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Turn back your (cotton) cuffs

3 September 2009

3033-500w

OK, so this is how I came to the earth-shattering style insight alluded to in the title:

  1. most of my ready-to-wear jackets have sleeves that are slightly too long;
  2. most of those jackets are casual as my suit jackets are mostly bespoke;
  3. because they are casual they tend to be of rougher material (cotton, linen);
  4. they are also cheaper jackets for that reason;
  5. so I’ve never paid to have the sleeves shortened (because they are casual and because they are cheaper);
  6. so I end up turning back the ends of the sleeves by an inch or so.

Do you like the quasi-logical approach to this style analysis? Essentially, I realised that I like turning over the end of my sleeves on casual jackets. I like it as a small style quirk, as a little casual but personal touch. But I think it only works with casual jackets because the roughness of the material matches the casual nature of the gesture. The jacket in the picture is borderline, being wool but thick with a rougher finish.

A business suit is usually made of smooth worsted wool because smoother, sleeker clothes are smarter. Smooth cloth goes with crisp creases, high-shine shoes and sharply angled handkerchiefs. Can you feel the aesthetic?

By contrast, linen is rough and ready, goes with crumpled lines and soft woollen ties, faded madder dyes and heavy, seamed shoes (Derbys, brogues, double soles). So turning back your cuffs can work.

If you wanted turned back cuffs on a smoother cloth, they would have to be precisely turned and stitched down – like the cuffs you get on velvet jackets and some overcoats. That is the only turned back cuff that will work because it is exacting, fine and firm.

Of course, you need to be able to physically turn back the cuffs for this theory of mine to apply. So a tweed or heavy wool jacket will not work. This is the exception to the rule, though the rule remains – casual touches will work best with these heavy, rougher jackets. So if you need to do some more manual labour (and the cuffs unfasten) roll back those sleeves and get down to it. It’s what working cuffs were designed for, after all. Makes it easier to clean your hands afterwards as well.

(Interesting how times have changed though. John Hitchcock, managing director at Anderson & Sheppard, confirmed to me recently that the firm used to refuse to make working cuffs. They were the sign of a labouring man. And today they are a sign of quality that even A&S is happy to provide. As John put it, “we’ve always liked to be a little bit different.”)