About the Author: Graham B. is apparently a powertrain engineer with a questionable devotion to Italian cars. When not building an engine for his personal or customer projects, he enjoys reading fiction, training for 5k races, and chicken pickin’ on his Telecaster guitar.
I used to think that henleys were a clever invention of marketing departments of brands trying to slap more eagles and moose (meese?) onto their long-sleeve shirts. Looking into the history, I wasn’t far off. Turns out, they are essentially pajama tops adapted into daily wear. But, the format is one of the best fall base layers in all of menswear. The addition of a placket and some buttons really wakes up the standard long-sleeve shirt into something much more appealing. Let’s take a look at some of the current offerings in the fall-approved waffle henley category, minus any eagles and
For Size/Fit Perspective: Note that I’m 6’2″ / 195 lbs, and all henleys shown below are a size Large. Also, the watch is a Seiko SND253 on an after market leather strap. Bought it for the slide rule and to keep all the Rolex wearing consultants I run into on their toes.
Banana Republic Waffle-Knit Henley – $35.70 w/ STYLE ($59.50)
The clear leader of this henley pack. 55% cotton, 45% modal – a synthetic, cellulose-based material from the rayon family – fabric has cool hand feel and a natural stretch. It doesn’t quite stack up to an extra fine merino wool, but it’s not exactly priced that way either. The cut of the BR henley caters well to those seeking a slimmer fit. Not skin-tight, but slim in the torso, with a bit of extra length in the slim sleeves, which leads to some bunching. The construction deviates from the typical henley with the addition of strips of fabric running from the collar over the shoulders and down to the cuffs. Visually, it works, but I could do without the two additional seams. Cuffs, collar, and placket employ a thick ribbed knit material. Three contrasting corozo (nut) buttons add some more visual interest. Six different colors to choose from.
L.L. Bean Unshrinkable Mini-Waffle Henley – $39.96 w/ BIG20 ($49.95)
A simple classic with a bit more room throughout. 100% cotton material is on the heavier side, with a finer waffle to it. Ribbed knit cuffs and collar are hefty and substantial, while the placket makes use of the waffle material too. Ten colors to pick from, while this option, saddle heather, was a standout among the group, with nice variation. Chunky buttons contrast nicely, though I could do without the LL Bean branding on them. Fit felt more standard here.
Soft 60% cotton 40% polyester fabric – the lightest of the bunch – balances breathability and moisture wicking. No frills on this Henley. The cuffs, placket, and collar are all continuations of the waffle material used throughout the entire shirt. And, the color does not vary at all throughout the garment. The three clear plastic buttons are nice and thick, and provide the only contrast on the entire henley, resulting in a clean look. Bonobos fit feels great here, slim through the sleeves and torso. The color above? That’s “heather green.” It leans heavily towards blue in person, and the pic on the Bonobos site isn’t that accurate.
J. Crew Wallace & Barnes Waffle Henley – $58.40 w/ BUNDLEUP ($75)
A great standalone option. Makes use of a lighter 100% cotton fabric with a classic waffle to it. Differentiates itself with some nice details – great, if you’re looking for some visual noise. The buttons and seam stitching contrast nicely with the waffle fabric. Construction is nearly standard-issue henley, with the addition of a seam along the top of the sleeves. Cuffs and collar feature a soft knit, while the two button placket continues with the waffle material. Fit through the sleeves and torso is on the slimmer side but not tight. Just 25% off right now with the above code, but should drop further with more generous discounts. “Frosty olive” is the color option shown above, which is one of five classic colors to pick from.
The clear value leader of the crew. 80% cotton, 20% polyester, light to medium fabric that’s soft to the touch. Construction is classic – no raglan sleeves or creative touches other than the welcome, curved, shirttail-style hem, which makes it that much nicer when worn on its own. Just a traditional 3 button henley with knit cuffs, collar, and placket. Buttons, small two-hole plastic units, are the same as Gap and Lands End. Nice color variation throughout – slight, but appreciated. Very similar to the Gap offering, but with a slightly slimmer fit throughout, like a budget Bonobos. Just five earth tone shades available for this UNIQLO henley.
Gap Waffle Henley – $20.97 w/ STYLE ($34.95)
Another strong value, this time from Gap. 60% cotton 40% polyester fabric is lightweight with a great hand feel. The addition of poly, viewed less cynically, lends to a bit more moisture wicking and greater resistance to shrinking than in a pure cotton fabric. The resulting fabric displays a nice color variation to elevate the visual interest just a notch when, say, wearing with basics like a pair of dark-wash jeans. Simple construction, with soft knit cuffs and collar, and knit details on the placket. The plastic two-hole buttons from Lands End and Uniqlo, three of them here, make another appearance. Fit is described as straight and easy, and I’d agree with that assessment, while adding that it’s a smart fit, just a step looser than a slim fit. Only four colors here, with the charcoal option shown above.
Lands End Comfort-first Thermal Waffle Henley – $26.97 w/ PUMPKIN & 2020 ($44.95)
Great fabric, solid construction, smart details, but an obvious loose fit on my frame. Sizing down could absolve the loose fit demerit for me, and depending on your build, the extra room might be welcome. The 58% cotton, 39% polyester, 3% spandex really does have a great hand feel to it, with a heavy weight to the fabric. Coloring is uniform across the waffle material, but the slub fabric chosen for the cuffs, collar, and placket details adds subtle visual interest, as do the three contrast plastic buttons, which are of the same design as those found on the Gap and Uniqlo offerings. Currently 40% off with free shipping, no minimum, with the code.
As much as I liked the construction of Everlane’s 100% cotton henley, I couldn’t get over the pajamas look to it when worn on its own. The off-white color is mostly to blame, all-but guaranteeing the long underwear aesthetic. Still, the billowy sleeves and deep waffle pattern really lend an old-school pajama top look. Now, underneath a trucker jacket, maybe a chore jacket or even a thick flannel shirt? This would come into its own. Construction is excellent, the fabric soft, the weave nice and deep, and overall piece is quite comfortable. Stylistically, it’s got a raglan construction until you get to the seam on the shoulder, where it transitions into a traditional sweater construction. The two thin plastic buttons are nothing to write home about. The fabric is certainly the heaviest of the group, but in 100% cotton, expect it to swell once you start sweating.
Got a favorite waffle henley that should have made the list? Send those tips into firstname.lastname@example.org. And yes, we know that henleys don’t have to be waffled. Looking for henley sans-waffle? Try Target’s Goodfellow & Co. Henley (review here), Amazon’s Peak Velocity Tech Henleys (review here), and Proof’s 72 Hour Merino henleys (spendy but worth it).