Men’s style has plenty of unwritten “rules”. What’s worse is that these rules keep changing as you move from one era to the next. The question is, can you wear a short sleeve shirt with a suit?
It’s generally not acceptable to wear a short sleeve shirt with a suit unless the weather was hot enough to make it essential. The combination looks old-fashioned. It also makes the suit jacket look too small as the shirt sleeves won’t extend beyond the jacket’s sleeves.
Although that’s the short answer, there’s more to it.
After going through the main reasons why you shouldn’t do it, I’ll give you a few tips to see you through if you had to do it.
3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Wear A Short Sleeve Shirt With A Suit
These should make it pretty clear why it’s usually best to ditch this combination and go for a long sleeve shirt instead.
1. It Looks Obvious
One mistake that people make is assuming that others won’t be able to tell that they’re wearing a short sleeve shirt under their suit jacket.
After all, you can only really see the shirt collar, placket, buttons, and front.
But this isn’t true.
While you can’t see the sleeves of a short sleeve shirt under a suit jacket, this is exactly what makes it so obvious.
The sleeves of a long sleeve shirt should extend beyond the sleeves of the jacket by ¼ to ½ of an inch.
Not being able to see the shirt sleeve extend beyond the jacket sleeve will make it clear that you’re either wearing a long sleeve shirt that’s too small for you, or you’re wearing a short sleeve shirt.
The same effect is relevant when wearing a short-sleeve shirt with a blazer – I’ve written separately about that.
2. It Looks Old-Fashioned
It’s pretty common to see men in business suits and short sleeve dress shirts in old movies.
The trouble is, times have changed.
It’s no longer considered fashionable. In fact, there are those that go as far as to say it isn’t even acceptable anymore.
While you probably wouldn’t draw too much ridicule, it would still be hard to call it fashionable.
Wearing a short sleeve shirt under a suit just looks old-fashioned.
It’s important to bear this in mind if you were ever thinking of going for this combination.
Short-sleeve shirts are always a source of controversy in men’s style. It can be hard to determine what dress code they’d really be suitable for. I’ve written about dress codes and short-sleeve shirts separately if you wanted to dig deeper.
3. It Makes The Jacket Look Too Small
This goes back to the sleeves themselves.
Having only your wrists visible under your suit jacket sleeves makes it seem as though the jacket is too small.
Almost like you bought the suit jacket at a time when it did fit you, but you’ve gone through a growth spurt in adulthood for some reason.
But it’s actually just an illusion.
The suit jacket itself may fit you perfectly. It’s the fact that the shirt sleeves don’t extend beyond the jacket sleeves.
That’s what causes the problem and there’s really no way around it.
3 Tips For Wearing Short Sleeve Shirts With Suits (If You Had To)
Now that we’ve gone through the reasons why it’s usually not a good idea, here’s a rundown of some tips to help you pull it off (if you had to do it).
1. Make Sure It’s Warm Enough
If you’re going to wear a short sleeve shirt with a suit, it needs to be warm enough for it to make sense.
At the end of the day, there’s no real style benefit to doing it. You’d be much better off wearing a long sleeve dress shirt or OCBD, for example, because it just looks better.
But wearing a short sleeve shirt with a suit may be acceptable if it was very hot outside. If this was the case, you could make the argument that it serves a functional purpose.
You’re just trying to keep cool and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This is especially relevant in warm business offices where style may not be your priority in any case.
But if it’s not that warm outside, you really don’t have much of an excuse. A long sleeve shirt would look better and would also make more functional sense.
2. Keep It Casual
Wearing a short sleeve shirt with a casual suit often looks better than it does with a formal suit.
Casual suits have certain features that make them look more casual:
- Lighter colors
- Natural shoulders with less padding
- Fabric is less shiny and wrinkles easier (eg. linen, tweed, flannel)
- Suit pants often have no break
These types of suits generally work better with short sleeve shirts. More formal and traditional suits will generally work better with long sleeve dress shirts.
When wearing a casual suit, you’ve got more freedom and flexibility when it comes to the style, fabric, and color of your short sleeve shirt.
You could consider shirts in brighter and bolder colors or more rugged fabrics like Oxford cloth, linen, or even denim.
Of course, if you are wearing a short sleeve shirt with a more traditional business suit, the shirt itself should be more neutral and resemble a dress shirt.
3. Make Sure It Fits
It’s notoriously difficult to get a good fit with a short sleeve shirt but it’s even more important when wearing a suit jacket over it.
It’s common for them to look loose and baggy but this rarely ever looks good with a suit.
Make sure the shirt fits close but not tight. There should be minimal creasing and pulling.
In general, it’s best for the sleeves to stop just before the elbows and shouldn’t appear too wide. You don’t want any excess shirt bulk making the suit jacket bulge.
Finally, if you intend on tucking the shirt in, make sure the hem is long enough before you try to do so.
If you’re wearing a business suit, you’ll need to tuck the shirt in. But many short sleeve shirts aren’t designed to be tucked in – the hem simply isn’t long enough.
It should be clear just from looking at the length of the hem whether or not the shirt was designed for tucking in or not.
Get this wrong and you’ll find the shirt untucking itself throughout the course of the day.
If you’re wearing a casual suit, you could potentially get away with an untucked short sleeve shirt. But doing so with a shirt that was designed for tucking in (i.e with a long hem) will look awkward and out of place.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a couple of frequently asked questions on the topic to really round things off.
Can You Wear A Suit Vest With A Short Sleeve Shirt?
A suit vest can be worn with a short sleeve shirt, as long as the fabric of the shirt is formal enough to make it work. It’s a good way to make a simple-looking shirt appear dressier.
The combination actually works surprisingly well in warmer weather.
It looks more mature than wearing a full suit with a short sleeve shirt.
Ultimately, wearing a short-sleeve shirt with a waistcoat needs to be done in the right way.
Can You Wear A Short Sleeve Shirt And Suit To A Wedding?
In general, a short sleeve shirt and suit combination would not be a good choice for a wedding unless the weather was hot enough to make it acceptable. It’ll look old-fashioned and awkward.
If you want to dig deeper into wearing short-sleeve shirts to weddings, check out that article.
But the bottom line here is that even if the weather was very warm, you’ve got better, more fashionable alternatives.
If the dress code wasn’t “formal”, you could wear a casual linen suit with a breathable, long-sleeve OCBD shirt.
Another smart-casual option would be a long sleeve dress shirt, a blazer (that you can take off as soon as you arrive), and a lightweight pair of chinos.
More formal summer weddings are a little bit trickier. If the weather was truly very hot, you could potentially get away with a short sleeve shirt and suit pairing.
It won’t be the most stylish option, but it would probably be the most comfortable.
Can You Wear A Short Sleeve Shirt With A Suit And A Tie?
Yes, you can wear a short-sleeved shirt with a suit and a tie. Go for a shirt with a more formal collar (eg. a spread or point collar) and choose a tie with a wider knot (eg. Windsor or half-Windsor).
A short-sleeve shirt will inevitably look more casual than a long-sleeve alternative.
What you want to do is dress the shirt and tie up and dress the suit down to avoid a formality mismatch.
So, go for a more casual suit – a lightweight cotton or linen suit would work well during the warm summer months when a short-sleeve shirt becomes tempting.
If you’re interested, I’ve written about wearing short-sleeve shirts with ties and even with bow ties in separate articles.
Can You Wear A Patterned Short Sleeve Shirt With A Suit?
It’s definitely possible to wear a patterned short sleeve shirt with a suit, but it’s important to choose the right pattern and color to prevent the combination from becoming overwhelming or too attention-grabbing.
Ultimately, a short-sleeve shirt is already more likely to draw attention than a more traditional long-sleeve shirt. Loud patterns and colors are only going to draw even more attention.
So, go for a small check or stripe pattern and go for a neutral color – white, off-white, grey, or light blue would be good options.
In addition, try to keep the suit just as understated to prevent the combination from coming across as excessive or flamboyant.
There you have it. Hopefully, everything you could ever want to know about a rarely discussed, yet important topic.
You now know that it’s generally not a good idea to go for this combination, but there are some simple tips you can follow to make it work if you had to.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.