Man Grooming Q&A: The White T-shirt
Lee writes: “I wear a white undershirt, crew neck of course, and clean and crisp of course, but I rarely wear ties so the undershirt shows, a white band around my neck under all my shirts. If I don’t wear one I feel naked and clammy, so I wear one most all the time at work or off work.
“I think the white crew neck looks good some of the time but I think I wear one too much because it is always showing under all my shirts.Vee necks are not an option as you so eloquently explained. Thank you.
“I could try to find some solution by trying different kinds of shirts which might feel comfortable without the undershirt. I tried the A shirt type undershirt with limited success, it doesn’t show and it does give a feeling of something underneath but the white crew neck is what really feels right. Do you think the regular wearing of a white crew neck is OK? “
There are, of course, two uses of the classic crewneck undershirt; one is wearing it as prescribed, under something else, and the other is just wearing it out proudly on its own, whether as a simple summer-weight shirt or worn under a blazer as a sort of half-dressy, half-not ensemble. And the classic jeans-and-T-shirt look will never, ever go out of style no matter what anyone thinks. It’s too sexy and too familiar. It’s a classic.
It sounds like you’re using them totally as a layer under something else, taking the term ‘undershirt’ completely to heart and I applaud that sort of dedication. I’m a T-shirt devotee, though probably not as devoted as some others I can think of (who wear nothing but T-shirts) and own probably 3 or 4 dozen T’s, colored, decorated and plain old white. So I know where you’re coming from.
Number one, they’re so damned comfortable, aren’t they? They just fit! And if you stain one or rip it, you just plunk down $15 and get another 2-pack at The Gap, no problem. They’re replaceable and irreplacable at the same time. Like boyfriends!
But I digress. Your question, then, is one of style. You like your undershirts — perhaps even love is not too strong a term — but you wonder about that little giveaway at the throat. Are people staring at your T-shirt collar? What does that slight but noticeable imperfection in your wardrobe say about you? And, finally, should you be concerned about that and, if so, what’s to be done?
My first inclination is to tell you to relax and take this in stride. I’m going to guess that no one is saying something behind your back about your hinting T-shirt peek. Bad shoes are one thing, a bad hair day — we’ve all been there and know that there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a good haircut to brighten an otherwise dull weekend. But the tiny triangle of white appearing at your neck? Probably not going to make anyone you might be interested in “in that way,” to have a second thought about you, and if they did then the problem lies with them and not with you. The fact that your a careful dresser and like to feel cool and comfortable all the time is a bonus, Lee, not a detractor.
But let’s look at options, anyway. Firstly, there’s a huge rainbow of colors available in T-shirts, particularly at American Apparel. If you want to be a tad more coordinated in your wardrobe, buy some red or blue or green — but don’t forget basic black, too. A black T-shirt under a western shirt with the pearl snaps and flap pockets? How Johnny Cash can you get? And when one wonders WWJD, that’s the JC I think of, first. Black, again, is never the wrong choice.
I’m with you on the A-shirts, or “wifebeater,” too. I think they’re more for affectation than effectiveness, and what I really need my undershirt to do is soak up my excess underarm sweat, and while the grand, old banded athletic shirt is many things, an underarm dam it is not.
On another note, I do not recommend a T-shirt under a Polo. It’s a little like wearing socks with sandals, a sort of overkill that’s unnecessary. For me, a Polo is a T-shirt with a collar and buttons. Slightly more upscale than a simple undershirt, but certainly not worthy of more attention. If you insist, though, just be sure the sleeves of the T-shirt don’t stick out under the sleeves of the Polo. That’s a definite fasion faux pas.
In the end, as I said, you need to do what makes you feel comfortable. Real style, you know, is not following the dictates of others, but deciding for yourself how you want to look. If that means wearing white T-shirts under everything, maybe that’s the Lee Style. Toss it up every once in a while, just for fun, but never worry about doing what makes you feel good.
November 7, 2005