Watch tastes and wearing preferences do not exist in a vacuum. I’ve been privy to countless conversations in which watch lovers argue the “proper” way to do this or that and suggest “appropriate” styles and designs for people to wear. One of the things that has continued to bother me over the years is how watch lovers of equal education and sophistication can seemingly disagree about very simple things such as preferred watch sizes, colors, and materials. Polarizing opinions are sometimes very difficult to understand but the more I think about it, the more I notice that subtle things often dictate the majority of choices watch consumer make – such as how shirt sleeves can determine the size of watches you choose to wear.

Of course, on the most basic level, shirt sleeves will prevent a lot of people from wearing timepieces that don’t physically fit under their cuffs. This is especially true with dress shirts, and people don’t always like how their timepieces are pushed toward their hands because they don’t fit under their cuff. If you wear long sleeves with fitted cuffs, then, of course, you aren’t going to want to wear particularly tall timepieces. I’ve actually found the ways people get around this interesting.

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Former head of Fiat and style icon Gianni Agnelli, with a Patek worn over the cuff.

Some people choose to wear watches entirely over their sleeves, similar to how a diver would wear a watch over his or her wetsuit. This, of course, isn’t very common, but it does happen. Another tactic is for particularly dedicated watch lovers to have shirts tailored with one sleeve actually fitting more widely than the other in order to accommodate a larger timepiece. I’ve even heard of more simple do-it-yourself versions of this where people add an extra button to their cuffs so that they can be worn larger. Perhaps the most extreme version of getting a custom “watch lover” shirt is having actual cutouts in the fabric of the shift cuff, making it possible to see your watch while wearing your shirt sleeves normally. I happen to think this style looks a bit silly, but if you want to make sure that your sleeve never covers your timepieces, then this is a solid way to go.

Nike ACG’s 2005 jacket with a hole just for your watch – Photo courtesy of Holsales

Creative solutions aside, I am less in such conscious decisions and more in subconscious size preferences. While it might be obvious that wearing long sleeves results in people choosing to wear smaller (or at least thinner) watches, I don’t think many people consider the reverse and necessarily true situation where wearing short sleeves causes people to wear larger timepieces.

I first considered this concept a few years ago and have spoken about it with a lot of colleagues to get their opinions. No one has yet to disagree with me, and I think the larger implication for watch sales and wearing preferences is not insignificant, especially when considering regions. Let’s compare the often-debated New York City versus Los Angeles take on which watches are most popular. The first thing to notice is how weather differences play a huge role in how people wear timepieces. Much of the year, New York has a climate considerably colder than Los Angeles, so a lot more people are going to be wearing long sleeves. As such, you see a tendency for people to wear smaller timepieces. In Los Angeles, where the weather is warmer, people wear larger watches because the normal tendency is to wear short sleeves.

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So, why are people wearing larger watches if they are wearing short sleeves? The obvious reason is because short sleeves tend to make watches look smaller because one’s arm is otherwise naked. The comparative size of a watch will look smaller, thus prompting many consumers to choose larger watches. Put long sleeves on that person and, inevitably, they will tend to choose a smaller watch. It is really just a visual thing, but many people don’t consider it.

When having a debate with someone (especially remotely over the Internet) about the size of a watch, perhaps everyone should first indicate not just their wrist size, but where they live and what they do. People don’t take into consideration often enough how someone’s physical build, occupation, and where they live have an enormous amount to do with the watches they choose to wear. Of course, someone’s subjective life experiences and aesthetic tastes will further refine their watch choices considerably, but I think you’ll find that why a person wears a particular watch is a simple function of where they live, what they do, and how they dress. Sure, that takes some of the purely subjective choice out of determining what timepiece you’ll wear, and I don’t mean to make any one feel less individual, but at the end of the day, I think most people will agree they are a product of their circumstances and surroundings more than their independent tastes. Perhaps, as a watch lover, you now have a few additional tools for understanding why people wear the timepieces they do.

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