We plan to revisit the text of this page from time to time; in the meantime please add your own comments about tops to wear underneath suits. Please keep all comments on this page strictly on topic. Last updated: April 2015.
We’ve had numerous discussions on this blog about which blouses look best under suits. The general consensus is that a well-made, opaque t-shirt in a high-quality material can be a great layering piece, that a no-button blouse can be a flattering, forgiving option (particularly for women who tend to have gape problems with buttons), and that button fronts are always a good way to pump up the professionalism of a look (but require more care).
In general, if you can wear a particular t-shirt with workout pants, it should not be worn to the office. T-shirts with sleeves are preferable under suits (versus tank tops or shells) because they a) allow you to take off your suit jacket, even in the most conservative of offices, and b) help you increase the number of times your suit can go without being drycleaned. They’re also easier to throw in your regular laundry, without getting the shirt itself drycleaned. For my $.02, they can be an appropriate choice for interviews and big meetings (court appearances, etc) but note that not everyone feels this way. If you’re wearing a simple t-shirt, be careful with your underpinnings — your bra should not show through the shirt at all, either in terms of the pattern on the bra or the texture of the bra (such as lace). I’m a big fan of “t-shirt bras” for most office wear! (Pictured: Theory’s Juin shirt, a perennial reader favorite.)
Fancier T-shirts: In an ideal world, the t-shirt would be a bit fancy — perhaps it’s made of a stretchy silk jersey (or even a silk knit), perhaps it has a button at the base of your neck, perhaps it has an interesting, blouse-like pattern. In general, you may want to avoid shirts with rhinestones or beading — not only are they unacceptable for most conservative offices, but the weight of the beads or stones invariably makes the shirts heavy, affects the way they hang (a scoopneck with beads can be almost obscene), and makes laundering difficult. You should be on the lookout for t-shirts like this at any number of places, from bargain spots like Old Navy and Target, to the usual suspects like Ann Taylor, J.Crew, and Banana Republic, to online spots like Zappos and Amazon.
Plain T-shirts: Sometimes basic, solid-colored t-shirts are just what the doctor ordered. They can be great for days when you want to wear a bottom layer to make laundering easier (i.e., underneath a dryclean item such as a cashmere sweater or a suit jacket) but don’t plan on showing off that base layer. They also can be great for days when you want to put the focus on accessories, and wear a statement necklace or a colorful scarf with your blazer or suit instead. Readers have noted the following brands as good bets. Where a certain shirt may be available in other sizes, it’s marked with a P (petites), T (talls), and/or X (plus sizes):
- Bargains: Kohl’s Croft & Barrow Essential Tee (P, X), Halogen® (P, X), Everlane, Lands’ End (P, T, X)
- Mid-Range: J.Crew Perfect-Fit Tee, Club Monaco, Garnet Hill, Boden, Eddie Bauer (P, T, X), Splendid
- Splurges: Michael Stars, Three Dots, Theory (the Juin is a particular favorite for readers), James Perse
Blouses without Buttons: Some blouses are cut like t-shirts — they’re made from a lightweight silk fabric (not a silk jersey, which is a lot more fitted) or a cotton. You can find these at a number of stores, including French Connection, Madewell, and Eileen Fisher.
Simple Button-Front Blouses: To me, there are two category killers here: Brooks Brothers (if you want iron-free) (pictured) and Thomas Pink (regular cotton and silk, but made so well). There are a number of brands that focus on tops for larger busts. Brooks Brothers is not the only one in the non-iron game: Lands’ End, Jones New York, and Banana Republic also make iron-free blouses. Similarly, Charles Tyrwhitt is another traditional men’s outfitter (like Brooks Brothers and Thomas Pink) that now caters to women. On the more bargain end of the spectrum, both Loft, Ann Taylor, and The Limited make simple button-front blouses that have a more fitted look.
Fancier Blouses: I would probably think of Diane von Furstenberg and Tucker as the major players here, but watch our daily TPS reports — we frequently feature blouses. Some brands, such as Anne Fontaine, specialize in one thing: the white blouse. Also worth checking out: Boss Hugo Boss, Vince, and Theory.
- To tuck or not to tuck? The answer depends.
- Is it OK if your blazer won’t button over your shirt?
- And speaking of buttons: how high should you button your shirt for interviews?
- Don’t forget to check out our post with 10 suggestions for how to wear a button-front shirt.
Readers: What are your favorite perennial purchases for t-shirts and button-front shirts? What makes a t-shirt appropriate for the office, or makes you absolutely love a button-front shirt?
Also, please don’t forget to check out other Corporette shopping guides!