One of my first dates with my now-boyfriend happened in the thick of New York summer. It was a Friday night so hot that I rushed home from work first, to shower off the stickiness and change into a sun dress. So when I met him a restaurant in Brooklyn, I was surprised to find him wearing a long-sleeved collared shirt with jeans. It was buttoned all the way up to his neck, and down to the cuffs. I became fixated on his wrists. I wanted—somewhat desperately—to unbutton his cuffs and roll up his sleeves. I recognized this would have been an extreme action on an early date (or really, ever) and restrained myself. The cuffs stayed buttoned.
I’m not alone in my urge to cuff. But let’s be honest, there are right ways and wrong ways to do these things. Do it the right way, and convey an air of breezy, stylish sprezzatura. Do it the wrong way, and convey an air of Scott Baio.
The US Army apparently understands this, and so has avoided the issue by banning its soldiers from rolling up their sleeves. (In response to an Army Times survey in which soldiers expressed a desire to cuff, the Army’s sergeant major responded that rolled sleeves are “not consistent with a neat appearance,” and that, “there’s no operational need” for rolled sleeves.)
But this week, a pilot sleeve-rolling program—seriously—is underway at the Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, much to the delight of soldiers eager to show off the biceps they work on all year long, and the men and women who admire them.
But how should they cuff? A general considers:
In the spirit of cuffing season, Quartz offers some options from true style authoritarians: the US military, J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons, and the dear, sweet contributors to the crowdsourced WikiHow.
Unsurprisingly, this is the first place the US Army is going for sleeve-rolling guidance. In the video below, a Marine sergeant explains the correct way to do so after a 2014 decree reversed a previous ban on sleeve-rolling. “Many of you have never been taught how to roll sleeves,” the video explains. “With practice, and over time, you will be able to roll perfectly fitting sleeves.”
To be honest, this is kind of a Scott Baio look, but if anyone can work it, it’s probably a Marine. As you can see, the protocol sleeve rolling results in a cuff that shows the inside of the shirt, rather than the camouflage.
Back in the day—as in, before 2005—soldiers were ordered to roll up their sleeves so the camouflage showed on the outside, as you can see on the troops at top, preparing to go to Kuwait in 1995.
Whether your camouflage is in or out, here’s a good rule for this taut, above-elbow cuff: Only employ it if you’re actually wearing camouflage, on active duty, and your biceps reflect that.
If you’re not in the military, J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons is a good leader to look to for cuffing advice. Trust.
Lyons’ pull-down, flip-up, roll-over method is extremely simple (just watch it at 0:59), avoids what she describes as an undesirable “tube” effect, and results in a nice twist at the elbow with a bit of exposed cuff. This is also what The Art of Manliness refers to as “The Master/Italian Roll.” It sounds like it ought to have a flaky crust and carbs, but it looks nice on men and women alike.
“Are your sleeves too long? Is it too warm in the room?” wikiHow is here for you. I don’t actually endorse following the sleeve-rolling guides of wikiHow—#4 recommends fastening your rolled sleeve with a safety pin—but I do endorse reading them. Sincere, earnest, and specific, these guides are addictive.
In short: If you’re in the military, do what your general says. If you’re not, do what Jenna Lyons says. If you’re a mermaid who has just emerged from the sea and literally has never worn a shirt, you might learn something from wikiHow’s guide.
Or, you could just do like my boyfriend, and leave ’em buttoned.