The reason for this choice is that the coarser rib structure provides elasticity and ‘stretchability’ without the need of any synthetic fibres. Thus, one has the comfort of a pure, natural cotton undershirt that still provides the elasticity which is essential for a good fit. On the other hand, however, my T-shirt is always of the ‘smooth-knit’ type, since this ensures a neat appearance and also conceals the coarse rib structure of the undershirt underneath.
    Just as ‘J’ mentioned, I also find it easier to wear a rib undershirt under my T-shirt, rather than wearing various articles of more ‘bulky’ clothing over my T-shirt. That is, since I always wear my undershirt as an additional layer under my T-shirt, the combination is compact and self-contained. Provided that the weather is warm, the bulky external, ‘easily removable’ garments are not necessary, and I can thus keep warm without over-dressing, as you pointed out *. In this context, I remember a comment made by the woman who operates an agency for the mail-order house from which I have often ordered clothing, including rib undershirts and T-shirts. She claims that a sleeveless rib undershirt which is worn under a T-shirt is almost like ‘half a sweater’ for protecting against the cold. I have no way of checking her information for correctness, but she is very convinced of this, and she knows a lot about clothing. (*) Of course, I do not know whether ‘J’ lives in a region with a warm, moderate, or cold climate. This is decisive for the content of this paragraph.
    I can well understand J’s arguments against wearing a sleeved undershirt under a T-shirt because of the inevitable difficulty with the inner sleeves. I also doubt whether a muscle shirt would be any better, since I can imagine that fabric would tend to ‘bunch up’ under the T-shirt and cause discomfort, especially in the critical shoulder and armpit zones. Thus, the naturally elastic rib-knit cotton athletic undershirt with its excellent fit and unsurpassed comfort is the only solution for me, despite the possible visibility of the neckline under my T-shirt.
    There is a further feature of tank undershirts which I wish to point out, namely heat compensation. A sleeveless tank-style undershirt covers the back, the chest, and especially the critical area which surrounds the kidneys. These are precisely the zones which require more protection against cold. At least I myself am especially sensitive to cold in these areas. On the other hand, the tank undershirt does not cover those regions which are abundantly supplied with heat and moisture by blood vessels and sweat glands and therefore do not require so much protection, namely the armpit areas, which, in addition, are covered and protected by the arms. Thus, the tank-style rib undershirt under my T-shirt provides a certain degree of thermal compensation between the more exposed and the more protected region, regardless of whatever else I might happen to be wearing over the T-shirt. The latter comments are based partially on my own personal experience gained over the years.
    Finally, there is absolutely nothing ‘low-class’ or ‘ghetto’ or ‘weird’ about wearing rib undershirts of this kind. Furthermore, the often-used term ‘wife-beater’ is totally undeserved and unjustified. This expression may be the result of what one often saw in some motion pictures and on television in the past, especially in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Since that time, however, the image of the rib undershirt has been gradually improving. For instance, many popular ‘action heroes’ have been seen wearing such undershirts in the movies (1980’s?). If one looks at pictures of movie stars, singers, athletes, and other celebrities, one finds that many of them wear tank-top (under)shirts at least occasionally. On the other hand, however, I fully understand and respect the feelings of those who are offended at the sight of a guy wearing only a rib undershirt in public and who regard this as bad taste. After all, an undershirt is exactly what the word implies, that is, an undershirt. It is intended to be worn under an outer shirt – at least under a T-shirt. Let’s be frank: If worn alone, a coarse rib-knit athletic undershirt is not exactly what one would call ‘aesthetically pleasing’ or ‘appealing’ or ‘elegant’, especially if it is not quite clean or if it looks somewhat worn or tattered, as is sometimes the case, unfortunately. For these reasons, and out of respect for others, I always wear a T-shirt over my rib undershirt, regardless of what else I may be wearing, and this keeps the undershirt well concealed (except possibly for the outline). Apart from these few exceptions, though, I think that this is very much a matter of taste. People should feel free to wear the clothes in which they are most comfortable and at ease.
    Might I take the opportunity to make a suggestion in this context (just in case that you are not aware of this matter already)? I recently read that all (!) textile products are treated with various chemical agents for achieving certain desired properties. This also includes most of the so-called ‘eco’ or ‘bio’ or ‘green’ textiles. Unfortunately, articles of clothing which come into close contact with our skin, such as T-shirts and rib undershirts, are no exception to this rule. Some of these substances may be hazardous to our health. Before wearing the garments for the first time, therefore, it is advisable to wash them in order to remove most of these chemicals, as well as excess dyestuffs. Note: White clothing is treated with chemicals, too!
    If you wish, please feel free to let me know your opinion on any of the above comments. If you consider it appropriate, you can also post them, either completely or in part, on your site. (Perhaps ‘J’ would be interested.) Follow-up comments would interest me, too.
    Best regards, ken

      • Dear ‘tug’,

        thank you for your prompt reply. If you should have questions with respect to any of my comments or statements, please feel free to send me an e-mail, and I shall try to answer the questions as best I can.

        Incidentally, I downloaded your photograph of Daniel Kwakyeh and then took a really careful look at it. Of course, one can see the outline of the tank undershirt if one looks for it, but it is not very pronounced at all. I doubt whether most people would even notice it if they were not looking specifically for this kind of effect. This case is harmless, and I really cannot imagine that anyone would have any reason to complain.

        It certainly would not justify refraining from wearing an undershirt under one’s T-shirt for fear of what people might say. (This applies at least in the case of a T-shirt; the situation may be quite different in the case of a dress shirt.) In the few cases which I had mentioned, the observed show-through effect was somewhat more pronounced, and this is probably the main reason why I noticed it at all, but even here I do not really see any problem.
        Best regards, ken

      • thanks ken. i really appreciate the contribution and i’m certain anyone visiting my site and reading your comments will too.

        please feel free to drop by anytime and share your details thoughts. they are very insightful!

  2. There is nothing wrong (or low class) in wearing a tank top undershirt. They are very comfortable, and they absorb sweat. I wear them all the time and my wife thinks they look good. Also they are great to sleep in.

  3. Hey Tug,

    Mike at Ribbed Tee alerted me to seeing my post mentioned here. Thanks for the holler. I have a lot of readers who are obsessed with the undershirt issue, so I will link you up on my blog. Glad I found a good resource for them.

    Alice @ Veritas Men’s Style Blog


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