2019 Update: We still stand by this discussion on what to wear beneath a suit jacket, but you might want to check out our more recent post on stylish tops for under suits, as well as the Corporette Guide to the Best Tops Under Suits.
Reader E wonders what blouses, shirts, and tops you can wear beneath suits…
I’m wondering if you can give some advice on the best shirts to wear with suits. I have to wear a suit every day for work, but I often take off the jacket at my desk, so I need shirts that (a) work under a suit but (b) are not sleeveless and (c) don’t come untucked (which is unfortunately the case for most button-up shirts I’ve found). Do women need to wear button-up shirts like men? If not, what is the best type of shirt? Are sweaters too informal?
Views differ on this, so make sure you observe others in your office to suss out the dress code. Personally, I think almost anything goes under a suit, provided that doesn’t show skin. Still, some of the tops I’ve found that don’t work well under suit jackets include:
- Cowl necks of any kind. They look lovely by themselves, but the cowlneck just never seems to sit right with the lapels of the blazer.
- Sleeveless. Reader E mentions this one, and I agree with it, if only because I will do anything to avoid frequent trips to the drycleaner — in addition to being expensive, it’s bad for the environment, bad for the garment, and doesn’t always get rid of odors and stains (and sometimes seems to magically set them). Wearing short sleeves beneath blazers and suit jackets helps prolong the number of wears before you need to visit the drycleaner.
- Tank tops. I know, this is Hollywood’s favorite thing to layer beneath suits — a skintight camisole. But in addition to being sleeveless (see above), they’re just a leeeetle bit too sexy for the office if you take your jacket off. Never, ever wear something under a suit jacket that you can’t take off — even if you have no intention of taking your jacket off during the day. Temperatures vary, and sometimes heavy lifting is required (particularly if, say, you’re a litigator reviewing boxes of documents for doc review).
- This is a caveat that I’m throwing in based on the picture above: I would not wear anything that hits below the hips. I’m sure someone out there has successfully worn, beneath a blazer, a scarf top (like the one pictured), a tunic, or even done the dress-on-top-of-pants look that comes and goes out of fashion, but ultimately: if you’re working in a conservative office, stick to hip-length tops. (If, however, you’re more adventurous than I, you can purchase the scarf top seen above at Bloomingdale’s for $195.)
I know one friend who considers square-necked sweaters to be the ideal thing to wear under suits; I’ve worn anything from scoop necks, boat necks, V-necks, crewnecks, and turtlenecks, in every fabric from plain t-shirt jersey, silk, merino wool, cashmere, rayon, and beyond. Personally, I don’t feel the need to tuck tops in — in fact, I almost only do so if I’m wearing an unfitted button-down shirt. (We’ve actually had a conversation before about whether you must tuck a blouse in with a jacket.) And while button-up shirts can look crisp and clean (and certainly can be worn under suits), I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they need to be worn under suits. After all, they often gape (showing skin and breaking the cardinal rule), and ultimately are more difficult to care for than a simple silk sweater or t-shirt. In fact, if I had to choose one thing to wear under a suit jacket, it would probably be a silk sweater, whether short-sleeved or long-sleeved.
Readers, what say you? What do you consider the perfect thing to wear under a suit jacket? What do you avoid wearing?
Psst: Check out our Guide to the Best Tops under Suits!