Lately I’ve seen an explosion of half-tucked button-up shirts. How do you know what side to tuck in, and what do you do about the back? More broadly, whatever happened to the French tuck, front tuck or full tuck? Does one tuck scream “Midtown office” and another “carefree at the playground”? When do you embrace each style? — Danielle, the Bronx
So many ways to tuck, so hard to figure out which one is right! After all, tucking your shirt neatly into your waistband (or not) isn’t simply just about creating a silhouette. It’s a signifier that contains multitudes. Nowadays, you need to think before you tuck.
Once upon a time, that was not true. Once upon a time, there was but one question: To tuck or not to tuck? Tucking in one’s shirt (for any gender and at any age) was viewed as a marker of good manners, a sign of institutional and self-respect and the default dress code whether in Congress or middle school. How many of us grew up endlessly being told by our parents to “tuck in your shirt”?
Untucking then became the obvious corollary, an act of rebellion and a refusal to conform — which is a different kind of conformity, but let’s leave that one for the moment. Untucking was comfortable, and relaxed. Untucking was cool. Untucking said “off-duty,” or “too distracted by big thoughts to worry about the little stuff.” It also said, to some, “sloppy.”
Still, tucking was uncool. Tucking was stiff and uptight. But tucking was also professional, which led to the creation of meant-to-be-untucked shirts, the kinds with straight, tailored hems that claimed to give everyone the best of both worlds. Not to mention the fashionable middle ground of the half-tuck, or the French tuck.
Then came the pandemic, and the rise of comfort dressing. Since then it’s been a tucking minefield. You practically need an encyclopedia for tucking protocol.
The French tuck, a go-to of Tan France on “Queer Eye” — who made it so popular that Brie Larson ended up teaching Oprah Winfrey how to French tuck, and that the technique became the subject of a MasterClass tutorial — involves tucking in the front of a shirt, but letting the back billow out like a cape. The MasterClass folks call this “the best of both worlds.”
The half-tuck, on the other hand, involves tucking in one side of the shirt, while the other side remains free. According to Kate Young, a stylist who works with Selena Gomez and Michelle Williams, among others, “the half-tuck comes from the oversize men’s shirting trend.”
“Because of the volume of these types of shirts,” she said, “it makes sense to tuck, but not too much, or you will look like a marshmallow on top.”
However, she added: “This is not an office look unless you work in a creative field or if you’re going for that super preppy, ‘I’m so rich it doesn’t matter that I’m a slob’ look. For this you want the shirt to be a mess (wrinkles, paint splatters, tatters) and your khakis or Nantucket reds to look like you’ve been wearing them since senior year.” It is best worn, she said, “while drinking a mint julep out of a silver cup.”
On the other hand, she said, “if you want to look like a ’90s supermodel or European tourist,” then opt for a more fitted shirt and tuck it fully into a pair of straight leg jeans paired with loafers.
If all of this seems too much, however, there is another way. You could avoid the issue entirely by eschewing tucking in favor of tying: Undo the bottom few buttons and simply knot the shirttails at your waist. But that takes us into Hyannis Port territory, and that’s a story for another day.
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.