Royal Marines

How to roll up shirt sleeves – the Royal Marines way

Royal Marines wear their sleeves rolled up and here's how they do it.

How members of the Armed Forces wear their MTP uniform sleeves is a variable matter for each service or regiment – up or down depending on when a short sleeve order is given – but for Royal Marines, rolled-up sleeves is a long-standing practice.

The reasons for the convention of sleeves up in the Royal Marines appear to be lost in the mists of time although many in the Armed Forces will no doubt have their own suggestions.

A Royal Navy spokesperson, unsure of the origins of the rolled-up sleeves convention for Royal Marines, said: "It is a long-standing practice for the Royal Marines to wear their sleeves rolled up unless there is a health and safety requirement to roll them down for certain activities." 

Royal Marines Commando Logistic Regiment homecoming parade, Barnstaple, Devon, in 2009 (Picture: Alamy)
Royal Marines Commando Logistic Regiment sporting rolled-up sleeves at their homecoming parade in Barnstaple, Devon, in 2009 (Picture: Alamy).

Anyone who wants to know the standard way of folding shirt sleeves, the Royal Marines way, however, can find guidance in a video produced by the corps on the correct method of folding to maintain standards.

One suggestion as to why the Royal Marines always wear their sleeves rolled up is simply to maintain standards, so that they all look the same across the corps, when they are in their normal daily Training Rig – sleeves rolled up, cap badge over the left eye, shirt tucked in, trouser bottoms secured with ties or trouser twist.

Whatever the origins of the convention, the guidance in the video shows how to fold the uniform shirt sleeves the Royal Marines way.

While the guidance might be useful for cadets and new recruits, civilians might also take on the advice if they want to roll their sleeves up during summer heatwaves and still keep themselves looking smart, without sloppy, creased or unruly-rolled shirt sleeves cramping their style.

In the video, which can also be found on YouTube, as part of a series on how to prepare your uniform in the corps, a marine Drill Leader (DL) describes how to use the measurement of the shirt cuffs, about the width of three fingers, to repeatedly fold the sleeve, while keeping each fold tight to maintain the standard look and avoid creasing or unsightly folds.

The uniform featured is the older Personal Clothing System MTP which has recently gone out of service but the guidance on folding sleeves still stands.

The Royal Marines video shows how to roll up sleeves (Picture: Royal Navy /Royal Marines).
The Royal Marines video shows how to roll up sleeves (Picture: Royal Navy / Royal Marines).

The Marine DL explains that to start, hang the shirt on a hanger so that you can tug the shirt to keep it nice and tight and so that it does not fall off as you fold the sleeves.

Then, use the shirt cuff as a rough guide to the width of each fold, about the width of three fingers, to keep a pattern of folding.

With each fold, pull tight on the shirt with fingers on either side of the fold to straighten out and keep the folds to cuff width.

Slightly tug down and around the back to keep the cuff width with each fold, keeping the crease down the arm at the front.

Carry on folding each time to the same width of the cuff, pulling it tight with each fold so it keeps it nice and flat all the way around.

The sleeve is folded until it reaches the patch on the arm, which needs to be pressed down with fingers to condense the patch so it does not stick out.

Finally, pull any excess fabric around to flatten it out and keep that sharp-looking fold neat.

The Marine DL, explaining how the folding is done, said: "There are no set number of folds that you need to have for your shirt, but when your arm is bent, there are no creases on the shirt.

"If you find you have creases in the shirt when your arm is bent, then you know you haven't folded it up high enough."

Then repeat the process on the other side's sleeve, ensuring both sleeves are the same length.

Watch: How 'smart' uniforms could protect future troops.

Regulations on rolling up sleeves vary across the services but will be down to the commanding officer.

In 2018, former British Army Sergeant Major Glenn Haughton caused a heated debate on social media by reforming the Army policy to allow soldiers to wear their sleeves up or down as they see fit.

He advised soldiers to use their own common sense apart from in circumstances such as formal parades where the Regimental Sergeant Major would have the final say on the matter if uniformity was a factor.

Sgt Maj WO1 Haughton, posting on Twitter in 2018, said: "From Apr 1st soldiers can decide for themselves to wear sleeves up or down for normal daily battle rhythm in combat dress.

"This decision is based on common sense, activity and climate. Occasions will arise where uniformity is required decided by the chain of command."

How marines wear their shirt sleeves is just as significant over the pond in the United States, where a national outcry ensued after the US Marine Corps mandated not to roll up uniform sleeves in 2011.

Leathernecks, as they are known in America, protested en masse when the Corps' commandant ordered that they had to stop rolling up their sleeves.

However, a subsequent survey by the Marine Corps Uniform Board found that a 61% majority voted in favour of rolling up sleeves and, as tensions over the issue escalated, the commandant of the Marine Corps rescinded the order in 2014, once again allowing US Marines to roll up their sleeves in non-combat environments.

Many of those who voiced outrage over the ban on rolling up sleeves suggested the issue was more than simply a style statement, suggesting that marines rolled up their sleeves out of a long-standing tradition that distinguished them from other branches of the Armed Forces and that it was a matter of pride.

US drill instructors were then advised to teach recruits how to properly roll their sleeves, paying attention in particular to the finer details of how to ensure a neat fold, similar to the guidance in the Royal Marines.