Whether you’re self-employed, a student, a freelancer, or simply have an office job where your boss lets your roam, working in a coffee shop occasionally can be both enjoyable and beneficial. Changing up your environment can spur your creativity, and our fear of being out in public alone without a purpose can motivate us to keep busy and stay on task. Plus, if you work at home, you know it can occasionally get a little isolated and lonely – it’s nice to go out and be surrounded by humanity now and again. When I head to a coffee shop to get some work done, here are the kinds of things I like to bring along.
1. The Headphones:Sennheiser Momentum Headphones. Researchers have actually found that a moderate amount of ambient noise – the background sounds of a coffee shop — can spur more creative thoughts than working in a quiet or very loud environment. It’s what Atlantic columnist Conor Friedersdorf calls “just enough distraction” – a happy place between onerous interruptions and stultifying silence. But if I’m seated by people having a loud conversation, the noise of a coffee shop quickly goes from just enough to highly distracting – I want to listen to what they’re saying. So I always bring a pair of headphones – the music blocks out the yakking while still letting in some ambient buzz. These Sennheiser Momentum headphones fit the bill nicely and combine old-school style with modern high-tech, high-fidelity performance. They produce a naturally rich and clear sound with expertly rendered mids, and smooth highs.
2. The Laptop:MacBook Air. I always try to bring my laptop fully charged. Sometimes there isn’t a seat by an outlet, so you’ll need all the reserve juice you can get. The MacBook Air has got some fantastic battery life.
3. The Tunes:Les Baxter Space Escapade.I need music with “just the right amount of distraction” while I work. Songs with lyrics throw me off and sometimes classical music is just too heavy. That’s why my go-to soundtrack when I’m working is exotica music. It’s pleasant, light, and reminds you of 1950s suburbia. Les Baxter’s Space Escapade is a good album to start with. It’s filled with great tunes that will keep you productive during your coffee shop work session.
4. The Shoes:Jack Purcell from Converse. Go with a classic canvas sneaker rather than flip-flops in the summer for a more mature and put-together look.
6. The Shirt:Linen shirt from Gap. You don’t need to get all gussied up to go down to a coffee shop, but you shouldn’t schlep in wearing your pajama pants either. You never know when working in a coffee shop will turn into a networking opportunity (or a social one), so aim for something comfortable but also a little stylish. My mind also feels sharper and more alert when I’m in “real” clothes rather than lounge wear, and even if a shirt is casual, wearing a button-down of any sort seems to heighten this effect.
7. The Writing Utensil: Pilot G2. My go-to pen for everyday work. Writes like a champ, but cheap enough that you won’t lose any sleep if you accidentally leave it behind.
8. The Scratch Pad:Yellow Legal Pad. When I get stuck while writing on my laptop, I start sketching out notes or an outline on a legal pad. I like the yellow expansive canvas to work upon and changing up my medium can often help me overcome a bout of writer’s block.
9. The Authorized Distraction:Tides of Warby Steven Pressfield. Whether I’m working at home or at a coffee shop, I like to employ a Pomodoro-type method to keep myself productive and on track. I work for a set amount of time, such as 50 minutes, and then take a 10 minute break to do whatever I want. This can mean getting a snack or taking a walk, or reading a book for enjoyment. I just finished The Tides of War. Awesome book about the Peloponnesian War that will inspire your manly thumos.
10. The Beverage. When you’re working at a coffee shop, you’re squatting on a piece of real estate the owners pay rent for, using the wi-fi they get a bill for, and enjoying the air conditioning that costs them money. So don’t be a leech. Buy a drink every couple hours you’re there. A cup of joe or tea will keep you alert and give you something enjoyable to sip on.
11. The Briefcase:Saddleback Thin Briefcase. You’ll need something to haul your supplies in. Any bag that comfortably fits and organizes all your stuff will do, but if you’re looking for something rugged and handsome that will last a lifetime, look no further than a bag from Saddleback. I myself have the classic briefcase, but were I to do it over again, I’d probably choose this thin version. The classic is a beast, which is great for traveling, but for my more frequent day-to-day needs, its trimmer brother would have fit the bill better. Whatever kind of bag you get, look for one with a buckle strap you can latch down for security; when you get up to grab something, would-be thieves won’t be able to casually dip their hand into your bag.
Well, it’s summer now, and pretty soon we’re going to start seeing guys’ undershirts whether we want to or not. When it heats up outside, you see outer layers come off and occasionally even see someone wearing a white t-shirt or tank top out and about around town. Just last weekend I was at a bonfire as part of a wedding festivity and came across at least one fella rockin’ just his undershirt.
So, you’re all surely wondering, where’s the line between an “undershirt” and a “shirt you sometimes wear under other shirts,” and what are the options?
Fear not. We’ve crammed all the essentials about undershirts into one short post for you.
So grab a cold beverage and prepare to learn everything you’ll ever need to know about a man’s undershirt.
History and Origins: Whence the Undershirt?
It’s impossible to give original credit for the undershirt.
Somewhere back in our early human history, someone presumably decided to stick a thin layer under the rest of their clothing to soak up sweat. That was an undershirt.
Roman soldiers certainly wore them, in the form of very light, thin tunics layered under heavier cloth and armor.
But if we want to talk about the modern undershirt, we’re looking at the evolution of the “union suit.” You’ve probably seen those one-piece undergarments in cartoons and old movies — they’re the lightweight “long johns” with the butt flaps in the back that make for such great toilet jokes.
Union suits emerged in the late 19th century as part of a widespread “clothing reform” movement, which attempted to apply modern manufacturing and scientific knowledge to the fashionable garments of the time in an effort to make them cheaper and more comfortable. Most clothing reform happened in the realm of women’s fashion, but it was the first time that manufacturers and advertisers really began pushing the benefits of an under-layer for men as well.
A lot of those late-19th and early-20th century arguments were actually right on the mark. We still wear undershirts for about the same reasons that Victorian men took to wearing their long johns: they save wear-and-tear on the layers above them, and can be used long after a visible garment would be considered too stained or worn for public display.
In WWII and the Korean War, military men started wearing the undershirts they had been issued to don under their uniforms as outerwear.
By the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy was issuing T-shirts as undershirts to its crews to wear under their uniforms, and many dockworkers and stevedores adopted them in place of long johns as well. To beat the heat in tropical climates and aboard submarines, and to avoid soiling their uniform while doing dirty jobs, Sailors and Marines took to wearing just their undershirts when they could.
After WWII, actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean popularized the undershirt as outerwear, a trend which gave birth to the modern T-shirt.
After World War II, veterans continued to wear their uniform pants and undershirt as casual wear. From that practice evolved both the modern T-shirt and the modern undershirt — which are sometimes, but not always, the same thing, as we’ll explore in the next section.
Function of an Undershirt
The basic purpose of an undershirt is to absorb your sweat. It’s there to provide a defensive layer between your body and your more expensive clothing.
A good undershirt can also provide insulation when needed, and some are worn to “compress” the figure in a slimming attempt. But for the most part it’s a sweat rag. Don’t shy away from thinking of it as such.
The easiest way to explain undershirts is to say that it’s pretty much exactly like underwear for your upper body. Some guys go without it entirely, and lots of guys have their own preferred style, but for most of us it’s a basic necessity that keeps the rest of our clothes from getting gross.
The reason we have so many different styles is that climates and the clothing worn in them can vary widely. A thick, knit undershirt with long sleeves and a high collar makes sense in a snowy winter, but the same wearer might want a short-sleeved variety with a deep V-neck or scoop neck in the summer, so that he can wear short sleeved shirts with the top couple buttons undone.
Add in the really high-tech ones — athletic gear and compression shirts, mostly — and you’ve got a wide range of products. Some are as plain and utilitarian as you can get; the upper-body equivalents of plain white cotton briefs. Others are stylishly designed for visible wear, especially in the athletic sector.
But at the end of the day, they’re all there for the same reason: your body eventually makes the clothes it’s touching pretty gross, and an undershirt is a lot cheaper to wash and eventually replace than your nice clothes.
Styles: Shirt or Undershirt?
Most readers here probably know that showing your undershirt is considered a bit gauche.
But the lines have blurred in modern fashion. High-performance athletic garments are functionally “undershirts,” but are also made in stylish cuts with designer patterns, in the assumption that they’ll be worn as the top layer. Actors in major motion pictures routinely strut around in light knit shirts and nothing more on their upper bodies — think Robert Downey Jr. in all the recent Iron Man films, or Daniel Craig in Skyfall.
So what should you be wearing as an undershirt, and what can you wear as a lightweight outer layer on warm days?
White Cotton Tank Tops
Meet the lowest rung in the style ladder — the white cotton tank top.
These are decidedly undershirts. They shouldn’t make an appearance as your outer layer. In fact, they shouldn’t make an appearance at all, except when you’re dressing and undressing. Keep them tucked in and keep your shirts buttoned high enough that the scoop neck isn’t visible.
You can get these for about as cheap as clothing comes — maybe $10-15 for a pack of three at places like Walmart and Target.
The flip side of that, of course, is that they’re not actually all that useful. Most have armholes cut much too large (to make sure the product fits as many men as possible), meaning that you don’t have any underarm protection at all. It’ll soak up a little sweat on your back and that’s about it.
These are really only useful for those who don’t sweat a whole lot, or for men who want to wear very short-sleeved and low-necked summer shirts.
Crew Neck T-Shirts
The original T-shirt style began as an undershirt, but became an ubiquitous youth garment by the 1950s. You can go either way with yours — it’s not very classy to go around in just a white T-shirt, but if it’s closely-fitted and you’re in good shape, the look can work. (If it’s a light-colored shirt, be sure the armpits aren’t stained. Visit this post to see how to remove these stains.)
Mostly, though, these are also best as undershirts. They provide good sweat protection, especially if they’re fitted close in the chest and under the arms.
The big disadvantage of the classic crew-neck style is its high neckline. If you’re planning on wearing a dress shirt or similar button-fronted shirt, you’ll need to keep it buttoned up all the way to hide a crew-neck undershirt. Depending on the height of the T-shirt and the cut of the dress shirt, you may even find undershirts that can only be worn with a buttoned collar and necktie, which are of obviously limited use.
Replacing the crew neck with a V-neck is the obvious solution for men who want to wear a shirt with a few buttons left undone. The depth of the V-shape can vary, but most are cut so that you can wear at least one button (besides the collar button) of a typical dress shirt open without showing your undershirt.
These are a more practical option for undershirt purposes, and retain the same good absorbency of the T-shirt style, but they’re even more casual (we might go so far as to say tacky) when visible. Don’t wear them as a visible layer, at least not in plain white or heather gray. If you must have a visible V-neck T-shirt, make it a brightly-colored layer.
A light cotton T-shirt with long sleeves offers the same absorbency of a basic T-shirt style undershirt, and adds extra insulation for cool weather.
These are the closest direct descendent of the union suit, and sometimes even come with a few buttons at the collar, which can be opened for a little breathability if the wearer feels overheated.
A lot of mid-range American stores (Gap, Old Navy, etc.) sell these in a wide range of colors. These can be used in layered outfits, much like a colored T-shirt. On their own, they still make the wearer look a little underdressed — but that hasn’t stopped the style from becoming popular.
If the long-sleeved T-shirt look is your thing, you can safely consider it permitted these days. Around here we’d still recommend throwing another layer on top, unless you’re wearing it as workout gear (see “Athletic Undershirts,” just below).
Under Armour is probably the most visible example of a recent trend in light, moisture-wicking athletic shirts that are cut much like traditional undershirts. These use microfiber and synthetic material to create a garment that stays light and dry much longer than a basic cotton shirt.
The high performance of a lot of these tops is offset by a style that’s not really designed for “under” wear. Most male versions come in dark or vividly bright colors, with logos and patterns that are meant to be seen. Even many of the white or light gray ones come with dark logos that will show through light shirts.
You can wear these when you’re exercising — that’s what they’re for — but it’s challenging to work them into dressier outfits. Look for ones done in plain white or heather gray, to keep them discreet beneath dress shirts, and opt for V-necks if you plan on undoing any buttons.
Before we move on, we would be remiss not to mention that while it’s not an undershirt, the union suit lives on and continues to have ardent fans. It serves as a toasty and comfortable layer in the winter.
Which Is Best?
The best undershirt is one that does everything you want it to.
What that might be depends on your needs and your tastes.
For someone who prizes value and convenience, cheap cotton tank tops or V-necks from a bargain store are the way to go. They’re unglamorous but functional — capable of soaking up sweat to protect the rest of your garments, and infinitely washable until their fabric wears out.
For a park ranger whose uniform covers his arms and collarbone, and who does real physical labor in extreme conditions on a regular basis, a long-sleeved athletic undergarment provides insulation, protection, and moisture-wicking.
For a young man in the summer, a white short-sleeved shirt with a low V-neck hides neatly under casual clothes and allows him to expose a lot of chest.
It all comes down to what you want. If you shop with your needs in mind, you can find exactly what you need pretty easily.
Watch a Video Summary of the Post
Which type of undershirt do you prefer? Of course some men think you don’t need to wear one at all. Can you get away without wearing an undershirt? Let’s hear from you in the comments!
This post is brought to you by Onnit. Check out Onnit’s line of supplements and fitness gear including the Onnit Primalbell, a 36-pound kettlebell in the shape of an angry monkey head.What’s this?
You may have seen more and more people at the gym swinging what looks like a cannonball with a handle. Those weird looking weights are called kettlebells and they’ve been used by Russian strongmen for over two centuries to “become strong like bull.” If you’re ready to experience one of the most versatile pieces of training equipment known to man and get the workout of your life, read on.
The History of the Kettlebell
Kettlebells have been a staple in Russian exercise and physical culture since the 1700s. In fact, any old-time strongman or weightlifter in Russia was called a Girevik, or “kettlebell man.” The most famous Girevik was a bear of a man named Pyotr Kryloff. Called the “King of Kettlebells” Kryloff was a circus and strongman performer during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Pavel Tsatsouline in his book Enter the Kettlebell, Kryloff “could cross himself in the Russian Orthodox manner with a 70-pound kettlebell, military press the same kettlebell with one arm 88 times, and juggle three of them at once!”
Russian strongmen weren’t the only ones who made use of the kettlebell. The Soviet army also incorporated kettlebells into their strength and conditioning programs. Every Soviet military unit had a gym called the “courage corner” where kettlebell snatches and swings were performed. The strength and conditioning that Soviet soldiers developed through the use of the kettlebell made them the envy of other countries. Lt. Gen. Giffard Martel, a commander in the British army during WWII, noted that “the rank and file of the Red Army was magnificent from a physical point of view. Much of the equipment we [British soldiers] carry on vehicles accompanying the infantry is carried on a man’s back in Russia.”
AoM reader and Orthodox priest Father John A. Peck continues the tradition of Eastern strength training.
While American strongmen have trained with the kettlebell since the late 19th century, it wasn’t until fairly recently that they achieved mainstream use. Former Soviet fitness instructor Pavel Tsatsouline and his book Enter the Kettlebellhas played an important role in bringing the kettlebell to the masses in the United States. Thanks to Pavel and others like him, the kettlebell has become a staple in gyms across America.
Benefits of Kettlebell Training
Kettlebell training is extremely dynamic. When you kettlebell train, you’re not only getting a strength training workout, but you’re also getting some high-intensity conditioning (great for increasing testosterone!). In addition to getting your muscles jacked and your heart pumping, kettlebell training also increases power and explosiveness, particularly in the hips. Consequently, many powerlifters are incorporating kettlebells into their training to help with the hip explosion necessary to properly perform and maximize the deadlift and the squat. Finally, kettlebell training increases flexibility and range of motion.
What makes the kettlebell especially useful is that it can impart all these benefits and work the whole body and yet is small enough for any man to store and use no matter if he’s living in a house, apartment, or dorm room (just watch out for your roommate’s head when you’re swinging it around!).
If you’re ready to harness your inner Russian strongman, read on. Below, Mr. Know Your Lifts showcases four basic exercises that you can perform with a kettlebell.
The sumo deadlift is great for loosening up the old hip flexors as well as strengthening the quads and the abductor muscles. It’s also a good lift to master first as it lays the foundation for many other kettlebell lifts and swings.
Stand over your kettlebell with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Have your feet turned out just a bit. Sit back as if you were going to sit in a chair or take a crap in the woods. Keep your heels firmly planted on the ground. No tippy toes. Pick up the kettlebell with both hands, making sure to keep your arms straight. Your shoulders shouldn’t be ahead of your knees. Keeping your back and arms straight, lift the kettlebell off the ground with your legs until you’re standing straight up. Do not bend your arms as you stand, and do not lift with your back. When you’re in the standing position, your body should form a straight line. Lower the kettlebell back to the ground. Repeat ten to twenty times.
The two-arm swing is a staple of kettlebell training. It’s definitely a full-body exercise, but you’ll especially feel it in your hips, quads, and shoulders. It’s a great auxiliary exercise to increase the hip explosiveness necessary for the deadlift and squat.
Stand above your kettlebell with your feet shoulder-width apart and the bell between your heels. Lower your hips as if you were going to sit down in a chair and grab the kettlebell with both hands. Arms should be straight; shoulders behind knees; back straight. Make sure your weight is on your heels — not your toes. Basically you’re doing the starting position of a sumo squat.
Pop your hips forward to get the kettlebell to swing out in front of you a bit. To give you an idea of the motion I’m talking about, you basically want to “hump” the air in front of you (credit goes to my high school football coach for this phraseology).
Let the kettlebell swing back behind your butt like you were snapping a football to a quarterback. When the bell is by your butt, explosively drive your hips forward (hump that air!) and swing the kettlebell up to about chest level. Keep your arms straight and relaxed during the swing up. When the kettlebell reaches chest-level, let your arms swing back down so that the kettlebell goes back to your butt. Drive your hips forward for another swing. Repeat. Make sure you keep your head up and back straight during your swings.
You can swing for time or for reps. Personally, I like sets of twenty.
Clean and Press
The clean and press is a full-body movement. You’re definitely going to be sore all over the next day after performing a few sets of these.
Straddle the kettlebell with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and slightly pointed out. Squat down and grasp the kettlebell’s handle with one hand in an overhand grip. Position your shoulder over the kettlebell while keeping your back straight and looking forward (Fig. 1).
The following is done in one motion. Inhale and pull kettlebell up off the floor by bringing your hips forward. Once kettlebell is off the ground, vigourously pull it up with your shoulder, allowing your elbow to bend out to your side. Imagine you’re pulling the starter cord on a lawnmower. Keep the kettlebell as close to your body as you can (Fig. 2).
When the kettlebell reaches about chest level, rotate your elbow under the bell (Fig. 3). Catch the kettlebell on the outside of your arm; wrist is straight and knees are slightly bent. The bell will end up between your forearm and bicep (Fig. 4). This is called the “rack position.” Exhale. Some folks (like me) like to do a full-on front squat instead of slightly bending their knees. I prefer this method because it gives my quads a nice workout.
Inhale and explosively press the kettlebell off your arm and straight up to lockout over your head. Exhale when you reach lockout (Fig. 5).
Lower the kettlebell back to the rack position. Slowly lower the kettlebell to the ground between your legs while squatting down, keeping your back straight, and your head looking forward. Repeat.
The Turkish getup looks easy, but — holy smokes — it’s a killer exercise. It works your entire body — hips, legs, core, shoulders, forearms — and aids in stability and balance. I highly recommend you start off with a lighter kettlebell when you first start doing the Turkish getup. I could barely eek out 5 reps with a 26-pound kettlebell the first time I performed it.
Turkish Getup keys: keep the arm that’s holding the kettlebell straight and your eyes on the weight during the entire lift. Take it slow and be deliberate with your movements.
1. Hold the kettlebell in your right hand and fully extend your right arm above you so that you’re holding the kettlebell above your chest. Your shoulder should be tight in the socket. To achieve this, think about “packing” your shoulder/shoulder blade down and back. Your lat should be touching the ground (Fig. 1).
2. Bend your right leg at your knee so that your right heel is back near your butt. Keep your left leg straight. Place your left arm out to the side, with your palm face down on the ground. Keep your right arm fully extended above your head and your eyes on the kettlebell.
3. Begin to lift your right shoulder off the ground and come up and rest on your left elbow. Remember, keep the kettlebell above you. Right arm is still fully extended. Keep your chest up and out.
4. Transition from your left elbow to your left hand. Focus on keeping that right arm fully extended. Continue that good posture by keeping the chest up and out (Fig. 2).
5. Drive your hips upward and squeeze those glutes. You should now be in a bridge position with just your left hand and both feet on the ground. Your right arm is still fully extended and your eyes are on the weight.
6. Sweep your extended left leg back behind your body so that your left knee is on the ground. You should be in a lunging position. Torso should be erect. Keep that right arm extended! (Fig. 3).
7. Now just stand up. It’s the same movement as if you were rising from a lunge. Again, keep your right arm straight (Fig. 4).
Congratulations! You just completed one repetition of a Turkish Getup. Now it’s time to follow the steps above in reverse and return to the starting position on your back. Go for 5 to 10 reps. Switch sides and perform the lift on your left side.