Style Debate: Is It Ever Ok To Wear Short Sleeve Shirts?

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It gets a bum wrap, the short sleeve shirt. Men with little to no sense of style wheel them out on Balearic holidays and particularly balmy days in the city, but they are so much more than just a hot weather friendly version of their long sleeved brothers.

In all honesty, the list of elbow bearing offenders is long. But think of the whole gamut as more of a matrix or Venn diagram than a strict division of right and wrong. At one end you have Guy Fieri, purveyor of many a garish button-up abomination, then at the other you have Ryan Gosling in the south of France a couple of Cannes ago. In the middle, you have Tom Selleck in Magnum PI (above). On paper, his shirts were flowery monstrosities. But when you factor in the Hawaiian setting, the silky smooth crime fighting and the moustache, they just work.

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Granted, he did inspire a generation of middle aged, middle America men to copy him. And ironically, they took the Hawaiian shirt, ran with it and made it the laughing stock of menswear. Buts that all changed now.

The floral print is back, and it's back in abundance. At last years S/S '15 shows we saw everyone from Topman to Tiger of Sweden employing the use of big Hawaiian prints, tattoo motifs and geometric patterns to great effect. Even Dunhill, a house so traditional it opened its recent S/S '16 show with top hats and tails, got in on the act. In fact, they made one of the best the season had to offer – a subtle floral in a gentle seventies colour way (which meant it nailed two trends in one).

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As old Gosling proved though, the appeal of a short sleeve shirt isn't defined by its intricacy or loudness. Something simple in soft, inoffensive tones can look downright smart, let alone cool. The trick – as with everything – is to focus on cut, cloth and quality. One is probably enough, but nail all three and you're on to a winner.

There are two shapes to consider. The regular, which is just your normal pique shirt with short sleeves (a la Gosling) can work, but it's a style generally favoured by men 'out on the lash'. So take heed.

No, the thing to do is look for something with a Cuban (lapel-like folds just below the neck) and a square-cut bottom hem, that way you'll know its fit for purpose. It's a boxier fit in general, which is exactly what you want in order to nail the imminent trend for fifties dressing. Folk's box stitch shirts are a good place to start.

You could even go all in and wear a it half unbuttoned with a white vest underneath. But whatever you do, for god's sake, don't tuck it in.

I realise at this point, that this has been less of an argument and more of a straight up style guide. But that's because there's no real question over the wearing of short sleeve shirts.

Remember. When in doubt, just think: what would Magnum PI do?

Invariably adorned with some kind of dodgy check, reliably creased and habitually oversized, short-sleeved shirts cut from classic poplin cotton are pretty much impossible to wear well, and therefore – to my mind – best avoided.

Unfailingly worn by the same kind of men who wear over-the-knee cargo shorts with fluorescent running trainers and pulled-up white tube socks, short-sleeved shirts are the definition of bad dad dressing.

It’s something about the combination of a traditional full shirt placket – usually found on more formal shirts – with a casual short sleeve. It’s an amalgamation which feels clumsy and ill-considered.

Short-sleeved T-Shirts are different. A well fitting white Tee cut from high quality cotton can look as chic and grown up as a properly pressed white shirt if worn correctly.

Short-sleeved polo shirts are also acceptable. So long as you're not wearing yours with a gold belcher chain and a pair of tracksuit bottoms and the heavy weight of a bad childhood, a knitted polo shirt worn with a soft-shouldered jacket will look both comfortable and cool, and keep the heat at bay all at once.

The solution – if you’re struggling in the heat – is to wear a light breathable pique or Linen long sleeved shirt, which will make you look smart and grown up, where a short sleeved shirt will make you look like you’re about to head-butt someone. And if the worst comes to the worst you can simply roll the sleeves up.

If, however, you’re adamant about sporting a short-sleeved shirt, opt for something with a Prada-esque, fifties-inspired Cuban collar, and ensure that you pick a dense, luxurious fabric such as merino wool, silk or dense pique cotton, which will hang better over your lumps and bumps than classic poplin will. In addition, keep the colour neutral, the fit close and only wear with trousers (never shorts) in a tonal shade.

Or, if you’re really determined to go for classic cotton, wear a jumper or very large coat over the top. And avoid taking it off.