On Sleeve Length

Over the past couple of years my sense of style has taken several distinct turns. I think this is very normal for someone who is young on their journey into men’s clothing and I imagine that my tastes will continue to  develop over time. One change that I’ve noticed in particular is my opinion on jacket sleeve length.

When I was first learning about tailored clothing I was slavishly committed to “the rules.” For this reason, I was always adamant on showing a healthy amount of shirt cuff under my suits and jackets in order to “let them know” that I was a stylish man. I was quick to pass judgement on those who wore their sleeves at or past their cuffs; if only they knew the mistake they were making!

As I spent more time thinking about the topic and learned from more purchases I began to question the meaning behind my sleeve length manifesto. Why is it that we are told to “show some cuff”? After some reflection I was able to think of two reasons for this behavior. The first reason is the obvious one: shirt cuffs provide contrast. If you are wearing a shirt and suit of different colors (and I hope you are) the small slice of shirt provides some much-needed contrast, especially if the suit you’re wearing is a solid color. This is similar to the effect of a simple pocket square neatly tucked into a breast pocket with a TV fold; a small amount of contrast aids in breaking up a large canvas.

The second reason came to me after wearing tailored clothing more often. I found that the shirt cuff gave me a helpful amount of gradation between my jacket sleeves and wrist. As a textbook ectomorph I dislike the stark contrast created between my small wrists and the much larger opening of the jacket sleeve. A shirt cuff nicely splits the difference and eases the transition from suit to skin. I found this to be a very compelling reason as to why I felt the need to keep suit sleeves away from my wrists.

Once I began to think of this rule in my own terms and not as a GQ commandment I started to reevaluate the way I approached it. If the reason for showing cuffs is not to prove that “you get it” but to instead complete a holistic look then perhaps a more subtle approach would be beneficial. I experimented with different sleeve lengths and quickly found that, as with most things in life, less is more. A sliver of shirt peeking out from under a sleeve effectively succeeds in the points above, but does so in a way that does not detract from the whole look (in the way that 1/2”-1” of shirt cuff might). Discovering my own reasons for following this rule has help solidify my preferences and made me more confident in what I look for.

Following the rules can be good, but do so for your own reasons. Question everything.