- Mar 13, 2006
- Reaction score
PART of what drives men's fashion is the urge to emulate "” in clothing, if not career choices "” those inspired heroes of the 1960's and 70's. Skinny jeans and worn T-shirts recall the staccato punk soul of Joey Ramone. Zip-front ski cardigans conjure James Bond's jet-fueled alpine exploits. The leather cafe racer jacket: pure Steve McQueen. Little wonder the short-sleeved dress shirt can't get any respect. Unlike clothes that have rubbed elbows with supercool characters, the short-sleeved shirt is the Dilbert of men's wear, redolent of rocket scientists and substitute teachers. Think Ron Howard doing the right thing on "Happy Days," Jack Webb of "Dragnet" barbecuing on his day off or, worse, Homer Simpson living the nuclear-family dream. Even the charismatic crew of "The Right Stuff" could not make the look take off. But just as nerdy retro-inspired glasses have become a fashion staple, the shirt is rolling up its invisible sleeves to get into the fashion fray. Young and fashionable men's wear designers "” Marc Jacobs, Thom Browne, Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders, Alexander McQueen, Michael Bastian "” see the short-sleeved dress shirt as an indispensable part of summer 2006. "I think they're really looking cool again," Mr. Bastian said. "It feeds into that 60's variation on clean, preppy style." He even cited an antihero model: Benjamin Braddock, the tormented alumnus of "The Graduate" (1967). Still, it is not an easy pitch to get across the plate. "It's a particular look," said Michael Macko, the men's fashion director at Saks. "You can look very cool in it, but you're never going to be chic. It's easy to slide into schlumpy office worker." He cited an anti-antihero: Dwight Schrute, the laser-tag-happy loser on "The Office." That said, Mr. Macko predicts the look "” call it loser with an edge "” will be even bigger next summer. "This is just the beginning," he said. "I'm seeing a return to classic madras short-sleeved shirts. It's very 'My Three Sons.' " If fashion people are conflicted, many men are not. Short sleeves? Um, no. "You look like a third grader," said Bradley Giddens, who works for a pharmaceutical company's sales division in Manhattan. Mr. Giddens was appalled to find that his favorite British shirtmaker, Thomas Pink, makes shirts with short sleeves. "No one is going to take you seriously," he said. "You think if you wore one of these into a sales meeting you would walk away with a sale?" Then, too, there are some thorny economics. Short-sleeved shirts are almost as expensive to produce as normal shirts, so they are not cheap. Yet men expect to pay much less for them. But fashion is always happiest when it is having a bit of fun at the expense of convention. Last summer Steven Klein shot a portfolio for W with Brad Pitt as a short-sleeved Sun Belt dad burdened with a bored wife and four towheads. As Mr. Pitt neatly demonstrated, this wholly square fashion load works best when it is offset by a trim physique and tailoring to match. "You can't have a belly "” that's totally Dilbert "” and you should have some tone to your arms," said Mr. Sternberg, whose line includes the celery-thin shirts and ties that have become a favorite of natty-dressing indie rockers like Beck. Designers have also tried to sex up the shirt a bit. In the past the sleeves, shortened versions of long sleeves, were big and blousy. This leaves even gym-grown biceps looking spindly. (And what guy is going to let all those curls go to waste?) Mr. Sternberg, like other designers, has trimmed the arms and cut the torso close to the body for a sharper fit. Not only is the cut more flattering, it also lends the silhouette a nerdy uprightness. As such, Mr. Sternberg noted, "it looks best freshly starched, like it's right out of the box." And though it is a summer shirt, it looks best neat, trim and, above all else, tucked into pants. For men who want to look youthful and professional, the style is a way to dress colorfully while wearing a plain dress shirt. "They're less serious, if you're not in a staid business environment," said Daniel Estes, an interior designer in Manhattan. "I think of the Mormon evangelicals with their white short-sleeved shirts. There's something wholesome about them even while it's square. And there's something about playing it up that makes it not square it all." In other words, as Mr. Macko stressed, "It has to be worn with the right amount of irony." That means an old-school tie (in a skinny solid, a rep stripe or madras "” nothing too flashy), a pair of neat trousers (khakis, pastel poplin slacks or plaid pants "” and not jeans) and, of course, thick black glasses. And if you want the perfect accessory, you are in luck: Prada makes a T square.