If outfits are like buildings, undershirts are their foundations. They are a comfortable first layer that smoothes things out and protects against sweat and smell. Unfortunately, men tend to toss on whatever undershirt they have lying around. That's a lot of shaky buildings. A bit of considered construction can make a big difference.
Sam Spector – stylist to the likes of Channing Tatum, Lance Armstrong, and Sean Avery – is a big fan of men having the proper underpinnings. "An undershirt can be useful for many reasons," he says. "For one, it can prolong the life of your dress shirts by allowing you to wear them more times between laundering them." That's not to say you can kiss your dry cleaning bill goodbye, but it does mean that you'll have more choices later in the cycle between washes. Still, washing the undershirts themselves is crucial: Anything you've sweat through should not be considered for a second wear.
When deciding which undershirt to wear when, the first thing to think about is an undershirt's neckline. "I prefer a crewneck with all but the top button of the shirt buttoned so you can't see the outline of the tee through the shirt," says Spector. The simple rule is this: The type of undershirt you should wear depends on the type of shirt you're going to wear over it. Buttoned-up shirts should be worn with a crewneck that hides just beneath the points of your collar. V-neck sweaters, dress shirts worn unbuttoned with no tie and the like should be worn with a V-neck undershirt, like this classic one from Ralph Lauren. Do you prefer to wear a sport shirt with two buttons open? if so, then wear a slightly deeper V-neck shirt like this smooth 2xist offering. The idea is to match as closely as possible the height of the neckline with how much neck you plan on showing.
Another consideration is color. Most men default to white undershirts – especially when wearing lighter shirts – but such a move can result in a bright T-shirt outline shining through an overshirt's fabric. Why does this happen? Because light passes more easily through the finer, higher-quality threads of a lightly colored dress shirt than the less-refined, opaque threads of an undershirt. The solution is to wear a heather grey undershirt that matches your skin tone. You may be tempted to protest that you do not, in fact, have gray skin, but we aren't talking about matching colors here. In the same way blue and orange are different colors, but share a common pastel tone, everyone's skin shares a tone with a certain shade of gray. A gray undershirt absorbs light similarly to skin so the undershirt will become, faint traces of its form aside, invisible.