The Wifebeater Undershirt: Would the world be better off without it?

July 22, 2008 | By | 9 Replies More

Here’s an absolutely brilliantly written post about the ubiquitous “wife beater” undershirt. I have to stand up and applaud the author Fortyfied for her detailed analysis and unique take on this extremely popular article of under clothing. Here are some of my favorite parts of her article:

Using a wifebeater as something other than an undershirt intended to be hidden from view is generally considered a fashion faux pas. Decent, upstanding citizens should never be caught dead wearing wifebeaters or similarly revealing articles of clothing unless they are rappers, professional wrestlers, or Olympic weight lifters…

…This term is often seen as demeaning and is often associated with the similarly derogatoryphrase “white trash.” I think the nickname originates from its association with aggressive, underclass males, usually living in poor conditions as frequently depicted in television shows and movies. It comes from the notion that the shirts are worn predominantly by stereotypical men who beat their wives…

…I speak for myself when I say that the entire world would be a better place without the wifebeater. Could there be anything more offensive in terms of menswear?

..Here are some reasons why. The first involves personal hygiene. The undershirt was first conceived of as something utilitarian: to insulate the body with an under-layer of clothing against the cold, and to absorb sweat brought on by heat. Curiously, the wifebeater fails to fulfill any of these. The low, drooping neckline and the large scooped armholes are way too skimpy to protect against the cold, and by the same reason of lack of coverage, what seems to be the remaining half of a proper undergarment cannot absorb sweat where it matters — under the armpits. I can’t imagine a man whose sweat pools in his tummy region; it’s a bit of an odd thought…

…And how, pray tell, can the wifebeater ever be considered aesthetically sound when it was engineered to expose sprouts of unsightly underarm hair; when its whiteness highlights hideous stretch marks; when it accentuates a bulging belly; and when it flashes the occasional nipple?

…So, avid fans of said shirt, take heed: wifebeaters are not sexy and never will be! Even if the wearer is Brad Pitt, that shirt will not be transformed into anything other than what it really is — a wifebeater…

…Hold on, though: there may be one exception. Edward Norton, in his lead role in the movie American History X, is a totally different story. Because of the character he portrayed, because of the plot, and simply because he is Ed Norton, one of the most gifted yet underrated actors of all time, to my mind, he just might be forgiven — just might…

…What, then, may men wear in terms of undershirts? There are two options: first, there is the basic, versatile, white short-sleeved crewneck tee, which is as neat, as decent, and as sexy as undergarments go; second, there is the V-neck short-sleeved tee, which is a variation of the former. With these two choices available at the same price, there really is no excuse for the wifebeater to exist, certainly not in your wardrobe. None at all…

Great stuff Fourtyfiedl!

Although I have to be honest — I used to wear wife beaters all the time (you have to admit they’re pretty damn comfortable).

Tags: ,

Category: Ask Tug, Undershirt Style

About the Author ()

Tug is the world's undershirt expert. Looking for undershirt or men's shapewear information? You'll find it here on my site - guaranteed! You can also find me on

Comments (9)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Ted says:

    The undergarment in question was designed for just that purpose – under wear. I personally am more comfortable with a layer of fabric between my jeans and my middle, and am of such a build that, given the choice, I will wear my shirt-tail out. Enter the T-shirt. In warm weather, the A-Shirt, as it seems to be called here, keeps the denim off my skin where it would fit tightest while not acting as undesired insulation on my upper body. Say what you will about men’s outerwear and your preferences, madam, but to say it should not exist is as ludicrous as men designing bras and tampons. You get no say.

    • good stuff ted (:

      you know, i never thought about undershirts helping keep a layer of protection between pants/jeans and skin, but that makes a lot of sense!

      question for you: doesn’t your underwear provide the proper coverage for protection between your jeans and your skin? for example, i wear boxer briefs and they seem to cover the critical areas where my denim jeans fit the closest (at the waist).

  2. Bob says:

    So if a woman wears it, it’s called a tank top and it’s an acceptable garment to wear when it’s very hot out or during athletics. If a man wears it, it’s called a wifebeater and it’s an offensive eyesore. I’m confused :S Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of the people who wear these things everywhere (I’m looking at you, guy wearing an A-shirt at a nice restaurant). But I feel the A-shirt does have it’s acceptable times and places. When it’s really hot out, guys don’t really have as many clothing options as girls to keep cool. Besides, in such instances would you rather see guys with their shirts of and their hairy guts hanging out? A little armpit hair doesn’t look so bad anymore, does it.

  3. Matthew Watson says:

    Not true, not true.

    First, the A-shirt does warm you up. If you’ve worn a tight A-shirt, you know they can make you feel downright hot.

    Second, the A-shirt does protect the dress shirt above. If, like me, you sweat more on your back than on your underarms (where you can put anti-perspirant de-odorant anyway), an A-shirt is the best option for a hot summer day. They’re also great for men who have back acne (which, pardon the graphic image, could occasionally bleed on one’s shirt) but don’t want a full undershirt.

    Third, they can be more fashionable than other shirts. For instance, if you wear a vest, and don’t want the outline of your undershirt sleeves to show below your sleeves, they’re useful. Or if you want to open your shirt collar below the point where an average V-neck would show, they can also be useful.

    I can’t believe a woman has the gumption to berate this staple male article of clothing.

  4. Adam J says:

    I was one of the winners of a TommyJohn undershirt recently on TUG and just wanted to give my report since I received the shirt. The downside to guessing my size of this shirt (since I’ve never owned one) was that I guessed a bit wrong…for example, the Ecumen undershirt is VERY tight, but it’s supposed to be. So based on reviews of Ecumen I ordered a size M, which fits very snugly on me. But size M is fairly loose on me with TommyJohn. Thus I would recommend going a size down if you want it to fit snugly. The M fits ok but is a bit baggy for me. I figured since it’s supposed to fit snug I’d order M (I’m usually a small) but I screwed that one up! I’ll still wear it, and love the way they hug the butt so it doesn’t ride up. That’s definitely a plus, and the shirt does exactly what it’s supposed to. I’ll probably order myself a small next time, but if you have the right size, it’s great!

  5. Hi Patrick, thanks for your comment. Agree with you 100% on the great features and benefits of the wife beater / a-shirt / ribbed tank top. That’s why I used to wear them all the time. The great news for all us guys is that there other new full undershirts (crew neck, v-neck) on the market now that offer up several of the same benefits, but also offer underarm protection so you don’t damage your nice outerwear with deodorant or antiperspirant stains. These undershirts are lightweight, form fitting, breath well, keep you cool, are long enough to stay tucked, and won’t bunch up.
    -
    But all that said, it’s hard to go wrong with a ribbed tank / a-shirt undershirt during the summer.

  6. Patrick says:

    I am a year late on this issue, but we have again Just arrived in the perfect season to wear A-shirts. I have rediscovered them after 20 years. I do not sweat to much and I do like that A-shirts are longer and tighter and do not bunch up as bad as T- shirts. Also the Ribbing and thinner material allow for better breathability allowing me to stay cooler. I do wear them under dress shirts, they work great for me.

    Try an A-shirt, then judge for yourself, don’ t let others make up your mind for you.

    I think many will find a new favorite undergarment.

  7. Hi George,

    I agree. Ribbed tank tops are very comfortable. Unfortunately, they don’t provide the protection I typically look for in an undershirt, so I really don’t find myself wearing them any longer for that reason.

    Thankfully, there’s some new undershirt options available that offer the same great fit and comfort, but do provide the underarm protection needed.

    Thanks for reading!
    Tug

  8. GEorge says:

    I wear a tank top undershirt because they are the most comfortable undershirt you can buy. If anything, I think they are growing in popularity, at least at the bank I work.

    I find it more than a little strange that tank top undershirts generate such passionate responses from some people. What is their problem?

Leave a Reply


Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.