What's the function of "wife beater" undershirts?

I used to assume that the function of a T-shirt – not as a casual garment, but as an undershirt worn under a men’s dress shirt – was simply to provide an additional layer of fabric in cold weather. Later I learned that it was actually intended to absorb sweat and skin oils, thus making it possible to wear a dress shirt for several days running before laundering it. A function that became obsolete with the emergence of home washing machines and wash-‘n’-wear fabrics. But if that is true, why would anybody invent the sleeveless “wife beater” or A-shirt, which puts no fabric over the armpits, where most of the upper body’s sweat and smell comes from?

I put one on before I beat my wife. That way she knows it’s coming.


While I don’t wear dressshirts enough to know for sure, I bet if you had a white or other light color shirt, one might wear an A-shirt to provide an additional layer of fabric in order to obscure chestal hair or nipples.

Just an idea.

I’d guess the original function was just the minimal layer of protection under a shirt that didn’t bind the shoulders or the upper arms.

Then a lot of people realized that it’s cooler, even as an inner layer. It’s worn as an outer layer that doesn’t trap sweat under the arms but allows it to evaporate.

It’s funny you ask this question, BG, because I seem to recall that I asked the same question here many years ago. I can’t find that discussion now.

But, I also started with the assumption that an undershirt’s principal function is to protect the shirt from the wearer’s armpits. Why wear an undershirt that doesn’t cover one’s underarm?

The general response seemed to be that the wifebeater (or “A-shirt”) offered slightly more warmth than not wearing an undershirt, but didn’t make one feel restricted as a T-shirt style undershirt.

I guess it’s for people who don’t sweat much in the armpits, but tend to feel colder on the chest and belly.

I’d concur with the chest hair and nipples theory.

Back when I was a kid, you wore a short sleeve undershirt in summer because it was cooler.

When they were in style, everyone sweated from the armpits (no antiperspirants). Even an undershirt covering the underarms would get wet on hot days. So having one less layer of clothing (especially with a loose shirt) was useful.

Also, if you were wearing short sleeves over it (common until air conditioning was in all workplaces), air could enter at the sleeve and cool the underarm.

I only wear an undershirt when I’m wearing a white dress shirt. The reason is to hide my chest hair and nipples. I find a T shirt too heavy and just not very comfortable. So, the A-shirt it is.

Cooler than a sleeveless undershirt? Or did you wear long-sleeve undershirts in the winter? I don’t think I’ve ever worn a long-sleeve undershirt.

My mistake. When I said “short sleeve,” I mean “sleeveless.”

I don’t like to use the term “wifebeater.” It’s stupid.

A friend told me that he got in the habit of wearing them after having his nipples pierced, to protect the piercings. Mind you, I’m not quite sure how they would be more effective for that purpose than a normal T-shirt…

I personally can’t see any purpose to wearing the wife-beater style as an undershirt–I perspire quite heavily from the pits, and a standard undershirt is my only hope for controlling the inevitable wet patches and stains on my good shirts. In the longer run, I’m seriously considering Botox injections to control my underarm perspiration…

It’s a very evocative term though. It makes me think of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, although, if I remember correctly, he actually wore a T-shirt style undershirt rather than a wifebeater.

It’s so you know who the Really Bad Guy™ is in the movies.

…or the low-life…
…or the poor guy…

I wear them, switched from the standard t-shirt style undershirt. I don’t (generally) have big issues with wet spots from persperation but the t-shirt style does help reduce the impact of discoloring due to deodorant/anti-persperant. For me, I made the switch because the wife-beater style is far more comfortable. No more bunching of the sleeve under my arms and shoulder.

If I am wearing a white shirt and it is fairly opaque, I will wear the t-shirt style to prevent my tattoo on my upper arm from showing through.

Both work just fine for the other reason to always wear one - hide chest hair and nipples from showing through the shirt which is just tacky, tacky, tacky.


I should probably provide a serious answer…which is yes, it provides a similar function to a woman’s camisole.

I have to say I would have at one time worn one if I was hot and I wouldn’t wear another shirt over it. It would be more of a recreational shirt for me, if I actual wore one, which I won’t at my age. Isn’t it the shirt of choice for people to be legal for buildings of commerce, when they want to shop topless but have to wear a shirt?

Girl here. I wear the exact same garment, although it’s marketed to women as a camisole or tank top. They look just like men’s A-line undershirts except that I can get them in colors other than white. For white ones, I buy them in the men’s dept because they’re cheaper. My company’s logo wear tends to be made from thin fabric, so I wear an undershirt to keep bra lines and nippleage from showing through.

Hold da phone. I’m a guy. We’re supposed to hide our chest hair and nipples? Huh? Why wasn’t I told?:frowning:

compares a picture of a guy in a wife beater with a picture of a woman in a camisole

It’s not working.

You should just know.

It’s the only possible conclusion.

If the raison d’être of an undershirt is to absorb sweat (perspiration to you) the armpits clearly require a body/overshirt interface. In fact, I’d say there’s even a case for the mass production of an inverse wife-beater undershirt that covers nothing but the axillae.