Why did men worn sleeve garters?
In the 1930’s men’s shirts did not exist in a wide selection of sizes from which to choose. The shirts came ready made with a single length – extra long sleeve. A sleeve garter is worn on the sleeve of the shirt and pushed up the arm in order to adjust the length of the sleeve. This way men could customize the sleeve length and keep their cuffs from being soiled while working.
Though production techniques improved over time, leading to the variety of shirt sizes available today and eliminating the need for arm garters, there were numerous other practical considerations that helped keep the sleeve garter popular among certain circles. Among news printers, office clerks, and other professionals who worked near ink (in an era where most documents were still produced by hand), arm garters were a way to keep one’s sleeves clean and smudge-free.
Card players around the Old West and elsewhere wore arm garters because it made hiding cards up one’s sleeves difficult. A card player wearing sleeve garters was considered both honest and good enough that he didn’t need to cheat. Arm garters are often worn by card dealers at casinos even today for these reasons, though presently they are regarded more as a decorative part of a traditional uniform than as a safeguard against cheating.
There is also the notion, popularized by depictions in television and film, that gunslingers of the Old West wore sleeve garters to help keep their hands free in the event of a shootout.
There is also a belief that keeping one’s hands free made arm garters popular among guitarists and early jazz musicians, being fashionable and practical.