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 made of 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 seem 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 the 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 extend 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 be difficult to launder. 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. I’ve even worn patterned t-shirts from surprising spots such as Armani Exchange and Urban Outfitters to the office.
Plain t-shirts. Sometimes basic, solid-colored t-shirts are just what the doctor ordered. They can be great for days when you want a bottom layer to make laundering easier (such as beneath a dryclean item such as a cashmere sweater or a suit jacket) but don’t plan on showing it off. 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 being great. Where the shirt may be available in other sizes I’ve marked it as P (petites), T (talls), and X (plus sizes):
– Bargains: Target’s Merona Double-Layer Shirred V-Neck Tee (P), Kohl’s Croft & Barrow Solid Pima Tee (P)
– Mid-Range: Jones New York Platinum Silk Knit Shell (X), J.Crew’s Perfect Tee
– Splurges: Michael Stars, Three Dots, Theory’s tops (the Juin is a particular favorite for readers), Splendid
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 Talbots, French Connection, and even Urban Outfitters.
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: Land’s End and Jones New York also make iron-free blouses. Similarly, Charles Tyrwhitt is another traditional men’s outfitter (like Brooks Brothers and Thomas Pink) that recently started catering to women. On the more bargain end of the spectrum, both Express and New York & Company make simple button-front blouses that have a more fitted look. Don’t forget to check out our post with 10 suggestions for how to wear a button-front shirt.
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.
Finally: To tuck or not to tuck? The answer depends.
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!