Short-Sleeved Suits: Yea or Nay?

Short-Sleeved Suits: Yea or Nay? | CorporetteAre short-sleeved suits appropriate for young women in professional jobs — or are they horribly frumpy and tacky? Reader C wonders.

What are your thoughts on short-sleeved suits? Appropriate or tacky? To provide some context, I am an attorney in my late 20s in Kansas City, and I work for a non-profit which is generally business casual, erring on the side of casual. I also never have to appear in court. I’m looking for a summer suit for any big meetings and/or conferences that may pop up, and last summer it was blazing hot for months. Is a short-sleeved suit (probably khaki, white, or navy) ever appropriate in these settings? Or would I just look like an idiot? If I get one, I’d make sure it was fairly plain styling. If not short-sleeved, does 3/4 length work as a compromise? I am lacking in work attire role models in my office so advice would be much appreciated!

Difficult question.  My gut reaction here is: when you say “short sleeved suit,” I think of something like the picture above — horribly frumpy.  But that said, I have recommended short-sleeved suits at least four times here on Corporette (pictured below):

short-sleeved-suit-1 short-sleeved-suit-2 short-sleeved-suit-3 short-sleeved-suit-4

(Awww, remember the puff sleeve trend of 2008?)  I also fondly remember wearing a cap-sleeved blazer that I got from Anthropologie years ago (Nanette Lepore, I believe) — I normally wore it in the fall and spring on top of long-sleeved tees and turtlenecks with a pencil skirt; I remember it so fondly because I happened to be wearing it when my husband proposed. I can’t find a picture of it or me in in it that really displays the jacket, but it was similar to the purplish one above in cut. So: never say never.

But here — where Reader C almost never wears suits — I’d say she should instead spend her money on a seasonless wool suit (with both pants and a skirt) from the likes of Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, J.Crew, or Theory if she can afford it — and carry her suit jacket with her to meetings in the hot Kansas summers, only putting it on once she’s inside the inevitably air-conditioned building or meeting. Because a) these meetings will inevitably be air conditioned and you’ll be freezing in there, b) even if they are hot, for my $.02 you’ll look far more professional even if you’re just sitting in the meeting with your suit jacket hung neatly on a chair, and c) how crazy hot do your elbows really get that you need a short-sleeved suit?  If you have a lot of outdoor meetings in the summer that necessitate wearing suits I might look for a long-sleeved version in a lighter fabric like cotton or linen, but I think for Reader C’s purposes, seasonless wool would give her a lot more bang for her buck.

What do you think, readers — is this a regional thing? Do you often see short-sleeved suits at summer meetings and networking events? If you only have a few suits in your closet, should one of them be a short-sleeved one?



  1. Man, that top image is so. darn. attractive. I sure wish I could wear that.

    I agree completely about carrying your suit jacket and getting some nice separates or a dress. I would opt to wear a short or long sleeve (aka not sleeveless) shirt so that when you walk in with your jacket off, you can choose whether or not to put it on.

  2. I laughed out loud at the first picture!

    My vote would be to wear a basic sheath dress and then find a light summer fabric jacket (3/4 length okay) that looks good with it. Or a structured type dress that needs no jacket/sweater (which is basically what the recommended short sleeve suits look like, above).

    You should be able to get lots of wear out of both pieces, more than a traditional skirt + blazer suit (in my experience). When it’s really hot out, I don’t even want to touch any thing wool, let alone try to carry my jacket in a way that doesn’t mess it up (usually folding and then laying flat over my arm, resulting in maximum sweat/itch inducing) or deal with tucking in a shirt.

    Wow, I’m really delving deep into this scenario [procrastinating].

    • I have a short sleeve (to the elbow) jacket that I wear over (non-matching) sheath dresses in the summer. I think its a better option than actual short sleeve suit.

      • I agree. Something about a short sleeved suit just seems off to me. But I have a very simple, slightly boxy elbow sleeve dusty blue blazer from Theory that I wear with sheath dresses or with pants and a simple tank and I feel like it looks fine (if not very formal).

  3. AnonInfinity :

    This seems like the perfect situation for seersucker.

    • I agree. I say YAY for the short sleeve’s in the summer! When I go to court, it is VERY hot in there and there is NO circuleation so I sweat alot. At least with SHORT sleeve’s, I can wipe them off and they do NOT stain my jacket. FOOEY!

      I broke down and called ROBERT. He was thrilled to hear from me and he is goeing to stop by tonite and we will go out for a drink. I told him I do NOT drink (all I need is another drunk on my HAND’s), but he said I could have a soda or a SNAPPEL while he drank. He is NOT impressive, even if he is Jewish. He must be the only religious jew in the Park’s department. We will see, since I have NOTHING else goeing on. I am NOT bothering with David for now, but he too is NOSEING around leaveing message’s for me via EMAIL. Where was that jerk when HURRICEAINE SANDY BLEW IN? FOOEY!

      • Dear Ellen, I love you. I look for your comments on every post, and they always make my day.

  4. Ignoring the fact that the first model looks Mother Goose, short-sleeved suits look junior to me. I can’t get behind anything but full length or 3/4 sleeve.

  5. Anne Shirley :

    Puffed sleeves! Thank you!

    • Diana Barry :

      +100, kindred spirit!

      • Anonymous :

        This warms my heart.

      • Famouscait :

        Diana Barry I just now figured out your namesake! It always sounded familiar to me, but I thought I was just remembering someone from grade school or something. This made me smile.

        (P.S. I also only figured out “A Nonny Moose” a few days ago and have found myself saying it softly aloud with a chuckle. Some days I’m just not cool enough for these here interwebs…)

        • A Nonny Moose :

          It took me a while to figure out someone who used to post on here as “nonA”, even with the last letter capitalized. *palmface*

  6. Mountain Girl :

    I’m looking for your workout DVD recommendations. My requirements

    1) Non boring – there needs to be a rotation between routines otherwise I will quickly abandon it due to boredom.
    2) It needs to focus on abs but entire body workout with a focus on abs is great.
    3) It can’t really have moves that cause me to have to jump up and then go to a lateral position (burpees and such). I have a equilibrium problem that makes those nearly impossible for me.

    Thanks ladies!

    • TO Lawyer :

      What about Jillian Michaels? I really like the 30 day shred (when I can convince myself to stick to a routine)

      • Second this. I’m doing the shred right now and it’s a really good workout. It’s also available on youtube.

      • This. She has other dvds that are great as well if you get bored. I did “No More Trouble Zones” and thought that was great. You can do the whole thing (50 minutes and pretty killer) or just a few of the circuits.

      • Special Snowflake :

        LOVE the shred. It’s an awesome workout. I especially like the only 20min of it- 20min is better than nothing. When I can’t convince myself to go to a 1 and a half hour yoga class, or bike to work, or something more substantial, I do the shred.

    • My top recommendation is Rodney Yee – Yoga Abs (or anything else by him). I also like the Bar Method series.

    • wintergreen126 :

      I really like the Ballet Beautiful Blast Series and 60 Min Workout. It’s not the most exciting thing ever, as in there’s no upbeat music and all that, but it’s surprisingly challenging and really packs a punch. And I particularly like that there isn’t any special equipment necessary–no chairs, no weights, none of that stuff.

      It’s not totally cardio-filled, but her abs series is great, since you mentioned that.

    • downstream :

      Physique 57? It definitely satisfies criteria #2, and the instructor is pretty motivating and non-boring.

    • Another vote for Jillian Michaels. I haven’t tried all of her dvds but I like the 30 Day Shred.

      For non-boring, it’s not a DVD but you also might like the Sworkit app (I have it on my iPhone). You pick specific areas to work on or a full body workout, select how long you want to work out, and it randomly generates exercises to do for 30 second intervals. You can skip any moves you don’t feel like doing (like burpees). It also has accompanying videos to show you how to do each exercise. I use it when I’m bored of my typical circuits and want to mix it up.

    • Mountain Girl :

      Thanks everybody.

  7. If a person was only going to own one summer-weight suit I’d say buy a regular style. If your position requires a lot of jackets in the summer I’d give one a try. I think they’re a bit more dressier.

    As a separates peice one could have multiple lives over slim skirts or with dresses. A white or seersucker jacket could lead many lives in a professional wardrobe that requires a jacket in hot weather.

    In reference to your photo – avoid the Janet Reno look (Attorney General during Clinton’s era for those who’re scratching their heads) and wear a trim skirt or pants — no big boxy jackets or below the knee skirts. They can easily be dowdy.

  8. Speaking of summer clothes, anyone have a recommendation for white slacks that are light weight but not see through? Preferably available in petite.

    • hoola hoopa :

      I have a pair that perfectly meets the bill circa 2005 from Ann Taylor or LOFT. Their quality has gone down hill since then, but worth a try.

      Regardless of quality, white pants are always a time to pull out the nude-for-you granny panties.

      • I actually have a pair of editors from Express that I love. The pocket lining is nude so there’s no awkward bright white pockets going on. They’re about a half size too big, so they don’t give off the Express vibe.

        Also, I can’t stress the importance of hoola’s last statement: you NEED nude-for you panties to wear white pants (I personally wear a thong, not granny because even the slightest sign of VPL makes me cringe).

        • And you also need your most brutally-honest friend to stand behind you in the white pants, outside in bright sunlight, and tell you if your thong is visible or not.

          Someone who has seen more thongs through white pants than she cares to remember.

          • Thanks all for the tips! Yeah this is why I don’t currently have any white pants (no nude panties) but feeling inspired for the warmer months, and by the cute wedges I just got.

          • In the context of the thread, I just read Susie’s last line as “by the cute wedgies I just got.”

  9. Nay, plus a suggestion :

    The last time I had a short-sleeved suit was in the late 80s. It was my sophisticated high school graduation outfit. And it had a peplum.

    I do have a 3/4 sleeve cropped cashmere from Boden that I wear a ton in the summer, especially over sheath dresses. Maybe you could find something similar, maybe cotton, right now in stores?

  10. I agree with NYC- the short sleeved suits all look like they come from the juniors department at Kohl’s.

    I think a sleeveless sheath dress with a cropped, collarless jacket would be much more age-appropriate and professional. If the jacket is swingy, it won’t be clinging to your rib cage and you’ll be much less uncomfortable.

    P.S., Kat, Kansas City is in Missouri!

    • Gail the Goldfish :

      Actually, isn’t there both a Kansas City, Kansas, and a Kansas City, Missouri? My midwest geography is terrible, but I seem to recall someone from the Kansas City, Missouri trying to explain this to me once when I thought she was from Kansas.

      • Yes, there is a Kansas City in both states. Basically, the city is right on the border between them.

    • Mountain Girl :

      There is also a Kansas City, KS.

  11. I’d say no to a suit jacket or blzaer with sleeves any shorter than 3-quarter sleeves. Look for something in a lighter color in maybe a lightweight knit or cotton blend.

    • Mountain Girl :

      I think 3/4 sleeves are questionable as well. If you are going to wear a suit than it should have sleeves. Otherwise it looks like something my college niece would buy at Kohl’s or my grandmother would buy at Chicos.

      And, just for the record, I think sweaters need full length sleeves as well.

      • Maybe in the mountains they do. Down here there are plenty of stylish & appropriate jackets and sweaters that have 3/4 sleeves.

        • Anon this time. :

          Ugh. While I don’t agree with Mountain Girl about needing full sleeves, do we really need to be THIS snarky on here? It gives me the sads.

  12. Sydney Bristow :

    I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen someone wearing a full short-sleeved suit. I may have seen the jacket worn as a separate, but that seems pretty rare to me too. I think some of them can be cute, but I’ve never bought one myself.

    On the subject though, I had a male coworker once tell me that he doesn’t understand them. He didn’t see it as a suit and said he thought only really young women wore them because they didn’t know better. I cannot for the life of me remember how this discussion came up, but it is something I remember and I’d guess that other people (especially men) feel similarly.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I agree with your male coworker. That’s sort of the way I feel about so-called “short sleeved dress shirts” for men. Sorry, fellas. If you’re wearing a tie, your shirt must have long sleeves.

  13. If only more men understood that, similarly, there is no such thing as a short-sleeved men’s dress shirt.

  14. I agree that carrying a jacket for meetings is probably best. Or, a 3/4 sleeve jacket to put over a sheath dress- there’s tons of great-looking 3/4 sleeve jackets out now.

    But– not the same as a short sleeved suit, but close– I bought a red short-sleeved, double breasted blazer from the limited back when I was a senior in college. It’s actually made of really nice material and looks really polished when worn with a black pencil skirt. I wore it to a summer interview (where I had to walk to said interview), and got the job… wish I could find a picture of it somewhere…

    No longer fits, but I refuse to get rid of it because it looked that darn good.

  15. Short sleeved = no. Elbow or 3/4 sleeved = yes if jacket separates/no if suit (mostly because, as other people have said, why buy a suit you can only wear in summer?)

    • Violet's Fan :

      I have an a-maz-ing Antonio Melani suit and the suit from The Limited that was recommended here not too long ago. Both have 3/4 length sleeves and I get compliments on them nearly every time I wear them. Doesn’t happen with my other full-length sleeved suits. Just sayin’!

    • You live in Houston.

  16. I started practicing law when Ally McBeal was on TV and I had a dark green, short sleeve suit that I wore with clunky heels when I wanted to look my best. Something about the cut and color that I felt good in. But then, a judge took the bench one day during trial week and announced that all my cases must be pleas since I didn’t look ready for trial. It still makes me sad.

  17. Katherine :

    I live in Southwest Florida and none of the female lawyers I know wear short sleeved suits.

  18. I have 3/4 sleeve suits but would not buy that as my only suit. And definitely nay on short sleeved suits.

    I accidentally gave myself a bad black eye and now people are assuming that my husband hit me. Even when I explain what happened, I can tell that they don’t believe me. I just want to wear a placard saying “no my husband did not hit me.”

    • Ouch! I’m sorry … I’ve gotten similar looks from doctors in the ER (broken rib, long story). At least people mean well!

    • hoola hoopa :

      Oh, man, I’ve totally been there with the black eye awkwardness. May it heal quickly!

    • Anonymous :

      Been there, done that. I fell into a doorjamb (really) being stupid one day (I was playing with my dog and tripped over him), and ended up with a HUGE shiner and a bruise on the bridge of my nose. My husband is a large, muscular fellow, and he had to live with dirty looks everywhere we went for about a week, as there was just no covering it up. I recommend arnica ointment (it may not help, but it feels good) and thick concealer, for when it gets to stage when you can conceal it.

      Incidentally – I did not find out until years later, when I got facial x-rays before oral surgery, that I actually had a hairline fracture in my cheekbone as a result of the accident. I was obviously fine, but if you are in a lot of pain or weird things start happening with your face, make sure you see a doc.

    • I learned that a “concerned coworker” spoke with my boss about whether I needed domestic violence aid. I guess I should be happy that my coworkers care.

  19. I agree – short sleeved jackets look junior with puffy sleeves or grandma with wide sleeves. Great point on the short sleeved dress shirts, Gus.

  20. i live in kansas city (missouri, not kansas, generally speaking if you’re referring to kansas city, you’re referring to the missouri side or the metropolitan area at large) and have to say, i don’t think this is the place for a short sleeved suit. either they are the dated things, or they are a bit too young. or too avant garde.

    that said, i wear short sleeved dresses and shells constantly. they work well with long sleeved jackets (or cardigans) that i might remove.

    • Dorothy Lawyer :

      I’m in the Kansas City metro area, too (attorney, in court 2-3 days a week) and I’d totally wear a short-sleeved suit, I don’t see a thing wrong with it. Except for the fact that, personally, air conditioning in the summer freezes me out. So nothing less than 3/4 sleeves for me. :(

  21. TJ– has anyone been to a Pure Barre class? I live in a mid-size city and recently learned that we have it here (I thought it was only in larger cities). I’d really love to try it, but I’d like to hear from someone who has been. Is it based in actual ballet? What are you supposed to wear? What about shoes? Thanks for any advice.

    • I asked about this a while ago. I went based on the recommendations of several ladies here, and I loved it.

      I think it will vary greatly, but my class had some ballet moves and also incorporated yoga. (Maybe pilates as well.) I wore yoga pants, t-shirt and tennis shoes, but ended up taking the shoes and socks off. Most of the ladies in my class worked out barefoot, and if not barefoot, they had these tiny little sleeve type things that went between the toes and covered the ball of the foot. I did not explain that well at all, but I have no idea what they are called.

      • The little sock thingies are for modern dance. They protect the ball of your feet during turns. One brand is DancePaws.

    • i have heard great things about it and also want to try it.

    • I love it and I’m very un-ballet-like. Its a great workout and I’ve noticed more muscle definition in my legs and arms (and I’m a decade-long runner, so its not like this is my first foray into exercise). I wear yoga pants and a tee shirt. I go barefoot, but they make socks with grippy things on the bottom.

    • anon in-house :

      Pure Barre as in Figure4? Done it here in NYC, as well as Exhale Core Fusion Barre. You don’t need any ballet experience or anything like that, and it’s a REAL workout that will make you feel the burn. You can wear any workout gear, though some studio do require socks be worn so come armed just in case. It’s def worth a try!

  22. a passion for fashion :

    Questions like this always irk me — with obvious exceptions (in which case, its so obvious a question isnt even necessary), the answer is always “yes, but . . .” The “but” depends on how you style it and wear it. Kats response that the reader is likely better off spending her money on seasonless wool is probably a valid response, but doesnt really answer the question.

    You can totally rock short sleeve suits (and I do) if its fashionable, not fussy, well tailored, and you otherwise present yourself well. If you meet those criteria, the only comments you are going to get (verbally or in people’s heads) are about how good you look. I find this to be true for heel height (whether flat or super tall), sleeveless tops and dresses, open toe shoes, ankle length slacks, patterned tights etc. If you meet all of the criteria above (including the unmentioned making sure you are not showing too much anything), you are just going to look good.

  23. I also vote for separates with an additional layer that can be added. A cardigan can even be worn tied around the shoulders in some settings.

  24. I have a very nice short sleeve dark grey linen suit. I wear it when it gets really hot and humid here in DC. I have even worn it to Federal Court with no problems.

  25. I used to practice in KC and I saw a couple young attorneys wearing short-sleeved suits. While they looked cute, I did not think they looked professional. However, they were worn in court. From what I remember, they were light colored suits, so that may have factored in as well. I think you’re much better off with a 3/4 length sleeved suit.

  26. I’d opt for dress. You can get a dress with short sleeve, which you can wear separate and if you really need to dress up: pull blazer on it. I’ve thought about something like that:×1000/5719bf291dbdb9c550071000d8e225c7/P/0/P00046870-ALODIE-TAILORED-DRESS–BUNDLE_1.jpg or even Burberry dress slightly inspired with trench coat (in the last year tailoring collection they used to have great one, which I actually own. Black, simple, A line, sleeves a bit shorter than elbow, with delicate gun flap an small shoulder straps that button-close).

  27. I have never found a short sleeve suit that I really love. The sleeves always seem to fit awkwardly. I would rather opt for a 3/4 sleeve jacket if I HAD to wear a short sleeve version of a suit.

  28. I think short sleeve suits are fine- as long as you find one that isn’t ugly (which is hard to do). I would never, ever wear one to court, however.

  29. I wouldn’t wear a short sleeve suit, but I like the same silhouette in a belted dress.

  30. I have no problems with a short sleeve suit. for court.