Like jeans and a good jacket, t-shirts are a staple that should be hanging (or folded) in every man’s closet. But not just any t-shirt—we’re talkin’ the right fitting t-shirt. There’s a fine line between putting on a t-shirt and looking sloppy or looking put together, and it comes down to proper fit. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, the fit is often a common mistake men tend to make when it comes to clothes, especially t-shirts. As you’re building your wardrobe, growing up, and becoming a man, having well-fitting staples in your closet is absolutely necessary. There’s no need to feel lost or overwhelmed when you have this article. We break down every question you ever had about t-shirts, how they should fit, how you can style them, and when you should even wear them. This article will help you don a well-fitting t-shirt in no time. So have at it, throw out that old track t-shirt from 2011 you have hanging around your closet, and start shopping for clothes that make you feel good from the outside in.
So here’s to t-shirts, arguably the most versatile item of clothing you can own, to help you look good and feel good. Let’s get into it.
History of The Man’s Tee
T-shirts go back quite a ways, about a century, actually. They get their classic name from the way it fits like a “t” on your body. Simple. Understated. We love that. They actually started more as undergarments, made of wool (yikes) to create a barrier between the human being and his sweat, and the “nicer” clothes he would wear in order to not wash the over clothes as much. Honestly, genius, besides the wool part, that would absolutely be a sweaty mess in the summertime. We digress.
As the Industrial Revolution began, advancements within garment making allowed for wool to be a thing of the past, and cotton came into play. Obviously cotton feels like a dream on your skin compared to wool, it’s breathable, it’s soft, and it changed the t-shirt game. What started as undergarments hidden underneath nicer clothes became an actual outfit, for men of the working class. Still not acceptable as “proper” dress clothes but the t-shirt was there to do a job. It was utilitarian, it was rugged, it was a part of a uniform of a hard-working man. Soon it even became part of the U.S. Military with Navy men wearing it underneath their uniform.
During the ’40s the t-shirt was still an icon of the working class and young boys who were able to follow a less strict dress code. However, in the ’50s things took a turn. As movie stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean, wore t-shirts as a shirt and not an undershirt, the cool factor exploded. It no longer was an icon for the working-class man, but an act of too-cool rebellion.
Heading into the 60’s screen printing became huge and thus, the graphic tee was born. From then on, t-shirts have continued to evolve with trends but still been a staple in men’s closets everywhere, forever changing how men dressed. Like always, we have Hollywood to thank for trends. What used to be considered underwear, then a sign of working-class men became an edgy declaration of cool.
T-Shirt Too Tight? Too Big? Here’s Why.
Now that t-shirts are for the modern man and a modern wardrobe, the fit is one of the most important aspects of choosing the right one for you.
Two major things you want to avoid are a too-tight-fit or a too-loose-fit. It sounds easy but it can be challenging. Too tight means that you look a bit like a sausage. It is highlighting areas you don’t want to be highlighted, you feel uncomfortable, the shirt is stretching in ways it shouldn’t and you just appear like you’re looking for endless amounts of attention.
Too loose is the opposite, it is boxy, it is loose to the point where it looks like a sheet draped over your body. You might appear like you’re trying to hide something.
The sweet spot? Right in the middle. So we’ll get more into the types of tee’s later, and how to find the right fit. Just keep in mind, knowing your body type is very important when it comes to fit. Knowing what you wish to highlight or conceal is also important. If you’re carrying a little more weight, especially in your belly area, opt for a looser fit. If you’re slimmer, then a tighter fit will look more put together on you. Just take some time before trying on shirts to observe your body type, and how you wish to present yourself. We promise it’ll make all the difference when it comes to fitting right.
Now let’s get into the “how” to make this all happen.
How Should a Shirt Fit?
Like we’ve been hammering home, the fit makes all the difference when it comes to how great a t-shirt can look on you. Fit is actually the baseline for good style. After you’ve taken the time, like mentioned above, to see what areas of your body you want to highlight or conceal, it’s time to figure out how to measure properly. Follow our steps below to get the right measurements, every time.
The 4 Measurements to Know if a Shirt Fits Right
So let’s start with a basic crew neck t-shirt—a classic that can be combined with just about anything. The collar should fit snug around the neck, never cutting into your neck but cradling it and enhancing it. It should lie flat and not rumple up, that means it’s too big. When it comes to v-necks, the V matters. It should never extend past your armpits and *should* cover your chest hair. We get it if you’re super hairy, everyone is different, but the point is to still look put together, so let’s make sure we’re keeping this V pretty tame.
2. Arms: The Proper T-Shirt Length & Fit
Now for your shoulders and arms, this is key. A great fitting t-shirt can be clocked by how well it fits around your shoulders and arms. As always, never too tight, or too loose. The shoulder seam should NEVER extend past your actual shoulder bone. Small deviations are okay, but ideally, the seam should fit flush with your shoulder. It also should not pinch the shoulder, which means it is way too tight. Let’s look for shirts where the shoulder seam fits flat and flush on your shoulder.
Now for the arms, another cornerstone to a good-fitting t-shirt. The perfect fit is never too wide, the ideal amount of space for loose fabric should only be 0.5 in-1.5 in—this should look and feel like a light hug on your arms. This ideal fit will accentuate your arms no matter what they look like, without leaving them squished. The length of t-shirt arms should be right in the center of your bicep—about halfway between your armpit and elbow.
How to Avoid Shirts That Are Tight Around the Arms
In order to avoid t-shirt fits that are too tight around the arms, always follow the rule of thumb to allow 0.5 in-1.5 in of space between the circumference of fabric and your arms. There’s no need to measure, but eyeballing works. It should have enough room for your armpits to breathe and allow for full movement of your arm. If you can barely move your arm, then your sleeves are most likely too tight. When trying on shirts it’s best to test out your body movement. Above all else, make sure your comfort level is high. You will know if a shirt is too tight because it will feel like you’re being squeezed.
This one should be easy. The ideal fit for any man’s body type is to be able to pinch (not pull) 1-2 inches of fabric from the tummy on either side. This actually works for all body types. There should also be no tension in the chest, as a too-tight-shirt in the tummy will work its way to the top.
Muscles vs. Dad Bods
Always follow the rule of thumb above no matter what type of body you have. Whether you train every day and have an 8-pack, or you’re rockin’ a dad bod, a too-tight shirt never looks good and a too-loose shirt looks sloppy. If you have a tight set of abs, it is important to still make sure your shirt fits snug, so you might want to go for a more slim-fitting shirt to highlight this part of your body in tandem with your arms.
But no worries to those rockin’ dad-bods, the perfect t-shirt also exists for you. If you have a bit more to your tummy, then always opt for a t-shirt with more give in that area so you aren’t highlighting it.
4. T-Shirt Length: How Long Should a Men's Shirt Actually Be?
Finally, the length of the shirt. It should always, always, always hit somewhere between your upper to mid-crotch. Always test that to make sure if you reach your arms above your head, your tummy isn’t peeking out to say hello. If you have more in your tummy area, it is better to go for a longer seam shirt to avoid this. But as always, try it on and test it out for yourself.
When to Wear a T-Shirt
Like we mentioned in the History of the Man’s T-Shirt, t-shirts didn’t become socially acceptable for men to wear until the ’50s. In our humble opinion, there’s still a time and a place for a plain t-shirt, but these days there are many more opportunities to show up in a t-shirt. For best results, use your best judgment, and follow these steps below:
Follow Dress-Codes Closely: You wouldn’t wear a t-shirt to a black-tie wedding, but you could wear a t-shirt with a blazer for a business casual event. In our humble opinion, anything that is considered an “event” like a funeral, or a wedding, you probably shouldn’t wear a plain t-shirt. So make sure you read the fine print of your dress code, and stick to more casual events for donning a t-shirt.
Use Your Own Style: Now that you know the dress code, use your best judgment and your own style for how to show up to the said event. If it’s a friend’s kickback, probably fine to just go with a plan ol’ t-shirt. If it’s a date, you might wear a t-shirt but layer a cool jacket with chinos and accessories. This is your chance to experiment with your sense of style to really dress up that plain shirt and show up still looking put together and stylish.
First Impressions: Showing up to date in a t-shirt could be fine for a casual drink, or if you already know your date well. The thing is, first impressions do matter, and sure there are ways of dressing up a t-shirt like adding a blazer, layering a cool jacket as we mentioned above, but if you want to get on the right page with people, it’s probably important to put more thought into your outfit than a simple t-shirt. We’re not knocking t-shirts, just saying, a little effort can go a long way.
How to Find Shirts That Fit Perfectly
1. Use a T-Shirt Fit Calculator
If you’ve never used one before, we linked it for you. It’s actually the holy grail of knowing if a shirt will look great on you. This handy tool helps you narrow down your perfect fit for online shopping, making the perfect fit less of a mystery and more foolproof.
2. Try it On
Yes, even if you buy online. It might look perfect on the model, but it could be just a little off on you. So it’s always important whether you’re in the store, or online, to try it on before committing. Give it a little test drive, move your arms, check it out in a couple of mirrors, take a picture, ask for opinions.
3. Know What You’re Looking for
This is important because it will help narrow your shopping experience and make it more clear. Are you shopping for a fun statement tee? Maybe do some research online to find brands that specialize in that. Are you looking for a staple t-shirt that you can wear every day in multiple colors? Do you want a v-neck t-shirt or crew neck? If you go into your shopping experience with a goal, chances are you will leave much happier than if you go in without a clue.
Choosing Your Dream T-Shirt
T-Shirt Fit Types
Now that we know what you should be looking for when you shop, let’s break down the types of tees available for men.
Boxy vs. Fitted T-Shirts
Boxy tees, or also known as regular fit tees are often made for the masses. Chances are you can buy them in packs, and there isn’t much thought behind whether they will look good on different body types. They tend to fit, like a box, with a shorter torso, wide sleeves, and wide, square mid-areas.
Fitted t-shirts are exactly as they sound and designed to flatter even more body types. They simply fit with more of a snug, contoured look than boxy tees. Fitted t-shirts often have super clean lines around the arms and midsection. They tend to look great on every body type, due to the fact that it’s made with very clean lines and contouring. However, fit always matters so follow the above steps to make sure even a universally flattering fit works for you.
The Truth About Baggy T-Shirt Sleeves
Boxy tees tend to work for bodies with a little bit of extra weight in the arms and tummy area and don’t look the best on more slim or tall bodies due to the shorter torso.
Tailored vs. Slim T-Shirts
Tailored t-shirts are a more custom fit and tend to cost extra. This fitted tee is designed for your specific body type, so it works if you’re having a very hard time finding the right fit with t-shirts from a store. A professional will measure your collar, shoulders, chest, arms, and inseam in order to fit the tee to your exact body type. It might cost extra but ends up looking, well, very personalized and fitted.
Now we get into a more modern style, slim-fit tees. These are exactly how they sound, they’re designed to fit closer to your body and taper into the mid-section for a more put-together, clean-lined look. Slim fit tends to be slimmer throughout so it isn’t the most ideal for men with really muscle-y bodies or dad bodies with a little extra going on. It is mainly designed to look best on men with a slimmer stature. But as always, if it fits right, then it will look great regardless of the cut. So even if you have a muscle-y bod and want to opt for a slim-fit look, just size up and see if it looks better.
Tall & Long Body
Tall and long body tees are designed for men with a little extra height or a longer torso. They simply have extra length in the midsection to allow for taller men to wear shirts with ease.
Is My Shirt Too Long?
Sometimes men who are a bit shorter wear tall and long body tees from a fashion perspective, but that will often make legs look shorter if the bottom of the t-shirt hem isn’t hitting your mid, or upper-crotch area.