Latest article from my buddy “C in Cali” who broaches the topic of Muscle shirts and how and where they might fit in a man’s undershirt collection.
Why I Wear: a Muscle Shirt
By “C in Cali”
[This is another entry in the “Why I Wear” series. You can read about wearing a V-Neck shirt in… and a tank top in…]
Selecting an undershirt style can be a challenge because each of us has our own take on comfort and image. Crew neck T-shirts, V-neck undershirts, and tank tops each provides us with unique benefits. It’s not surprising that a crew neck T-shirt is often the default undershirt because it’s a safe choice: not edgy like a tank top or “properly” fashionable like a V-neck. Aside from these mainstream styles, there is yet another undershirt style that often seems ignored. This is the muscle shirt. As its name implies, the muscle shirt likely got its start in the gym where its lack of sleeves provides for flexible body movement. Somehow, the muscle shirt conjures up something worn when pumping iron or washing the car. But, can it be taken seriously as an undershirt option for business wear? And why isn’t it a more popular choice?
The muscle shirt is not a mainstream undershirt choice for a few reasons: it requires that its wearer has a better than average physical shape. The shirt itself seems to lack “bling” and reduces the undershirt choice to pure function over fashion. Then there is the question of whether its lack of sleeves came that way or were victims of someone who was frustrated with yellow stains on crew neck T-shirt sleeves and took a pair of shears to them. They also don’t appear to have much of a following: when did you last see one worn in the movies or on a television show? (Apologies to Tony Danza).
So, I was a bit surprised to read in Tug’s blog that a reader asked about layering a tank top under a muscle shirt—not so much for the perfectly valid layering question as for the admission that at least one reader faithfully wears a muscle shirt. Should we follow along and add the muscle shirt to our inventory of undershirts? I decided to test drive a muscle shirt to see if I could answer that question. What I found was warmth, comfort, ease of movement, a clean look beneath a dress shirt and a strong need to get to the gym more often to give the shirt its due.
Before you adopt a muscle shirt, be prepared to make lots of undershirt trade offs. This is a hybrid that borrows from all three popular styles. Like the crew neck and the V-neck, the muscle shirt offers nearly full coverage and a high neckline to keep warm and well presented. It is generally inconspicuous, so the real attention can be focused on the outer shirt (and those bulging muscles). Like the tank top, it affords ease of movement and comfort because it has the athletic shirt’s open arm structure. On the negative side: the muscle shirt does not prevent yellow stains on cotton shirts like the crew neck or V-neck because it has no barrier layer against perspiration or deodorant stains. It also lacks the considerable freedom in the neck area provided by the tank top. Unlike the tank top or V-neck, the muscle shirt can show an unappealing wedge of white with an open collared shirt. But, it comes without the tank top or V-neck show-through lines. Sounds like wearing a muscle shirt is an exercise in compromise. But, there remain some good reasons to consider adding muscle shirts to your undershirt inventory.
1. Fit and Shape
Aside from image and our perceptions of comfort, a deciding factor in choosing an undershirt style is whether we seek full coverage or partial coverage. The muscle shirt appeals to the former camp since it is really little more than a sleeveless crew neck T-shirt. This of course is ideal for cooler climates or for men who like to cover skin and chest hair. And if you like full coverage around your neck, the muscle shirt obliges. The muscle shirt does fill out the torso and, if properly maintained, keeps its full body shape. This coverage helps provide a nice pallet for a good dress shirt for professional wear. If you fall into the partial coverage camp, a muscle shirt really doesn’t measure up because, except for the lack of sleeves, it’s “another” crew neck T. Its distinctiveness is its lack of sleeves. This means that you can throw your arms in the air without fear of pulling or tearing the shirt. This also avoids the crew neck problem of having sleeves “ride up” as the shirt ages or your body movement gains momentum. The lack of sleeves provides a little more cooling in warm weather. In short, what the muscle shirt lacks in distinctiveness it makes up for in being simple and functional. Some might think the shape of the muscle shirt looks unfinished. That’s the point: the sleeves are deliberately missing.
We all define comfort in different ways. The muscle shirt is comfortable with the exception of the high neckline that some of us find confining. I rarely wear crew necks and muscle shirts because I don’t like the tightness around the neck—something avoided by a V Neck or tank top. But, there’s something to be said about having an undershirt cover the upper part of our bodies as well as the muscle shirt does, yet avoid sleeves that pull us from opposing directions. A properly sized muscle shirt provides both some movement and preening time. Unfortunately, some manufacturers use heavy material or bulky collar lines. If that is not an issue for you, you will find the muscle shirt comfortable, especially if you are accustomed to crew neck shirts.
A versatile undershirt is one that can be worn as a base layer in many settings. By that definition, the muscle shirt is a versatile garment. The downside is that like the crew neck T-shirt, the muscle shirt peeps out when you have one or two opened buttons on an outer shirt. This distracts from the color and style (stripes, solids, or checks) of the dress shirt. Even worse, a conspicuous undershirt beneath a polo shirt can be construed as looking just a little nerdy, so versatility may not extend to casual occasions unless it is worn alone. The popularity of the tank top and the underappreciated V-neck shirt may be accounted for by their respect for either a good dress shirt or polo shirt. They do their job of warmth and comfort quietly unlike the crew or muscle shirt. But the muscle shirt is easily worn solo at a cook-out, the beach and the gym. If it invites stares, they will be either stares of admiration for your toned arms that the shirt accentuates or stares of disgust for your lack of development.
4. Overall Appearance
The muscle shirt, as its name states, is not for everyone. In fact, its overall appearance is completely dependent on the body’s profile for a stylish look. Sadly, not all of us have the necessary profile to do the shirt justice. This may account for the shirt’s lack of mainstream wear. But, even without the necessary goods to adopt these shirts for their intended use, muscle shirts can be put to good use as an alternative to your usual undershirt style selections. If you’ve worked hard at developing a good body and strong arms, go for it since it will accentuate the results of your hard labor better than other undershirt alternatives.
Category: Undershirt Style