Q I received an email from Brooks Brothers showing short sleeve dress shirts. I didn't think those were dress shirts. When are they right to wear?
A I am tempted to say 1) Never, and 2) The expression "short sleeve dress shirt" is a contradiction of terms. I have said before and honestly believe that the two terms -- "short sleeve" and "dress shirt" -- cannot go together. But times have changed in many ways that we could not have predicted. While other new realities are certainly much more devastating, I'm not pleased with this change either.
My biggest problem is probably with the terminology. When I first read the question, it seemed hard to believe it could be true. Brooks Brothers, that bastion of classic traditionalism for generations, offering such an item for sale? No, it couldn't be! Still, the Brooks Brothers we've all known for so long is different today. Having been bought out in recent years (and more than once), by other less traditional companies and also being a store that now sells trendy men's clothes designed by the fashion-forward iconoclast, Thom Browne, the new Brooks Brothers is no longer the epitome of traditionalism that it once was.
While checking the store's shirt ads, I noticed the following text: "Our non-iron dress shirt crafted from pure American-grown Supima cotton ... has kept Brooks Brothers the foremost authority on fine men's dress shirts for nearly two centuries .... The button-down collar, a Brooks Brothers innovation, has been the most imitated item in fashion history since we introduced it in 1900."
This sort of language is in keeping with the store's long-standing elitist reputation, but not exactly with a store that currently sells "short-sleeved dress shirts." I'm afraid that the original Brooks Brothers would be turning over in their graves to see these ads....
On the other hand, many of you might say, "This is a sensible idea for summer wear." And ask, "But what do you mean when you say a dress shirt? What is your definition?" Historically, a dress shirt refers to one intended to be worn with a jacket and/or a tie. It does not need to be worn that way, but it could be. I realize that my saying this may put me in the category of snobbish/upper-class circles; even so, certain images come to mind when considering who might wear a tie with a short-sleeved shirt:
Is a delivery man as part of his uniform (with the need to have free forearms for heavier deliveries and darker shades because the packages might rub against the clothing) or
Perhaps a stereotypical tech nerd lacking the need or concern to have an executive look.
Classic, traditional guys do not dress this way.
There are a few types of shirts that men generally have in mind when they use the term "dress shirt":
• If you are using the term to mean a shirt made of smooth/woven fabric as opposed to a textured knit weave, that makes sense;
• If you are using the term to refer to a typical button-up-the-front shirt that is not a pullover polo shirt, I can also accept that;
• Even if you are using the term to refer to a long-sleeved dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up a turn or two, that too is something I can go along with;
• But, if you truly mean a shirt made of dressy smooth cotton fabric in white or a quiet pastel that has short sleeves, I'm afraid I cannot agree with those who would accept such a style.
While checking online, I noticed that Brooks Brothers is only one of many stores showing this look. Nordstrom's, Macy's, Lands' End, Express and lots of others sell short sleeve shirts in solid colors and in big, bright and bold patterns that are too vivid to be worn as a dress shirt with a suit or a blazer. But most stores call them what they are, "sport shirts." More casual than their long-sleeeved counterparts, many of these are good looking enough to add to your wardrobe for special events and everyday activities.
So, it's not that I object to wearing short-sleeved cotton shirts in warm weather, if worn with jeans or khakis or perhaps even with dress pants. These mixes might work for many informal occasions. My objection is to calling them, and especially treating them, as dress shirts; they do not match the accompanying implication that they can be worn with a tie. Yes, one could, but as you suggested in your question, if you did, no one who cares about elegance and appropriateness in men's clothing would think of you as well dressed.
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