With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in July 2016.
When the mercury is on the rise, so are your shirt sleeves. You can’t be going to work or special events in t-shirts or even short-sleeve button-ups, so you’re left with rolling up the sleeves of your nice dress shirt in order to stay a little bit cooler. How do you do so without looking sloppy, though, and without leaving your sleeves all wrinkled when/if they need to come back down later on?
It’s with those questions in mind that we present this ultimate, multimedia guide to when and how to roll your shirt sleeves. From video, to text, to illustrations, we’ve got you covered on this sartorial quick-change.
When Should You Roll Your Shirt Sleeves?
1. When it’s a practical necessity. Washing your hands, unclogging a toilet, doing heavy lifting, working on something dusty, and so on are all perfectly normal reasons to pull back the shirt sleeves. Anytime they might get in the way, get dirty, or get caught in a moving part — roll ’em up. Thus, it is the universal “men at work” style.
You might also roll up the sleeves of a shirt that fits well, but for the sleeves being a tad long. Keep in mind this is only a temporary solution! Be sure to get your shirt tailored for the best fit — you want to be able to roll down your sleeves with confidence when the situation calls for it!
2. When it’s hot outside. When it’s very hot and stagnant, rolling up the sleeves lets air flow directly over more of your skin, and every little bit helps. While the appropriateness of rolled sleeves varies by workplace (see below), anytime you’ve got direct sunlight on your skin, rolled sleeves are acceptable. They’re also handy when you work or live inside a place where the temperature fluctuates a great deal, as it’s nice to be able to roll them down when the A/C is blowing on you, and roll them up when the room gets stuffy.
3. When the situation calls for casual. As a purely stylistic expression, rolled sleeves mostly serve to “dress down” something that would otherwise be too formal/dressy for the occasion; rolling back the shirt sleeves sends a visual signal that says “relaxed.”
For example, upon leaving the office for a less-formal work function or social gathering, men with their jackets off and their sleeves rolled up is classic “Happy Hour” style. And when in charge of a meeting or hosting a party, it’s a great way to signal to others that it’s okay to not worry about formalities.
This is why the question of whether rolled up sleeves at the office is appropriate comes down to the culture of a particular workplace: in a casual, informal office, rolled sleeves are often the norm, while in a very conservative corporate environment, sleeves may never leave a man’s wrists. Check out your fellow employees to see what the prevailing norm is, and even if you do work in an office where rolled sleeves prevail, I’d recommend rolling them down when meeting with an important client, or when a head honcho is visiting the office, to give yourself a more professional appearance.
To sum up: When you’re wearing a long-sleeved dress or work shirt, it’s best to wait for one of the three circumstances listed above before rolling the sleeves up. If it’s not achieving one of those effects, you risk looking sloppy or thoughtless.
Basic Sleeve-Rolling Guidelines
Before we get into the specific styles and methods of rolled sleeves, let’s outline a few general guidelines:
You should have several inches of wrist visible, at minimum. You don’t want it to look like the shirt is too big for you and you had to roll the sleeves just to keep your hands from being swallowed.Your elbows should only be showing if you’re going to be working. For casual situations, keep the big, pointy, outer bone of your elbow inside the shirt.Suit or sports jackets usually aren’t rolled (and when they are, they are more pushed up than rolled) unless there’s an immediate and practical need. You can do it for style (if your jacket has working sleeve buttons), but be aware that it’s a fashion-forward look.
Regardless of the shirt or the