Wearing a suit is easy. Wearing a t-shirt is easy. But wearing a suit with a t-shirt? That's another matter.
I'll make this clear from the start: you absolutely can wear a suit with a t-shirt. You just need to know how to do it correctly.
Too many guys think they can combine any t-shirt with any suit and look sleek and modern. Wrong! Misjudge your outfit, and you'll be heading to the office looking tasteless and weird. People will notice – trust me.
I'm here to keep you guys on track and looking as stylish as possible. So I've put together some top tips to consider when sporting your next t-shirt and suit combo.
In today's article, we'll be covering:
- Can You Wear A T-Shirt To The Office?
- What Color T-Shirt Works With A Suit?
- What Style Of T-Shirt Works With A Suit?
- When Shouldn't You Wear T-Shirts With A Suit?
- What Can You Wear Instead Of A T-Shirt And Suit?
#1 Can You Wear A T-Shirt To The Office?
As with many smart-casual styles, your ability to wear a suit with a t-shirt to the office depends entirely on your professional circumstances.
Some professions will allow t-shirts to be worn as part of your everyday workwear, while others won't even entertain a t-shirt on a dress-down Friday. To answer this question, you'll need to take a good look at your own office environment and make the final decision for yourself.
That being said, there are some typical work environments that I can run through that might help you to make that decision. Read these different scenarios carefully and try to match one with the environment at your workplace.
The Tech Company
Does your office feature an arcade machine in the break room? Do you develop apps for a living or work on the latest and greatest gadget releases?
If the answer's yes, then chances are you can wear a suit with a t-shirt to work.
Most modern tech companies promote a more laid-back office environment. In fact, any company where creativity is involved is unlikely to require a shirt and tie in the office – after all, how can people be creative when restrained by a shirt and tie?
In short, if you see your colleagues pausing for a chilled-out coffee or taking mindfulness breaks to promote good mental wellbeing, then chances are a t-shirt, and suit combo won't be an issue.
The Corporate Mega-Office
If you work at the heart of a city's financial district, I can guarantee that a suit and t-shirt combo won't be appropriate for your office environment.
Often, big companies that have been around for a while get stuck in their ways. Big city financial and law firms are notorious for this – the dress code is strictly business suits… no ifs, no buts.
This is not a bad thing – I'm always talking about the timeless quality of a well-tailored suit. If you work for a big company where a shirt, tie, and suit are mandatory, it's the perfect environment to stretch those sartorial muscles and wear your most refined tailoring 5 days a week.
I suppose it's all about upholding a professional image. If you're a lawyer who needs to meet with high-profile clients or an investment banker handling shares worth tens of thousands of dollars, a quirky t-shirt isn't going to make you look trustworthy when it comes to business.
This is an interesting one – should a teacher wear a suit and tie to look professional, or a t-shirt and suit to seem more relatable to his students?
In my opinion, a teacher should be able to connect with his students, and in a lot of schools, wearing a full suit, shirt, and tie is a sure-fire way to look stuffy and unapproachable.
Inner-city schools are a great example of this. To get the best out of city kids, an approachable t-shirt and blazer combo is ideal. It says, ‘I've got authority, but I'm still a person like you!' Your students are far more likely to respect you with that kind of approach to authority.
However, in some instances, a suit and tie are more appropriate. If you're a principal or head of a department, a more professional look is more suitable. Along with the increased responsibility of this position comes an expectation that you'll dress the part.
When a suit is required, I think it's best to find a middle ground. Opt for a shirt but lose the tie – that way, you'll stand out from the crowd without looking overly formal.
#2 What Color T-Shirt Works With A Suit?
In a professional environment, regardless of formality, I would always opt for monochrome shades for t-shirts.
Wearing a suit with a t-shirt is like wearing sneakers with a suit. It's a great way to inject some personality into an otherwise formal outfit, but going overboard can make you look ridiculous.
When I talk about wearing sneakers with a suit, I always advise wearing white, black, or brown to match dress shoes' minimal style and color. It's the same story when it comes to wearing a t-shirt instead of a button-down.
In an office, most guys will wear a white button-down. Some might opt for a light blue shirt, and occasionally, you'll see a gray or black shirt. The reason for this is simple – they don't make a huge statement and stand out from the crowd.
So, when choosing your office t-shirt, opt for the same colors you wear when sporting a button-down. White always works, black sometimes works (avoid when wearing a navy jacket), and light blue should be worn only when wearing a gray suit.
In short, keep it simple. No patterns, no band logos – just a simple T in a monochrome/muted colorway.
#3 What Style Of T-Shirt Works With A Suit?
You can wear most styles of t-shirt with a suit. The trick is knowing which type of t-shirt suits which formal situation.
The neckline of a t-shirt has a significant impact on how it looks and where men can wear it. Crew necks look very different from v-necks, which look entirely different from Henley-style t-shirts.
It all goes back to formality. Each style of t-shirt has a different level of formality and will work in different formal environments. The trick is to know what to wear and when so you don't look inappropriately dressed and out of place.
Thankfully, it's simple to learn which t-shirt style you should wear with your suit of choice:
- Crew neck t-shirts suit office environments. Opt for a crew neck when replacing a work button-down with a t-shirt. They won't expose your chest and provide an informal collar that sits in a similar position to that of a button-down shirt.
- V-neck t-shirts suit formal events outside of work. The V-neck T is excellent for evening wedding celebrations and nights out on the town. For most guys, it enhances the look of the shoulders and collar bone and can help slim down a larger figure. Wear a black v-neck with a suit for a sleek and modern take on the tailoring.
- Henley T-shirts can look quite rugged when worn with a suit. In my opinion, you should wear a Henley t-shirt with a blazer and jeans, not a full suit. Assuming you wear your henley unbuttoned, it will achieve a similar flattering effect to the v-neck t-shirt. However, the unbuttoned look is more informal and would better suit a family BBQ situation than a wedding.
#4 When Shouldn't You Wear T-Shirts With A Suit?
If a dress code calls for business formal, black tie or white tie… DO NOT WEAR A T-SHIRT!
There are plenty of occasions when wearing a t-shirt with a suit can be a great look. However, there are a handful of situations where wearing a t-shirt would make you look ridiculous.
Business formal occasions include working in a traditional office environment, any kind of job interview regardless of company culture (better to be overdressed than underdressed in this instance), and any meetings that you wouldn't consider ‘personal.' In these instances, wear a full suit with a button-down shirt and tie – no exceptions.
Black tie events go one further and require at least a full suit and waistcoat, if not a tux. Wearing a t-shirt with a tuxedo would be disastrous – I can't stress that enough. NEVER wear a tuxedo and a t-shirt!
Instances that may call for this dress code include wedding ceremonies, business dinners, charity galas, and high-end social events in upscale restaurants.
White tie means one thing – top hat and tails. I don't need to go into detail here because it should be obvious – wearing a top hat, tailed dinner jacket, and your favorite band t-shirt would be an idiotic idea. Just don't do it.
#5 What Can You Wear Instead Of A T-Shirt And Suit?
Occasionally, a t-shirt will be too informal for an event, but a shirt might be too much. In this instance, you have plenty of middle ground options to choose from that will maintain some formality without putting you at risk of looking overdressed.
In order of formality:
Polo shirts: An excellent option for when you want to play it safe. A dark-colored polo shirt with a structured collar is the perfect companion to a suit in a ‘dress down' situation. Pair with a pair of clean, white sneakers for a casual-tailored look that's unbeatable in the world of smart-casual style. This could be a great option for creatives or teachers who want to balance their individuality and professionalism.
Patterned shirts: To lessen the formality of a button-down, try wearing one with a distinct pattern and color combination. Without contrasting the color of your suit, pick a bold design and make a statement – paisley or stripes are great for this! It should work well with and match your suit but stand out as the main focus of your outfit. Great for client meetings in creative working environments.
Oxford Shirts: A plain white Oxford shirt is far more formal than a t-shirt. However, it's less formal than a classic white poplin shirt. Wearing a simple white Oxford shirt with the collar button undone and no tie is a great way to slightly reduce the formality of a suit without seeming unconventional or too casual. This is a great option for hot days at the office, dress-down Fridays, or outdoor wedding ceremonies in the summertime.
Wearing a polo shirt and a suit is a great idea, right? Check out a more detailed guide to help you achieve this style here.