The Case Against Henleys

Here at Father Style, in our “The Case Against…” series we will periodically discuss certain menswear pieces that are considered “darlings” or “essentials” and why you probably shouldn’t buy into the hype. These are pieces you will regularly see splashed across menswear sites as items you NEED to have in your wardrobe. We aren’t being contrarian for the sake of it, though. We are trying to help you save money and time.

Today I am going to talk about one of the perennial darlings of the menswear world: henleys.

Nary a menswear article goes by without the author gushing about how henleys are some unimpeachable sartorial icon. According to these articles, donning a henley makes you sexy, rakish, and irresistible to women who have grown weary of men wearing simple t-shirts.

Just so we are all on the same page, a henley is a t-shirt (either long or short sleeves) with a handful of buttons on the front, like a polo shirt. That’s all it is. And let me tell you, SO much digital ink has been spilt over those buttons!

Here is my major issue with the henley: It doesn’t benefit one’s appearance in any meaningful way. A good jacket can make you look trimmer and more muscular. A good pair of pants can make you look taller and more athletic. A henley doesn’t really DO anything. It gets attention on the internet because it’s slightly different from a regular t-shirt which makes it fodder for people like me to write about.

Menswear doesn’t change very much. So, if you aren’t terribly imaginative, there really isn’t anything new or novel to write about from year to year. Which means you end up getting 10,000 articles every spring and fall talking about how mind-blowing it is to have a t-shirt with buttons on it and how that will totally change your style game!

Sorry to rain on everyone’s parade, but a henley isn’t worth it. It’s not any more or less stylish than a simple t-shirt. You are not upping your style game by donning a henley instead of a t-shirt. If that’s what you’re looking to do, you are better off focusing on the FIT of your existing t-shirts. Or grab a polo shirt or oxford shirt.

An argument I hear in favor of henleys is that the buttons on the front “add visual interest” to your outfit.

Visual interest? How boring is your outfit (or your personality for that matter) that the three buttons on your chest are the most interesting thing about you?

And they are not versatile. In almost every instance I have worn a henley, I wished I was wearing a regular t-shirt. Under a sweater or flannel shirt, the buttons are somewhat of an annoyance.

And again, a henley isn’t any MORE stylish or appropriate than a regular t-shirt so if you want to look more presentable you’re better off wearing a polo shirt or something like that.

I also think the henley has benefitted from good marketing. People like the henley because it has a cutesy name. If it was universally called a “button-front t-shirt” it wouldn’t be talked about nearly as much.

Just like “elf grass”.

What I am getting at here is that there is literally no reason to go out and specifically purchase a henley. It doesn’t add anything to your wardrobe that your t-shirts don’t already provide. You aren’t missing out on anything.

It may seem I actively DISLIKE henleys, which is not the case. I own one, which I enjoy wearing, and it makes it way into my normal t-shirt rotation. But I view it as another t-shirt. And I wouldn’t specifically go out and purchase another one simply because it’s a henley.

So please don’t feel like you need to spend your hard-earned money on a henley. The t-shirts you already own are doing literally the exact same job a henley would do.

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