Join 3,553 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Did James Bond always wear an undershirt?
September 4, 2012 9:58 AM   Subscribe

What is the deal with undershirts? (ie wearing a white T-Shirt under your outer long-sleeve buttoned shirt). Watching Mad Men its always clear that Don Draper is wearing a white T-Shirt under his business shirt. Is is a USA thing? Here in the UK it seems less common. And its always seemed to have a kind of puritanical conservatism to me. Is it some remnant of a more conservative past?

You even see some men wearing them under other T-Shirts! Yes there are a lot of 'explanations' around for the practice; sweat, smells, less washing of outer layer required - but is that really the reason?

Or is it just a strange historical tradition. Is it actually considered in appropriate in certain circles to go without? What about when dressing black tie? I've always thought it looks a bit unsightly when you can see the end of the T-shirt sleeves under the shirt.

Did James Bond always wear an undershirt?
posted by mary8nne to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (133 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know if it's still done, but in times without air conditioning or anti-perspirant, it was crucial to avoiding visible sweat on your nice shirt.
posted by corb at 10:03 AM on September 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's pretty common in US offices. I don't do it because I hate layering and think it looks weird, but, yeah, I'm also told it's to keep sweat at bay (the t-shirt absorbs it and you don't see it on the dress shirt.) Always seemed counterintuitive to me -- wearing an undershirt under a dress shirt would turn make me hella sweaty -- but I was literally the only dude in my office who didn't do that.
posted by griphus at 10:03 AM on September 4, 2012


I don't know about the U.S. or the sixties, but I wear a t-shirt (with a deep v-neck so it doesn't show) under my dress shirt unless it's hot. It's more comfortable, it prevents sweat stains and it's warmer (important from fall to spring). What's not to like? N.B. I don't wear a suit or sport coat and I don't come from a puritanical culture.
posted by faustdick at 10:04 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


What corb said. Also, I think some dress shirts might be a little thin and you could see your chest underneath so an undershirt added another layer.
posted by littlesq at 10:04 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did James Bond always wear an undershirt?

A question for The Suits of James Bond.
posted by zamboni at 10:04 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, I've noticed that you can see men's nipples if they don't wear an undershirt with thinner fabrics. Perhaps it's to avoid that as well.
posted by lettuchi at 10:04 AM on September 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


Not every man wears undershirts under their t-shirts, nor is that 'expected.' In my experience, the #1 reason for that is sweat.

In some parts of the US both men and women will sometimes wear a long-sleeve t-shirt under their short-sleeve t-shirt. This is a fashion thing - so you can show off your t-shirt graphic but keep your arms and core warm.

but is that really the reason?

Yes, until someone popularizes dress shields for men.

I've always thought it looks a bit unsightly when you can see the end of the T-shirt sleeves under the shirt.

That's why they invented tank tops.
posted by muddgirl at 10:05 AM on September 4, 2012


I don't remember how we got on the subject, but a friend of mine from North Carolina always wears an undershirt under button-down shirts, and mentioned humid NC summers and sweat as the chief reason.

The fabric of some dress shirts can be thin, practically bordering on sheer, which is one reason I typically wear a white t-shirt under them. And it definitely does act as a sweat/B.O. barrier if you're also wearing a jacket; I'd much rather throw a t-shirt into the wash than stink up a dry-clean only coat.
posted by usonian at 10:06 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm wearing a light-blue dress shirt with a white undershirt now (in the US), and I don't think the undershirt is visible. I also don't see what wearing an undershirt has to do with "puritanical conservatism." I agree that the undershirt should be chosen to not show through the dress shirt. Even on the hottest of days (as in, over 90 or even 100 degrees Fahrenheit), I'm reluctant to ever wear a dress shirt without an undershirt. This is purely for my own physical comfort, not because anyone is telling me to do it. On the rare occasions when I wear a dress shirt without an undershirt, I have to clean the dress shirt before the next time I wear it, no matter what. In contrast, with an undershirt, a dress shirt can be worn many times without being cleaned.
posted by John Cohen at 10:07 AM on September 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I grew up in that era, it was just something that we did. I think it was a "don't ruin the good shirt with your sweat" thing foisted on us by our mothers, sacrifice the cheap t-shirt instead. I still wear a t-shirt under a dress shirt most of the time. Feels weird not to.
posted by HuronBob at 10:07 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


US woman here... the majority of men I've known do this when wearing dress shirts (and some when wearing plain-ol'-t-shirts, too. And while I've never given it any thought until now, I think that I'd find it slightly weird if a guy DIDN'T wear an undershirt under business attire.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:08 AM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's a US thing. What made Brando and Dean's T-shirts radical for their time was that they were culturally identified as underwear, although the shift towards using them as outerwear began a bit earlier than that.

The UK had the string vest, although that was for insulation in draughty offices during British... well, British seasons. Horses for courses.
posted by holgate at 10:09 AM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes there are a lot of 'explanations' around for the practice; sweat, smells, less washing of outer layer required - but is that really the reason?

Yes. Or, at least thats the reason I wore an undershirt everyday for years while working in Manhattan. The humidity would make me sweat.

You might think that having two shirts makes you sweat more but not if they're the right shirts. My undershirts were almost sheer and comfortable and breathable. The dress shirts were also light so I never really had much on in terms of layers.

Perhaps its only a US thing but, from my experience, the UK is nowhere near as humid or hot as the US East coast. So it might have been borne not from fashion but from necessity.
posted by vacapinta at 10:12 AM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Undershirts were also a British thing when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, only they called them vests and they were sleeveless.
posted by mareli at 10:14 AM on September 4, 2012


I wear a 100% cotton crew neck undershirt under my dress shirt and other shirts for religious reasons. With a dress shirt, it has the benefit of acting as a sweat shield and giving the dress shirt a cleaner look. With other shirts, it's a bit of a nuisance, really. But I've been wearing it for so long that it feels comfortable and natural, and to go without, which I do occasionally, feels awkward and scratchy, since I'm not used to feeling the seams, buttons, etc. of shirts. I also choose my dress shirts based in part on them looking "right" with an undershirt underneath, meaning that I prefer a more opaque cloth. In the summertime, or when it's very hot, it is nice to have that extra layer to keep the sweat off the dress shirt.
posted by The World Famous at 10:14 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never thought about this before today. My dad always wears an undershirt under his dress shirts, so I do the same. I think it has some practical benefits, as I live in a place where it is cold in the winter and hot in the summer (the extra layer either keeps me warm or absorbs the sweat). Dress shirts are often very thin.

I don't get the reference to purantism. Would it be much more sexual not to have on an undershirt?
posted by Area Man at 10:15 AM on September 4, 2012


I once asked this question of a male friend who always wore undershirts. He said that he wore them for two reasons:

1. When the AC in our office was too high, his nipples would become visible.

2. He felt self-conscious about the volume (high) and color (dark) of his chest hair.

Undershirts help keep both of these issues a little more private.
posted by ErikaB at 10:16 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems like "puritanical conservatism" because it seems as though you are "covering up". Ie there are coments around about it being to stop visible nipples or chest hair - and really that IS kind of puritanical.

I've never really done it - except for extra warmth in the Winter. It just seems too hot to wear another shirt underneath.

What about with a linen shirt? where the purpose is to be light and comfortable - would you wear an undershirt under a linen shirt?

Looking at those links it seems that James Bond generally Didn't wear one. So i think it is a USA thing. and possibly comes from the US's puritanical religious history
posted by mary8nne at 10:16 AM on September 4, 2012


I'm 27, Canada and I am currently wearing a white t-shirt under my dress shirt (no suit).
- If I don't, anyone I talk to in a well-lit room will see the obscene words I've shaved into my chest hair. That depends on the shirt.
- I sweat a lot. It's worth adding a bit more sweat/heat in exchange for no pit stains.
- It's also easier to reuse my dress shirts before throwing them in the wash if I had the undershirt on.
- I usually do it in suits / black tie as well. Although black tie for me is a rental, so...yeah. Definitely want a layer of protection there.

Occasionally I will wear a "normal" tshirt (aka not generic white Walmart) under my dress shirt, when I'm going out with friends afterwards and just want to wear a tshirt. That can be pretty handy.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:16 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, stops the perspiration leaking through, at least in humid locales. That and then going into freezing AC buildings with a damp shirt - it's more comfy if the t-shirt is damp, rather than just a dress shirt.
posted by carter at 10:18 AM on September 4, 2012


It seems like "puritanical conservatism" because it seems as though you are "covering up". Ie there are coments around about it being to stop visible nipples or chest hair - and really that IS kind of puritanical.

Hm. I'm pretty hairy-chested and I just don't see how it's puritanical for me to not be enthusiastic about showing it off. It's not puritanical to want to avoid fashion statements that one considers gauche, it's just fashion.
posted by The World Famous at 10:19 AM on September 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


There's an urban legend regarding how undershirt sales fell after Clark Gable was seen not wearing one under his shirt in It Happened One Night.

BTW, it's not just an American thing. From googling around, undershirts seem to be the common practice in German and Japanese business wear.
posted by zsazsa at 10:19 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a US man who wears undershirts under his dress shirts and sometimes under his t-shirts, it's because:

I'm allergic to some clothing dyes and would rather not be covered in itchy rash and while I could buy a bunch of shirts and wear them and systematically see which ones make me rashy, that is both expensive and painful

Undershirts tend to be much softer fabric and much less scratchy on my skin than dress shirts and my skin will use any excuse to get inflamed

It's hot as hell where I live (close to 40 Celsius on a regular basis in summer) and if I didn't, I'd look like I just ran a marathon anytime I went outside.

A lot of dress shirts are very thin and it looks bad if you're not wearing something beneath it. I wore dress shirts as uniforms when I was in high school and they were so sheer you could read the writing if someone was wearing a t-shirt beneath it.

When I'm doing all-day sorts of things (tradeshows, conferences, long meetings), swapping into a fresh undershirt is refreshing, like a change of clothes that gets all the sweaty and gross off your skin, without requiring purchase and packing of multiple dress shirts.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:19 AM on September 4, 2012


I was on a work trip to New York with my colleague from London who never wore a t-shirt, it was one of those 99* high humidity New York August days and we were late to the meeting and had to run to catch the subway. By the time we got to the meeting room his dress up shirt was completely see through (like a wet t-shirt contest) and you could see everything.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:20 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would it be much more sexual not to have on an undershirt?

Well, Yes.

I really think its more sexual not to wear one. Undershirts look stuffy and prudish.
posted by mary8nne at 10:20 AM on September 4, 2012


What about with a linen shirt? where the purpose is to be light and comfortable - would you wear an undershirt under a linen shirt?

I don't think a linen shirt would be considered appropriate Business Formal attire. Low-quality Business Formal shirts are generally rather heavy on the polyester, which doesn't breath and can be itchy to wear.

A man's undershirt is similar in purpose to a woman's camisole or slip, which are falling out of fashion in the US but are still worn in business settings. I wonder if Brits don't wear those, either.
posted by muddgirl at 10:21 AM on September 4, 2012


I really think its more sexual not to wear one.

Business environments should not be sexual. If that is puritanical then I'm all for it.
posted by muddgirl at 10:22 AM on September 4, 2012 [30 favorites]


FWIW, I think it's awfully puritanical to consider it "sexual" when a man's chest hair happens to be visible because he has sweated through his dress shirt.
posted by The World Famous at 10:23 AM on September 4, 2012 [20 favorites]


I thought it was generally agreed upon, fashion-wise, that your undershirt shouldn't be visible under your dress shirt - which would kind of make this question moot, right. I wear a v-neck underneath and you don't see any sign of it. Maybe undershirts read as "doesn't look right" to you because the only times they're visible it's just slightly sloppy.
posted by naju at 10:25 AM on September 4, 2012


This...

Looking at those links it seems that James Bond generally Didn't wear one. So i think it is a USA thing. and possibly comes from the US's puritanical religious history

...is wrong.

It's pretty standard, it isn't just a US thing, and it has nothing to do with religion. It's mostly to do with sweat.

Remember, the washing machine was only invented in the late nineteenth century and electricity wasn't widely available until the 1930s. So washing clothes was kind of a big deal.

Also, remember that until the mid twentieth century, a lot of people only owned one or two dress outfits. One's "Sunday best" referred to the one outfit one had that was kept for formal and dress occasions. A man who wore a suit to work maybe only owned one or two of them. To make dress clothes last longer, people wore undershirts. These were easier to wash, which was important because washing was a pain (see above), and cheaper, which was important because people couldn't afford to buy a bunch of dress shirts every year.

This started to change rather dramatically in the 1940s and 1950s when people started to be able to have more than one outfit. Movie stars were shown not wearing undershirts to emphasize their wealth and glamour: look, I don't even need an undershirt! I can afford to go through dress shirts like nothing!

Oh, and this...

Undershirts look stuffy and prudish.

...is as much about personal taste as anything else, but the "stuffy and prudish" part probably just means "old fashioned." Because it is kind of that. A hundred years ago, no one would have gone out without an undershirt, not for some moral or etiquette reason, but for practical reasons, i.e., don't want to get the good shirt sweaty. So it's become part of old-school business attire, which is, on the whole, pretty conservative and non-sexualized. Today, when dress shirts are fairly cheap and most people have multiple outfits, they're still used, but they're far more optional than they once were.
posted by valkyryn at 10:26 AM on September 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


mary8nne: "It seems like "puritanical conservatism" because it seems as though you are "covering up". Ie there are coments around about it being to stop visible nipples or chest hair - and really that IS kind of puritanical. "

I think you're misinterpreting the reasoning here. I don't think people are thinking, "Oh no, someone might see my manly nipples or chest hair and become sexually aroused. That would make Jesus cry." I think it's more an aesthetic consideration. It's just not really fashionable to have your nipples or your flowing mane of chest hair show through your shirt.
posted by katyggls at 10:30 AM on September 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


I think of them as going with anything that's a dress shirt. If you're wearing a dress shirt to a wedding, then yes. If you're wearing a knit shirt (like a polo shirt) to a wedding, then no.

If someone's button-up, dress shirt is sheer enough that I notice that they aren't wearing an undershirt (which are thinner than normal t-shirts, in my experience) then I think no one taught them how to dress, similar to wearing a clip-on tie.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I promise that you wouldn't think it sexual if you saw me in a broadcloth white dress shirt without an undershirt on a hot day in DC. If I were an Abercrombie & Fitch model who for some reason didn't wax his chest for a month or so, then sure, I can see it. But middle-aged, slightly overweight hairy dude? There's a reason why people laugh when Will Ferrell runs around in his underpants, and it's not because they're in awe at his sexuality. We wear an undershirt to dinner/dates/formal events/weddings because we don't want to look like Will Ferrell in a wet t-shirt contest.
posted by The World Famous at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


Undershirts are worn for the reasons stated above: to keep you warmer, to absorb sweat, to save the outer shirt from needing to be dry-cleaned every time it's worn, to make sure chest hair and nipples aren't visible.

I really don't think you can decide that a simple fashion/practical decision is "puritanical" just because, to you, undershirts aren't sexy. Personally, I think they are super sexy, and there's a reason actors and models are regularly photographed wearing them and "wifebeaters". (ugh- is there a better word for these, more specific than generic "tank top"?)

would you wear an undershirt to a wedding - which is arguably a pretty safe time to be sexual.
Again, there are practical reasons to wear the undershirt- sweat, etc. Even if those aren't the concerns, many people don't want their chest hair and/or nipples on display, no matter what the event. It's just not really a fashionable choice.
posted by coupdefoudre at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Canadian here. My husband (also Canadian) wears cotton undershirts under long-sleeved dress shirts because any other material makes his skin itch like hell. When he wears casual long-sleeved shirts, he wears a cotton tee underneath.
posted by methroach at 10:36 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


So i think it is a USA thing. and possibly comes from the US's puritanical religious history

The men in my life wear undershirts beneath button down shirts to keep the sweat from staining the pits, and to keep people from seeing through thin shirts, which would be tacky even at a wedding. (I've never been to a sexual wedding, though, so YMMV.)

Wearing an undergarment beneath clothing dates back to medieval times and quite likely before that, for the same reasons many have detailed above. It's not some prim American reason.

But from the looks of your followups I guess you're going to continue to think that it's puritanical, despite the evidence here from men who actually wear undershirts. Let me rock your world with my Puritanism - I wear underwear beneath my pants and skirts for the same reasons!
posted by kimberussell at 10:36 AM on September 4, 2012 [21 favorites]


Before the development of less-wrinkly fabrics, you often had to send your dress shirts out to a professional laundry to get them washed -- it was hard to get them looking crisp if you washed them at home. Sending your clothes out to be washed was expensive, though, so the more often you could wear the same unwashed dress shirt with a clean undershirt (which could be washed at home) the better.
posted by ostro at 10:37 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I'm wearing a button up shirt, I've got an undershirt on underneath. Along with the sweat issue, it also helps the shirt cling less to my gut. Also, if I'm going to\from a gig where I'm changing before or after, it means I have a larger option of places to change.

You're sort of getting the whole chest hair=sexy thing backwards. It's a fashion no-no, not because people get all hot and bothered looking at my chest hair, but because by the current standards, it looks gross. If you're going to dress nice, you're going to minimize the things that society doesn't like to look at, in this case chest hair and non-flat belly.
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:38 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I get pretty sweaty at weddings from all the dancing. So, I still wear my undershirt. It keeps me from having big pit stains, which aren't too sexy.
posted by Area Man at 10:38 AM on September 4, 2012


i.e. to dinner / dates / formal events / weddings ... would you wear an undershirt to a wedding - which is arguably a pretty safe time to be sexual.

I really don't think of "undershirt/not undershirt" as having anything to do with my sexuality. At all.

To be quite blunt: I'm a single American whose friends are getting married pretty much non-stop, since we're all in our mid-late 20s. So on a semi-regular basis, I'm at a wedding and flirting, dancing, and otherwise interacting "sexually" with other single people. I always wear an undershirt under my dress shirt for the many reasons mentioned above, and I have never felt this to in any way interfere with my flirting/dancing/etc. It keeps my armpits from staining from sweat - it is not visible at all in any way, unless my shirt comes off, in which case we're in a whole 'nother scenario entirely.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:39 AM on September 4, 2012


I always wear an undershirt with my dress shirts. The key reason is sweat. If I sweat in a loose fitting cotton shirt, the droplets form on the underarm hair, and then drop down my side. The feeling is unpleasantly cold and slimy. With a form fitting undershirt, the sweat is absorbed instead.

I admit that the undershirt makes me warmer, and presumably sweatier. However, much of the sweat is due to the stressful tasks that are part of working. At this point, I expect that I would just find that it feels strange to not wear the undershirt.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:39 AM on September 4, 2012


Some men may get irritation from the starch often used on dress shirts and want to have the tenderest skim shielded.
posted by lakeroon at 10:39 AM on September 4, 2012


I detect a distinct bias against the U.S., (totally acceptable). But, might be coloring your view...

Here's one way of looking at this. The U.S is not monolithic - it is very diverse. Even the early settlers were not as purutanical as you think. Some were, some were clearly not.

Given the multiple temperatures, environments, regional trends, and of course personal choice in dress, your search for a purutanical rationale is eclipsing the obvious and simpler reasons for the undershirt here.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:39 AM on September 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


I find it funny you ask this because as an Aussie I always assumed the vest/singlet under the shirt thing was very English. Heck my very English mother who moved to Australia made me wear them in the middle of summer under school uniforms so I wouldn't sweat up the uniform and could wear it a second day my friends mothers thought she was mad. This was only 40 years ago, so maybe the English wear them less now than they did.
posted by wwax at 10:40 AM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


It seems like "puritanical conservatism" because it seems as though you are "covering up". Ie there are coments around about it being to stop visible nipples or chest hair - and really that IS kind of puritanical.

You're overlooking the possibility that people honestly don't think this looks very good. As kimberussell says, you seem very intent on calling Americans puritanical. You're entitled to your opinion, but you should also realize that some Americans would rather not be stereotyped as puritanical, and puritanism isn't the only reason an American can have for choosing which clothing to wear.
posted by John Cohen at 10:40 AM on September 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


As far as I know, this is a common thing in the USA. Most men I know will wear an undershirt under a dress shirt, although the color depends on the outer shirt.

For example: my husband and I were getting lunch today. It started raining fairly heavily mid-walk to lunch. Despite the fact that we were sharing an umbrella, we both got soaked. Fortunately for the both of us, we were BOTH wearing undershirts under our dress shirts, so we could come back to our offices and let our shirts dry for a bit instead of suffering soaked collared shirts in cold air conditioning.

We both also brought our dress shirts to work with us and rode our bikes wearing just wearing the undershirts. No rain, but it makes for a more comfortable ride in. Less sweating then, for sure.

It's also great for preventing gross sweat STAINS on the nice shirts. I've never felt that wearing an undershirt has made me significantly hotter.
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:43 AM on September 4, 2012


There are a couple of reasons I wear one (a young, bleeding-heart liberal Canadian):

1) I walk to work all year long and this usually involves me breaking a sweat. I don't want people to see that, so my shirt below soaks it up. This is also a case if I go to the gym at lunch, or am wearing a suit.

2) For lighter shirts, typical antiperspirants stain your shirt pretty badly. It's a lot better to go through $7 under-shirts than $80 dress shirts because of a stain.

3) I find dry cleaned shirts bother my skin a little; I get a light itch. Laundered cotton shirts are much more comfortable against the skin.

My grandfather wore them; my dad did not. I think my dad sweats less than the average guy, but he also cared a little less about his clothing and had stains under his arms. Like my grandfather, I buy nicer quality clothes and take care of them, whereas my dad did not. I don't know if that's a generational thing, but I pride myself on being more or less together and I find an undershirt leaves me feeling fresh and my clothes look nicer.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 10:43 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Captain Jack Harkness wears one; he's an American-ish character on a UK TV series, played by a British-American actor, fwiw.

Um, yeah, I know we all knew that.
posted by ellenaim at 10:44 AM on September 4, 2012


Up until I was about 20 years old I never wore an undershirt, honestly I didn't even know people did that, until I met a friend who seemed shocked by the idea that someone wouldn't. Apparently he never considered that there were people who didn't wear them.

I didn't try it for a while because I was afraid I'd be too hot. But after having repeated problems with yellow armpits in all my clothes, I decided to try wearing them. I found that in many situations I was actually *cooler* with an undershirt on. I appeared much less sweaty (and I sweat super-easy). My undershirt would absorb any sweat before it got to my outer shirt, avoiding the "wet T-shirt" look. My nice shirts lasted longer. And I found that certain shirts that showed more nipple/chest hair that I preferred looked better with the undershirt to help conceal things.

As others have said, I don't necessarily view showing nipples or chest hair as sexual, just unsightly. Although if other did view it as sexual I'd like to avoid that as well. I don't like dressing in a provocative manner in public.

I find it puzzling that someone would want to wear a shirt and yet let their nipples/chest hair show. If you want people to see your chest, just don't wear a shirt. Problem solved. I kind of though concealing that stuff was a big reason for wearing the shirt in the first place.

From the time I was 21-22 up until a year or two ago I always wore undershirts even under my T-shirts. Then I realized that some of them actually looked a bit silly that way, especially when the undershirt's sleeves were longer than the shirt I was wearing over it. And sometimes it really was too hot. So nowadays I may or may not wear an undershirt under my T-shirt, depending on the T-shirt and the weather. But I still wear them under button-down shirts 100% of tht time.
posted by Vorteks at 10:46 AM on September 4, 2012


I find it funny you ask this because as an Aussie I always assumed the vest/singlet under the shirt thing was very English.

The vest/singlet/A-vest/item-that's-hard-to-search-for-on-Google was very English during the days of the Ten Pound Pom.

As a British expat who's endured many a humid US summer, I can see both sides of this: the practicality of the "t-shirt under shirt" combo is obvious, but I doubt I'll ever regard it as a particularly stylish look. That's more about inherited cultural norms on both sides of the pond than "puritanism".
posted by holgate at 10:50 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Please use AskMe as intended, for getting answers, and not for starting arguments. OP, don't threadsit. Thanks. ]
posted by jessamyn at 10:52 AM on September 4, 2012


I'm in the US, I wear undershirts under almost all buttoned-up shirts, and I'm definitely not a puritanical conservative: I'm a non-religious gay man in a liberal center city of a major metropolitan area of a "blue state."

I think there are two points you are missing:

- Undershirts shouldn't be showing through in normal conditions. Yeah, lots of guys here wear white shirts that peek through the collar, but that doesn't look great; the point is that it shouldn't be seen.

- As compared to the UK, the US is often both hotter AND colder, as most of the Midwest/East Coast goes through typical summer heat and humidity not normal in the UK; and then many of our office buildings tend to be severely air-conditioned in the summer. (Many women here keep cardigans and light sweaters at work in July, not because they're "covering up" for puritanical purposes, but because it's literally so cold in the office you have to put on one.)

An undershirt can thus help both to stop sweat from coming through to your dress shirt -- and I pretty much sweat continuously from Memorial to Labor Day, so I know what I'm talking about -- and prevent you from freezing when you get into your over-AC'd office.
posted by andrewesque at 10:53 AM on September 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


A lot of dress shirts have odd, thin blends that feel weird on my skin. The cotton undershirt helps a bit.
posted by The Whelk at 10:53 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always worn one under my dress shirt. I also like that when I go for a bike ride at lunch to get a coffee, I can whip off the dress shirt and ride free in a white Tee. Far from being puritanical, I'm assured that many people find it attractive.

The benifits in hot and cold weather, outlined by many people, are definitely true. It's not really a tradition to wear one. I know people who don't, and it's not unusual or weird.

One of my favorite things is that it prevents my dress shirts from smelling like deoderant. Also, I keep an extra in my bad for those extra-humid days here in Toronto. just change the undershirt and you're good to go.
posted by beau jackson at 11:02 AM on September 4, 2012


You can bleach white undershirts and/or not give a fuck about their sweat stains. No one I knew in Colorado did this; many people in NYC do this. The difference is the muggy weather and the increased amount of time spent in the heat (waiting for transit and walking). I would not call the New Yorkers I know puritanical, no, but you're free to reach that conclusion if you'd like.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:03 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are in the weeds with the puritanical talk.

Plain and simple, it is to avoid PIT STAINS.

When you spend $75 on a polo or $100 on a button down shirt, you likely want to keep it around for awhile and not stain up the pits.

Certain deodorants will stain your shirts and cause a terrible thick build up that hardly ever comes out of the shirt.

It is a result of the US's sterile and private culture that indirectly attributes to the t-shirt wearing.

Nothing pisses me off more than finding out after wearing a shirt 10 times without an undershirt that you can see a sweat stain. Therefore I wear an undershirt.
posted by LeanGreen at 11:04 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Most of the guys in my life do this. I always thought it made sense becase, really, sweat can be really destructive. When I was a kid, my dad's sweat was infamous for staining tees and eating through fuzzy blankets (over a period of constant use). Some guys just have heavy duty sweat. I'd rather replace a bunch of cheapo undershirts every month than constantly replace expensive work shirts rendered unwearable by super-sweat.
posted by ninjakins at 11:05 AM on September 4, 2012


Undershirts can be attractive! I had a boyfriend who always wore an undershirt with buttoned shirts, which was new for me as I'm a Brit, and it was fascinating. They look really buttoned up and formal, and then there's another layer to peel off that's informal. It's as though someone is wearing two attractive outfits at the same time.

(That obviously wasn't his reasoning, though, for him it was all about temperature and sweat control.)
posted by pickingupsticks at 11:07 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Until his moment I have never heard of people NOT wearing undershirts under dress shirts. (American, born and raised, lived in NJ, MI and TX).
posted by raccoon409 at 11:14 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


to save the outer shirt from needing to be dry-cleaned every time it's worn

This is a big one that hasn't been mentioned enough yet. Absorbing sweat isn't just about avoiding visible wet marks in the summer, it's about absorbing that tiny bit of sweat, oil, and smell that everyone inevitably gives off throughout the day all year round. The big advantage is as a result your nice shirt gets less dirty each day and gains little to no smell, so you don't have to take it to the dry cleaners weekly when all you did was sit in a chair all day. Hang it up, iron it next time, wear again. Not only does this save $$, but I think it keeps your clothes new for longer as washing or dry cleaning can put a lot of wear-and-tear on clothes.

Without an undershirt, wearing a nice shirt 3 times without washing would be pushing it. With undershirts, that gets pushed out to 5 or 6 wears depending on your insistence on being squeaky clean.

For many people, undershirts are utilitarian.
posted by Tehhund at 11:15 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have been told it is a sweat thing, because A) raising your arms to reveal dark, damp pits is kind of embarassing and B) it makes more sense to run the risk of permanently staining your $9.99 Hanes undershirt than your $275 dress shirt.

Also, I'd point out that the U.S. has places like Arizona and Death Valley...which maybe makes sweat a little more of a concern than the U.K., you know?
posted by vivid postcard at 11:17 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My Swiss ex who was a very smart dresser said a man should never wear a shirt more than once before laundering, and in hot weather should change mid-way through the day if his shirt becomes dirty. He never wore undershirts. He said undershirts were for the working classes.
posted by Dragonness at 11:23 AM on September 4, 2012


My husband wears an undershirt - with short sleeves or a tank top version, depending on the shirt he's wearing on top - as he doesn't want his nipples to show. I don't know that it's a puritanical thing, so much as just wanting to conceal the bumps. And if it is a puritanical thing, I'm ok with that. He's not really out to seduce anyone besides me anyways, and his use of undershirts really has no impact on my desire for him.
posted by RogueTech at 11:24 AM on September 4, 2012


When my husband started moving up to management, he started wearing dress shirts. And I insisted on undershirts, because I'm the one who does the laundry/goes to the cleaner. He actually prefers the thinnest SmartWool tees over the standard white Hanes - he usually wears dark shirts, so a black SmartWool underneath, except on the very hottest days of the summer, works well. And it makes a huge difference in how long his shirts last and how easy they are to get clean.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 11:26 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


As many have said here, people do or don’t wear underwear on the top for the same reason that people do or don’t wear underwear on the bottom of their bodies. It’s not really that complicated and doesn’t really have a lot of religious/political meaning. I wore undershirts when I was a kid, decided it wasn’t cool when I was a teen (and mostly wore tshirts anyway), then realized it made a lot more sense when I was older.
posted by bongo_x at 11:26 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


He said undershirts were for the working classes.

That's a pretty compelling reason to wear an undershirt right there.
posted by The World Famous at 11:32 AM on September 4, 2012 [35 favorites]


I don't understand ... you're asking if wearing an undershirt under a dress shirt is a US thing, and if James Bond always wears one? So, clearly it's not just a US thing.

Nor is it a stuffy, puritanical thing either. It's to avoid sweat stains on your dress shirt, and also for the fact that many dress shirts are somewhat sheer, and look like crap if you don't have an undershirt on underneath.

My husband wears an undershirt under his white dress shirts (we're in Canada).
posted by Koko at 11:49 AM on September 4, 2012


You can stretch out the wear of a nice shirt much longer between washings if you've prevented it from coming into contact with your body.
posted by hermitosis at 11:56 AM on September 4, 2012


I always wear a t-shirt under a collared shirt for the same reason I wear underwear: the human body is a stinky cesspool even under the best of circumstances. I don't feel like having to wash and iron a button-down after every time I wear one. I don't understand how anyone could have time for that much laundering.
posted by ghostiger at 11:58 AM on September 4, 2012


My (very proper/conservative, US) grandpa always wore an undershirt, but they were sleeveless -- I guess I just presumed that everybody else his age did the same (as with the sock garters he wore well into my awareness in the 1970s). Would the sleeveless ones save the armpits to the same degree, or does this favor the other explanations, like nipples or making the white shirts look whiter, etc.? I can remember other older men in similar undershirts in summer, when they took off their main shirts to, say, mow the lawn, so he didn't invent this style.
posted by acm at 12:01 PM on September 4, 2012


As a woman, I like to wear a white camisole or undershirt under a white dress shirt for all the reasons above (except chest hair), and also because the double layer of white looks brighter and crisper than when not wearing anything underneath.
posted by peep at 12:05 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are so many difference reasons. When I was a child, I was religious and wore a shirt under my tzitzit because they were really rough and scratchy. When I was older and less religious, I still wore an undershirt because I cycled everywhere, and preferred not to have my dress shirts soaked with sweat. Now, I can't bike as much, so I only wear undershirts when it's particularly cold or warm/humid.
posted by vasi at 12:12 PM on September 4, 2012


*different
posted by vasi at 12:12 PM on September 4, 2012


Looking at those links it seems that James Bond generally Didn't wear one. So i think it is a USA thing. and possibly comes from the US's puritanical religious history

No, it doesn't. Most of the US is hotter and more humid than Britain, at least in the summer. And not wanting your chest hair to be super-visible in non-beach situations is really not puritanical; the same people wearing a T-shirt under their polos could very well be wearing shorts and sandals. Really, the prudishness thing you're pressing is just wrong.
posted by spaltavian at 12:13 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Also, the photos in the James Bond link show him in suit and tie situations where an undershirt would not be visible if he were wearing one. The other photos are of him in beach attire or, in the case of the Thunderball photo, at a spa where he is in attire to go to a spa treatment of some sexy or violent kind.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:18 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wear an old white tee with the sleeves cut off under all my shirts, all the time.

The reason is simple: anywhere I go I have a napkin available to me. I can just wipe my hands on the inside of the undershirt and not care that it's dirty, even if it stains. I just chuck the whole shirt if it's bad enough.

If I need a rag, I have one, I just take off the undershirt and use that. If I need a tourniquet (ok, this doesn't come up THAT often), I have one. Need something to roll into my window to say "my car is temporarily out of order", boom. Honestly, since doing this I've had a hundred different uses for said shirt and just can't think of any of them now.

So, personally, mine isn't about fashion, nipples, hair, or sweat, it's about convenience.

That said, I do wash my "outer" shirts less often most of the time because of it. I don't sweat much and what does come out goes into the undershirt. My shirts pass the "wife sniff test" even after two wearings (and she's got a sensitive post-pregnancy nose!)
posted by bender b rodriguez at 12:29 PM on September 4, 2012


I used always to wear them but have not for years...but then I changed because styles changed and when I wore them I was considerably younger than my 83 years today
posted by Postroad at 12:31 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's also part of some military uniforms. I am forever washing blue crew neck tshirts because they are part of my husband's ODU; they're worn under the collared shirt that makes up the top of the uniform. I am really not an expert on his uniforms but I think that they're mandatory.
posted by lyra4 at 12:31 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My husband wears suit-and-tie every day and he wears undershirts, for warmth in the winter and to catch sweat year-round. Dress shirts, which are EXPENSIVE, last much, much longer if you wear them with undershirts, which are not expensive. Especially if you tend to sweat a lot; dress shirts sweat stain easily and are not always easy to launder.

"What about when dressing black tie? I've always thought it looks a bit unsightly when you can see the end of the T-shirt sleeves under the shirt."

If someone can tell you are wearing an undershirt under your tuxeudo, you are Doing It Wrong. If they can see the edges under your top shirt, you are either doing something wrong or layering on purpose.

I'd be surprised if James Bond didn't wear an undershirt. Lord Grantham certainly does. (Hugh Bonneville, OTOH, wears FUNdershirts!)

If you want to think it's about puritanical conservatism, I guess that's your right, but for most men it's about sweat and serves the same purpose as underwear: keeps your sweatier, dirtier bits off your outer layers or more expensive pieces of clothing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:31 PM on September 4, 2012


T-shirts are comfier - they will be softer and more supple than most shirt material.

T-shirts are colorful - I'm wearing a cream crew-neck t-shirt with a bright blue button-down shirt as we speak. It provides a nice color counter-point to the overshirt. Sometimes I'll wear the shirt unbuttoned to show off a logo or graphic on the t-shirt. I like the layered look, a t-shirt alone feels underdressed, like I'm wearing sweatpants or a tracksuit.

T-shirts are much better at dealing with sweat and smell than dress shirts.

Long sleeve T's are warm in the winter.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:50 PM on September 4, 2012


To nth what is said above my boyfriend wears then under almost everything for a couple reasons.
1. Sweat
2. No matter what he is wearing something soft and comfy is what is touching his skin.
3. They can be easily bleached if necessary for stains or smells.

I don't find them at all puritanical, it just makes sense.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:59 PM on September 4, 2012


Not just a US thing at any rate -- all my male relatives in India have always worn them under dress shirts, for practical reasons. And having just helped my boyfriend buy dress shirts to wear to (American) interviews, this questions reminds me that I should tell him to buy undershirts as well as his shirts are quite thin.
posted by peacheater at 1:04 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have worn them from time to time, but haven't done so for a few years. I don't sweat that much though, and California is not muggy. I have been known to stand in front of my closet like a confused Labrador retriever, staring at the undershirts and thinking "Why do I have these?"

Now that you have got me thinking about it again, myabe I'll go on another undershirt-wearing streak.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:09 PM on September 4, 2012


It really does help my dress shirts from yellowing under the arms. Tradionally speaking you shouldn't be able to see the undershirt but for me personally, wearing a tie and suit would be overkill so it is usually semi-visible with my dress shirt's collar open.

I could care less about any puritanical beliefs. If someone wants to see my nipples all they have to do is ask.
posted by Silvertree at 1:20 PM on September 4, 2012


Wearing a t-shirt under a dress shirt is definitely is a major fashion mistake here in Poland. As dragoness earlier said we are told that a man should never wear a shirt more than once before laundering, and in hot weather should change mid-way through the day if his shirt becomes dirty. But the weather might be a factor here -- I wear dress shirts every day and extremely rarely had a sweat stains on a shirt (but 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) is considered hot weather here). Until now I didn't even knew that sweat could cause yellow stains. Frankly I'm confused about the crowd above saying that they wear undershirts under dress shirts.
posted by przepla at 1:30 PM on September 4, 2012


Just to add, I'm in the UK and know people who do this, one of them has said he does it to cover up chest hair etc when wearing open neck shirts. I definitely don't think it's particularly unusual here...
posted by shiny shoes at 1:40 PM on September 4, 2012


My British mother who lives in the United States is seriously opposed to undershirts that show. Rightly or wrongly, she's convinced it's a holdover from second world war military uniforms and somehow a manifestation of American militarism. V-neck vests are acceptable and accomplish the practical things people have mentioned, but god forbid my brother or I have a second shirt showing. (She's so insistent on this that I was reluctant to show her my passport photo, since I'd pulled on a dress shirt over a t-shirt and the t-shirt was showing if you looked closely.)
posted by hoyland at 1:44 PM on September 4, 2012


I'm in the southeastern US. I'm a skinny guy. I usually wear a t-shirt under a casual button-up shirt.

When I worked briefly in the mountains of the southwestern US, I switched to wearing only the button-up shirt. Which I liked, by the way. But since I've come back to the southeast, I almost always wear the two shirts. The main reason is that it takes less than five minutes outside, in the summer, for the sweat to make big dark marks on my chest and back. I'd much rather everyone notice my extra layer of clothes than my pooling bodily fluids.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:09 PM on September 4, 2012


Plus, as bender b rodriguez says, it's occasionally useful. This weekend I went with my family to an amusement park, where we wound up miles from our extra clothes for many hours. The weather went bad and the kids got cold. I took off my 'extra' button-up shirt and put it on the coldest kid until they felt better. I wish I'd worn three shirts instead of two.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:13 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brit, live and work in UK, wear a T-shirt every day under my work shirts. In summer stops me sweating through my shirt, in winter it keeps me warmer. I don't think T-shirts, or vests, under shirts are anything US-centric or remarkable - people have been wearing them for years!
posted by prentiz at 2:17 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


there's a reason actors and models are regularly photographed wearing them and "wifebeaters". (ugh- is there a better word for these, more specific than generic "tank top"?)

Even though (in my experience) almost apparently no one knows this, it's called an A-shirt.
posted by psoas at 2:29 PM on September 4, 2012


Wearing a t-shirt under a dress shirt is definitely is a major fashion mistake here in Poland.

I don't think anyone else here has really touched on this, but at least in the urban/cosmopolitan/gay circles I'm familiar with in the U.S., the same person will wear an undershirt under a dress shirt when going to work, but will not wear an undershirt with a "casual dress" shirt when going to a party.

So it's possible there is a bit of an element of flirtiness/sexiness to it too, but--as people have pointed out above--the office is not a sexual environment.
posted by psoas at 2:40 PM on September 4, 2012


What about when dressing black tie? I've always thought it looks a bit unsightly when you can see the end of the T-shirt sleeves under the shirt.

If a man were wearing black tie to a formal function, he would not ever remove his jacket.

At any rate, comparing a (fictional) conservative American businessman of the early 60's to British men of today seems odd. Some men wear undershirts/vests under their clothes, others do not. American and British men today are both less likely to wear them than their counterparts fifty years ago. I imagine American men are more likely to wear undershirts because a larger part of the country gets very hot and humid for a longer season than most areas in the UK. However, the "puritanical" thing makes about as much sense as me saying that Britons are unhygienic and don't care if their armpits are dripping with sweat- that is, none at all.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:49 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just a data point, but I've always worn a tee underneath my long-sleeved shirts. I do it for the same reasons I put boxers on under my pants—comfort, practicality (washing unders is generally easier than nice outer garments), and convention.

To that last one I'll add my grandfather's input: He always chastised me for wearing t-shirts under my dress shirts instead of tank-top undershirts for the same reason OP mentions, seeing the sleevends through the shirt. As a heavy sweater, though, I always preferred the extra protection of tee sleeves.
posted by carsonb at 3:31 PM on September 4, 2012


Is it some remnant of a more conservative past?

Men started wearing undershirts when King Charles II (of England, and not puritanical) ordered it so. It was to teach the nobles thrift.
posted by Houstonian at 4:08 PM on September 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Coupedefoudre- I know a feminist social worker who taught me to call them "partner-beaters", if that makes you feel any better.

I think they serve the same purpose as underwear; to protect you from the clothes and the clothes from you (and sometimes to make the clothes look better). So unless underwear is a puritannical conspiracy I think you don't need to be worried. If you dislike undershirts, don't wear them.
posted by windykites at 4:16 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Undershirt =/= T-shirt. Men's "proper" dress shirts (the ones worn under a suit or sport coat, not the oxford shirts intended to be worn without a jacket), are thin, even if they're made out of linen. So thin, in fact, that they're nearly sheer. They're also expensive. Wearing an undershirt keeps the dress shirt from staining, makes them last longer (by protecting the fabric from damp abrasion), and nipples/chest hair/ belly lines from showing through. (They also keep the tie clip from poking. My father also claimed that he didn't have to tuck his shirt in as often when he wore an undershirt. )

My dad, who wore suit + tie to work every day for 40+ years (1950s-1990s), always wore a (very thin) undershirt under his dress shirt, even after he was able to wash/iron dress shirts at home. He had heavier T-shirts that he wore when he was working around the house. MrR, who owns one sport coat and no "proper" dress shirts, doesn't understand the concept of undershirts. SonR has a "proper" dress shirt, and wears an undershirt under it. (I'm sorry, even the most fit 20-something does not look "sexy" with his aureoles and/or chest hair showing through his sheer dress shirt. I say the same thing about ladies wearing no cami under a sheer shirt, showing off their bras (or lack therof).)

If a man is wearing a proper undershirt, it shouldn't be immediately obvious where the sleeves end -- if they're distorting the line of the dress shirt, he's wearing a T-shirt, not an undershirt. If the sleevend is visible because the color changes, perhaps he should not have taken his coat off. :)
posted by jlkr at 4:19 PM on September 4, 2012


It's coming back in fashion in the UK, if the reports are to be believed. Note: David Beckham sporting that puritanical look, and he's included it in his underwear line (NSF people who don't want to see Beckham in underwear): Sleeveless and with with sleeves. In this article, an industry analyst says, "Next up will be changes in the undershirt, with 9.4 percent growth last year, and then slimming shapewear. A decade ago, all the innovation was coming out of the shape of the bottom — you had the hybrid boxer-brief and younger guys wearing boxers. Now the growth is in undershirts. Guys are wearing them as everyday wear, not just for occasions. Men have recognized they can’t do shabby chic and look like they just rolled out of bed, he says. They are looking for a job, or how to do their job better or how to move ahead, and dressing is part of that."
posted by Houstonian at 4:34 PM on September 4, 2012


I'm in Australia and they are sort of common here, by which I mean it's very unusual to see someone <4>45 would be wearing one. I (31 year old male) do not, generally.
posted by smoke at 5:10 PM on September 4, 2012


oh my little arrows were interpreted as html. I was saying that hardly anyone under 45 wears them then, and it's about 50-50 that someone over 45 would wear them.
posted by smoke at 5:12 PM on September 4, 2012


I've worked in offices in California, Texas and Washington. Most men wore tshirts under their dress shirts.

The mister (Canadian from Ontario living in British Columbia) didn't wear tshirts under dress shirts and considers it an old fashioned idea.

To me it seems weird when men don't wear a tshirt under a dress shirt.
posted by deborah at 5:50 PM on September 4, 2012


Probably a different kind of US-centric reason, perhaps related to James Bond, an undershirt helps keep a concealed firearm from digging into my skin.
posted by hey you over in the corner at 7:15 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, lyra, the Air Force always wears a green/brown t-shirt with their BDUs and a white shirt with their dress blues. I presume it's the same for all branches.

...it being to stop visible nipples or chest hair - and really that IS kind of puritanical.

No, it's not puritanical. A dress shirt is supposed to be a more formal or businesslike type of attire. To carry off the more formal look, someone shouldn't see your nipples, chest hair, tats or t-shirt neck/sleeves. It's supposed to look polished and put together. There is an entire subtle dress code for men that is mostly forgotten now except among the higher echelon businessmen, lawyers, politicians, etc. If someone from that 'class' breaks the code, they do so deliberately, and it's a case of knowing when to be able to break it, not just randomly doing their own thing. Believe it or not, there are places where not wearing a t-shirt under the right suit with the right tie would cause you to be (politely) dismissed out of hand.

For all of the above reasons listed, guys wear t-shirts under their button downs. But tradition and polish are the number one reason.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:35 PM on September 4, 2012


Underwear for men is supposed to work the same way that under garments for women do - they give you a smooth continuous surface so that your clothing looks sharp and presentable. It helps prevent dress shirt fabrics from bunching and sticking to your skin, and also helps them stay tucked in without having to fight it all day.

People who wear business clothing to work are adhering to conformity, not puritanical objectives. In a classless society, different levels of business accomplishment are established by quality of tailoring and fabrics. Once people have made it to the top levels, they wear shorts and flip flops, because they live in Fiji.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:17 PM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


When wearing an Oxford cloth shirt without a jacket, it's really personal preference whether to wear anything under it or not. Traditionally they wouldn't be worn with one, I don't think, but their original use was much different than they are worn today.

Well-made oxford shirts are generally heavy enough so they're not very sheer, unlike traditional dress shirts made exclusively for wear under a jacket. So while an undershirt isn't necessary (as I'd argue it is under the traditional thin shirt), a person could still wear one for comfort, e.g. to keep from sweating through the shirt.

Given current and recent trends in American business attire, which went pretty swiftly in some places from suit-and-tie to "business casual" (oxford and cotton trousers), I think a lot of guys who were used to wearing undershirts under dress shirts retained the preference when they switched over to wearing oxfords without jackets every day.

Also, if you have oxfords dry cleaned and starched — which is not traditional; the prep-school, sporting origins of oxford shirts would have had them laundered and pressed, but probably not heavily starched like linen dress shirts, but most modern dry cleaners handle them the same way — they can be very rough on your skin due to the open weave. In certain environments where "breaking starch" (i.e. wearing a fresh, starched shirt) every day is de rigueur, an undershirt makes that a lot more bearable. But the traditionalist approach would be a V-neck or A-shirt, not a T, so that nothing would show at the collar.

There is definitely something a little militaryesque about the starched shirt and visible undershirt, though I suspect it's mostly unconscious; like khaki pants, it's passed into the collective fashion unconscious at this point. I suspect that the inclusion of an undershirt in most military and police uniforms stems from both a desire to wash the shirt less often, and also due to the insignia poking through from the outside. But why they went with crew-neck rather than V-neck shirts is a mystery to me; perhaps it was cheaper or easier to make during the war?
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:24 AM on September 5, 2012


This is not a US thing, I promise you. I live in the UK and loads of British men wear undershirts on a daily basis (though more often in the summer, because of sweat). V-necks are more popular in the UK than crewnecks, though. Maybe you just don't notice them? Most of the men in my office wear them, and anyone I've had more intimate knowledge of definitely did.
posted by Polychrome at 1:47 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Woah this ask really took off. And to clarify a few things:

James Bond was intended as a UK contrast to Don Draper as a high profile mid 20th century icon.

I was just curious about whether it is also common in the UK and where does it date from historically / culturally. - The Don Draper character in Mad Men has a somewhat religious upbringing I thought and hence I thought perhaps it was related to that characterization. He is also one of the few TV characters where it is often very noticable exactly what he wears. (and that Mad Men has a reputation for authenticity in dress) - Does Roger Sterling also wear undershirts?

But based on the comments it seems lot broader. But i think it does stem from a somewhat lower class perspective on saving money and so perhaps is not something that the upper classes ever did / do they now?

Actually a good thing to look at would be how common it is among the members of the House of Lords / Peerage. or say rates of undershirt wearing in high level executives versus lower paid associates. To determine if it is based in some Socioeconomic perspective.
posted by mary8nne at 5:46 AM on September 5, 2012


For what it's worth: Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers and Thomas Pink sell undershirts. Also, you can actually buy a small piece of James Bond's undershirt ("Authentic pieces of undershirt, shirt & pants worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale").
posted by iviken at 6:25 AM on September 5, 2012


Roger Sterling also wears undershirts. I can't find photographic evidence of such, but his shirts have the same crisp whiteness to them as Don's. Don's current business attire owes more to Roger's influence than to Don's upbringing. He was raised on a farm, then was in the military. He didn't learn business attire in either place, though he undoubtedly still wore undershirts in both environments.
posted by RainyJay at 6:37 AM on September 5, 2012


I'm a pretty big Mad Men fan and don't believe Don Draper was supposed to have had a particularly religious upbringing. What he does have, as you might note, is a deep need to fit in with the upper-(middle(-ish)) class, only nominally religious social set he has risen to. Most of the characters are pretty wealthy--you'd have to look to Peggy Olsen (not a man) or Michael Ginsburg (all sorts of an outlier) to get a more working-class/religious character study.
posted by psoas at 6:41 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


What about with a linen shirt? where the purpose is to be light and comfortable - would you wear an undershirt under a linen shirt?

That's one of the few times where I will not wear an undershirt.

There are two things you're supposed to do when dressed "nicely": first, not sweat through your shirt. Second, not to make it look like you're wearing an undershirt (so if you're buttoning the top button, you can wear a crewneck tshirt, but if you're leaving it open, you should wear a v-neck tshirt. Though I am generally known as "the guy with a colorful tshirt poking up from underneath his oxford shirt").

Also, if you have a stiffly starched dress shirt, it chafes if you're not wearing an undershirt. I also feel like my dress shirts last longer and don't get as dirty if I have a layer between my skin and my shirt.
posted by deanc at 7:09 AM on September 5, 2012


For casual button-down shirts (flannel shirts, cotton short-sleeve shirts, linen shirts), my American male spouse wears undershirts when it's cold out. It extends the season when he doesn't have to wear a sweater.
posted by muddgirl at 7:26 AM on September 5, 2012


I'm pretty sure James Bond is a fictional character and that the movie studio had multiple dress shirts the actor could wear if he dirtied it up. It's like asking about the setup of a typical home and using the starship Enterprise as an example.
posted by pibeandres at 12:21 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


mary8nne: "But i think it does stem from a somewhat lower class perspective on saving money and so perhaps is not something that the upper classes ever did / do they now?"

I'm pretty sure upper class business men in the U.S. wear them as commonly as everybody else. They might not need to worry about wearing a shirt for a few days, but as has been stated literally hundreds of times in this thread, they are also worn for comfort, to make the shirt last the whole day in U.S. summer heat (which often gets to the high 90's even in the northeast), because of fashion, etc. I find it odd that you ignored all this and instead focused on the one reason that would allow you to once again stereotype all Americans, this time as "lower class".
posted by katyggls at 12:35 PM on September 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


But based on the comments it seems lot broader. But i think it does stem from a somewhat lower class perspective on saving money and so perhaps is not something that the upper classes ever did / do they now?

I am going to try to give you a bit of benefit of the doubt, seeing as how in the UK there actually are some class-based issues around the history of the string vest. However, your response strongly suggests that you haven't read any of the responses in this thread in which people have repeatedly pointed out the utility of wearing an undershirt. I don't know if you think it is the lower classes in the US that care more about comfort and lack of visible chest hair in their dress shirts when upper class (whatever that means in the US) plain don't give a fig about looking tawdry or inappropriate in the workplace, but your impression is unsubstantiated by the responses in this thread and therefore just seems offensive. Not because Americans care about upper class/lower class distinctions in particularly meaningful ways, but because it seems like you haven't listened to anybody's responses.

*Unlikely to be worn by tradesmen, even in America.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:56 PM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


But i think it does stem from a somewhat lower class perspective on saving money and so perhaps is not something that the upper classes ever did / do they now?

This is so wrong. Upper class dress norms focus on layering, even in casual dress: undershirt, then polo shirt (then possibly second polo shirt), then sweater, then scarf, then blazer (plus pocket square in blazer's front pocket). Always, the more fabric, the better.

It's wearing the undershirt as a shirt that is considered proletarian.
posted by deanc at 2:38 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry, but it is just is not a class issue in the United States.

Sure, if you have tons of $$$ you might go around buying new dress shirts all the time. But you certainly can't generalize this to the "upper class" in the US. In fact, a particularly strong counterexample comes in the form of the ethos of classical "preppy" New Englanders -- as a broad shorthand, think your cable-knit, salmon-shorts, Brooks Brothers-wearing, Ivy-educated New Englander. That subculture values long-lasting, well-made, classic clothing; if you go around buying new flashy shirts because you've (un-classily) sweated through your shirts all the time, it's rather gauche.

You just can't draw one conclusion about one particular sartorial behavior of 300+ million people. To be frank, it sounds like you have preconceived negative notions of Americans and are applying those to this particular behavior, all the while ignoring the 100+ comments to the contrary. I could be wrong, but that's just my observation.
posted by andrewesque at 9:18 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I simply do not believe the more practical explanations: So yes perhaps I do have a preconceived notion that i'm looking to confirm - because I'd already seen many of the above explanations around the web and found them lacking (see the OP):

1. Sweat does not 'ruin' a shirt. yes you will need to wash it more - but I have shirts that have been worn near weekly for years and are still looking pretty good.

2. There really isn't much difference in 'comfort' - I think its just something you get used to. Hence the question is reduced to why would anyone start wearing them all the time.

3. The visibility issue, then why do a lot of people also do it under thicker shirts.
posted by mary8nne at 11:57 PM on September 5, 2012


[Hey, OP, Ask Metafilter is not meant to be a place to debate a topic. You ask, you get answers, you choose which, if any, are helpful to you. If you want to have a more freeform back and forth, you would do better to find a different sort of venue geared for that, because this is specifically not a discussion space, sorry.]
posted by taz at 12:20 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Check the collar of an older shirt, especially if you live in a warm climate. Mine certainly get yellowed over time. When I used to wear anti-perspirant, I'd get thick accumulations of nasty yellow gunk on the pits of my undershirt. I'd rather toss out a shirt that came in a pack of five or six for ten bucks than a dress shirt. Now that I just use deodorant, I still wear the undershirt, simply to avoid the same yellowing that happens to the collar.

Living and working in a warm, humid climate, the undershirt takes up the sweat, for the most part, and I don't have to worry about sweat spots in my shirts. I've known other guys who choose to forego the undershirt, and personally, seeing how sweaty they get, and the dark spots all over their shirts is pretty nasty.

I teach, and one of the things I try to avoid is forcing any of my unpleasantness on students who can't remove themselves from an unpleasant situation. We're in the classroom together, and the less they have to be confronted with the absurd volume of my sweat, the better.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:44 AM on September 6, 2012


. Sweat does not 'ruin' a shirt. yes you will need to wash it more - but I have shirts that have been worn near weekly for years and are still looking pretty good.

I have shirts that have been ruined by sweat/deodorant. They have gigantic bleach spots that can't be removed by any treatment known to man. And these are hand-wash, line dry only shirts. I don't understand why multiple first-hand testimonies on the long-term staining power of sweat is discounted.
posted by muddgirl at 8:25 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you already know the only answer that will be acceptable to you, why even bother asking a question?
posted by peacheater at 8:44 AM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Can I add to the dog pile of evidence?

I work as a state attorney, which means professional environment but low pay. I cannot afford to constantly dry clean my dress shirts, nor to go out and continually buy new ones. I wear a white undershirt every day to help protect it against sweat. As a result, the only place my shirts suffer from sweat induced stains are on the collar, where my shirt does not reach. Thankfully, it has to be very very hot for my neck alone to cause that much damage.

In the cooler/colder months, the undershirt also provides a nice layer of warmth for the generally thin dress shirt.

Neither religion or puritanical stances on attire expectations play a role in my use of an undershirt, nor, to my knowledge, any of my co-workers' decision to wear undershirts.
posted by Atreides at 9:07 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I read the question, it's really about crew-neck undershirts, which show if one isn't wearing a tie and has the top button undone. The OP seems mostly baffled about the visibility aspect.

So why a crew-neck rather than v-neck? (Or an A-frame. But if you're concerned about underarm sweat, that's not going to do you much good.)
posted by hoyland at 11:17 AM on September 6, 2012


Undershirts look stuffy and prudish.

How would you know how they look? If I'm wearing a long-sleeved oxford shirt, buttoned to the top with a tie, you shouldn't be able to see that I'm wearing an undershirt. Even with no tie and the top button unbuttoned, I would be wearing a v-neck shirt, so you wouldn't be able to see the neckline.

To add more (ok, fictional) evidence, take the scene in "Valkyrie" where von Stauffenberg (played unconvincingly by Tom Cruise) needs to change his shirt and arm the bomb: he removes his uniform dress shirt and underneath he has an undershirt, and von Stauffenberg was a Prussian aristocrat.

So why a crew-neck rather than v-neck?

I think that this might be an artifact of how the US is still adjusting to "business casual" vs. "suits and ties" of the past. The assumption was always that you were going to button up the shirt to the top button and wear a tie, so v-neck vs. crew-neck was never a factor. Now that the norm is to go business casual with the first button or two unbuttoned, people are still wearing their same undershirts but haven't adjusted to the fact that you can see it now, peaking up beneath your unbuttoned oxford shirt.
posted by deanc at 12:16 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does Roger Sterling also wear undershirts?

IIRC, Sterling is shown at several points in the show wearing A-shirts.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:21 PM on September 6, 2012


How would you know how they look? If I'm wearing a long-sleeved oxford shirt, buttoned to the top with a tie, you shouldn't be able to see that I'm wearing an undershirt.

Avoiding the argument clinic, I think the aesthetic objection is mainly against the "visible t-shirt line" on the upper arm when the jacket is off, not the neckline. That, at least, is what I meant upthread by "not a stylish look" and can be mitigated, as the linked post notes, by wearing a grey undershirt in a lighter, more fitting fabric.

I will also note, in passing, that there are slightly different deodorant/anti-perspirant preferences in the US, where the solid stick now rules over the spray and roll-on, which has some repercussions on laundry. That's less relevant to the historical context, though: Don Draper and his peers would have been marketing aerosols as the latest and greatest for the 1960s.
posted by holgate at 12:35 PM on September 6, 2012


Right now, I'm wearing a crew neck cotton undershirt under a pale blue Brooks Brothers no-iron dress shirt, and no sleeve or collar lines are visible through the shirt.

As for the choice of crew neck versus v-neck, my own choice is based on the availability of the brand that I wear, which does not offer v-neck in the 100% cotton undershirts I like. For personal reasons, I cannot switch brands.
posted by The World Famous at 12:52 PM on September 6, 2012


I sort of feel like I am talking at a wall here, but here goes:

Yes, it is possible to "ruin" a shirt by sweating through it. I worked in Taiwan for a summer (which has a similar climate to the Deep South and is occasionally approximated on unfortunate days in the Northeast and Midwest) and I have at least three white dress shirts whose collars are now irreversibly stained with this gross yellow color due to my sweating nonstop through my commute. (And the rest of the shirt is fine due to my wearing an undershirt daily.)

Maybe you don't consider that "ruining" a shirt. It's still literally wearable, after all. But I do -- I'm not wearing those shirts to an interview any time soon.
posted by andrewesque at 2:09 PM on September 6, 2012


As I read the question, it's really about crew-neck undershirts, which show if one isn't wearing a tie and has the top button undone. The OP seems mostly baffled about the visibility aspect.

So why a crew-neck rather than v-neck? (Or an A-frame. But if you're concerned about underarm sweat, that's not going to do you much good.)


Wait, is this it?
If so, I think that is just a matter of not pulling off the undershirt correctly. It is my understanding that you don't want to see it too much while you are wearing it, so you need to wear one in an appropriate fit and color, and with an appropriate neckline. But I'm not a dude, so I don't have to worry too much about these details, so anyone can feel free to correct me here.

2. There really isn't much difference in 'comfort' - I think its just something you get used to. Hence the question is reduced to why would anyone start wearing them all the time.

Hello, omg, have you ever worn a suit in Arizona? What about Louisiana? The U.S. can be hella hot, and/or humid. Or, if you go up to Minnesota, really cold. There are sweat and warmness issues at play, and the temperature extremes are significantly more extreme than in the U.K. This is a really practical, and salient, issue.
posted by vivid postcard at 10:23 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


OP, people have given you answers. You might want to actually listen to them.

My husband's about as casual as a person can get, but he started wearing undershirts a few years ago because it regularly gets up to 104 F/40 C in the summer where he works. Sure, the sweat doesn't "ruin" his shirts, but it DOES leave white salt stains all over it. That's not a very good look.
posted by wintersweet at 12:13 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I noticed that the answers you chose confirm your own bias instead of listening to all of the testimonies that declare otherwise.

Undershirts are comfy. Undershirts prevent sweat from staining your outer garment. Undershirts keep nipples from making their appearance in a professional environment.

I wear a cami under my dress shirts at work for the same reasons.
posted by futz at 2:47 PM on September 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


1. Sweat does not 'ruin' a shirt. yes you will need to wash it more - but I have shirts that have been worn near weekly for years and are still looking pretty good.

I'm always amazed at how vast and varied the range of human experience is, and strive to remind myself that my own personal experience is not the totality of all.

I have shirts that have been ruined by sweat. By ruined, I mean permanently stained - unwearable, had to be replaced.

Due to familiarity with the garments, you may not be a good judge of what 'looking pretty good' means.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:04 AM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older My senior German Shepherd has ...   |  How can I stick glass mason ja... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.