Have you ever wondered if it was more appropriate in a “professional” setting to go with or without an undershirt? Well this reader did, and this is what we determined:
I’m a huge fan of your undershirt blog. After years of going undershirt-less, I realized that my very pale skin combined with my very dark chest hair resulted in some less than appealing outcomes for my outfit. So, I started looking for undershirts and came across your blog. I went with the Calvin Klein Flexible Fit crew neck and they have been pretty good so far. They were a little pricey, so I only bought two at the time starting out. They worked great under my button up shirts with a tie.
Fast forward a few months. I have just started a new job. On the second day the only people wearing ties were me and the director of the place, so I knew the tie had to go after that. The environment at this place is pretty casual. However, my position is such that it requires that I toe the line between projecting professionalism while still not looking too uptight and serious. So, the compromise I came to was wearing button down shirts with the top collar button undone. While previously I was always wearing my undershirts with a tie, so the collar wasn’t a concern, it is suddenly a concern since I have that collar unbuttoned. I went out and bought some Calvin Klein Flexible Fit V-neck shirts, since they’re on sale right now and I needed them, thinking I could wear these with my shirts and not expose the collar of the undershirt at all. For some of the shirts this works while for others it shows parts of the V (which I suspect is unacceptable) because with even one button unbuttoned, the neckline on the button down shirt plunges somewhat.
The question becomes now, what do I do? I have seen a lot of men here in New York City sporting button down shirts with the top button unbuttoned with crew neck collars proudly exposed. My understanding is that this is generally not a terribly fashionable thing to do. However, if it’s that or show off my hair through my shirts, I’m going with the exposed crew neck collar. Is it ok for the crew collar to stick out, assuming I want to convey that professional but not uptight image? Or do I need to find a V-neck undershirt with a neckline low enough that it won’t show at all? If so, do you have a brand/shirt recommendation? Or could it be that a V-neck is ok even if it’s exposed a little?
On another note, how do you feel about the short sleeves on undershirts showing under a dress shirt? Again, I have to hide the chest hair, so the shirt is a necessity for my white and light colored shirts, but you can sort of see the sleeves sometimes. Cardinal sin or just something that people see and don’t really care about?
Obviously there’s a lot here, so feel free to pick and choose whatever you think is most interesting or relevant. Again, love the blog and I hope I hear from you. Thanks. H.
My response to “H”:
I think I’ll make an article out of this, but to get you started, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts with you.
exposed undershirt – if you ask any image consultant, you’ll likely hear this is a fashion crime punishable by death. the truth is, though, that you see lots of guys doing just that. I’m not suggesting that since they do it, it’s ok, but as long as your undershirt is crisp, clean, and has a nice collar on it, there’s really no harm in having your undershirt show through. one way to make it less noticeable would be to wear a black undershirt with darker colors and a white or grey undershirt with lighter colors.
chest hair showing – generally not a good thing to do in a professional environment. if a v-neck won’t cover up your chest hair, wear a crew or an undershirt with a higher v-neck. alternatively you might want to consider trimming down the chest hair a little with your beard trimmer. although I don’t have a hairy chest, I started “manscaping” my chest about a year ago and I actually like the way it looks when trimmed. also, this allows me to wear a v-neck undershirt more often too.
sleeves showing through – this really isn’t a problem at all. I’d much rather see an undershirt showing through a dress shirt than hair, sweat, nipples, etc. it tells me that a guy cares about his appearance enough to do something about it. you might try wearing a grey undershirt under light colored shirts to see if it and the sleeves shows through less than a white undershirt. I’ve heard this many times before, but just have not taken the time to compare.
undershirt recommendations – well, there’s a ton out there to choose from. for your particular need and if you’re looking to save a little money, you might want to try visiting a store like mervyn’s, tj maxx, or tuesday morning and look for clearance undershirts made from a cotton/spandex blend.
hope the above information helps out! keep me posted on what you decide to do and how it works out for you! thanks again for writing in!
Hey, thanks for your reply.
What you wrote is largely the conclusions I had come to myself. I ended up opting for shaving at least the exposed part of my chest (my chest isn’t hairy enough for it to look odd or anything with a shirt off if I only shave that small area), wearing the v-neck and I think it’s been pretty good. I have to agree that I think it is ideal to not have the undershirt showing if one is going for maximum professionalism, but I don’t think it is a capital crime or anything, fashion-wise or professionalism-wise, to let it show. Obviously, I will need to try some things out over the next week or so to really decide how I feel overall, but I think I have a pretty good idea of where to go from here. If I have any major revelations in the coming weeks, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Thanks for your advice and I hope the article turns out well.
Image credits: Featured image courtsey of Getty Images. Business casual look image above, courtesy of QG.com (The Guide To Business Casual)
Closing thoughts: After looking through an hour’s worth of photos of some of the more current and trendy business casual looks using button down shirts, it seems pretty practical to be able to wear your button down shirt with one button open at the top and neither expose chest hair (if you weren’t wearing an undershirt) or your undershirt. If you do have an outfit that exposes your undershirt, be sure to keep it subtle and stylish!