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Can You Wear A T-Shirt Over A Button-Up Shirt?

T-shirts are typically very casual garments, whereas button-ups are usually associated with formal wear. This begs the question, can you ever wear a T-shirt over a button-up shirt?

It’s best to avoid wearing a T-shirt over a button-up. The formality mismatch looks sloppy, and there are better alternatives, such as a cardigan, blazer, or sweater.  

Although that’s the gist, there’s much more to it.

This post will go through why you shouldn’t wear a T-shirt over a button-up, some rare exceptions when it might be okay, and finish up with three much better alternatives.

Let’s get to it.

black t shirt
Image From Deposit Photos

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Usually Wear A T-Shirt Over A Button-Up

Wearing a T-shirt over a button-up isn’t usually appropriate. Here are three reasons why.

1. There’s A Formality Mismatch

Usually, button-up shirts are associated with formal wear. After all, they’re primarily worn with suits, blazers, tuxedos, and other formal attire.

T-shirts, on the other hand, are very much casual garments. You’ll never see somebody attending a black-tie event wearing a T-shirt – it’s always a button-up shirt.

It’s important to understand this formality difference. Or else you risk a sloppy outfit and one that’s not appropriate for the given circumstances.

Some may argue that under a smart-casual dress code, it may be acceptable due to the combination of formal and casual attire. This is not the case.

Smart-casual outfits combine individual items of clothing from different formality levels, for example, dress shoes with jeans. 

Wearing a top from each formality level simply doesn’t look good, as there’s too much of a formality mismatch.

2. It Probably Won’t Fit

Both T-shirts and button-ups are designed to be worn on their own or with a light underlayer, such as a vest.

It’s common to see T-shirts used as a base layer for some outfits – particularly with flannels.

At the other end of the spectrum, it’s just as common to see button-ups used as base layers for more formal occasions, such as with a blazer, tuxedo, or suit.

Rarely are they seen as outer layers – and for a good reason: they likely wouldn’t fit.

Because they are primarily worn as base layers, they are designed to fit as such.

Layering a T-shirt over a button-up will, more often than not, be too tight, restrictive, and uncomfortable.

While it is possible to go for a T-shirt a size larger than your base layer, it’s not recommended, as this can lead to your outfit appearing too baggy, and it can get costly.

3. It Can Give The Wrong Impression

As mentioned, there’s a significant formality mismatch between T-shirts and button-ups.

This mismatch can give people the wrong impression of the intentions of the outfit.

For example, people may not understand whether you’re going for a formal look or a casual one.

This kind of confusion should be avoided – particularly in scenarios where formal wear is expected of you.

On top of that, this outfit doesn’t have much of a place in casual wear either due to its formal undertones.

These factors put the outfit in an awkward position, as it’s not formal, nor is it casual.

2 Exceptions When Wearing A T-Shirt Over A Button-Up Might Be OK

Though it’s usually not appropriate, there are some occasions when wearing a T-shirt over a button-up shirt might be okay. Here are three situations where it might be acceptable.

1. A Casual Button-Up

If you’re going to wear a T-shirt over a button-up shirt, it’s important to ensure you stick to the casual nature of the T-shirt rather than the button-up’s formality.

This is because the T-shirt acts as the overlayer and is considerably more noticeable than the button-up.

Moreover, it’s an uncommon outfit, as – most of the time – it looks awkward, and the shirt appears out of place; this is another reason you should keep it casual.

One way to do this is by choosing button-up fabrics that are typically considered more casual than formal.

Linen is a good example of this because of its lower thread count and textured appearance.

Another example of a casual button-up shirt is an Oxford shirt (its fabric is made with an Oxford weave) due to its weave and texture. 

There’s a wide range of Oxford shirts, each with varying thickness, heaviness, ruggedness, and weave. 

However, overall, Oxfords are more casual than the likes of poplin or twill button-ups, making them a more viable option to wear underneath a T-shirt.

2. You’re Making A Statement

In style and fashion, wanting to make a statement with what you’re wearing is commonplace.

A frequently-seen method of doing this is wearing a controversial or experimentative outfit and making it look good.

Furthermore, the primary points of a fashion statement are to draw attention to oneself or to make a statement about widely-accepted fashion knowledge.

Wearing a T-shirt over a button-up shirt will achieve all of these things due to its mixed implications and unusualness.

It’s important to remember that a major part of making a fashion statement is leaving it open to people’s interpretation.

This means that, while some people may like the outfit, there’ll likely be equally as many people who don’t like it – or its controversy.

3 Alternatives To Wearing A T-Shirt Over A Button-Up

While wearing a T-shirt over a button-up isn’t recommended (unless making a fashion statement), there are plenty of alternatives that look better and are more stylistically accepted.

Here are three alternatives to wearing a T-shirt over a button-up shirt.

1. Cardigan

A cardigan is a knitted sweater with an open front. The open front can come with or without buttons.

They come in many different styles, shapes, sizes, and colors, making them incredibly versatile.

This means that cardigans can be dressed up or down accordingly.

Generally, wearing one with a button-up shirt leans more towards a formal look than a casual one.

Having said that, it can look casual if you pick your shirt carefully. 

As mentioned, linen and some types of Oxford shirts are much more casual than the typical button-up shirt. 

Wearing one of these shirts with a cardigan looks great with jeans and makes for a cool and casual/smart-casual outfit.

While neutral-colored cardigans over a colorful T-shirt can work incredibly well, the inverse can look just as effective. 

cardigan over t-shirt
Image From Deposit Photos

2. Sweater

Wearing a sweater over a button-up shirt is a classic look that simply radiates smart-casual.

Whether you go for a crew-neck or V-neck sweater, it’s hard to go wrong with this look.

If you choose a crew-neck sweater, remember that your collar can either be tucked into your sweater or go over the top.

With a V-neck, however, it looks best to let your collar go over the top of the sweater. This is because of the extra space V-neck sweaters have – particularly deep V-necks.

Adding a tie to your V-neck-with-button-up outfit will add an extra touch of formality.

It can also be a great way to add a dash of color to your outfit.

Ensure that your tie is only visible at the top of your sweater and doesn’t stick out at the bottom.

3. Blazer

Blazers are exploring more formal territory than cardigans and sweaters and look fantastic with button-up shirts.

That being said, they’re still incredibly versatile and can work smart-casually or even – in some instances – formally.

For a more relaxed look, leave your button-up’s top button undone, and don’t wear a tie.

Conversely, in more formal situations, ensure all your buttons are done up and wear a tie. 

Regardless of the formality of the situation, when wearing a blazer with a button-up shirt, you should always tuck in the button-up.

This will help build a more well-put-together appearance.

Conclusion

You now know why you shouldn’t wear a T-shirt over a button-up shirt and some alternatives you can use instead. 

Remember that there are a couple of exceptions to the rule, such as making a statement, but overall, it’s best to steer clear of it.