Five Ways to Wear One: The Short-Sleeve Button-Down Shirt

by Beau Hayhoe  |  in Smart Casual

With summer quickly on the way (or already underway) in earnest for much of the country, it’s time to give a shot in the arm to your summer style.

Although a well-fitting polo shirt is a classic style move that’ll keep you cool and appropriately dressed wherever you go, it’s always wise to keep a few different warm-weather style moves in your arsenal.

Particularly in recent months (like the recent Channing Tatum issue of GQ), short-sleeve shirts are being trumpeted for having made a return to the forefront of the #menswear game.

And rightfully so — short-sleeve button-front shirts, especially in a fabric with some depth, like chambray, bring some visual interest and a bit more crispness to your rotation of warm-weather gear, while working equally well with denim, shorts or chinos.

When a place like Old Navy sells them by the bunches in a few different colors and at low, low prices, it’s tough not to stock up. And these outfits could (with perhaps a few color tweaks of supporting pieces), work with any of the options on their site.

Read on for tips on how to make it work for you:

Finding the Right Fit

chambrayAs with any style essential, the first and most important key is making the fit work for you. Treat a short-sleeve button-down shirt like a polo shirt — make sure the fit is streamlined through the body (I.e. no excess fabric billowing at the waist if the shirt is tucked in).

It’s also important to make sure the shirt is short enough in the front and the tail to wear untucked, as this shirt will be worn in largely casual situations. And moving up the arms, the sleeves should hit mid-bicep, not longer.

The sleeves shouldn’t be overly tight by any means, but if you’ve been hitting the gym, showing a little extra bulk might be OK — kind of like a certain style icon.

Caring for Your Shirt

Caring for a fabric like chambray isn’t necessarily as complicated as it might seem. A good rule of thumb would be to wash this shirt in cold water with like colors, and then hang-dry (a shirt might shrink if put in the dryer, potentially). If you’re prone to sweating, more washing in between wears might in fact be necessary.

From personal experience, throwing a chambray shirt — like the Old Navy option — in the wash won’t lead to any fading or discoloring when washed following the above directions.

Now, onto the outfits:

1. Cool Summer Casual


This outfit here is quite simple — and yet also versatile. The chambray shirt is more dressed up and polished-looking than even a pocket t-shirt might be, so this combination could work for everything from a cooler evening on your own patio or attending an early summer barbeque to grabbing some drinks with friends.

And although there’s some debate about the feasibility of pairing ‘denim-on-denim’, this look works because it’s inherently casual — wear the shirt tucked or un-tucked to mix up the vibe.

Throw in a casual belt in a nice webbed cotton, like the option above, and round out the summertime vibe with some brown loafers (this outfit could be made even more casual by picking up those same Weejuns loafers in suede).

If you want to draw attention away from the whole chambray-on-denim contrast, a patterned watch strap is a subtle yet smart way to mix up your accessories.

2. Casual Day at the Office


The outfit combination shown above mixes a couple of different principles: the casual, visually interesting wash of the chambray shirt, a slim, office-ready silhouette in a neutral palette with the grey slim chinos, and some sharper contrast between casual and dressy between the braided leather belt and suede double-monk strap shoes. But it works for the same reasons.

The chambray shirt, when tucked in and in the correct fit, acts just like a polo shirt would on a Casual Friday, yet it’s a more diversified style move. A pair of slim grey trousers, especially in a lighter shade, sticks with the lighter colors we see in the summer.

In terms of accessories, a braided leather belt is just as ‘summery’ as a webbed cotton belt, because it’s inherently more casual. And it’s tied together by the double-monk strap shoes — perhaps the biggest trend to hit men’s footwear in quite some time, yet made more summer-appropriate thanks to the casual suede material.

On a personal note, the suede double-monk strap shoes require a little more care because of the material, but they’ve held up just fine walking significant amounts throughout the day.

3. Ready to Rock


This is certainly one of the more fashion-forward looks in this group of outfits, but let’s say you feel like living dangerously for a night, or are going to an edgier bar or a summer rock concert. This outfit pushes the envelope a bit, but does so in a way that’s clean and crisp.

The black jeans and black Chelsea boots exude a slick rocker vibe that stars have utilized back to the days of Mick Jagger, and the chambray-on-denim combination works again here because of the contrast between the two washes.

The Chelsea boots are also a little lighter-weight than a sturdier pair of black boots, and when wearing jeans in the summer, any excess weight in an outfit should be cut out.

If some more contrast is needed between the various pieces of the outfit, some socks with a pop of color could be just the missing ingredient to add in.

4. Out in the Sun


This outfit could easily become a go-to summer weekend get-up if the temperatures stay warm, but a lightweight Harrington jacket could quickly be thrown on over the ensemble if it gets a bit breezy in the evenings.

Utilizing a dusty pair of red shorts in just the right fit works because that faded red isn’t as loud as other colors, and it isn’t necessarily as plain as a tan khaki short (although those would work here, as well). Note the fit on the shorts, too — although popular opinion indicates that shorts are indeed getting shorter, the length on these should be just right for most.

The red of the shorts and the blue of the chambray shirt do contrast nicely when it comes to color as well, but feel free to swap out here for the light blue chambray option, or maybe even the grey chambray from Old Navy.

In terms of accessories, the outfit’s more casual vibe is kept in check by the webbed cotton belt and simple grey sneakers. On your wrist, a simple, clean Timex Weekender with a colorful strap would finish off the outfit nicely.

5. A Day at the Beach


Why wear a collared shirt to the beach? For starters, a short-sleeve shirt, especially in a more casual wash like chambray, exudes a breezy, vacation-type look when wearing it (presumably for not that long at the start of the day, anyway).

And afterwards, when the situation calls for drinks or dinner on a patio or pier near a body of water, the chambray shirt will just as appropriate, and maybe even a bit more polished than your fellow beach-goers.

The same goes for the swim trunks — the 7” option from J. Crew is cut a bit trimmer and shorter than a lot of the board short iterations seen nowadays, and it’s always a good bet to cut out extra fabric.

Additionally, the grey canvas sneakers are a step up stylistically from flip-flops and also provide more versatility than said slip-ons.

And a sturdy rubber-strap watch is the perfect mix of sporty and casual — the Stuhrling option shown has the bulk to take a beating from the water, but also doesn’t look out of place next to a rumpled short-sleeve shirt and sneakers, unlike watches specifically made for running, for example.

In Conclusion…

In a variety of washes (and yet still keeping the right fit), a short-sleeve chambray shirt can be a unique way to switch up outfits in the warm weather. Its versatility helps it pair equally well with multiple shades of denim, as well as washed chinos, shorts and sportier swim wear.

As with any great item of clothing, snagging the right piece at the right price is a step further along the path to a well-defined sense of personal style.