When I googled this question to see if any answers were out there, I found no answers. Instead I got results like:
– How to find a non-see-through white shirt
– What to wear under a white shirt; and even
– How to wear a sheer shirt, advising you wear a contrasting colored bra under a sheer white shirt.
I guess this is the reason I once saw a woman in a professional office wearing a white t-shirt over a bright purple bra :/
But what about the actual question–why are white shirts so sheer? Why is it so dang hard to find white shirts that aren’t see-through? Especially when the white shirt is mentioned on every style essential list out there.
There’s actually a pretty simple reason why most white shirts are so sheer, even if the exact same style of the shirt in a different color is opaque. To learn why, let’s quickly go over how fabric is made and dyed for a shirt.
How is fabric made for a shirt?
Fabric is made by knitting or weaving individual strands of thread into a fabric. The resulting fabric is usually an off-white color, which is then bleached and dyed various colors, ranging from dark to light, per the styles desired. This is what a knit fabric might look like when first made.
Fabric dye works by coating the individual strands of thread that make up the fabric. The coat of dye physically thickens the individual strands of thread that make up the fabric, so that there are smaller spaces between each strand of thread on the fabric. More dye is necessary for darker colors, which means there is a thicker layer of dye on the strands of a fabric dyed a darker color. The darker the color, the thicker the coat of dye.
So even when the exact same off-white fabric is used for all colors of a style of shirt, after the dyeing process is complete, dark fabrics end up with smaller gaps between the thread strands. These smaller gaps allow less penetration of light through the fabric, and let less skin show, resulting in a more opaque fabric.As a sidenote, this is also the reason that an article of clothing has a heavier weight in a darker color than the same style in a lighter color, and also why the darker fabric often feels rougher and less soft. (I discussed why lighter, more airy fabrics feel so soft in a previous post about tissue tees).
Most manufacturers use this process to make shirts–using the same fabric for both white and dark shirts, which gets us white fabric that can be very see through. And this is why we end up with so many sheer white shirts on the market.
White shirts need their own fabric
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way to make opaque white shirts. It doesn’t happen often, likely because most manufacturers and others involved in garment making don’t know about this. Or avoid it because it takes more time and money.
In order to make a proper, non-sheer white shirt, we have to use a separate batch of fabric produced just for the white shirts. While the same material thread can be used, the fabric for a white shirt must be knit or woven tighter, so there are smaller spaces between the thread strands that make up the fabric.
This results in a more dense and opaque fabric. And even with the thinner coat of dye on white fabric, the spaces between the individual threads are closer in size for white and darker fabrics.
Here’s how it would look, compared to what we saw earlier.
The white fabric is now opaque and does not let as much light through. Besides being visually more appealing, this is also good because it allows less sunlight to penetrate the fabric, with better sun protection for the skin.As mentioned before, this is not done very often–it’s just not very common knowledge among garment makers. It’s not that difficult to do with knits, because it’s easy to make small batches of fabric in knits.
How to find a good opaque white shirt, then?
But if you really like them and want to get some, make sure the fabric is a thicker one in a heavier gauge, which will be less sheer. I saw some options at Gap that look promising, and there are some Uniqlo rib knit shirts are nice and thick–I don’t own any in white myself, but might be worth a shot.
Like I mentioned in the previous tissue tee post, the men’s section might be a place worth taking a trip into. Most men’s shirts will still be a little sheer in white, but it’ll probably be thicker. Just make sure if you’re buying a t-shirt that it’s not an undershirt, though. I’ve seen a woman pair what looked like a boys’ Hanes shirt with a pencil skirt before, and it’s really obvious that it’s a cheap white tee.
And for god’s sake don’t wear a purple bra under it unless you’re going to Coachella.