In spring, a young — or older — man’s fancy turns to rolling up his sleeves.
Fashion etiquette makes it acceptable to roll them just below the elbow for added ventilation or above the elbow when faced with manual labor. For some of us, skin sensitivity issues play a role. I’m still recovering from the day my mother accidentally tossed one of my favorite long-sleeve shirts into a washing machine with some drapes. Neither of us realized it, but my shirt became flecked with fiberglass, making me itch all day in school, and part of me was scarred for life, if not literally.
Rolled-up sleeves are also an antidote to the dreaded short-sleeve business shirt, which can make you look like Michael Douglas in “Falling Down,” albeit without the semiautomatic.
But even those sleeve-rollers among us have to admit it’s a tricky look to pull off, as Speaker Paul D. Ryan reminded us in March when he rolled out his case for a new health care plan. Dispensing with a jacket, he stood before members of the news media with his sleeves almost to his elbows.
Mr. Ryan didn’t 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 Limp Bizkit fan. 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 criticize the proposed health care act, Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, 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 of us opt for the most basic but least comfortable approach: turning the cuff over and over until you hit elbow. Less constricting and easiest to undo, according to the website Real Men Real Style, is the “master roll”: pull the sleeve end to the elbow, keep it in place with a finger under the fabric and cup it around the cuff.
President Trump favors roomy suits and long red ties — his personal armor. John F. Kennedy, arguably our most stylish president, looked good in a suit and also showed mastery of the furled-sleeves look during his down time at Hyannis Port, Mass. But as Mr. Ryan demonstrated, seemingly every politician who has appropriated the look since has only served to soil its image (if not the shirt itself).
When Howard Dean blurted out his infamous “scream” during the 2004 campaign, guess how he wore his sleeves? While running for president, John Kerry and Mitt Romney favored 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 folks 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, Mr. 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 “La La Land,” Ryan Gosling went with the look while tap-dancing in the Hollywood Hills, and last summer, after receiving feedback from soldiers, the United States Army announced that its troops could roll up their sleeves in “temperate environments.” (The Marines instituted a similar reversal of fashion policy in 2014.) As Dan Dailey, sergeant major of the Army, told The Army Times: “It came up, we discussed it, and the Chief said, ‘Hey, it doesn’t hurt anybody, it doesn’t cost anything.’”
Even Uncle Sam wants you … to roll.