The most reviled garment in menswear makes a comeback

By Luke Leitch

The I.T Crowd's Maurice Moss (centre) in signature short-sleeved shirt, the staple of offices everywhere. Picture / Supplied
The I.T Crowd's Maurice Moss (centre) in signature short-sleeved shirt, the staple of offices everywhere. Picture / Supplied

Take a full set of buttons that runs 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 a shorthand for stupid (Homer Simpson), psychotic (Michael Douglas in Falling Down) or spectacularly geeky (The I.T Crowd's Moss).

Despite the deep-rooted prejudice against short-sleeved buttoned-up shirts, the fashion industry is making a concerted rehabilitation effort. Designers with proper clout (Paul Smith, Prada, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen) are 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 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 of 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. Printwise, though, I prefer geeky gingham.

As fashion's perverse pendulum has clocked, short-sleeved buttoned-up shirts are so out of style that wearing them suddenly looks radical - hence that designer revival. But the best reason to embrace this unjustly put-against style is that they're comfortable - especially when you dump the tie.


• Look out for Viva's workwear issue in Wednesday's Herald.


- The Daily Telegraph

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