Stay Cool: The Modern Short Sleeve Button Down

short sleeve button down

A few summers ago, I was watching The Rum Diary with Johnny Depp.

I almost missed the plot because I was mesmerized by the aesthetics of Puerto Rico during the 1960s.

The way the characters in the movie dressed like gentlemen, despite the extreme heat and humidity, intrigued me.

As someone who absolutely loathes the heat, my summer wardrobe had always been rather underwhelming.

Similar to most guys, my warm weather attire consisted primarily of khaki shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops.

But I was so inspired after watching this movie, I immediately got to work acquiring clothes made of summer-weight fabrics with vintage patterns (and also had a brief period of drinking far too much rum).

One of the major pieces that helped me elevate my summer look, without sacrificing any of the heat management I needed, was the short sleeve button down.

Their main advantage is that they look more put-together than the usual t-shirt, but are equally, if not more, breathable.

Here's how to pick the right shirts to keep you looking your best, despite the heat.

Style of the short sleeve button down

In contrast to baggy short sleeve dress shirts (think of the movie Office Space), modern casual short sleeve button downs are a new breed of cool.

They come in refreshingly bold patterns and modern fits that let you leave the office headaches behind and express an excitement for warmer days.

Pattern of the short sleeve button down

short sleeve button down pattern

I'm not a fan of traditional Hawaiian shirts. But these new patterns are exciting without screaming, “I'm an American tourist abroad!”

My personal favorite is smaller, repeating patterns in geometric shapes, checks, or florals.

Ah, my teenage self never would've believed I'd one day be expressing my affection for shirts with flowers on them. And yet, here we are.

Another welcome addition to my closet are shirts with bold stripes. They have an interesting American Southwest quality about them that's cool and rugged.

Fit of the short sleeve button down

A modern short sleeve button down will be cut a little closer to the body, have smaller sleeve openings, and will be a little shorter to facilitate untucked, casual wear.

Material of the short sleeve button down

Linen is the name of the game.

If you aren't familiar with it, allow me to give you a brief primer on this king of summer fabric.

Linen is a natural fiber from the flax plant. It excels in high heat and humidity due to its ability to absorb more perspiration than cotton before feeling damp.

Once it does become damp, it releases that moisture faster than other fabrics.

It generally has a looser weave than other fabrics and is also a little stiffer. Combine those two qualities and you're left with a fabric that doesn't cling to your skin.

The “downside” to linen is its high propensity to wrinkle. But since this is unavoidable, it's embraced as part of the fabric's charm. Much like the creases and color variations on leather pieces.

Cotton can also be a solid option for the summer heat, but make sure you select a thinner fabric with a looser weave. Try holding the shirt up to the light. You should be able to see through it.

short sleeve button down cotton

If you can't easily see through it, that means air won't be able to pass through.

A tightly woven cotton shirt will cling to your sweaty skin like a plastic bag.

Cotton/Linen blends are another great choice. This marriage combines the heat management characteristics of linen with the wrinkle resistance of cotton. Win-win.

How to wear your short sleeve button down

Keeping it casual – Wear a short sleeve button down as you would a t-shirt. Pair it with well-fitted shorts and boat shoes and you're ready for any casual situation summer can throw your way.

short sleeve button down casual

Night out – Short sleeve button downs are great for occasions when you need to dress up a little, but still want to maintain that care-free summer vibe. Wear a pair of lightweight dress pants with loafers. Skip the socks.

short sleeve button down night out

Summer wedding – If you're going to wear a jacket, opting for a short sleeve button down can help keep you cool by eliminating a layer on your arms. Match your lightweight jacket with a pair of linen dress pants and lace-ups.

short sleeve button down dressed up

Where to buy

Target – One of my favorite stores for affordable basics and also where I bought the blue floral shirt pictured above.

Zappos – With free shipping and returns, Zappos is the worry-free way to buy clothes online.

Urban Outfitters – Great summer shirts in bold patterns.

Just as Mr. Depp and Co. inspired me, I hope this post has inspired you to liberate yourself from the bland summer uniform of previous years.

Let me know what kind of patterns you're digging this summer.

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  • Reply
    Will Eberhard
    July 1, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    The fit and patterns of short sleeve button-ups really have come a long way!

    I am feeling the small patterns that are popular, they provide some “life” without being over-bearing like Hawaiian prints.

    A cool tip is to fold/cuff the sleeve up one. It can provide a cool contrast. Also can make the sleeves fit your arms more snug.

  • Reply
    July 1, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Very nice! I like the casual/beach style!

  • Reply
    Daniel Ndukwu
    July 3, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Nice one Nate, I like the fact that you are not afraid to pair it with a jacket in your last picture

    • Reply
      July 3, 2015 at 11:27 pm

      It’s an unconventional move, but you gotta beat the heat somehow.

      Wearing a full suit during a Chicago summer is a method that could be used to get national secrets out of a guy.

  • Reply
    July 6, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    Hey Nate,

    I like your tips. Any suggestions specifically for men with shaved heads? I used to have a beard but I recently ditched it.

    • Reply
      July 7, 2015 at 1:00 am

      As far as style goes, most things apply equally to men with shaved heads and those with hair. I can’t say I have any experience with a shaved head, although I do think about doing it sometimes.

    • Reply
      July 7, 2015 at 1:09 am

      Just rock it with confidence. It makes a big difference. There is a great book called psycho-cybernetics that states an example of two men who had severely scared faces. One via a war incident, the other through a random accident.

      One carried pride with his care (war incident) and the other was embarrassed of his scare. The two received very different reactions from other people.

      The one who thought his scar was cool, and prideful was greeted very differently than the one who shamed his scar.

      So if going to wear a shaved head, wear it as you did it intentionally and with confidence.

      • Reply
        July 7, 2015 at 1:10 am

        excuse the poor grammar. mobile phone got the best of me. :)

      • Reply
        July 7, 2015 at 2:18 am

        Well said!

      • Reply
        July 7, 2015 at 2:38 pm

        Hey Will,

        I am with ya and I have read that book. I was just looking for some insights on styles that look good on men with shaved heads. I personally believe I look great with a bald head. I believe overall my style is good, but it could be better, so always looking for suggestions.

        • Reply
          July 7, 2015 at 3:13 pm

          Dave – Great book! I don’t think there are any special rules for shaved as Nate said. But imo I think a shaved head with a well groomed beard is a nice look.

          I know you mentioned you just shaved yours tho.

  • Reply
    Chris Adams
    July 27, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    I’d be all over that blue floral if Target had it in slim fit.

    • Reply
      July 27, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      That one is actually my favorite summer shirt right now and it really isn’t too baggy for a regular fit. I have a 31 inch waist and a medium fits me fairly well. Worst case scenario, you can take it to a tailor and have them take in the sides for around $10.

  • Reply
    December 4, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Do you have views on:
    Undershirts or not? And crew or V? I heard elsewhere they are desirable in hot and humid.

    Especially if no undershirt, how many buttons? I’ve noticed with dress shirts nowadays, the button just below the collar button is the new equivalent of the tie.

    • Reply
      December 6, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      I never wear an undershirt in the summer. The idea is that it’ll help absorb sweat before it soaks through your outer shirt but I’ve found that the extra layer of fabric just makes me sweat more and takes longer to dry. I like to unbutton the top two most of the time and I let my shirt fly open with three undone if it’s super hot.

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