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The Compass  /  Style  /  What To Wear Under a Dress Shirt — Our Guide to Undershirts

What To Wear Under a Dress Shirt — Our Guide to Undershirts

four white shirts flat on white background with text in the middle reading Undershirts Your Stealth Fighter Against Poor Style

A Guide to Wearing Undershirts Under Dress Shirts

Wearing an undershirt under your dress shirt may seem paradoxical; after all, why should you even think about adding an extra layer underneath that fine smooth cotton, especially when it’s hot out? At face value, it doesn’t make much sense, does it?

For old-school office warriors who have been wearing suits for years, understanding what to wear under a dress shirt and why they should layer up may seem elementary. But in 2019, undershirts are becoming much like Major League Baseball games, some young men just aren’t into them.

Maybe it’s the fact that modern dress codes are becoming less and less buttoned-down, meaning some young men don’t learn the fundamentals of wearing dress shirts day-to-day. Then, when the time comes and they need to button-up, they either skip the undershirt because they don’t know to even consider it, or because they don’t know its game-changing benefits.

So Why Do Guys Wear Undershirts Under Dress Shirts?

Of course, young men aren’t alone in misunderstanding the role of undershirts under dress shirts, but it’s time to clear the air and learn what to wear under a dress shirt and why. So, why do guys wear undershirts under dress shirts? Well, there are two main points as to why you should add this extra layer to your look, and though they aren’t apparent at first glance, after this article, you’ll quickly realize that adding an undershirt under your dress shirt is going to help you both look better and feel better.

Here are the two main reasons you should be wearing an undershirt beneath your dress shirts.


1. Undershirts Help Manage Sweat and Body Temperature

Job number one for an undershirt is sweat management. Undershirts are like an NBA Towel Boy (those kids at the end of the court who wipe the floor when the ball is at the other end of the court), their main purpose is to move sweat off of the court.  Just the same, undershirts keep sweat off of your dress shirts. This is especially important when the summer months arrive and you want to save your dress shirt (and you) from looking like you walked through a water park. Any undershirt can soak up sweat, but the better undershirts wick sweat away from your body. This is even better as when your undershirt wicks, it keeps moisture away from your body, allowing it to evaporate faster. In turn, this helps keep you cool and keeps your dress shirts dry. The result? No river of sweat running down the back of your dress shirts and no sweaty pits.

Of course, there are other (and perhaps more obvious) practical uses for undershirts during the cooler months. In these transitional seasons, when it’s cool but not quite cold, an undershirt helps keep the chill off without you having to add outer layers.

2. Undershirts Make You Look Better

It’s true, a plain white undershirt under your dress shirt can improve your looks.

You know that “crisp, white dress shirt” you’re always reading about in publications like this one? If you don’t wear an undershirt under it, it won’t look so crisp. That’s because the stark white of that dress shirt is probably getting muted by your skin. A white undershirt will reflect more light and act like bleach for your shirt, and make your white shirt look truly white.

man wearing a white shirt with navy tie front and back view

There’s another reason why adding an undershirt under your dress shirt helps you look better. Even if your dress shirt isn’t white, undershirts can also keep a thick chest forest or, worse yet, unsightly back hair from showing through your dress shirt. Undershirts can even hide ink on the tatted-up gent looking to make an understated impression (say, for a job interview).


What To Wear Under a Dress Shirt

Before we show you our favorite undershirts, it’s important to learn what you want to avoid when combining an undershirt and a dress shirt.

First, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a specific type of undershirts — spandex or compression shirts. These styles also have another name: man-girdles or, as we like to call them, mirdles. Some men go the compression route to try and artificially tailor themselves to their clothing and try to “keep it all in”. We don’t advise anyone go this route, especially since there are legitimate health risks (including blood clots) involved with wearing spandex that is too tight on your body.  Rather than trying to slim yourself down via compression clothing, we recommend going the natural route and, of course, custom tailored clothing.

Another unfortunate undershirt look to avoid: the poor man’s ascot. If you’re going to wear an open-neck dress shirt, make sure your undershirt’s a V-neck. You shouldn’t see you undershirts, rather, they should be like NFL side judges, if they’re doing their job well, nobody should even notice that they’re there. (Yes, for those of you keeping track, we have now referenced all three major American sports in one article.)


Our Four Faves: Undershirt Options for Every Guy

Best Value Option

UNIQLO AIRISM $9.90

Yes, you can get a cheaper undershirt in a 3-pack at the drug store, but for a quality garment that wicks sweat, there’s no beating these.

white shirt on gray background next to a man wearing white shirt

Available in: crew neck, v neck, and tank
89% polyester, 11% spandex

Best Natural-Fabric Option

Flint and Tinder Undershirt $29.00 (3/$75)

These all-cotton undershirts take the cake
when it comes to softness and feel.


white shirt flat on gray background next to a man wearing a white shirt

Available in: crew neck and v neck
100% American long staple cotton
available in: black and white

Best Luxury/Performance Option

Mack Weldon Undershirt $32.00

These undershirts stretch but don’t shrink, wick sweat and feel great
despite a heavy dose of synthetic fabric.

white shirt flat on gray background next to a man putting on a white shirt

Available in crew neck and v-neck
47.5% long staple cotton,
47.5% modal, 5% lycra

Best Sustainably-Made Option

Mr.Davis Undershirt $25.00

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly option that still has a buttery soft feel, look no further than these bamboo undershirts.


white shirt on gray background with man wearing a white shirt turned away

Available in: v-neck and crew neck
available in: tone and white
96% sustainable bamboo viscose and 4% spandex


Final Word: Style Starts at the Bottom

Although adding an undershirt under your dress shirt may seem trivial, hopefully now you see their underrated importance. Believe us, if you strip back the layers on a truly stylish man and you’re likely to find an undershirt because style starts at the bottom layer. The unsung heroes of many a stylish man’s wardrobes, undershirts are true workhorses and your dress shirt’s best friend.


Did we convince you to give them a try?

Put undershirts to work for you and tell us how you like them in the comments below.

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21 thoughts on “What To Wear Under a Dress Shirt — Our Guide to Undershirts”

  1. James says:

    Does anyone have any suggestions for acquiring quality undershirts in Canada? Would a three pack from Wal-Mart be worth acquiring? This article has really sold me on the topic, but unfortunately none of the suggestions are available in Canada (at least without paying truly exorbitant shipping).

  2. Jovan says:

    Where’s RibbedTee? 😉

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Another contender arises!

      Here’s a link for those who are curious.

    2. Jason says:

      I’m a fan of RibbedTee personally. They are a little more expensive side in my opinion for undershirts, but their customer service was great when one started to come apart they sent me two more for free without any questions. Can’t beat that!

      1. Black Lapel says:

        Sucks that it started to come apart, but glad to see it was handled well, Jason. Count another one in the Ribbed Tee camp.

  3. Brian says:

    One disagreement: crew neck. Seeing a white crew neck t-shirt peak out of the top of a dress shirt like a gopher out of a hole, or Mr. Wilson from Home Improvement peering over the fence, reminds me of socks with birkenstocks. Awful look. Either go V neck or button up all the way.

    I wear Hanes tagless slim fit V-necks. Fit like a glove and last a long time. Also, Michael Jordan personally rips the tag off each of them (see commercials). 3 packs are $12 or so.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We’re on the same page about a crew neck under an open-collared shirt, Brian (see the end of Paradox #2). The undershirt should truly be a “stealth” fighter. But for those who wear ties more often than not, a crew neck covers the top of the chest nicely.

      As for MJ personally ripping off the tags, that’s some serious customer service, right there!

  4. Eric S. says:

    I share your frustration Ricardo! I too hate that my undershirts can be too short for tucking after the first wash. But all in all, I love the article and is something the younger gents need to get behind. I was especially impressed to hear the part about wearing v-necks with open collared button downs. I’ve been doing this for a few years now thinking it looked good; who knew it was also functional! Besides, I wear an undershirt under my t-shirts for crying out loud!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Undershirts under T-shirts! LOL. What’s next undershirts under your undershirts? (We kid, but it’s all love, Eric.)

      Sounds like you’ve been with the program on undershirts from day one. Hopefully we gave you a few things to think about when it comes to fit and fabric. Let us know if you give any of the above a try.

  5. Christian says:

    How to avoid stains coming from deodorants?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Two words, Christian (well…one word and one syllable): Deo-go. Your undershirts will protect your dress shirts and Deo-go will protect your undershirts.

      1. Christian says:

        Thanks for the advice, i’ve switched to gray or black undershirts due to underarm stains but now i’ll give a try to Deo-go.

        Any advice for non-white undershirts?

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Sure thing, Christian.

          The Mr. Davis shirt comes in a “Tone” color that works well for the guy who wants the undershirt to look more like his skin. Of course, if you’re dark-skinned or pale this option may not work for you, but it’ll likely be closer to your skin tone than white.

          1. David says:

            I just got the Mr. Davis V-Neck in Tone (2 for $36) and it does not show under your lighter dress shirts which is nice. The v-neck is deep enough that it does not show when your shirt is unbuttoned.

            I also have some Tommy John undershirts. Both brands are long, fit well, do not bunch and do not come untucked.

            If the Mr. Davis hold up in the wash, they will be my go to undershirt.

            I have never tried Deo-go, but OxiClean Gel Sticks always works for me.

          2. Black Lapel says:

            Glad we could help, David. No fabric muffin tops for you!

            And thanks for the rec. on the OxiClean. We’ll check out the sticks.

  6. DJ says:

    I was excited when I saw this in my email, but I need a muscle shirt style undershirt (not a WB). The sleeves on a short sleeve undershirt ride up on me to the shoulders. I am a 6′ tall and 189 lb avid mtn and road biker. I sweat a lot and have to wear an undershirt. Was hoping you would offer that style.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      As their name suggests, muscle shirts are for showing off muscles at the gym. We don’t recommend wearing them as undershirts. If sleeve length is a problem that’s a sign of a poor fit. Sizing up may help, though it may cause other problems (like too much fabric at the waist causing a muffin top).

      The Mack Weldon shirt we showed above has a longer sleeve and a slim mid-section that might be just what the doctor ordered.

  7. Ricardo says:

    OK… so I hate most undershirts because:

    a) They’re too freakin’ short. This drives me INSANE. NUCLEAR INSANE!
    b) They start long enough, but after shrinking, end up at (a).
    c) They’re too baggy. So I buy a size under to get a tight fit, and then (b) and (a) happen.
    d) They stick to the outer clothes, bunching them up. Looks better without them.

    Of course, I’ve never tried a premium undershirt, but I need to wear one. Too sweaty to get away with it.

    Out of the ones above… which are the best for the situations about?

    Another thing… tank tops. I know it’s a no-no for a white shirt, but for a dark shirt or a polo they work well. Sometimes I find v-necks still show if the collar is undone, as I don’t always wear a tie. This is the case for polo’s mostly. While I’ve found tank-tops to be a better fit than most V/Crew necks (length-wise), I find the ribs and the material also bunch up shirts.

    So what’s the perfect freaking shirt?

    a) Long enough to cover my knees (this is frustration speaking, not seriously that long)
    b) Won’t shrink (actually, I don’t care if it shrinks horizontally, just not VERTICALLY)
    c) Won’t stick to the outer clothes
    d) Has a tight fit so I don’t have lumps and bags under my shirt.

    Kind of sounds like the Mack’s above would be like this… but I’d want to know before spending $32 a shirt to have to chuck them.

    1. Brian says:

      Great points Ricardo. You’re right, the Mack Weldon undershirts should fit you nicely:
      a) Longer length, so they stay tucked in
      b) Minimal shrinkage – They call it “18-hour Jersey” because the fabric sits unrolled for 18 hours before it’s cut. This way it can naturally expand and breathe before it’s cut into the shirt, instead of changing shape after.
      c) Slim fit – designed to fit close, but not tight.
      d) The cotton + modal blend keeps these smooth for months of constant wear

      I’ve had a dozen for 18 months and they hold up very well.

    2. Black Lapel says:

      Brian’s points about the Mack Weldon shirt are all good ones. We can attest to them all. It is an investment in your style, but it’s not a risky investment. We say go for it.

      As for the V-neck thing, the Mr. Davis shirt has a deeper V-neck than others. So if that’s an issue for you, you may want to deprive a few pandas of a meal (they’re all pretty fat anyway) and get a bamboo undershirt from Mr. Davis.

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