Updated: Feb 10
A dress shirt is
1. A shirt with a collar,
2. Opens up fully at the front and
3. Is fastened using buttons in the front
This is the dress shirt and he modern man looks really dapper in it. The look, inherited from centuries ago has matured and has kept with the times, adopting tighter and slimmer lines. Check out our awesome African print dress shirts here: https://www.shwebygugu.co.za/online-store
But one would be a surprised to learn that the secret to an awesome looking dress shirt lies in the shirt worn underneath the dress shirt! - mind blown! The main reason why an undershirt is the pillar of maximizing your dress shirt is because you want to the prevent (at all costs) the below:
Underarm sweat stain – cue loud scream and debilitating shock.
This can happen at work, during a meeting with execs, while courting your favourite woman, at chillas with friends,… it really doesn’t matter where it is, you don’t want sweat stains on your shirt. The worst is when it is visible even with your arms down or folded. .
Don’t forget it also comes with a funky odour. It creates an obvious discomfort and has a psychological effect as you become overly self-conscious and reduce your level of self-expression. Confidence levels plummet in that scenario.
Let’s take a look at some of the other reasons why an undershirt is worn: .
- Enhanced comfort - Some shirts naturally don’t feel good on the skin. An undershirt is made to be soft on the skin on all skin types. It will provide a layer of comfort to your skin whilst simultaneously allowing you to look your best with a good dress shirt.
- Prevent dirtying your shirt – Like it or not, your body produces oils and you sweat. The undershirt will protect your dress shirt from these fluids
- Keep your confidence – You’ll have the freedom to be 100% yourself knowing full well that you still look awesome
No doubt, the underarm sweat stain has happened to everyone at some point. But the honest truth is, this is so easy to prevent. Just wear a freaking undershirt man! Let us learn a little more about this understated apparel.
What is an undershirt?
In summary, an undershirt is a form of underwear worn underneath a dress shirt to protect the dress shirt from sweat or odours produced by the body.
It is unclear exactly when under garments came onto the scene. Photos or any other type of artwork that depicted any form of underwear before 1900 is virtually impossible to find. This is because, back then, showing underwear was today’s equivalent of public indecency. It was every bit as offensive and frowned upon, merely stopping short of being declared against the law.
What we do know however is that underwear was initially designed to protect the outer layer of clothing from direct contact with the body. Underwear protected the one who wore it from the rough and coarse fabrics that were common in the olden days. Back then comfortable clothing was a luxury and as such, only the rich could afford underwear.
Fast forward 200+ years and the evolution of underwear in general and the undershirt in particular became mainstream as their usefulness was entrenched due to its:
- Ability to keep you warm during the cold winters,
- Protect your normal everyday wear from sweat and body oil stains and
- Soak up moisture away from your body, an iteration that ultimately led to the sport shirt.
As fashion progressed and mass manufacturing methods improved, undershirts became mainstream. Their popularity heightened due to their level of comfort. Exposing an undershirt in the open was no longer a stigma. To such an extent that labourers became comfortable cutting the sleeves shorter during the warm summers.
That was the birth of the Tshirt. A Tshirt is a garment meant to be worn outside. Often Tshirts are worn underneath shirts to give the same benefits as an undershirt. However it is important not to confuse a Tshirt with an undershirt.
A T-shirt is not an undershirt
You wear a T-shirt on the outside, an undershirt is worn underneath the shirt. The two are designed for different things and therefore function differently.
To use an analogy, it’s like trying to run a marathon with your formal shoes. Whilst you technically ‘could’ finish 40kms in formal shoes, you will most probably regret it. Besides, you will be able to complete the run SOOOO MUCH faster and more comfortably in running shoes.
Key differences between T-shirts and undershirts include:
The standard T-shirt is thicker since it is meant to be worn on the outside and to be more durable to the elements. The standard undershirt is thinner and lighter to increase comfort for the wearer and be as discreet as possible.
2. Body oils
Your body naturally releases sweat and/or body oils. These naturally seep into the layer of clothing directly in contact with your skin. An undershirt is usually that first layer and the purpose of an undershirt to absorb the fluids before they reach the dress shirt.
Undershirts are designed to remain unseen and in order to remain tucked-in, they are typically longer than the average t-shirt. The average t-shirt is shorter so that you don’t end up sitting on it all day.
In keeping with the theme of the undershirt being inconspicuous, it is usually more fitted than the average T-shirt. The reasoning behind the ‘fitted’ idea is so that the undershirt will still be discreet even if worn under another fitted dress shirt.
5. Keeps you cool (Pun intended)
A regular T-shirt looks cooler but an undershirt actually keeps you cooler. Sweating cools the body down by the evaporating heat off the body’s skin. Undershirt fabric is superior at absorbing moisture off the skin. It’s ironic, but having an extra undershirt layer, keeps you cooler than having one layer of T-shirt.
The collar shape helps keep the undershirt hidden underneath the shirt.
Fabrics are usually made of 100% natural fibers or they are infused a smaller degree of artificial fibers in order to add stretch. The naturally dominant materials ensure that the undershirt is comfortable and feels natural on the skin. In addition, natural fibers are in most instances hypoallergenic, which results in a very slim chance of irritations and or allergic reactions.
Undershirts are designed to be a singular uniform colour without any writing thereby contributing to their discreetness. Their colours are also designed to mimic the body’s natural colour tones.
May I use a sports shirt as an undershirt?
A sports shirt will have many of the qualities that make for a great undershirt, most especially tight fit and moisture absorbing qualities. Sports shirts are particularly good at moisture wicking abilities despite being made of synthetic fibers. What really makes a sport shirt unsuitable as an undershirt is the colour.
Most sport shirts have bright contrasting colours and patterns with a logo. This will mean they will be highly visible through a dress shirt and there not befitting to be inconspicuous underneath a dress shirt.
May I use a vest as an undershirt?
No you may not! A vest is not an undershirt.
- Does not provide protection against under-arm sweat stains,
- Is not designed to go unseen and therefore is often seen under shirts,
- Has a lot deeper neckline than an undershirt, further making it visible against the skin tone,
- Does not protect the arms against cold weather,
- Has less coverage over the upper body, which means there is less fabric to absorb the body’s sweat and body-emitted oils and
- Is not designed to be comfortable to the skin in comparison to undershirts.
If you are black, wear a black undershirt
Undershirts are designed to be unseen underneath your dress shirts. They achieve this with a variety of characteristics including the tight body-hugging fit around the body, thin & light fabric and the V-neck collar that blends in nicely with dress shirt collars.
But another important feature is the colour. The colour is monotone so as to add to the inconspicuous nature of an undershirt. But an often overlooked consideration is the colour of the undershirt itself.
Mens white undershirts tend to be the most common. However, if the undershirt contrasts with your skin tone, it will be blatantly noticeable under your dress shirt, especially if your dress shirt is white. The undershirt doesn’t need to be your exact skin tone but one that can blend in with your skin tone. Black and dark grey undershirts work well with darker shades of skin. White and beige colours work well for European descendants.
Gents if you’re black (like me), your undershirt should be black too.
Why you shouldn’t go cheap on an undershirt
If your undershirt is designed to be unseen then you should just go for the cheapest thing available right..? WRONG!
All undershirts are not created equal. What distinguishes a good undershirt from a bad undershirt has to do with the above-mentioned merits such as fit, softness on the skin, practically to remain tucked-in, moisture absorbing qualities and indeed ability to be invisible underneath your dress shirts, amongst other things.
Although not always the case, really cheap undershirts (as with everything) tend to have unapparent short comings. From the onset and frequently after a few uses, the fit on the body, sleeves and tends to lose rigidity on the body, sleeves, collar. Further the ability to stay tucked-in also weakens. Most often, by the time you realise that a garment is inferior, it is too late to return or exchange.
Don’t forget poor design can also plague the undershirts. Good men’s v neck undershirts emphasise the v neck shape that doesn’t shift up and down whilst wearing it and therefore remain unseen whilst wearing your dress shirt.
Best undershirts for men
1. Woolworths Viloft V-Neck Thermal Top
Although the above top is white. However I do know Woolworths does have the same thermal undershirts in black. Price R160 a piece at the time of posting this blog S – XXL.
2. Jockey Long-Sleeve Undershirt Black
R219 on Zando at the time of posting. S – XXL
Ways to determine the quality of an undershirt
Clothing makers have methods to make their items look decent and even quite respectable in-person, but these can begin to come undone even after one use.
We often tend to believe the cost of an item is directly correlated to its quality. But other than that, how can we tell whether an undershirt has been well constructed or is simply a no good?
1. Feel the fabric
Your undershirt should feel soft on the skin — even if the cotton is thick or stiff. Softness often means the shirt consists of long fibers and will likely hold up.
2. Look out for piling
Pilling happens when yarn fibers break or loosen, or when exposed ends tangle, leaving small fluffy balls on the surface. Signs of pilling usually aren’t apparent until after a few wears, so if you see any pills at first glance, it’s best to forego the shirt altogether. Although most fabrics are prone to pilling, high-quality undershirts won't pill as quickly.
3. Hold it up to a light
Gauge the thickness of the fabric by holding up your shirt to a light. If lots of light shines through, the shirt likely won’t last too long.
4. Pull the shirt
Cotton undershirts spun from long, thin fibers won’t separate when gently pulling on the seams — they have a consistent pattern and stitching. If you spot gaps between stitches or size differences between threads, the shirt is probably a poor investment.
5. Scrunch the shirt
Quality cotton shirts should bounce right back to their natural state after scrunching them in your hand. If your shirt stays wrinkled, it’s a telltale sign it’s not high-quality cotton.
6. Look for uneven seams and loose threads
Loose threads or uneven seams signal the shirt was made from shorter fibers and probably won’t stand the test of time.
Gents, if you want to look great in your shirt and feel confident and ready to take on the world, get yourself a good decent undershirt built for that exact purpose. Your undershirt must NOT be a T-shirt. Instead it should fit your body snuggly, feel soft on the skin and its colour should be as close as possible to your skin tone.