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Nurturing Beauty Style Secrets Blog

Is Your T-Shirt Your Body’s Best Friend or Arch Enemy?

Last month I talked about the growing popularity of the athleisure trend. Dressing casually seems to be one of the most challenging experiences for so many women, don’t you agree? While you want ease and comfort, you still want to look good, but somehow the results feel elusive.

A go-to piece for dressing casually has traditionally been the T-shirt. The problem is that tees are rarely your best look…at least not without a little tweaking.

I bet you’re wondering that if T-shirts are so unflattering how did they get to be so popular?

The traditional T-shirt, as we know it, got its name because of the shape of the shirt, a “T” (which right there tells you it’s shapeless) and evolved from being the top of a two-piece undergarment and a military undershirt to mainstream wear. They became universally loved because they are inexpensive, washable and versatile—you can dress them up or down. Sounds great, right?

Not so fast…

The problem is that the average T-shirt is generally unflattering for most women because:

  • A crew neck is not a good neckline for many women. A woman with a long neck who is small busted might look acceptable (notice I didn’t say great?). In general, it makes your head look like it isn’t attached to the rest of your body, accentuates sloped shoulders, magnifies a large bust and does nothing to elongate your neck.
  • The sleeves usually hit at a bad point on the arms and often stick out. This makes your body look wider than it is. You can have them altered to improve the look, but most people don’t. For more on sleeve length, see below.
  • A T-shirt is boxy and shapeless—which describes exactly how you will look in one. It does absolutely nothing to flatter your figure mostly because you can’t see your figure, and it does not make you appear smaller by hiding things. In fact, it does just the opposite.
  • If it is made of 100% cotton, the color often fades within a few washings.
  • Today’s T-shirts are unforgiving – they are often made out of lightweight, flimsy cotton that generally clings and shows every lump and bump.
  • Solid colors do not camouflage. While I am a big fan of having lots of solid colors in your wardrobe, when the top is a blank canvas of unbroken color, the eye tends to settle on anything that disrupts that color. So, if, for example, you have a tummy and the fabric clings at all, as it is so prone to do in the thinner fabrics they use these days, the focus goes right to your tummy. If camouflage is one of your goals, then choose a T-shirt with a print (and the t-shirt you got at the road race doesn’t count), pattern, texture or design detail that keeps the eye busy.

Some manufacturers have tried to update the style to make it more appealing and more feminine, but the results are mixed.

Here are a few variations on the original T-shirt:

  1. Cap sleeves: While the huge square sleeve of the original T-shirt is overwhelming and widening, the cap sleeve is not that much more flattering. They often hit your arms at the widest part and the newer cap sleeve with no shoulder seam makes sloped shoulders look even more sloped. Cap sleeves can also give the illusion of abnormally long arms so the body looks oddly balanced. A few people with very toned arms can get away with (notice I didn’t say really rock?) cap sleeves.So, why are there so many cap sleeves out there?

    Because youth drives the market and because young people are the ones most likely to have slim, toned arms that look OK in a cap sleeve. Also, many women believe that a little bit of coverage on their arms is better than none. Not so! You might be shocked to hear that sleeveless is generally much more flattering than cap sleeves–yes, even on women who do not have the most toned arms—myself included. When you expose the shoulder you give structure to your body, and it generally looks better.

  2. V-necks: Usually a V-neck is more flattering, but T-shirt companies often make the “V” too short so the balance is wrong. In general, if you measure the length of your head from hairline to chin and then repeat that length starting at your chin, you will find the best depth for your V-neck top.
  3. Extreme fit: Instead of being too baggy, T-shirts are now skin tight and often made of lighter weight fabric that makes you feel self-conscious when they expose every bump.

How to Choose a T-Shirt

Yes, tees are cheap and easy, but are they worth it? It depends. Nothing is worth it if you don’t feel great wearing it. This is not to say that you shouldn’t wear T-shirts. Just be sure to look for the following details before you add another one to your wardrobe:

  1. Flattering necklines: Generally, use the directions above for how to find your best length and choose a V-neck, scoop neckline or at least a jewel neckline. If you find a T-shirt you love but it has a crew neckline, take it to your tailor and have them adjust the neckline so isn’t so tight around your neck.
  2. Sleeve lengths: You want a short sleeve that hits below the widest part of your arm and doesn’t stick out. Or go with three-quarter length or sleeveless.Here’s a tip: If you find a top you like with sleeves longer than you prefer, take it to your tailor and have the sleeves cut to a short sleeve length or even remove the sleeves entirely. Or if you find a T-shirt with long, wide short sleeves that stick out, roll them a couple of times. That slims the look.
  3. Flattering fits: Look for something that skims your body rather than swallows it up or looks and feels like it is glued to you.
  4. Patterns: If a solid color is not your best look, try a fabulous pattern to distract the eye. Or add a casual necklace or scarf to draw the eye upward. It works wonders!

I also suspect the reason you choose to wear a T-shirt is because it is an easy, comfortable, washable, inexpensive casual look. You don’t want to appear too dressy and you certainly do not want to be uncomfortable or have to send a garment to the dry cleaner.

It is true that you will not find a lot of tops that fit the parameters I’ve listed above. It means you might have to rethink your definition of ‘T-shirts.’ In my last newsletter I showed you a lot of tops that can function as casual shirts. You can see them all HERE

Keep reading to see specific ideas for flattering t-shirts.

This one has a flattering neckline, great sleeve length and it comes in lots of colors:

Whenever possible, have your sleeves angled in toward the body (or have them tailored this way). (For those of you with your Fashion Fit Formula, the outside point is your pivotal FFF point.). Ideally your sleeves will be longer than the style below, but it even makes a difference with sleeves this length:

Or how about a tee with a pretty print like this one. If you prefer the sleeves shorter it’s an easy alteration.

You will find many more ideas in a variety of sizes and price points HERE.

This tee is so pretty. So, why am I recommending that you avoid it? Find out HERE.

And, remember to refer back to the catalogue from my last newsletter with lots of ideas for casual tops beyond T-shirts. You’ll find it HERE.

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A Note About the Clothes: All of the garments pictured here (and in the catalogue) are vegan (made from fabrics that did not harm any animals). Please note that I am passionate about ending animal suffering and choosing cruelty-free clothing is just one aspect of a vegan lifestyle. If you have any questions about being vegan or what fabrics are vegan please let me know. I am happy to help and will answer any questions with kindness and compassion.

Some of the affiliate links may generate commissions for Total Image Consultants. This helps support the time spent creating these very specific recommendations.


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Ginger Burr is a fashion stylist and personal shopper serving clients worldwide from metro Boston.