The Striped Tee Undershirt

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Ethan talking about undershirts that are meant to be shown? Has the world gone mad??

Relax.  With a post advocating wearing black, raw hemming your pants, and using tailoring/casual wear to approximate each other, you shouldn’t be so surprised!

We’ve advocated “undershirts” before, firstly through the use of the turtleneck base layer.  It’s such a fun look that subverts most people’s expectations about layering, especially since we’re taught fairly early on to not have visible undershirts!  In the fall/winter, it’s a pretty practical look though (offering some warmth) but is also a specific look, rooted in ivy style that provides a minimalist yet sharp look as it ditches a tie but echoes a done-up scarf or ascot in my eyes.

Obviously you can’t do that much in the spring-summer or even early fall look here in LA (it’s almost mid November and it’s still nearly 80F), even if you did use the 100% cotton ones from Uniqlo (wool is definitely a no go).  But I think ever since then, I’ve been intrigued by the use of under shirts.   It’s an odd thought, considering how the 90s and early 2000s killed it (I’m looking at you Michael Bluth), but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done well.  One specific piece in mind is how workwear utilizes Henley undershirts; Peter does that look well, even if it is more “dressed up” than vintage workwear dressers.

It’s a bit trickier with crewneck undershirts since it lacks any interesting details like the button placket of a Henley or a turtleneck.  It’s exposure comes across as a bit lazy or unkempt since it’s supposed to be underwear, but perhaps that’s exactly the point.  White cotton undershirts look good on their own, as we’ve seen many times thanks to James Dean or greaser style, who all rock the tee under a jacket.

Maybe that’s the way we have to look at it.  If we apply what we used in the Casual Ethan post, maybe the tee is the “main shirt” and the button up works as the jacket/outer layer.  It’s certainly a stretch of logic, but I think that’s how I reconciled it in my head.  Not many guys do it, and I have to admit I wasn’t all that convinced myself.

RL himself with a darker undershirt and a tie belt???

It wasn’t until I saw this picture by Chase that made me sold on the look.  Truth be told, I saw it a long time ago, but it’s always been in my head as a great execution of an undershirt look.  The only difference is that the shirt wasn’t plain: it was striped.  This makes it look less like a typical undershirt and more like an intentional base piece that is meant to be layered with.  The mental reconciliation was taking hold!

Someone actually brought this picture by Jason Jules doing a similar look to Chase, swapping the deep-blue oxford for a chambray workshirt.  It was certainly clear that the striped tees make the outfit different, more intentional.  I was completely sold by this point, making mental notes of how to do it.

Since the tee is a base layer, it works best with textured shirts like oxford or chambray.  You can see the rules are similar to the turtleneck variation.  Because it’s a tee, the combination lends itself to be worn sans sportcoat (any colder and a turtlneck would be better).  This is also because the tee isn’t “closed up” like a turtleneck and carries a “relaxed” vibe instead.

I also like the how it’s used in conjunction with a severely unbuttoned shirt, adding to that slouchy allure. It has a different vibe, contrasting against the bare chested guys at Pitti trying to stay cool, perhaps its because it’s a very ivy-dad thing to do. Plus I always found the idea of wearing a button up sans tie to be very boring. It’s too “basic” for me in the bad way (I’m looking at you TMF and Alpha M, who say that unbuttoned dress shirts are sexy), which is why I think the use of the striped tee undershirt is an interesting move.  It’s like delving into “mediocrity”, if only by simple association with what not to do.  Like the turtleneck base layer, the idea isn’t to look sexy (as most guys try to do with a turtleneck) but instead to lean into looking “lame”.

And I like being lame. 

I guess it works with short sleeve shirts too, especially with traditional trousers!

On Us

Clearly there are plenty of ways for this to go south, at least in the eyes of other people (but that shouldn’t matter tbh). The stigma against undershirts is hard to shake! But that didn’t stop me from doing it on my days off and especially on days where I didn’t feel like going full on Casual Ethan (which has a lot of intent and creativity).  This look is meant to be lazy, easy, and repeatable, and I like doing it!  However, as a result of it being casual, I didn’t get many times to shoot it properly (since I don’t always bring my DSLR on me).

I’ve posted all of these looks on my story and I definitely got a few concerns from my IG followers as to why I was wearing a visible undershirt. I actually put a few guidelines for myself to make sure it’s done consistently without looking too Michael Bluth.

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I already mentioned that I liked the use of oxford and chambray, mainly because they are rustic and casual compared to poplin.  This is what makes it a “jacket” shirt cloth to me (aka, to be thought of as a top layer over the shirt) akin to how I approach some of my Japanese inspired casual fits.  Details like the button-down collar, throat latch, and use of the pocket help dress the shirt down and anchor in the casual/slouch vibe.  I don’t wear jackets with it, but if I did, I’d do it with a chore coat and not any sort of sportcoat.  I also think a “colorful” shirt is best, since the stripes of the undershirt help provide an interesting contrast to the top layer.

I’d also wear it with slim pants that are definitely casual, like jeans, raw hemmed chinos, or my Levis Sta-prests.  Lean into that ivy-dad look with some great ivy staples.  Loafers are preferred, since you need to exude that easy-going nature.  Oxfords/lace-ups tend to be fussy in my eyes, but YMMV. 
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Because it’s such a casual look, I never think of shooting it with my DSLR. I usually just wear this look when I’m out with friends when I want to keep it ivy-dad but it’s still too hot to wear a field jacket. It accomplishes my need to look sharp (to an extent) and yet slouchy and approachable.  It’s also nice to have a casual look that isn’t just a repeat of the wide-legged/minimal Casual Ethan that you guys have seen a lot of lately.

Overall, it’s a very easy and repeatable look.  I have a few different variations of striped tees (the only tees I tend to wear anyway) so it’s possible to do it more than once, though I there’s nothing wrong with simply doing a look again.  I think it’s a great look for transitional weather and probably more accessible for those who don’t like (or can’t do) my suit-adjacent outfits. In fact, my friends have adopted it and wear it for those very reasons!

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MJ doing the bold move of a striped tee under a striped OCBD and chore coat.  Note that while he doesn’t use a saturated shirt, the boldness of the stripes make up for it.

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My version of Chase’s outfit, but with a red workshirt. I love the dual chest pockets and the slight roll in the collar.  In fact, this might be my favorite look from the bunch!

Spencer simply doing Chase’s look verbatim.

Repeated look, but with a red undershirt for tone-on-tone action.

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Jay, with the classic light blue OCBD.

Steven, reader of the blog, doing the look with more of a military-workwear spin with snap button shirt and olive gurkhas.

Nguyen doing the look with a great caramel sportshirt and straight leg denim.

Tone-on-tone under a chambray sportshirt with some fun m43s!

This one was a bit of fun since I actually went against my rules for this!  I wore this to an afternoon-evening beach hang,  so if it seems slightly dressy, it’s because I was chillin on the sand and not swimming. It was equal parts warm and chilly (this is LA after all), so the combination worked.

Instead of a chambray or oxford, the outer layer is my bespoke Ascot Chang linen shirt with a spearpoint collar.  I felt since linen chore coats are a thing, it was fine to use as it as a top layer!  Instead of a normal breton stripe tee (which felt too nautical), I wore my retro-style multistripe from Beams+.  The 40’s trousers are a stained and repared cotton twill which have been my go-to as “fuck it” white pants.  It’s pretty nice to have white pants that can get stained and fucked up as needed, so they were perfect for the beach.

It was basically an interesting spin on the ivy-dad chic that I’ve been doing, combining those ideas with a slouchy vintage beach/resort look. And in retrospect, echoes that Fred Astaire look from earlier!

A hearty workshirt and cords for a more fall-appropriate version. Worn during a brief excursion to SF.

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That SF pic inspired me to do this next one, which I think is one of the best versions of the striped-tee look in this entire blog post!

Instead of an OCBD, I went with something I’ve been digging lately: the workshirt. This is different than the red one, as it has a regular point collar (not even a spearpoint!) instead of a button down.  It’s made up of an army khaki twill, but it was made for civilian use.  I’ve been hesitate on brown sport/workshirts since they seem too military to me and can be hard to wear without that connotations, especially if you like wearing khaki odd trousers. Don’t get me wrong, the style of the shirt is pretty ivy, as it’s basically a CPO or a chamois overshirt done in khaki twill.  But that’s where the striped undershirt comes in!

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With the striped undershirt, it gives the outfit a little extra something.  It’s more interesting than white, which also looks very GI under a khaki shirt, so you don’t get that connotation. With the paint splattered jeans, white socks, and suede tassels, the whole thing seems much more casual and slouchy.  It’s a little bit less ivy but a few of those vibes still come across.

Conclusion

I’m actually surprised how much content I’ve been putting out lately, especially since it’s mainly directed to casual attire! I think it’s because of how much I’ve slacked on this facet of my style that the ideas are finally pouring out.  It’s also because I’ve been inspired by so many dressers lately (who are mainly my friends and colleagues).

The striped undershirt is a fun little piece that puts a fun spin on the “no visible undershirt” menswear mantra we’ve come to know.  The stripes make the look more interesting than a plain tee, which I find a bit boring.  It also works effectively as a true base layer than simply being a underwear, which lends it to be easily layered with casual shirts like OCBDs or chambray workshirts (I think it would look great with sportshirts too). The fact that it’s tucked into jeans or chinos gives it that ivy/dad look that still looks sharp but isn’t as stuffy as wearing a sportcoat.  In fact, I consider it the warm weather (ish) equivalent to the turtleneck base layer.  It’s basically perfect for at least three-season attire here in Los Angeles, where things never get too cold.

I actually find a lot in common between the striped undershirt and the Casual Ethan attire you’ve come to know throughout the summer.  This is mainly due to thinking of things as alternatives/replacements! I mean most of us have no problem wearing a striped tee under a chore coat (or even a blazer in some cases), so why not think of the oxford/chambray as your “jacket layer”? It’s not super avant garde and (like most things I do) has precedent in vintage/ivy style.  You could even argue it’s a more mature way of doing my Casual Ethan looks (which relies more on overt slouch and minimal pieces).

Try it for yourself!  I think it’s fun, especially if you have a bunch of striped tees for variety.  It also gives you a new way to wear your other button-ups (especially if they’re saturated and more casual like a sport/work shirt or an OCBD), so that way they aren’t simply relegated to be worn with ties. Personally I find button-ups worn on their own a bit boring; the striped tee makes it interesting and a bit subversive. And you all know how much of a punk I can be.  Either way, it’s simple, repeatable, and has a history in vintage/ivy.  It’s the perfect lazy outfit for early fall (or all year-round in LA, let’s be real).

Always a pleasure,

@ethanmwong

6 comments

  1. Randy · November 17

    I have a local striped shirt that I shrunk (was a sleep shirt) and a blue chambray shirt today after reading this. May walk in this outfit later. oh, faded tan denim and light brown loafers. lov it

    Like

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