How to Pull Off Epaulets

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Women love a man in uniform, but they don’t necessarily jump at the chance to date mall cops. That’s why you have to be careful when it comes to epaulets, the straps that adorn an increasing number of men’s collared shirts and jackets. Originally intended to prevent gun straps and bandoliers from slipping off enlisted men’s shoulders, modern epaulets are mostly ornamental. In the military, they denote rank. Among civilians, they offer a rugged formality.

The key with shoulder straps, which are suddenly showing up on button-downs offered by Burberry, John Varvatos, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Balmain, is to stick to the straight and narrow. Understated epaulets add shape without eliciting unwanted (and undeserved) salutes. And make sure the shoulder buttons are small. Big buttons will leave you looking like Michael Caine in Zulu. He could pull it off in the African bush, but it looks silly almost anywhere else. The only place you can really get away with broader epaulets is on unstructured jackets, where buttons and straps are the rule rather than the exception.

There are two ways to go with the weekend workshirt: rugged safari or refined siesta. For a true work shirt, Cabelas has a few colored options in their long-sleeve safari line, so you can do your best Steve Irwin through the woods. A more stylish adventurer might take the short-sleeved Ralph Lauren Black Label Military Polo, the sort of alternate island wear that James Bond might select for resort reconnaissance.

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