Written by Jian DeLeon (@jiandeleon)
Menswear blogs will often quote Cary Grant when you ask about the acceptability of short-sleeve button down shirts. What they'll say is: "If I want to wear short sleeves, I just roll them up." I'm not quite sure where this came from, but it's one of those things that's been perpetuated so long that you have to take it with a grain of salt, like the myth that the average human will swallow eight spiders in his or her lifetime. No one really knows where these types of urban legends begin, but thanks to the Internet's ability to proliferate them, they not only stick around, they kind of become true to the people that don't know any better.
Short sleeve button down shirts have received a bad rap from the likes of creepy IT guys, Dwight Schrute, and Mormon missionaries. Nothing quite resembles the mental image of a total lamestain than a balding, chubby, pasty guy in his mid-40s, in an otherwise stark white short sleeve buttondown shirt (save for the noticeable Cheetos stains on his stomach), a bright red tie, and wide, black trousers that are all but swallowing his square-toed Kenneth Cole shoes. It's kind of sad to even think about right?
You know what the main mistake these guys are making is? They're wearing a tie. Short sleeves automatically mean casual. They're meant for warm summer days when you don't really give a fuck about getting your work done because it is hot as shit outside and you just can't wait 'til it's time for happy hour. Short sleeve shirts and ties just don't mix, no matter how cool or funny you are, it's like trying to cram peanuts into a Milky Way and calling it a Snickers. You're not fooling anyone.
Sure, they're definitely much classier than a polo shirt, with its douchebag connotations and roots as tennis performance wear, but they're just not formal. But do they have a place in men's clothing? Absolutely. Right now, menswear is all about mixing elements of tailored jackets and suiting with more casual and sporty gear, like Nike Roshe Runs and camo pants, so the short sleeve button down embodies that balance perfectly.
I'm not alone in thinking this. In a recent article, Megan Collins of Style Girlfriend says the shirts are "an easy way to dress up one’s look while remaining sneakily comfortable." And it's true, they're a step up from a T-shirt because of the collar, and in thin fabrics like poplin or linen, definitely help keep the heat at bay. Yet, it has to be rocked correctly. The fit has to be on-point, and the sleeves really shouldn't droop down to your elbow, or be super wide.
They also can up your casual game tremendously. The Hawaiian shirt has made a huge comeback from heritage companies like Reyn Spooner, while brands like ASOS and Stussy offer up modern interpretations. These can look dope when worn unbuttoned with a simple white v-neck underneath, or when paired with a slick pair of washed jeans and Vans Authentics. It's simple summer style any guy can pull off. The short sleeve gingham shirt has roots in skinhead/punk culture, usually paired with Doc Martens and cuffed 501s. Even vintage finds like crazy patterned shirts can be dope, hell, we even kitted out Nas in a Mark McNairy-designed Woolrich Woolen Mills African print shirt on our latest cover. The trick to pulling these types of bold prints off is simple: let it do all the talking, so keep the rest of your kit restrained.
And of course, there's that Frankenstein's monster of short-sleeved button downs: the popover shirt. Combining the fine fabrics of woven shirts with the partial placket of a polo, these types of shirts are like tunics, if they went to prep school. Finished off with details like a button down collar, they usually feature a curved hem as well. Sid Mashburn has been making a couple that really resonate with the kids these days, offering one in a subtle oxford cloth and another in a wild floral print. Of course, if $175 is too rich for your blood, J. Crew's horizontal-striped version is a worthy consolation prize at just $75. Wear them just like you would any short-sleeve button down: with the top button always unbuttoned and however the hell you want. Like many misunderstood stepchildren, short sleeve button downs can really shine if you give them the right opportunity. Don't count them out of your closet.