Men's shirts undergo a lot of stress, whether you're a blue-collar worker or white-collar executive. One of the areas that is most prone to wear on a long-sleeve shirt is the elbow. Thin fabric, repetitive arm motion, resting your elbow on rough surfaces or ill-fitted shirts can cause torn elbows on your shirt. And as many causes as there are for tears, there are relatively easy solutions that don't have to cost you too much.
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Lightweight fabrics -- such as cotton or silk -- may not stand up to the rigors of repetitive movement or abrasion against rough surfaces as well as a heavier fabric such as Oxford cloth, linen or hop sack. These are heavier woven fabrics, and while no fabric is forever immune to tearing at stress points, these choices are generally more durable than lighter weight fabrics. If you prefer lighter fabrics, consider custom elbow reinforcements. If you have rough, dry elbows, they're like pumice stones on any fabric, so moisturize your elbows regularly.
If your sleeves are too short, they tighten when you flex your arms and put stress on the elbows. This increases the likelihood of tearing, especially if you have repetitive motion activities, lean on your elbows a lot, have rough elbows or rest them on rough surfaces. The correct sleeve measurement is taken from the edge of your collar down the length of your arm -- which is bent at a 90-degree angle at your waist -- and ends at the point where your wrist meets your hand.
In an effort to cut costs, some manufacturers will drastically taper dress sleeves from the elbow to the wrist to the point where the elbow and forearm are almost constricted, magnifying any abrasive actions or repetitive movements that erode the sleeve's elbow areas. Properly cut dress shirts are tapered from the shoulder to the wrist with generous fabric throughout the sleeve. This extra room allows your arm and elbow to move about freely inside the sleeve and not put constant stress on any one point.
How to Stop or Slow the Wear and Tear
If your shirts have battered elbows, take heart. You can always just roll up your sleeves. DIY denim iron-on patches are a quick fix for denim shirts. For dress shirts, buy some double-sided fusible webbing and matching -- or to be daring, contrasting fabric -- at the fabric store and cut each in a rounded rectangle large enough to cover the worn area buy at least 1-inch all the way around. Iron the webbing onto the patch first, then place the sleeve, worn area facing up, on an ironing board, top it with the patch -- webbing side down -- and iron as directed.