Metal Arm Bands

Words by: Andrew Williams


Not so long ago I confessed to an unexpected appreciation for sock suspenders. Perhaps confirming my gallop towards middle age I now find myself desiring a set of arm bands -like those in the picture, sported by Robert Redford.

Designed for a grubbier age, when even putting pen to paper meant the ruin of a shirt with ink stains, armbands were an invaluable money saving aid to the lowly blue collar worker. Therefore on the face of it my choice might appear at best old fashioned and worst pedestrian. But I have a deep love for old world male kit, as I demonstrated when I wrote about my use of a cigarette case.

The most beautiful items of male apparel are those that perfectly combine function with form. In my view arm bands fit that description. At the same time discrete with the jacket on, once you’ve removed your jacket they permeate workman like purpose and practicality.

You might argue, as friends of mine have done, that by having your shirts made you don’t need such items, your sleeve lengths should be exact; that being the case they are pointless, pretentious even. That isn’t necessarily so.

To begin with, if you have your shirts made of English cotton then it won’t be pre-washed and therefore pre-shrunk. This means that, unlike Italian cotton which is pre-washed, it shrinks to a greater degree. Of course your shirt maker ought to compensate for this, and will likely make up one shirt and after several washes make up the remainder of the batch. Even so, shrinkage is hardly an exact science.  Personally, I find that even pre-washed cotton shrinks over time and always ask my shirt maker to cut my sleeves on the long side, particularly so in the case of Oxford cottons. But that only applies to the few shirts I have made. The majority of my purchases are off-the-peg (and likely to remain so), in which case I err on the side of caution by buying longer sleeve lengths. As shrinkage happens over time the arm band will allow me to adjust my sleeve length accordingly. This possibility for adjustment is particularly useful with a wardrobe of off-the-peg suits and jackets. Different makers and different cuts make the long, medium and short options of jacketing inexact.

On a purely aesthetic note, arm bands accentuate the biceps by both drawing attention to them and allowing the cloth to billow. Not something I’d be opposed to.