Dress for Success: Leave Your Short Sleeve Dress Shirts Home

The weather is starting to get warm. That means summer is around the corner, along with even higher temperatures. It’s time to put away your snow boots and get out your swim trunks. But there is one item that you can leave in storage this summer: the short sleeve dress shirt. I know it’s tempting. I’ve been there myself. Maybe you have a few of these short sleeve gems sitting in your closet. It’s eighty-five degrees outside, and the air conditioning in your office barely works. You think to yourself:

I’m wearing a suit jacket. Nobody will ever know. I will be so much more comfortable. What’s the difference, anyway?

There is most definitely a difference. First of all, your shirt should fit so that a small part of the sleeve peeks out from the end of the suit. It will definitely be noticeable in your short sleeves when there is no shirt coming out the end of your suit. But wearing a short sleeve dress shirt with a full suit is probably the best possible option. It’s possible, albeit unlikely, that people won’t notice. What happens when you need to take off your jacket though? Or maybe you’re actually contemplating just rocking the shirt with no jacket.

Don’t do it.

You will end up looking like an airline attendant. Or you may look like everyone’s favorite Assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight Schrute. Neither look will motivate clients or potential clients to take you seriously.

This post goes beyond vanity. As an attorney your image is not just your own. When you step into court you represent a client, and your image becomes theirs. In a meeting with opposing counsel, taking the time to dress well gives off a better message than looking like the office funny guy. We know that as an attorney it’s important to sweat the small stuff. Your outfit is one of those things you should put thought into in order to make sure you are giving off the right message.


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  • Susan Gainen

    Business Casual in all of its forms has always been fraught with peril. While your office may be “casual,” one or more of your clients may expect to see both men and women in suits. When a senior lawyer pops (usually) his head into your office to invite you to court or to a client lunch or meeting, he may quickly change his mind if you don’t look “meeting-ready.”

    Age matters: Very young attorneys may need The Full Suit to project appropriate gravitas.

    Local unwritten rules matter: Bare legs may be an issue because there are courts which operate on a presumption of hosiery, and (yes, in 2011) some judges still take a dim view of pantsuits.

  • My colleagues and I are literally “sweating the small stuff” by wearing long-sleeved shirts in these Florida summers. But I agree, the attorney’s image translates to the client and the firm in general. It’s best to be a little uncomfortable for the sake of looking professional in this case.

  • I don’t think it’s a question of professionalism or business casual – it’s really just basic fashion sense. Right up there with polyester wash-and-wear dress shirts. Besides, the rolled-up sleeves look works pretty much year round. No one’s going to criticize someone who rolls up his sleeves and carries his suit jacket on a hot day. Just don’t roll ’em up past your elbows.

  • Mike

    Leave the short sleeve dress shirts at home?

    I’d go further. There’s no reason to even own a short sleeve dress shirt unless your job also involves pocket pen protectors.

    Roll up your sleeves, go with a stylish golf shirt, whatever.

  • David Colls

    I think Eric has hit the nail on the head.

  • There is no such thing as a “short-sleeved dress shirt”. If you want style, go with an English spread-collar and French cuffed (meaning cufflinks are needed). If more old-school or casual (interesting mix?), then the Brooks Brothers button-down is the original. J. Press is good too. I agree with rolling up your sleeves: I do it all the time. Think about it: Atticus Finch lived and worked in the Deep South. There was no AC. He always wore a suit and rarely took off his jacket.

  • Raziaar

    How absolutely ridiculous. You wouldn’t take somebody seriously because they’re wearing a short sleeve shirt? Continue enjoying your fashion conformity.

  • Lee Baker

    Hey guys! A little late with this and not a lawyer. (IT professional — probably just as much education.) You are so right about the short sleeve dress shirt, especially the Oxford type with a tie. Just can’t do it. It’s the aesthetics after all. Man up in that heat! Also, roll up those sleeves. It makes you look like a ‘rolled up your sleeves’ kind of guy. (Most people pick up on the clue.) I think too of the Chinese foot binding practice. It also made for a little discomfort, but oh the sex appeal! It’s all in your priorities, right?

    I also like paying $50+, on sale, for a swell fitting shirt and have the elbows tear after the third wearing. I’ve gone through about 20 of those the last couple years, and consider it a corporate contribution.

    A final thought on the aesthetics of dress: I enjoy the portraits of Velazquez, traveling whenever I can to see the real thing. These paintings have been pretty much of an artistic constant for the last 350 or so years. But have you ever noticed that no one ever DRESSES that way anymore?

    Well gotta go. Keep up the appearances!