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What's the problem with short-sleeved shirts?
Wednesday, 20 November 2019 - 12:28 | Views - 45

lIt's the most irrationally reviled garment in menswear. But is this going to be the summer when we finally embrace short-sleeved shirts, asks Luke Leitch

Take a full set of buttons that tumbles from clavicle to belt buckle. Add a collar. And then subtract at least 50 per cent of the sleeves. What does that equal? The most irrationally reviled garment in menswear.

In a world where onesies and wifebeaters pass muster as items of male attire, the short-sleeved, buttoned-up shirt remains mystifyingly controversial. Polo shirts are normal. T-shirts are youthful. Full shirts are smart. But the short-sleeved, buttoned-up shirt is a pariah.

Even the most obtuse menswear snobs don’t know exactly why this shirt is so frowned upon, but all agree that it is. The perennial summer work-wear debate – can you wear this shirt and look businesslike? – invariably concludes that it’s only for the brave or the office boy. On screen, especially when teamed with a tie, it is variously a shorthand for stupid (Homer Simpson), psychotic (Michael Douglas in Falling Down) or spectacularly geeky (The IT Crowd’s Moss).

So deep-rooted is our cultural prejudice against short-sleeved buttoned-up shirts, that every female member of The Telegraph Fashion department (that’s everyone but me) cruelly twisted their lips in scorn when asked to assess them – even though the fashion industry is making a concerted rehabilitation effort this summer. Designers with proper clout (Paul Smith, Prada, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen among them) are all pushing the short sleeve – but ridding it of its woman-repelling, Zeta-male aura demands a more profound reputational deep clean.

Even the designers seem to know this: The Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck teamed his jazzily ruffle-cuffed catwalk short sleeve with what resembled a Wehrmacht helmet – either to deflect the criticism, or to trump the shirt in the ''things you’d be better off not wearing’’ stakes.

It’s a shame because these shirts are pleasant to wear. They’re breezy, far cooler (temperature-wise) than rolling up your sleeves, yet much more stolidly polite than the lazily sagging pique of the polo shirt.

Perhaps it is this tension between the informality of the short-sleeve and the smartness of the collar/button combo that is the root the prejudice. To evade that juxtaposition, short-sleeved shirt wearers often resort to print, making this shirt the only item of male clothing that is easier to wear in a floral pattern than plain.


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