How to give your shirts longer life

Don’t you just love the feeling of slipping into a freshly ironed, high quality shirt? Especially if it’s been tailored to fit you perfectly. It’s a feeling of success, distinction, and accomplishment. It gives you an immediate confidence boost – like slipping into the role of a highly paid CEO, or movie star on his way to win an Oscar.

Sylvester Stallone at the oscars

Stallone looking like a boss

After I discovered the world of formal dressed fashion like three piece suits, shirt and coats, I was hooked! But one thing bothered me – a few hours into wearing, business shirts started to stick to the skin and feel coarse. And another issue was that repeated use of shirts left yellowish stains of perspiration under the armpits that just wouldn’t go away no matter how I tried to wash them.

The good news is that there is a solution to this, and it’s actually vary simple:

Wear a t-shirt under the shirt

Yes. It’s that easy, and I have good arguments for this practice. Let’s take a look at them! Firstly, the t-shirt acts as a sweat buffer between your skin and the shirt. Most people sweat about 0.5 L (0.13 gallons) spread out over the day, if it’s room temperature. It’s just the natural process of your body giving off heat and getting rid of waste through the skin.


Having a t-shirt pick up this sweat is much better than letting it get in to the fabric of your shirt! Especially, since shirts tend to be much more expensive than t-shirts. The armpits of your precious Egyptian cotton shirts remain stainless as the t-shirt (undershirt) takes the blow of perspiration. This VASTLY prolongs the lifespan of your shirts and the fabric stays fresh longer.


Much better to have an undershirt take this blow than your nice shirts!

The second argument is that it feels much better to wear a t-shirt under. The business shirt won’t start to stick to your skin and it glides more when you move. When trying out the t-shirt trick, this was the thing I was most skeptical about. I worried that it would feel strange, and look weird. Both turned out to be false. Not only does it feels much better, it also looks much better – if you know what pitfalls to avoid. I’m coming to that part soon, but first tackle a concern about heat.

Some of you might think -“I live in a very warm country, and this is just going to make me sweat more!”. I’ve tried the t-shirt trick myself while traveling in areas like Africa and Asia, and I still consider it to be the best practice. While it’s true that it could make you very slightly warmer, it’s also true that you sweat much more in that kind of heat and it increases the speed at which your shirts stain, stick and deteriorate. So the benefits of the t-shirt are only amplified by the extra heat! And don’t you just hate the feeling of being out in the heat with a shirt ticking to your skin and then walking into a room with blasting air condition? The t-shirt trick mitigates this very well, I’ve found. Quite frankly, I don’t really feel any hotter with a t-shirt under. I can’t notice any difference. I even wear a t-shirt under short sleeved shirts.

An added benefit of wearing an undershirt is that it conforms to the layer-on-layer principle popularized by icons such as Steve McQueen.


The icon Steve McQueen using the layer principle

It just looks good. An outfit with multiple layers looks more thought through and shows that you actually have put some effort into dressing well – unlike so many lazy guys who don’t have a clue or don’t care. I’m sure you’ve seen this many times; The over weight, balding, unshaved, no f*cks giving, middle aged office guy on the commute back home from work. His shirt is too tight, which creates oval spaces between the button points where his hairy chest and belly peek out – an unsightly view.


Don’t abuse your shirt or public image like that. If your weight has crept up, I’d suggest to get back to a healthy lifestyle, buy bigger shirts, and at least wear an undershirt to spare people in your surrounding to an involuntary show of your body parts. If you like being over weight and don’t care to change, I think the second best option is to really own that style and play it up. Dress like a kingpin or mafia boss. Wear cool hats, suspenders, pinstriped or tweed suits. Use gadgets such as smoking a pipe, walking cane, etc. Cultivate a larger then life image – at least do something that shows you put an effort into your style, regardless of how much you want to weigh or how healthy your lifestyle is. Good role models here are James Corden, Notorious BIG, or Jonah Hill.


Now back to the main topic. Layers let you be more creative with your style and opens up more dimensions to your outfit, such as color matching. A good example of this would be a nice white cotton t-shirt on layer 1, a light blue high quality dress shirt on layer two, and a thin beige knitted pullover on layer three. All three layers are visible, the colors compliment each other, and the look is sophisticated yet playful. Add a nice watch and the look is golden! The layer principle also lets you adjust your body temperature by adding or removing layers.


Picture this guy with a white t-shirt under his shirt, and a beige or navy pullover between the shirt and blazer

Another benefit of the undershirt is that it brings out the true color of your business shirt much more. Most business shirts are somewhat transparent, which means that their color will be affected by your skin color. A wisely chosen undershirt sets a neutral base that will make the true color of your shirt come alive and stand out. For light colored shirts, chose a white undershirt. For dark colored shirts, the options are a bit more flexible, and I’d suggest wearing a black undershirt for most outfits, but in some cases, a white undershirt will match a dark shirt very well. Use color matching theory here if you are unsure.

Choose your undershirt wisely

OK, so let’s take a look at different types of undershirts. First, we have to make sure the fit is good. Ideally, you want a fit that is quite close to your body, but not quite as tight as compression gear like underarmour.  A well fitting undershirt prevents your business shirt from wrinkling, and doesn’t fill out your shape too much. Something like the image below, is a good example of a fit.


Perfect example

I suggest going to a v-neck, because it compliments the v-shape of the buttoning of the business shirt. But this is of course a matter of personal taste, so if you strongly prefer round neck t-shirts, feel free.

Another option is to go long sleeve. This is something you could consider if you don’t like the undershirt showing through the shirt, as it does in the picture below where I’m wearing a mandarin collar business shirt over a cotton undershirt.


Common mistakes when choosing an undershirt

  1. T-shirt is too long. This is quite common, thanks to the the general tendency of clothing manufacturers to make t-shirts unnecessarily long.  For a short and muscular guy like me, this is real problem. It’s almost impossible to find a good fitting t-shirt. The ideal undershirt ends just before your ass starts. If it’s too long you will add extra circumference to your hip area, which diminishes your manly V-shape and creates an unsightly horizontal line across your butt that can be seen through your pants.
  2. T-shirt is too loose. That means extra fabric to create more space and induces wrinkles. Avoid!
  3. Going for a tanktop instead. There is a cultural aspect of this, since tanktop under a shirt is very common in the Balkans and eastern European countries such as Ukraine, Belarus etc. Unless you consciously want people to put you in the Eastern European guy category, I would avoid it. There are several reasons to this, but the most important is that it defeats the purpose of absorbing sweat from your armpits and keeping your business shirt free from deodorant & perspiration stains. The second  reason is that it’s generally considered a bit tacky. Of course there are exception. Both Mit Romney and Obama prefer the tanktop under. But it’s not a style I’d consider wearing personally.


  4. Wearing a fishnet undershirt or tanktop. Do I really need to explain this one further..? Just don’t go there.



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