Undershirts. Chances are, you either wear them or you don’t. And maybe you don’t give them much thought beyond that.
In the past, I’ve talked about how guys often go on “wardrobe autopilot.” This couldn’t be more true with undershirts.
If you’re like most guys, you probably grew up wearing regular, run-of-the-mill undershirts—mass brands you could grab for cheap at places like Walmart or Target. You didn’t expect much in terms of quality because they were practically disposable, right?
There’s nothing wrong with that approach if you understand what you’re getting. But the more you learn about men’s undershirts, the more you realize that the right undershirt can make a big difference in how you look and how you feel.
Here are 5 rules for choosing the perfect men’s undershirt:
This post was made possible by RibbedTee.com, makers of Seriously Awesome Undershirts that offer great fit, feel, function, and value.
1. Your Needs Dictate The Style
I know it just seems like you can just grab any old undershirt based on a whim. But that’s not really the case.
The main styles to consider are: crew neck, v-neck, and tank top. There are also special “compression” shirts that can give you added support, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the 3 main types above.
Here are some considerations to help you decide which undershirt styles to go with:
Do you want pit protection?
You have to remember what undershirts are for: to absorb sweat and protect your outer shirts. Some guys love the tank top because it’s so streamlined and lightweight. The problem is, it doesn’t help prevent armpit sweat and stains. If you’re wearing a dress shirt or any shirt you care about, stick to the crew neck or v-neck to protect your shirts from your pits.
Open collar or buttoned up with tie?
Listen carefully, because this is an area where many guys miss the mark. Most style experts will agree that if you’re wearing an undershirt under a dress shirt (or under any shirt, really), the undershirt should NOT be seen. If you are wearing your collar open without a tie, you should avoid letting your undershirt peek out—especially if it’s worn and discolored to the point that it sags down like an old yellow turkey wattle.
If you’re wearing your collar unbuttoned, wear a v-neck that is deep enough to sit below your collar line. This avoids the issue of potentially revealing a worn or discolored undershirt, and it allows you show off a strategic amount of chest/chest hair.
On the other hand, if you’re wearing your shirt buttoned up with a tie, you can go with a crew neck, since it will be hidden by the collar; for dress shirts with very thin fabric you may even prefer a crew neck, so the outline of the v-neck doesn’t distract from your tie.
But if You’re Smuggling Ferrets…
The only exception to the open collar/v-neck rule is men who have a SIGNIFICANT amount of chest hair and are self-conscious about it (or if you have a tattoo or a skin condition you’d rather not show off). In that case you may be more comfortable wearing a clean and non-stretched-out crew neck. I personally think showing off chest hair is a good thing. But if every time you bare your chest even slightly you feel like a furry animal is about to escape from your collar, you might be more comfortable with a crew neck.
Side note: I’ve read on forums that a small minority of people purposefully show their crew neck collars under their shirts to achieve some sort of “ivy league” look. To each his own. But in my opinion, at worst it can reveal a nappy-looking undershirt and make you look like your mother dressed you. At best—even if the shirt is pristine—it still adds one more visual element that might distract from the rest of your outfit.
2. White Ain’t Always Right
When you go shopping for undershirts, it’s a sea of white. And I would wager that 99.99999% of all the undershirts you’ve owned in your life have been white. Because it’s the most versatile color, right?
Um, not necessarily.
Are you sitting down? I’m about to drop some knowledge on you.
White has some advantages: it’s easily bleached, and if you are among the few who prefer to let it peek out from behind your shirt, it’s a neutral color at least.
But ironically, white undershirts are not the best for wearing underneath white or other light-colored dress shirts.
White and blue dress shirts are the backbone of a sharp wardrobe. And many style experts say the first 2-3 dress shirts you own should be white, because it’s so versatile. So you would think that a white undershirt would be a natural pairing with white dress shirt. But white undershirts end up showing through white dress shirts, because they do a poor job of matching skin tone.
So the best undershirt for a white shirt is actually a light gray undershirt or a flesh-toned undershirt (though some guys have trouble with this color since it can seem feminine; and it’s harder to find).
Look at the difference between a white shirt vs. a light gray shirt under a white dress shirt:
The other advantage of light gray is that it takes longer for wear like armpit stains to appear, and you can easily throw it in with your “darks” when you do the laundry.
So, while white is great under a lot of shirts, white is not always THE color to wear depending on your outer shirt.
3. Great T-shirts Don’t Make Great Undershirts
One of the other problems with our general inattention to undershirts is that we don’t always look for the right features in our undershirts.
Over the years, many men’s undershirts have been built to double as t-shirts—especially the good old fashioned white crew neck shirt. Some manufacturers have confused things further by interchanging the terms “t-shirt” and “undershirt” in their promotion.
But a t-shirt and an undershirt are the not the same thing.
As a general rule, t-shirts are thicker since they’re designed to be worn on their own and not necessarily as a layer under something else.
Because of this, lots of guys see fabric thickness as a sign of quality in undershirts. While it may help if you want extra warmth and cushion under your layers, in general the best undershirts are thinner—the fabric is designed to be worn under other garments, and it helps protect and absorb sweat WITHOUT adding extra bulk.
4. Fit Still Matters…Even In an Under-layer
You might think that since your undershirt is hidden under another shirt that fit doesn’t matter as much. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
As with wearing a heavier t-shirt under your outer shirt, a poorly fitted undershirt can add bulk and bunching in all the wrong places…giving you a swollen, misshapen look.
One of other more annoying fit issues is when undershirts aren’t long enough to be tucked in comfortably. Nothing is more irritating to me than when my shirt and tie are perfectly fitted and staying in place and all of the sudden I realize my undershirt has come untucked and is riding up and starting to give me that dreaded “spare tire” look around my midsection.
High-quality undershirts are built specifically as under-layers, and the shape is designed to be more fitted than a t-shirt or run-of-the-mill undershirt might be. Plus, they’re generally a bit longer to allow them to stay comfortably tucked in at all times.
5. Cotton is Great, But Don’t Fear the Blends
As far as natural fabrics, cotton—especially high-quality Supima cotton—is still a gold standard when it comes to overall comfort and breathability.
On the other end of the spectrum there are fully synthetic fabrics that provide advanced moisture-wicking abilities—but most of them are designed to transfer moisture away from the body and not necessarily do a great job of absorbing it. They can also feel a little more “technical” and may lack the comfort of cotton.
But some of the new blended fabrics offer the buttery softness of cotton with great moisture-wicking and moisture-absorbing ability in extremely thin fabric weights.
Whatever option you choose, be sure to check the care instructions. There’s nothing more annoying than buying a fancy garment that requires so much high-maintenance care that you never feel like you can just throw it in with the rest of your regular laundry.
If you’re happy sticking to basic, run-of-the-mill undershirts, more power to you. But if you’re serious about looking and feeling your best, it may be worth trying a few higher-quality undershirts.
As with other tiny improvements like a new hair cut or shining your shoes, the seemingly small change of upgrading your undershirts can give you a new spring in your step and renewed confidence to go out and make the most of the day.
Undershirts: Save Your Style. Improve Your Comfort.
Nothing ruins a great outfit more than an ill-fitting undershirt. Not wearing an undershirt can leave your shirts saturated in stains. RibbedTee offers a variety of Seriously Awesome Undershirts that feel, fit, and function better than anything you’ve ever worn before. Made in the USA. Undershirts You WANT To Wear.