By Alan Neff
In my last post, I noted that business casual varies from workplace to workplace. So do the elements of business casual, one of which can be the short-sleeved shirt.
There are people who would rather not hear about short-sleeved shirts. Ever. They probably feel the same way about turtlenecks, sleeveless sweater-vests, and everything else that reminds them of their grandparents, fruitcakes, or situation comedies from the 1960s.
I understand this. I feel their pain about sweater-vests, fruitcakes, and 1960s television. I have an entire list of so-called comedies I call my “‘Flying Nun’ List.” Compelling an acquaintance to watch any of these might be felony battery.
You can look at a list of 1960s situation comedies here. It’s a ghastly group, except for “Get Smart.”
Anyway…short-sleeved shirts. I defend them. Here’s one reason why they can be interesting: they come in a range of styles.
First, there are the traditional styles. These include short-sleeved dress shirts (solid or patterned and basically indistinguishable from long-sleeved dress shirts, except for the, uh, sleeve length), polo shirts (solid or patterned), or golf shirts (usually solid-colored, from what I can tell). Lots of men wear these kinds of shirts on casual days. The short-sleeved dress shirts have long tails and generally get buttoned and tucked into slacks or jeans. The polo or golf shirts have flat hems and are not tucked in.
Not too many men wear short-sleeved dress shirts where I work. I do, and mine are button-down and patterned, with regular shirt-tails. I either button them and tuck them in or wear them unbuttoned and untucked, over a coordinated colored tee-shirt, which is usually black or dark red.
In an emergency – when, owing to poor planning or a dining accident, I don’t have a regular dress shirt in the office – I can throw a solid tie on a sleeveless patterned dress shirt (or vice versa), tuck it in my slacks or suit pants, put on the associated sport coat or suit jacket, and tell myself I don’t look fatally stupid, except for the absence of shirt cuffs, which no one seems to notice. Perhaps everyone notices but is just too polite to tell me how stupid I look. I’ll ask one day.
When I wear through one or both of the elbows on one of my long-sleeved dress shirts, I take it to my tailor, who converts it into short-sleeved dress shirt. Reduce, re-use, recycle.
The next group of shirts can be called “tropical.” They include Hawaiian shirts, “guayaberas,” aka the “Mexican Wedding Shirt,” and a shirt called the Barong Tagalog or “Barong.” Guayaberas and barongs are discussed here. They have straight-bottomed hems and aren’t tucked in but are buttoned up to the open neck.
Traditional workplaces are generally hostile to Hawaiian shirts. I don’t see many Hawaiian shirts on view in large law firms I visit from time to time. I wear them in my office because it’s unusually tolerant, and I’m self-destructively irreverent. My Hawaiian shirts probably have obstructed my rise in the office hierarchy, but it’s a price I gladly pay, partly because people can see my coming on my bicycle in one of my Hawaiian shirts. They’re safety clothing outside the office. It’s just not terribly safe to wear them in many offices.
Guayaberas, on the other hand, might be more acceptable, especially when they’re darker and made of thicker fabric. Some are very thin, translucent, almost transparent. You can see…skin… or…a stained undershirt. Not a good look in a traditional office.
Via Hawaiian shirts, we come to the workplaces where they are acceptable: offices filled with males (and females) who wear porkpie hats (or wore them, for an hour one week last year) and black, horn-rimmed sun-glasses and display fairish amounts of tattoos and piercings. Many of the males in these workplaces are enviably skinny and don’t need or want the muumuu-like camouflage/flattery of loosely cut Hawaiian shirts. Instead, they opt for shirts cut like guayaberas, with straight-bottomed hems, and solid or patterned designs. These range from linen through cotton to satin (as in bowling shirts or faux gas-station shirts from the 50s). They’re worn open over tees or buttoned, but not tucked.
I have several of these (solid red or black linen), which I wear in those weeks when my waistline and my self-image are on the same page. Approximately the same page. Generally, I wear them open over a tee. I like black over dark red tee and vice versa.
So…short-sleeved shirts. Not so bad, eh?