Sartorial Love/Hate Rolled Up Sleeves


They were sniggering as I strolled up. The sort of mischievous, playground sniggering that does not befit men of the age of twenty seven. The darting glances as I approached, the little whispers; they looked me up and down, somewhat perturbed by my appearance. These were chaps (and chapettes) I knew well and yet they were reacting in a very particular way. After an embarrassing handshake or two, one of them blurted out; “Why are your jacket sleeves rolled up?” At this release of tension, the others exhaled with their comments; “Yea, isn’t that really eighties?”; “I thought you liked to wear smart things?”; “Rolled up sleeves looks a bit gay”; “If you’re hot, why do you wear a jacket at all?”

To be honest, I rarely roll up my jacket sleeves. I do so when I feel my look is edging towards a contradiction – formality with informality – to blur the lines and only, I hasten to add, when the weather is so decidedly undecided as it was when I encountered my friends; I do not go without a jacket because a sudden solar retreat and a chilly wind would make it very welcome. The other condition is that the jacket itself is not of too great a formality; a casual seersucker, linen or cotton. I would never, for example, roll up the sleeves of a brass buttoned blazer. For me, there is no issue with the aesthetic. Rolling up sleeves can add a functional charm to a jacket and it smoothes the hard edge of formality.

There are those however who consider rolled up jacket sleeves to be the worst example of affected Eurotrash and would like nothing better than to instruct every man who experiments thus to pull down or throw down. One of my friends hit upon one of the reasons for objection when he said that it reminded him of an Eighties visual. Hardly surprising considering that one of the greatest smash hits of that particular decade was the television series Miami Vice in which Don Johnson, a peerless icon of Eighties trash, wandered around the streets wearing sunglasses, an excruciating grin and the sleeves of his jacket pushed back to the elbows. Consequently, any rolling up of sleeves carries this association although we are fortunate in that the younger generation appear less interested in the product of the twentieth century’s eighth decade than we were.

The other objection, little to do with a seedy Floridan television character, is that rolling up sleeves on a jacket is bad for the jacket and an annoying contradiction; why ruin the jacket to create a look that doesn’t appear to make sense? Well, as I stated previously, when it comes to dressing correctly, weather is a (forgive me) grey area; on-off days can confuse the gentleman. Rolling up sleeves feels better than removing the jacket entirely and, particularly if you are layering, exposing a bit of skin to the air in the warm season is refreshing. I also happen to think that rolled up sleeves gives an artisanal, practical edge to a look that might otherwise appear too staid for a summer’s day.


  1. Rip said:

    My main thought on rolled-up sleeves concerns long-sleeved shirts, which with their sleeves rolled up look infinitely better than short-sleeved shirts. But as for jackets that aren’t part of a full suit, I think they look fine.

    By the way, that blue waistcoat (the combined outfit, indeed) you’re wearing looks great.

    June 27, 2010
  2. Rip said:

    Cardigan, sorry.

    June 27, 2010
  3. Thanks Rip. I also agree that rolled-up long sleeves look far better than short sleeves.


    June 27, 2010
  4. Jesse said:

    I agree. I think on a casual sportscoat or blazer a rolled sleeve adds an effective casual edge, breaking down the current sense of formality concerning a jacket.

    “I thought you liked to wear smart things?”; “Rolled up sleeves looks a bit gay”; “If you’re hot, why do you wear a jacket at all?”

    It does worry me though, as my friends also feel the freedom to make often deluded judgements about my clothes. Quite frustrating sometimes.

    June 27, 2010
  5. Patrick said:

    I’ve been trying to figure out why i just don’t like the rolled up blazer sleeves, and I think it’s because it doesn’t seem to make practical sense. the thicker material bunches up considerably more than a shirt, and seems uncomfortable in the elbow area, especially when trying to bend your arms. And it suggests either intent to do some sort of labor or warm weather, but then if it’s that warm, wouldn’t one remove their coat?

    June 27, 2010
  6. Dale said:

    I noticed from the photograph you are wearing a shirt, a bow-tie, a woolen cardigan and a seersucker jacket. Clearly you are less interested in remaining cool than in looking cool. Your argument does not make sense, why not refrain from wearing a cardigan in the first place, it is summer after all, even in Britain one rarely needs a cardigan in the summer. It’s clear that you are wearing your sleeves up to be provocative, and that is never a gentlemanly trait. Normally I have regard for your opinion, but in this, none.
    If only you weren’t wearing the cardigan, then your point would have merit. You don’t look gay (how silly!) you look foolish.

    June 28, 2010
  7. Dale,

    The cardigan is not ‘woolen’, it is of cotton and the reason I wore it was because, as I had stated, the “weather was so decidedly undecided”; it was sunny, but when cloudy it was rather cool and blustery. I rolled the sleeves up as my forearms are not the part of my body that needs protection and it was rather nice to occasionally feel the sun on them. It was by no means a hot day, but it was a day on which the sun did occasionally shine.

    “It’s clear that you are wearing your sleeves up to be provocative”

    How you can conclude this from the photograph is beyond me. If I could wear those layers of clothing and feel utterly comfortable, what business is it of anyone else to castigate and say that I don’t need a cardigan in Britain? And that I am being ungentlemanly by doing so? It sounds preposterous.

    June 28, 2010
  8. Patrick said:

    Okay, I remember they were playing Out of Africa on tv last week, and so I just remembering how people were dressed, so i figure i might see it there. and indeed, Robert Redford does roll up the sleeves on his safari jacket while still wearing a waistcoat
    though he doesn’t roll it up to the elbow, and it because it’s still loose, it just looks more comfortable and functional.

    June 28, 2010
  9. Dale said:

    Oh dear, I never said it was ungentlemanly to wear a cardigan in Britain, in the summer or at any other time. You seem to take this far too much to heart. I said that it was ungentlemanly to be so provocative. The point of being a gentleman is to be discreet and set your companions and colleagues at ease in your company. If you had decided upon this configuration of dress in order to stimulate (or provoke) comments or conversation upon the nature of rolled up sleeves versus unadulterated sleeves, then I am vindicated in my opinion, if, however, we see the result of a happy accident, then I apologise for my obvious error.
    Perhaps a linen jacket would have been even more comfortable as I can attest from travelling in the Mediterranean and also in the United States at the height of summer. Good Irish linen of a suitable mid-heavy weight also offers enough thermal inertia to keep one warm if the Sun were to abscond for a cheeky smoke behind the bike-sheds.
    In any case I never meant to be rude or to offend, so I hope you can take my comments in the good spirit they were despatched in.

    June 28, 2010
  10. “If you had decided upon this configuration of dress in order to stimulate (or provoke) comments or conversation upon the nature of rolled up sleeves versus unadulterated sleeves”

    Not at all. I did not do so to provoke comments from friends or even mere passers by. My friends’ reactions are simply a sign of our times.

    June 28, 2010
  11. Agnieszka said:


    I see nothing ungentlemanly in stimulating (or provoking) conversation about one’s appearance. It’s a very narrow definition of gentlemanliness. And boring one.

    June 28, 2010
  12. Jim said:

    I think the rolling of the sleeves here is just too much because we see both the cardigan and shirt underneath. It would be fine without the rolled sleeves, or if the sleeves were rolled so as not to expose the cardigan and shirt. As it is it all looks a little studied. Maybe you’d get away with this rolling of the sleeves with an open neck and without a bow tie.

    That said, it might work better in real life than the photo, and I wouldn’t discourage experimentation but I can understand why people have their doubts about this look.

    June 28, 2010
  13. What’s your take on showing the jacket’s lining when rolled up? Or should the rolled up shirt cover the rolled lining?

    July 4, 2010
  14. Michael,

    I don’t think it should matter. A little lining might be an unavoidable consequence of rolling sleeves, or it might not be. I think the rolled up shirt normally covers it to secure the sleeves in place.

    Either way, I don’t think one should be too precious about it.



    July 6, 2010

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