Short sleeve button up shirts and polos… they get a bad rap, man. I think that’s mostly because the nerds and dorks who wear them in TV shows and movies wear them all wrong.
The fit is off, the color is off, the length is off… everything is wrong.
But in warm weather, short sleeve shirts are a life-saver! Especially if you run hot, like myself.
In this article, we’re gonna cover every detail about how a short sleeve button up shirt and polo shirt should fit.
Let’s get into it!
By the way, click on any of the fit images below to enlarge in a new tab (for a more detailed view!)
HOW SHOULD A SHORT SLEEVE SHIRT FIT OVERALL?
Overall, your short sleeve button-up shirt should fit slim, but not too tight.
“How do I know if my shirt is slim, but not too tight?” I hear you ask.
Try the sit down test. When trying on a new shirt, button it up like you normally would, and then sit down in a chair.
It should feel as comfortable (and have enough give) sitting down as it is while standing. The buttons shouldn’t be pulling apart; the shirt shouldn’t be stretching like spandex on your torso.
If, while sitting, you can pull the shirt away from your belly area about 1” or so (pretend it’s a hot day and you’re trying to get some airflow) then you’re good.
By the way, the short sleeve shirts you see in these photos are from Peter Manning. PMNYC is a long-time partner of EG and I’m psyched to have their short-sleevers as the perfect example of a well-fitting short sleeve shirt in this article.
If you haven’t come across PMNYC yet and you’re a shorter / smaller guy, you’ve probably run into the issue of clothing proportions being off somehow… Whether it’s:
- the shirt hem being too long
- the sleeves being too long & wide
- or the pockets being too big and low on your shirts and pants
PMNYC as a brand is the perfect fit for a “not so tall” effortless gent looking to build his Lean Wardrobe. They make modern, proportionately-sized versions of menswear classics. Each piece is thoughtfully designed and well made using high quality fabrics.
How your shirt fits at the shoulder is, arguably, the most important thing when it comes to fit.
Similarly to a suit, the shoulder seam needs to sit right on top of your shoulder bone. Get as close as possible.
If your shirt is too big, the shoulder seam hangs off your shoulder bone and down your arm a bit.
If your shirt is too small, the shoulder seam rides up on your traps / collarbone, which causes the sleeve to fit weird. Most likely the shirt is just too small in general, so if you’re noticing this in the fitting room, size up.
HEM OR BODY LENGTH
In order to wear a short sleeve shirt (or any shirt, really) untucked, the hem shouldn’t go too far past your belt and the waistband of your pants. So right where your waist starts to curve outward to form your bum? The shirt should end there.
If the hem goes past mid-butt, it can start to look sloppy worn untucked.
Opposite problem if the hem is too short. Like if the hem hits too close to the waistband, whenever you put your arms up or raise the roof at a dance party, your shirt will rise up and your stomach will be exposed, so…
If the shirt’s hem sits right under your chest and your midriff is showing, then you’re wearing a crop top shirt. Take that off, immediately.
Imagine a line drawn from your shoulder bone to your elbow… bone. You want the hem of your sleeve to end right in the middle (or at the peak of your bicep if you lift your arm to flex ??
If the sleeve hem hits before mid-bicep, it’s too short, and you might get an armpit wedgie.
Past mid-bicep, closer to your elbow? Also bad. Too long and will look off, proportionally.
I often cuff my short sleeve shirts when they’re too long. So that’s an easy solution if yours hit too far down on your arm.
Point being: keep your sleeve hems close to the middle of your arm!
Your sleeve should hug your arm. Not too tight, but more like a gentle hug. If you can fit a finger in between your sleeve and the skin on your arm, that’s comfortable territory.
Sleeves shouldn’t be too tight, of course, because that would be uncomfortable.
And if they’re too loose (like if you can fit your whole hand in between your sleeve and your arm) the sleeves will flare out and generally look terrible.
Cuffing your sleeve (see above) can sometimes help if they’re only slightly wider than you’d like, so give that a try. Otherwise, go with a different shirt.
A shirt’s silhouette can be a tough thing to evaluate. You want to look at the overall fit of the shirt, yes, but also how that shirt is cut.
Here’s the thing. Some shirts are meant to be looser, more billowy, and more boxy. Think of the aloha shirt with the camp collar.
When I wear a shirt with a looser silhouette, I make sure my pants or shorts are slim and trim. That helps to offset the loose and flowy silhouette of the shirt.
Does that make sense?
You might not have to worry about this just yet, as it’s more of an “advanced” style thing, but it’s something to keep in mind.
“WHAT IF MY SHIRT DOESN’T FIT PERFECTLY EVERYWHERE?”
You may end up with a shirt that fits OK in some places, but not others. For example:
- The shirt fits in the body, but the sleeves are too long
- The shirt fits in the shoulders, but is too loose in the body
- The shirt fits fine but the sleeves are too long / wide
And on and on.
You have to pick and choose your battles. Ideally, your shirt fits perfectly in all the areas I pointed out above… but sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way.
Maybe your body isn’t perfectly designed for the shirt you’re wearing, or the brand makes clothes that are more skinny fit or more traditional fit, etc.
Could be a number of reasons.
This is the order of importance, as far as fit is concerned, if you can’t have it all:
- Shoulders – if the shoulder seam doesn’t sit on top of your shoulder bone, chances are the rest of the shirt won’t fit correctly either
- Sleeve width – this is hard to fake. If it’s too loose (often the case) then you can’t make it smaller without tailoring, which is a pain. If it’s too tight, then it will be uncomfortable
- Body – generally, shirts that fit well in the shoulders tend to fit the body. The silhouette may be boxier, or it may be more slim, but you’ll have to try on the shirt to find out. Typically, you wear short sleeve shirts in the warmer months, and in my opinion, it’s OK if the body is a bit looser (allows for more airflow and I don’t like when my shirts stick to my body when it’s hot)
- Shirt length – Usually a good french tuck / half tuck solves the problem when the shirt is only a tad too long. If it’s way too long, like covering more than half your butt in the back, then tuck it in, or don’t wear that shirt at all
- Sleeve length – As long as the sleeve width is fine, you can easily cuff the hem so the sleeve is shorter
HOW SHOULD POLO SHIRTS FIT?
Polo shirts should fit the same way I described short sleeve button-up shirts, so simply follow those fit guidelines.
A few things you want to pay attention to:
How your polo shirt drapes
Overall, yes, your polo shirt should fit slim and not tight. But keep in mind the drape of a polo shirt can be different from a button-up.
That’s because the fabric is different. Typically, polos are made with a softer, lighter knit fabric (pique, almost like a waffle texture, or jersey cotton, like a T-shirt, are some examples).
Button-up shirts are generally made from a heavier-weight, woven fabric, which lends more structure to the shirt, meaning it doesn’t hug every curve of your body like a polo shirt can.
So if you aren’t super slim and trim, and maybe you have some excess weight you’d rather not put on display, it’s OK if your shirt is slightly looser (but still slim overall… I don’t want you wearing a shirt the size of a garbage bag).
Traditional polo shirts have a longer back hem compared to the front.
These are designed to be tucked in, and if the back tail is more than halfway down your butt, it’s too long to be worn untucked.
NOW YOU KNOW HOW YOUR SHORT SLEEVE SHIRTS SHOULD FIT!