Kelvin writes to ask: I’ve been shopping around for white dress shirts, but it seems that every one is slightly translucent. Is this just inherent to the color, or is it possible to get something more opaque?
It’s partly about the color, but not completely. If you want to get a thin, open-weave dress shirt for summer without everyone seeing your manly chest hairs, the best solution is to opt for a darker color – such as a slightly darker shade of light blue. Patterns, such as bold stripes, can also help hide anything underneath.
Sometimes, however, you just need a plain white shirt for more formal occasions – weddings, big office meetings, funerals, court appearances, etc. In those cases, you’ll want to pay attention to two things.
First things first, it’s a misconception that translucent white shirts are only on the lower-end of the price spectrum. Really high-end, finely-woven Italian shirtings are also sometimes a little see through, just as you might find at Target (the better-made stuff just feels nicer). The issue here is more about the yarns and weave than quality and price.
Your first line of defense against translucency is to get something made from a thicker yarn. Oxford cloth here is an obvious solution, although the bulkier material might not be right for every situation.
In those cases, you’ll want to aim for something with a tighter weave. Twills, for example, are typically more tightly woven than plain weaves. Those are cloths with subtle, diagonally ribbed lines (much like you see on your jeans), whereas plain weaves are cross hatched/ basket wave fabrics such as broadcloths and poplins. Just note that the heavier the yarn and tighter the weave, the less breathable a shirt will feel – which might not be so great on a sweltering day.
If all else fails, you can try wearing a grey undershirt, which supposedly shows up less than white undershirts (although from my experience, this makes minimal difference). Or just take comfort in knowing that, with a coat and tie, few people will see anything too embarrassing anyway.