For such a simple garment, the humble short-sleeved shirt comes in for an inordinate amount of flak. But this summer, designers have given it their undivided attention and subtly reinterpreted it for discerning dressers.
“The right kind of short-sleeved shirt is down to the detail – a straight hem, splits at the sides and a press-down soft pyjama collar. Now that’s a different animal,” says Hardy Amies’ creative director Mehmet Ali – who has three such shirts in his wardrobe ready for summer. Woven chevron styles in navy, pistachio and brick, or a cotton chambray small-grid print (£195), are inspired by rolls of wallpaper designed by Hardy Amies’ friend and interior designer William Haines, which Ali discovered in the house archives. “They are a bit more interesting than a simple polo. And now it’s their time,” he says. “The cardinal sin is to wear a short-sleeved shirt with a tie, under a jacket, or – if it has a standard shirt hem and formal collar – tucked into trousers. A short sleeve should be more open on the chest than a long-sleeved shirt – a little bit looser and more relaxed.”
Ali’s enthusiasm for a short sleeve is shared by designer Margaret Howell, who, though she favours a buttoned-up look, emphasises the importance of fabric choice to avoid any hint of flight attendant. “That – and the cut,” she says, “including the width and length of the sleeve.” Hers stop well short of the elbow and are roomy but not too baggy – the shirts themselves are smart but relaxed paradigms of Margaret Howell menswear in schoolboyish grey linen and classic black cotton. The grey (£285) has a darker collar and looks considered yet casual when buttoned all the way up and worn with a pair of lightweight slacks. This is the sort of short sleeve that can look great beneath a summer blazer or cardigan when it’s important to look dapper while remaining cool.
“I follow a rule that the sleeve finishes three fingers above the elbow,” says James Cook, bespoke adviser at Jermyn Street shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser. “Many gentlemen’s tailoring cues are military and that’s how far an officer would have his sleeves rolled up.” Most of his clients opt for a relaxed collar, often buttoned down and usually squared off at the bottom. “It’s a look that evokes Sean Connery on a beach in Thunderball, cradling a deadly harpoon gun,” says Cook. Even in pink gingham, Connery’s the man. Turnbull & Asser has made bespoke short‑sleeved shirts (from £245) with hidden pockets including, on one occasion, one for a very small pistol. 007 would have approved.
Lou Dalton shifts the focus and takes her cue from American baseball shirts of the 1950s and 1960s. V-necked and collarless, in crisp white cotton (£210), they have a beachy feel. “Whereas women are very conscious of their bottom or bust,” says the London designer, “men are more conscious of their girth, and a dropped neckline flatters the body.”
Whatever the cut and fabric, most men will be wearing their short-sleeved shirts untucked, with denim or shorts, sandals or flip-flops – and a suntan – and new-style bright, upbeat patterns suit a summer mood. Think tailored Hawaiian – without the palm trees or parakeets. Marc Jacobs’ Little Flower prints (£160) and a range of colourful Liberty prints (£120) are a measured introduction to the trend, while Paul Smith has several with graphic patterns (example pictured on previous page, £109) of leaves, cacti or black and white chequerboard.
Dynamic checks can be also found on Burberry’s charcoal, ink, grey or camel Giant Exploded shirts (£175) and Acne’s sharp midcentury-inspired sporty flat-collared styles (£190), which have been influenced by both classic American coach and Harrington jackets and interior design motifs, says creative director Johnny Johansson.
Bolder still are Kenzo’s designs, either with tennis ball-sized polka dots (£180) or abstract stripes in beige, blue and black, while Neil Barrett strikes hard with lightning bolts on a navy background (£320). Salvatore Ferragamo’s blue and burgundy giraffe print is sensational – and the silk shirt (£340), which has a matching tie, is cut slim enough to be tucked in. It’s part of a stunning collection of short-sleeved shirts (£985), all with a smart urban feel and featuring green and burgundy microchecks, drawstrings, zips and ticket pockets.
For a tropical feel – think cigars, rum and Hemingway – turn to Versace. Five-button or slip-over relaxed-collar shirts (about £540) in brown, pink and white silk have Havana street scenes on macramé panels. Casual collars can also be found on Gucci’s short-sleeved shirts. The Duke (£225) is a dark blue or white cotton-twill button-down polo, with mother-of-pearl buttons and breast pockets. Wear with flat-fronted trousers cut to just above the ankle, loafers – and lots of attitude.
Team a short-sleeved shirt with a raft of newly updated tennis shoes.