For formality's sake, keep your sleeves down

United States Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan stating his case for a new healthcare plan with sleeves rolled up.
United States Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan stating his case for a new healthcare plan with sleeves rolled up.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • In hotter weather, a young - or older - man's fancy turns to rolling up his sleeves.

Fashion etiquette makes it acceptable to roll them up to just below the elbow for added ventilation. Or above the elbow when faced with manual labour.

Rolled-up sleeves are also an antidote to the dreaded short-sleeved business shirt, which can make you look like Michael Douglas in the 1993 movie, Falling Down, albeit without the semi-automatic.

But even those sleeve-rollers among men have to admit that it is a tricky look to pull off, as United States Speaker Paul Ryan reminded people in March when he rolled out his case for a new healthcare plan.

Dispensing with a jacket, he stood before members of the news media with his sleeves almost to his elbows.

Mr Ryan did not look as awkward as he did in the famous cringe-worthy photo that shows him in his gym-rat attire, complete with a backward baseball cap, which made him look like the world's last fan of rap-rock band Limp Bizkit.

But the combination of his PowerPoint presentation and his down- to-business sleeves statement unleashed a slew of Internet barbs and memes.

Weeks later, in a counter news conference to criticise the proposed healthcare act, Senator Chris Murphy tweeted, "I might even roll up my sleeves", and then, he did just that.

Mastering the roll-up can be more challenging than properly knotting a necktie.

Some opt for the most basic but least comfortable approach: turning the cuff over and over until they hit the elbow.

Less constricting and easiest to undo, according to the website Real Men Real Style, is the "master roll".

You pull the sleeve end to the elbow, keep it in place with a finger under the fabric and then cup it around the cuff.

US President Donald Trump favours roomy suits and long red ties - his personal armour.

John F. Kennedy, arguably the US' most stylish president, looked good in a suit and also showed mastery of the furled-sleeves look during his down time at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

But as Mr Ryan demonstrated, seemingly every politician who has appropriated the look since has served only to soil its image (if not the shirt itself).

While running for president, Mr John Kerry (in 2004) and Mr Mitt Romney (in 2012) favoured the same look, which only gave them the appearance of stodgy bosses trying hard to bond with their employees.

"Rolled-up sleeves are fine if you're sitting down with a bunch of folk and working something out late in the day," said Joe Navarro, author of What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide To Speed-Reading People.

"But if you're making a formal statement, that requires formality."

Regarding Mr Ryan's recent moment, Navarro added: "A leader is supposed to look like one.

"Instead, it looks like he's working hard at perception management."

Outside the spheres of business and politics, men are rolling up their sleeves for style or comfort.

In the recent La La Land movie, Ryan Gosling went with the look while tap-dancing in Hollywood Hills.

Last summer, after receiving feedback from soldiers, the US Army said its troops could roll up their sleeves in "temperate environments".

The Marines instituted a similar reversal of fashion policy in 2014.

As army sergeant major Dan Dailey told The Army Times: "It came up, we discussed it and the chief said: 'Hey, it doesn't hurt anybody and it doesn't cost anything.'"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'For formality's sake, keep your sleeves down'. Print Edition | Subscribe