Guide to The Best Tops for Under Women’s Suits

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 2018.

We’ve had numerous discussions on this blog about what to wear beneath a suit jacket or blazer. The general consensus is that 1) a well-made, opaque t-shirt in a high-quality material can be a great layering piece, 2) that a no-button blouse (popover blouse) can be a flattering, forgiving option (particularly for women who tend to have problems with gaping blouses with buttons), 3) that button front dress shirts can be a no-brainer option if you really want to stay close to convention, and 4) sleeveless tops like blouses and shells can also work, with certain caveats. (Note that although it’s really common on television to see camisoles layered beneath suits, this isn’t the best because if you take your suit jacket off, a camisole isn’t usually work-appropriate attire. Furthermore, your dry cleaning costs will be through the roof, and you may be tempted to dryclean the pieces separately, which is bad for the long-term care and feeding of your suit — you want all of the pieces to wear and weather evenly. This isn’t to say camisoles don’t have their uses — here’s our last roundup of the best camisoles for layering.) Let’s go into each suggested top to wear under suits a bit more below…

1. T-Shirts for Work

Stylish, Simple T-Shirts to Wear Beneath Suits

T-shirts are great in summer, of course, but they’re also great for layering under cardigans and blazers as seasons change. Some of the best tees for layering, in our opinion, include some of the ones pictured below — you may also want to check out our latest discussion on opaque white t-shirts for work.

Above: black / pink / blue / red.

In general, if you can wear a particular t-shirt with workout pants, it should not be worn to the office. As noted above, 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 versus a blouse that needs special care. 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!

Fancier Tees For Work

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 (watch out for scoopnecks with beading!), 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, to the usual suspects like Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Loft, Express, J.Crew Factory, Talbots, and Banana Republic.

fancy white t-shirt for suits

(You can get any color of “fancy t-shirt,” but note that if you get them in white or pastel they can be a great way to freshen up your work wardrobe for spring, whereas a jewel tone can be great for fall. (I’m a fan of black, navy and gray for all seasons, but that’s me.) Pictured above: a selection of fancy white-Ts from our roundup of white tops for work.)

2. Popover Blouses for Work: A Happy Medium

Some blouses are cut like t-shirts in that they have no buttons, pull over the head, have no gaping problems and are generally more comfortable. They often demand higher care than your basic jersey t-shirts, but that doesn’t mean you have to get a $300 silk blouse — you can get popover blouses in a ton of price ranges, particularly in stores like Ann Taylor, Loft, J.Crew, J.Crew Factory, Banana Republic, Banana Republic Factory (heck, even Old Navy) you might find a shirt that has a good feel to it but can be washed on the delicates cycle or merely laid flat to dry.  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. The Ravello t-shirt from Boden is a particular favorite.

Note that these can also be a seasonal item, and a great way to freshen up your wardrobe each season. Check out this post for a more recent roundup of white popover blouses and blouses cut like t-shirts; you may also want to check out some of our recent recommendations for popover blouses.

white tops for work: popover blouses

3. Button-Front Blouses: The Classic

Button front blouses are a classic for a reason — they’re a conservative but stylish and chic look. Of course, not everyone actually likes them — they can be hard to care for, and fit issues can abound. (If you’re stuck out and about and notice your blouse is gaping, check out this old post on DIY options for gaping blouses.) If you find that button downs don’t work with your bust, but still want to wear them, do check out our roundup of boutique shops specializing in busty blouses — you can also check out our advice on how to wear a button-front to work.

Crisp Button-Front Blouses for Work

A crisp dress shirt is a great layering piece for beneath a blazer, a sweater, or more.  If you prefer a silk button-front, scroll down…

Pictured above: pink / stripey / blue / white / blush

Silk Button-Front Blouses

Another stylish option: the silk button-front. These can be easier for layering beneath a suit, cardigan, or more — but be warned they can be higher maintenance.

Pictured above, some of our favorite silk button-front blouses, $88-$214:  one / two / three / four.

4. Sleeveless Tops for Work

Sleeveless tops, shells and blouses can be great alternatives to sleeved blouses and tees, particularly if you want a layered look with clean lines. However (and this is a big however): note that bare arms are not acceptable for every office — so know your office before you take your blazer off! Another big caveat: your dry cleaning costs will be higher for your suits and blazers, unless you magically never sweat. These are some of our favorites — you can see our whole roundup of sleeveless tops.

Pictured above, $15-$178: white / pink / white / navy / white / purple

 

Finally, some other thoughts on blouses for under suits:

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 our work outfit challenge: four weeks’ worth of work outfit ideas

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/3-4-sleeve-delicious/ . 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/

  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.

  21. Pendleton has silk tees in beautiful colors, with or
    without sleeves, and they wash perfectly in the machine delicate cycle. I buy them whenever they’re on sale

  22. I’m new to this site and building my wardrobe for a conservative office and have a few shirt-related questions:

    1. I have a number of sleeveless shells that I wear under a blazer or cardigan – is it appropriate to take the blazer/cardigan off in the office when at your desk working?
    2. How do people deal with the gape in button-down tops. Safety pins? Having a snap installed?

    Thanks! :)

  23. What do you feel about lace shell t-shirts? Are they work appropriate?

  24. My top choices for summer work blouses – http://yhoo.it/120ZtQh

  25. I’m looking for a faux-wrap surplice blouse or crew-necked, satin-piped top in a cotton/polyester fabric for easy care. Macy’s has the faux wrap tops in polyester. They never gape open and are modest, and they go on sale frequently for ~$24 each -comes.

    Christopher and Banks has the very nicely made, fine knit cotton satin-piped crew necks, in a dozen colors. They also go on sale (two for $18-24, regularly 2 for $29). They’re easy care and have a slightly satiny finish to them that makes them dressy enough for work as a layered top with a dressy skirt or under a suit.

    I can’t bring myself to wear a shell unless it’s really quite warm out and I’m in a suit.

    I used to have a white v-necked blouse with 3 pin-tucked pleats parallel to the neck-line (sat higher on the neck). Still looking for this style, because it sat high enough to provide a pleasant contrast for darker suits, but had a softer look than an oxford collared shirt.

  26. This is a great topic, although this thread has been dormant a while Would anyone have any updates on where to find the perfect shirt for layering under suit jackets? I’m looking for long-sleeved cotton scoop necks in a nice enough quality that they’re office-appropriate.

  27. This is a great topic, although this thread has been dormant a while. Would anyone have any updates on where to find the perfect shirt for layering under suit jackets? I’m looking for long-sleeved cotton scoop necks in a nice enough quality that they’re office-appropriate.

  28. I haven’t road tested them yet, but I’m buying up a bunch of shirt and blouse-style bodysuits lately, and so far, I’m really liking them. J Crew has some pretty collarless ones (I think they’ll look strange under a jacket though) in cotton and silk, ASOS has a fantastic plain white one (in regular and a “larger-busted” variety) for $40, and I cleaned Nordstrom Rack out of some gorgeous Lamarque silk blouse styled ones that you can possibly to still get direct from the designer (styles are Cinta (S/S) and Ohara (L/S)), as well as a beautiful french cuff by Tibi. Veronica Beard also made a great one (style: Brigitte) that is on clearance if your size is still available, etc.

  29. Eleacouise :

    Highly recommended Chicos’ Katrina long sleeve rayon knit top. Looks like silk, feels like pajamas, under $50 full price

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