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Trends come and go, but the utility of certain pieces is forever. A good thermal shirt, for example, can be used as a versatile layering piece or a standalone shirt in its own right. And thanks to developments in fabric technology in recent years, thermal shirts have never been more practical, offering everything from moisture-wicking to antimicrobial properties that keep you smelling fresh. What’s not to love, right?
Personally, I find thermal shirts useful at any time of year. But they more than shine in the cooler autumn and winter months when temperatures drop, when we’d all benefit from the added coverage and insulation of a longer sleeve. Also, they’re also a versatile layering piece for cooler summer evenings and days spent in frigid air-conditioned office buildings.
There’s no need to go overboard with thermal shirts—a curated mix of a few good ones will more than serve your closet for years to come. Options abound these days, whether you’re looking to go the more technical performance route or you’re looking to invest in luxury natural materials such as cashmere.
Not sure where to begin? Don’t fret. If you’re in the market for the best thermal shirts, this guide is a great place to start.
What to Consider Before Buying the Best Thermal Shirts:
Are you interested in a thermal shirt that’s high-performing and designed for rugged conditions? Or something that’s a little more luxe and office-appropriate? Whichever direction you’re headed, here are a few guideposts to keep in mind.
Material: It really all boils down to the materials. A thermal shirt made from all-natural materials such as cotton, cashmere, or merino wool will have a more refined look and feel, but might not be as practical or machine-washable as synthetic fibers. Introducing synthetics adds more properties to your thermal shirt—such as the silky feel of micro modal or the anti-sagging nature of spandex or elastane.
Fit: This part is up to you, and how you think you’ll wear it. Some thermal shirts function almost as sweatshirts, roomy enough to accommodate a shirt worn underneath. Others are designed to fit more like undergarments, with a compression-style fit so they slide easily under other toppers.
Style: Thermal shirts are found in a range of styles, going from the luxury henley cashmeres and sleek merino options on one end of the spectrum to the more athleisure-inflected performance styles on the other. The key is to pick the style that’s best suited for the intended activity.
Best Performance Thermal Shirt
When a longsleeve shirt isn’t enough, but a jacket is too much—that’s when this thermal shirt steps in. This one is designed in a signature Lululemon tech material with a 100 percent merino wool interior, which means you get the four-way stretch and abrasion-resistance of a tech piece, but the warmth and anti-stink properties of merino.
Material: Nylon, merino wool, polyester, and elastane.
Best Waffle-Knit Thermal Shirt
This Boston-based running brand’s M.O. is high-performing pieces that have a heritage look and feel. Indeed, this thermal shirt has the vibe of a retro waffle-knit, but it’s made from 100 percent merino wool, so it keeps you warm while wicking moisture away from the body.
Material: Merino wool.
Best Layered Thermal Shirt
The layered look of the 1990’s is trending, so simplify your approach with this one-piece thermal shirt from Wolverine. It’s giving grunge-rocker in the best way.
Material: Cotton jersey.
Best Relaxed-Fit Thermal Shirt
The outdoor masters at L.L.Bean, unsurprisingly, make a good thermal shirt to pair with your favorite jeans. Case in point: This excellent option, made from a cozy cotton with and relaxed fit for that effortless vibe that says, “Oh, this old thing?”
Best Cashmere Thermal Shirt
Cashmere is always a good idea, and Naddam’s quality and cuts always hit the mark. The weight on this thermal henley is lighter than your typical sweater, making it the perfect weight to wear every day.
Most Versatile Thermal Shirt
Once you experience a waffle knit, there’s really going back. From the texture and softness to the cozy feel, it’s a cold-weather staple for a good reason. And this crewneck style from Beam Plus goes a step further: It’s extremely versatile, working as a standalone piece or an option for layering under your go-to button-downs.
Best Broken-In Thermal Shirt
For the feeling and vibe of a vintage piece you’ve had in rotation forever, consider this Buck Mason shirt. It’s done in the brand’s signature Venice wash, a mix of garment dyeing and enzyme rinsing that creates subtle color variations and the appearance of something being much more broken-in than it actually is. And not only is it made from a waffle-knit face, but it has a smooth jersey backing, so it’s that much smoother and more comfortable against the body.
Best Slim-Fit Thermal Shirt
If you want your thermal shirts to have a body-hugging silhouette so they can be layered more easily under button-downs and sweaters, check out this Vince number. It has the perfect slim (but not skinny) fit, with just a touch of spandex so that it retains its shape.
Softest Thermal Shirt
The details on this Billy Reid waffle crew are what set it apart. The first thing you’ll notice is its cotton-cashmere blend—incredibly soft, and incredibly warm. It’s finished with signature Billy Reid details, such as an heirloom ribbon stripe behind the neck and a reverse waffle weave at the elbows for a subtle contrast.
Material: Cashmere and cotton.
Best Quality Thermal Shirt
Heirloom Amalgam Franklin Henley Shirt
Every detail found in this henley is a masterclass in getting it right. The custom fabric—with a hint of spandex for an all-day fit that never sags—the custom color, and production quality simply can’t be beat.
Material: Micro modal and spandex.