Guide to The Best Tops For Under Women’s Suits

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), and that button fronts are always a good way to pump up the professionalism of a look (but require more care).  (Don’t forget to check out our guide to women’s suits, either!)

Juin t-shirtT-Shirts

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 even online spots like Zappos and Amazon.  I’ve even worn patterned t-shirts from unusual 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 Juinicon 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.

Button-Front Blouses

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 larger busts, including Carissa Rose and Rebecca and Drew.  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?

Comments

  1. I’ve recently been on a silk shell kick. Nordstrom’s and the Rack often have them on sale. Something like this: http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/halogen-pleat-detail-silk-top-petite/3133525

    A word of caution about t-shirts. Some of the cheaper shirts, especially those made to look worn, look too casual with suits. White House Black Market has great layering tees but they only come in black and white. http://www.whitehouseblackmarket.com/store/browse/product.jsp?maxRec=16&pageId=1&productId=300113751&viewAll=&prd=Seamless+Tee&subCatId=cat4440019&color=&fromSearch=&inSeam=&posId=9&catId=cat210001&cat=Tops+Basic+Layering&onSale=&colorFamily=&maxPg=1&size=

    • Artemisia :

      Great links. I personally am not comfortable wearing many all-cotton tees to the office – just too casual – and these are perfect.

      A few years ago, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic had great tees in a blend with some spandex and nylon. I should have bought a few dozen.

      • I had a plain, white scoop neck nylon t-shirt from Ann Taylor that I finally had to throw away, I wore it out. Have not found a good replacement.

    • I’m searching for the perfect office t-shirt, it needs to be a scoop neck (crew necks just don’t look right to me, they come up to high, and the banding around the neck always seems to be too thick, and v-necks frequently are too low or casual looking, although sometimes v-neck works), not sheer, not slubbed, cotton/spandex or nylon blend (100% cotton seems too casual), not too short (while the waistband on dress pants seems to keep getting lower, the length of t-shirts does not seem to be following suit – I really don’t want my belly to show if I raise my arms, and would like my t-shirt to stay tucked in if I tuck it in). So frustrating. I haven’t tried the WHBM ones, although the white one seems kind of sheer and maybe a little low in the picture, but I might go by there and try one, I need a good white t-shirt.

      The Jones New York silk shells linked above are short and boxy, imo, the Merona double layer t’s are okay, but not great, they wrinkle badly and are hard to iron after being washed, and the colors look faded.

  2. I like Loft’s basic scooped tee. Inexpensive, great color selection, the cut of the neck and the fabric are work appropriate, without screaming t-shirt to me.
    http://www.anntaylorloft.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=30544&N=1200005&pCategoryId=3359&categoryId=204&Ns=CATEGORY_SEQ_204&loc=TN&defaultColor=Shimmer%20Pink&defaultSizeType=Regular

    • Anonymous :

      All my favorite tees to wear under suits come from Loft. I tend toward those with subtle embellishments, so I feel more comfortable if I take off my jacket.

    • I actually just bought a whole bunch of these when they had a 40% off promotion. Very soft, not too low cut, nice colors, but I have to say that they do look a bit more casual than I expected (even for a tee shirt). I think it’s the utter lack of stretch. As the day goes on, the tee gets looser and looser. I wish they worked out better, but as is they are relegated to informal office days or non work wear.

      • PrettyNicola :

        I second (third? fourth?) the Loft tshirt recommendation. I actually think they have just the right amount of stretch, although yes, they do sag after a while. I usually get two wears before a wash though. I prefer tshirts with dress pants and suits because I am pretty apple shaped, and I feel like more structured button down blouses emphasize the size of my torso. A plain fitted tshirt can be very flattering, and is a great backdrop for fun necklaces or brooches.

  3. I work in a place where bare arms are fine, and I don’t like to add bulk to my suits, so I stick with sleeveless or short sleeved options. Cowl necks hide my tattoo and are loose enough around the bust area to draw attention upwards.
    These are all plus-sized options.
    -The Jones New York Cowl neck shells at Dress Barn. http://tinyurl.com/3zoxvh9 They have lots of different colors and patterns and new ones every season.

    I also love the Sejour brand at Nordstrom. They have a lot of tanks and sleeveless cowl neck shells that work for me. I find them at both Nordstrom and Nordstom Rack. http://tinyurl.com/4xo3twa

    Kenneth Cole New York often has some nice sleeveless tops also –http://tinyurl.com/3s5fvtn

    For thin t-shirt sweaters, I buy from Lands End — they usually have these
    http://tinyurl.com/3z99ggv and also a cashmere version.

  4. Foxcroft makes some nice button front blouses, in a large variety of colors – plain and pattern. They have non-iron, too, which are very nice.

  5. I stockpile H&M’s long sleeved tees in every color. They are cut long, thick enough to cover my bra and yet not so bulky as to be uncomfortable under a suit jacket. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their quality and longevity as well.

  6. Oops! Posted it on the wrong page…

    I cannot stand button downs under suits… they bunch up everywhere, don’t stay tucked in and make me overly busty. My new go-to tops for suits are v-neck silk tshirts from Ann Taylor – most have some minimal frills like a chiffon piping on the neckline or a ruffle somewhere to make them be interesting on their own but are unfussy enough to lie perfectly under suits. I also almost never wear crew necks under suits… v-necks extend the vertical line from face to neck to décolletage while crew necks make me look like I am being choked by my suit!

  7. About Thomas Pink:

    Gorgeous shirts. However, there’s no vanity sizing. So, if you’re very slim, this is the place for you. I frequently wear a 0/2 at places like J Crew and Banana Republic. At Thomas Pink, I wear a 6/8. I tried on a 4 and couldn’t get it over my hips.

    Also, the salesperson instructed me to wash and dry my shirt. I think this is not good counsel. It’s cotton; it shrank; now I no longer fit into a beautiful shirt.

    • I think the reason is that Thomas Pink goes by UK sizing, which is +4 above US sizing. (If you are a 6 in US, you are a 10 in UK).

  8. I live in the Merona Target ones Kat linked to. They are thick so they are not like a work out t-shirt. The cut is super flattering. They do eventually start to pill a little in between the two layers. But I get a ton of wear out of mine before that happens. They come in tons of colors and fun patterns.

  9. Am I really the only one who doesn’t like t-shirts under suits? I can’t stand the look of plain cotton t-shirts under suits–even “nice” ones. I think only blouses, button-down, silk shell, or otherwise, are acceptable. (Perhaps a nice silk sweater when it’s cold). Wearing a t-shirt with a suit, to me, looks like wearing yoga pants with heels (ok, maybe not that absurd, but still). At best, it makes you look very young and like you don’t know how to dress properly; at the worst, it makes you look cheap.

    • I 100% agree. The only t-shirts I own are the oversized ones collected from university/school days of yore that I use to sleep/paint/clean in. I may have one or two stylized t-shirts I voluntarily purchased from Kohls to run errands in on the weekends.

      For suits, I either wear button-downs (very rare) or silk blouses/shells. Or, I purchase suits that can be worn ‘as is’ and don’t need a shell or blouse under. I also sometimes will just wear a scarf with a suit jacket instead of a shell, draping the scarf in such a way that it fills in the empty space and sometimes looks like it’s lying like a blouse.

    • I agree about not wearing cotton t-shirts under suits (although I also rarely wear buttoned shirts because of the weirdness of what you do with the collar and the bunching up). This is the best under-suit top ever: http://www.onlyhearts.com/products/3%7B47%7D4-Sleeve-Delicious.html . It’s pricey ($60) but if you wear it all the time, like I do, it’s worth it – just enough of a scoop neck to avoid looking like you’re being choked, and it looks good with a necklace.

  10. “perhaps it’s made of a stretchy silk jersey (or even a silk knit),”

    Jersey is a kind of knit fabric.

  11. I’m a big fan of the American Apparel Oxford shirts. The collar is nice and stiff and it never gapes – even as a small-chested gal I find that many oxfords still gape. Sizing can be tricky since the shirts are unisex but in general they run pretty narrow.

  12. I really like my Theory t shirts, though they are so ridiculously priced (to me – about $75, I think) that I only buy them on sale. Also, I get the earlier poster’s point about t shirts looking perhaps too casual under suits, but I think it depends on the context. As someone who is in court every day, I dress differently for a status (t shirt appropriate) than I would for a jury trial or COA argument. Not every suit situation is equally formal.

    I also have a few J Crew three-quarter sleeve button fronts that I wear that are fitted enough to tuck in but cut generously enough through the chest for the well-endowed. That said, I never feel completely confident in them – button-front shirts look like little girls playing grown up professional to me, especially when the wearer actually looks young.

  13. Diana Barry :

    I really like the J crew perfect fit tees for under suits. Nice thickness and hold shape well (I don’t dry them, maybe just a little to avoid wrinkles).

  14. I love shells from Ann Taylor. I recently got one similar to this style http://www.anntaylor.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=31616&N=1200041&categoryId=341&pCategoryId=3944&Ns=CATEGORY_SEQ_341&Nr=AND%28CAT_SALE_FLAG%3aY%29&Nty=1&No=14&loc=TN&defaultColor=Black&defaultSizeType=Regular in a really pretty green. (I don’t do animal prints.) They often have a sheen to them that makes them appear a bit more dressy and good to transition into after work. Of course, I would prefer if similar came with sleeves. And the fabric catch very easily so you have to be careful with jewelry and not to hang them near anything that might snag.

    I also have some great poly blend short sleeve shirts from JC Penney of all places that I LOVE. I have one in an orange color that always looks amazing with gray or navy suits and it’s washable to boot. Hoping they have something similar this summer since I always have the same few on rotation. Kicking myself for not stocking up once I saw how great they fit and how well they hold up.

  15. I found some Tahari t-shirts at Marshalls for $12-$16 recently. They are nice but the crewnecks do look casual for a suit imo.

  16. Majestic tops. They are pricy, but I’ve owned a three-quarter length v-neck for three years, worn it multiple times a month, washed it, dried it, lost weight, and the top is as pulled together as the day I bought it. The fabric does not fade. They are the single most flattering tops I have owned. Slim cut without being suctioned to you. And if you lose weight, even significant amounts, they still fit.

    I don’t know that I would buy a white one, because of the risk of stains, but I own four styles of black. Nordstrom usually puts one style on its anniversary sale.

    http://www.clothesbymajestic.com/productcart/pc/viewCategories.asp?idCategory=10

  17. JNY. Their short sleeve and sleeveless shells are dressier than tees. They are boxy as claimed but this cab be a good thing if you are not trying to come across as sexy or if your weight goes up and down.

  18. Eddie Bauer’s scoop-neck regular or 3/4 sleeve tees. Thick enough, soft material, great color selection, and no tag in the neck!

  19. My all-time favorite is the Splendid 1×1 short sleeve scoop neck tee–a classic cut and the fabric (50 cotton/50 modal) is awesome! It lies flat under suits and cardis, and washes so well (does not get misshapen or fade). The fabric is very soft, yet substantial/not sheer. It’s pricey for a basic top at $46, but there are always sales on colors that are being discontinued.

  20. Lafayette 148 for great quality tees. Pricey but worth it.

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