one small women's undershirt to rule them all!
August 7, 2014 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me find the form-fitting, top-supporting undershirt of my dreams? I'm looking for something I can buy 15-20 of because I hate shopping and just want to get it over with. I've been wearing "long and lean" tank tops, and they're completely amazing fresh off the rack, but they get loose and stretchy after only a few washes and wears. Specifics below the fold!

* I'm a short, petite woman, so I fit easily into junior/misses-size clothing and a lot of standard adult-size clothing is too big for me.
* I don't wear a bra, but I'm a 33B, so top support is really my main focus. However, I hate the feeling of having something constrictive strapped around my ribcage, so my top priority is finding something that doesn't have a shelf bra. (I have a few of these and they make me miserable.) Is this even possible? I'm OK with something that's super form-fitting all over, I just can't stand having an elastic band at the chest.
* Absolutely no color or style preference at all.
* Budget for each shirt can go up to $20-25 if it's made to last.
* It would be amazing if the shirt was made in the U.S. or at least not in a sweatshop, but I understand that my budget is likely going to rule that out.

I have no idea if this is even A Thing; the overwhelming majority of women's undershirts I've been able to find have some sort of bra-like contraption on top, so if there's a search term I should be using instead of "undershirt," I'm all ears!

All recommendations, suggestions, and links to specific products are very much welcome.

Thanks so much, MeFi!
posted by divined by radio to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This definitely isn't sweatshop-free, but Forever21's stretchy camisoles have actually lasted surprisingly long for me (I don't wear them as underwear, however). Some colors are $1.99 or something--incredibly cheap. Check out American Apparel, also...
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like spandex is probably the trick. What about cycling tanks? They're mostly expensive, but there are cheaper ones, and you can usually find some more expensive ones on sale, I think. They're usually polyester or something, though, and I don't know how you feel about that.

I hate shelf bras, too. I just cut them out if it's something I want to wear anyway.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:40 AM on August 7, 2014

I have a handful of Loft tank tops (pretty sure they're this one) and I've found them to have held up remarkably well over three years given that I pretty much vaporize most of my every day shirts. The color variety is fantastic. They actually come in smaller sizes, though there is no additional interior lining so I don't know if they'll have enough support, and the colors I have are not at all see through (unlike you, disappointing Target options.) They are often on sale, if you wanted to try one or two to see if they work for you.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a couple GapFit tanks that are fantastic for this -- tight but not constricting, have lasted through a bunch of wears & washes, and has some wicking to boot -- but I don't see the exact ones I have for sale anymore. I'd give these two a try. Gap has a 30% off sale like 90% of the time, so make sure you buy when that's happening.

And yeah, don't search for "undershirt", you just want to buy "tanks"
posted by brainmouse at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2014

Earlier this summer, Old Navy had a specific kind of their tank tops on sale for $2 each and I bought a bunch. I'm usually an XS or S in Old Navy tanks (32B here), but these I had to buy a M, and they are SNUG and do not stretch out on me. They're not the jersey tami tanks and they're not ribbed... maybe these perfect tanks. Might be worth a look if there's an Old Navy close by.
posted by jabes at 10:51 AM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, I would also try the Uniqlo Airism tops (there are a few other styles but this seemed closest to what you're looking for). I haven't used them, so this is not a personal recommendation, but I have heard good things.
posted by brainmouse at 10:52 AM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Perfect timing, brainmouse, because I can vouch for the Uniqlo. They have a built in bra top that I love. It's a little different than this one - has a little lace around the edges, so maybe it was a 'try it out NYC type of special'. A little more expensive, but good quality, and worth trying. From the picture it might look like the band under the best would be an issue, but it's not. I'm larger than a 33B, and I'm not bothered by it at all. It’s now one of my default summer tops – I got it in white and one in plum that’s lovely too. The bra top is nice and soft, so you get the support but not the constrictiveness of a bra, which is lovely for summer. It's not too sheer, so I've worn it out as a top but I can easily use it as an under shirt too. I’ve used it as an ‘exercise’ shirt when going for longer bike rides, since it’s perfect for not feeling sweaty – but it’s also classy enough to be good for work, and the little lace bit helps. I’ve also short and petite, and their clothing also has good sizing for petites. I don’t know if it’s sweatshop free, but I’ve been impressed with the design and quality of their stuff. It’s a little basic like Old Navy, but still a little fancy in parts.

The only problem is that the jury’s still out on if it’s sweatshop free - it’s probably equal parts evil and ok. To be honest, other than American Apparel I don’t know if any chains that are good on manufacturing, and even with American Apparel they’re far from controversial. There is this company but I can’t vouch for it. Just throwing the uniqlo out there as an option.
posted by rmm at 10:59 AM on August 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have a ton of Nikibiki tanks & camis in a wide variety of colors, and they probably get more use than anything else in my wardrobe. They have held up well and are made of a spandex / nylon fabric that is stretchy and comfortable to wear.

I bought them at a friend's store for $15 a pop and they are MADE IN THE USA which I love and is almost impossible to find at that price point.

Only problem is that they are one size fits all. They are tight / stretchy on me, but I am more like a 34D, so they may not give you the support you need. However, I see on Amazon that they do have a juniors version, so that might work for you.
posted by pallas14 at 11:04 AM on August 7, 2014

I'm a fairly busty woman, so I hate built-in bras for the exact opposite reason. Seriously, you expect all of me to fit in ....what manufacturers consider to be an adequate bra size. Hah!

That said, Old Navy is where I buy all of my undershirts and camisoles. They're the only place that consistently stocks a variety of tanks, camisoles, and sleeveless tops that lack built-in bras. I try to buy some that have some spandex because that seems to keep them from stretching out too much in the washer. Also, I air-dry whenever possible, as it does help keep things nicer for much longer.

They are not sweatshop free, unfortunately, but if you catch their sales (Old Navy has incredible in-store sales for their tanks and decent sales for them online), you can have them for under $5 a shirt, which is great if you buy them in multiple colors, like I tend to.
posted by PearlRose at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2014

I am thirding Uniqlo, especially their Heattech line. (Basically, Airism = summer, Heattech = winter). I haven't tried out Airism yet but I love, love, love Heattech for when it's cold. It keeps you warm and does not smell or itch ever. I find their sizing a bit short but you said you were petite so you would love it. For reference, I am 5'6 and 105 lbs and I get x-small if I want a tight underwear fit, and small if I want a less tight fit to wear on its own. The built-in bra is super awesome and they have tanks and long-sleeves. FYI Airism disappears in the winter and Heattech disappears in the summer, and even in season, colors and sizes disappear and reappear, so check back if you don't find what you need.
posted by rada at 11:51 AM on August 7, 2014

I wear the Limited satin trim seamless tank as a cami under most blouses and cardigans and find it very comfortable and flattering.
posted by peach23 at 11:51 AM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe a weird suggestion, but have you ever tried to wear girls' undershirts? The kind that come 3 to a pack in the kids underwear department (example)? I used to wear these, and I think they have some of what you are looking for--they are 100% cotton, so instead of stretchy they are kind of solidly shaped, but slim fitting enough (because, you know, they're sized for children) that they offer chest support. I know what you mean about the ribbed tanks stretching out, and these never had that problem. The downside is that the neckline may come up higher than you want, and they may be shorter in the torso than you need (this was eventually my problem). But they are cheap so might be worth a shot.
posted by Jemstar at 12:08 PM on August 7, 2014

So they're more than your budget BUT the lululemon racer back tank tops are your dream. Stretchy. Hold their shape. Many colour options. I bought my first five years ago and am wearing it today.

Note: not the "power y" tanks bc those have a built in bra, but the regular racerback is what I am referring to.
posted by hepta at 12:39 PM on August 7, 2014

Are Maidenform Flexee tanks something you would consider? They are shapewear and can be snug, but I wear them almost daily and they have held up very well. Marshall's/TJ Maxx routinely sell them for $12.99. They come in base colors (tan, white, black) and limited runs of special colors.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 12:48 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about a compression tank/t-shirt? Here's an Under Armour tank that's at the upper end of your budget, but that brand is really good and will last a long time.

There's an Under Armour outlet in Pleasant Prairie that might have these cheaper. Nike, Jockey, and (IIRC) Maidenform also have stores there if you want to try on a few at one go.
posted by desjardins at 1:07 PM on August 7, 2014

Also, along Jemstar's line of thinking, boys shirts are going to be tighter fitting at the chest for obvious reasons. For reference, a size 10-12 (medium) boys t-shirt looks well-fitted on me (akin to a women's XS), and a size 14-16 (large) is comfy and slightly baggy. I find that boys clothing is made to hold up better because boys are rough-and-tumble or whatever such stupid nonsense.

Boys' tank tops are also called A shirts, to help your searching, but really they're so cheap that I'd just buy a 3 pack at Target and see how it goes.
posted by desjardins at 1:16 PM on August 7, 2014

Argh, one more thought. Rash guards are meant to be fairly tight all over, and if women's aren't tight enough they make tons of them for kids. I like wearing them under things because they're sort of slippery so you don't get friction between that and the top shirt.

Target has them cheap right now because they're getting rid of a lot of their summer stuff. However - the neckline is high and the colors tend to be bright, so I'm not sure if that's what you want.
posted by desjardins at 1:30 PM on August 7, 2014

I came in to suggest the Flexees tops if you don't mind some compression or have a fairly small middle. What I'd recommend is (A) go to a department store, (B) head to the lingerie section, (C) look for/ask for stretchy tight camisole tops or "smoothing" tops. They might be out of budget but you can always always find them at TJMaxx, Ross or whatever your local discount store is.
posted by celtalitha at 1:46 PM on August 7, 2014

I'm on the other end of the size spectrum from you, but I LOVE the camisole/tanks with adjustable straps from Dots. They are form fitting without being tight, have arm holes large enough to not chafe my pits and are long enough that they don't ride up. I've had several for over a year and they are great for a layering piece. They were about $7 a piece and have held up much better than I expected. Dots offers juniors sizes as well as plus sizes.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:32 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Old Navy's perfect tanks. I think you'll want an XS. I wear one almost every day, probably 85% of them hold up really well (I think there's some variation in fabric composition and exact size.)
posted by zibra at 2:43 PM on August 7, 2014

Another vote for Uniqlo Airism tank tops - I wear mine in both summer and winter. You can get them with built in bra support too. They last forever, and feel so good on the skin.
posted by shazzam! at 5:51 PM on August 7, 2014

Also came in here to recommend Uniqlo. Have been wearing their undershirts/tank tops since long before they came to the US and they have been a mainstay and a constant in my wardrobe for more than 10 years.
I think the US sizes are too big in comparison to the ones I used to be able to get in Japan but XS or XXS will probably be fine for you.
posted by raw sugar at 6:04 PM on August 7, 2014

I tend to be hypersensitive to bra-band and -cup issues, and I love the Uniqlo bra cami linked above. Comfortable and versatile — one under a decorative overshirt or jacket, plus slacks, is my default work outfit.
posted by Lexica at 6:33 PM on August 7, 2014

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