The undershirt is over. It’s peak uptight-business-guy Mad Men fashion, and its heyday ended long ago. I haven’t worn undershirts since I was a kid. Rarely do I see one out in the wild. Not even my dad, who’s in his 60s, wears undershirts anymore. It’s time to finally bury this tired, regressive trend.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Undershirts can serve a purpose. They help conceal imperfections to maintain a sleek and clean exterior. But, brothers, there are better alternatives that won’t add bulk to your torso. We’ve done away with the 1960s-era cigarettes, hair gels and fat ties. So why the hell is the undershirt still here?
Expose Yourself — And Your Tank Tops
First, let’s determine what exactly an undershirt is. Wearing a white tank top under a button-down is still stylish, IMO. A white crew-neck, however, is too nerdy. And not skater-kid nerdy, like socks, which are back in fashion.
In the latest Hollywood Reporter, celebrity stylist Ilaria Urbinati put Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul in a white tank under a short-sleeved button-down. Similarly, impeccably cool actor LaKeith Stanfield wore a horizontal striped tank under a vertical striped jacket for Esquire U.K.
The men are not wearing undershirts in the traditional sense. Exposing the tank is the point of the look. The conventional way to wear an undershirt is literally under another shirt, not meant to be seen. All too often, it still rears its ugly white hem.
Take a look at Shawn Mendes’ recent MTV VMA style. The guy is so fucking hot the last thing I want to see when I’m staring at him is a piercing white undershirt.
My eyes don’t know where to land. The curly hair, the teal suit, the dainty necklace are all pulling enough visual weight that this look does not need a blinding panel of white. This isn’t a business meeting, Mendes. Show us that chest.
Embrace Your Imperfection — And Your Chest Hair
Undershirts can serve a practical purpose. “If you’re worried about chest hair or nipples showing through, or if the shirt fabric leaves you feeling slightly uncomfortable, guess what, that fucks with your head and your confidence,” says Tug Samarreta, a.k.a. the Undershirt Guy — the self-appointed “world’s undershirt and underwear expert.”
But you can still embrace your strengths without one. Chest hair — and the occasionally exposed nipple — is sexy and stylish. Flaunt it. Look how Queer Eye icon Jonathan Van Ness let his chest hair out for his stunning Creative Arts Emmys dress.
Or look at the Jonas Brothers. What is DILF hottie Kevin covering up??
No Undershirt? Don’t Sweat It
Sweat management is the pro-undershirt camp’s big defense. But adding yet another sweat-blocking layer on top of the body has never made sense to me. If you’re trying to cool down, the last thing you want to do is bulk up with more fabric.
Of course, the “Undershirt Guy” Samarreta disagrees: “If you’re worried about getting visible sweat marks on your outer shirts, you’d likely be a bit worried or self-conscious. Even if it’s a slight amount, it’s still negatively affecting your confidence.” He suggests fabrics that absorb better and dry faster than cotton, such as micromodal, Tencel and viscose.
So why not eschew the undershirt entirely and wear a non-cotton dress shirt? Several startup brands specialize in dress shirts you (hopefully) won’t sweat through. If it’s not a work function, unbutton that linen shirt and roll up the sleeves like you just got off the beach in Mykonos. If you’re sweating, fucking great. You look hot because you are hot.
If you have hyperhidrosis or you profusely sweat, there are other remedies. Samarreta ranked the best antiperspirants, settling on the Degree Adrenaline series. So buff up your deodorant before you fall back on the cotton undershirt.
It’s Time to Break Free
Confidence doesn’t look like hiding under layer after layer — it’s embracing what you have going for you. My crusade against the undershirt is about forgoing the rigidity of traditional menswear. Men’s fashion has always been constraining, unchanging and repressive, reinforcing traditional norms of masculinity while failing to accommodate the wide array of of men’s bodies. That’s why the new conversations around size diversity, fetishwear and genderfuck dress are all rooted in an understanding that dinosaurs must die.
Ditching the undershirt is simply your first way to say, “Fuck you, I sweat. So what?”