In my teens I went out of my way to tan. Every summer I slathered on baby oil, lay in my backyard, and toasted my skin, hoping to signal to my peers that I did fun, outdoorsy things like wear bikinis and swim. (A farce: I mostly stayed inside, writing in my Livejournal.)
As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve read enough terrifying studies about the dangers of sun damage to have assembled an artillery of sunscreens of all varieties (for face, body, hands, lips, hair, playing sports, everything). I’ve also noted how well my mom, who is in her 50s, has aged. Though I used to make fun of her devotion to sun protection, years of slathering SPF on her face, wearing large, floppy hats, and layering on shirts with UPF (Ultraviolet Protective Factor) in them have left my mom’s skin glowing like a freshwater pearl. So, this summer, at 31, I took one step further toward turning into my mama and invested in a sun-protective shirt from REI. Younger me would judge 2020 me for this purchase, but I don’t care. I love it.
Searching for the right one proved to be a challenge: Most UPF clothing seems designed with serious campers or beachgoers in mind, meaning there’s a plethora of pricey, dowdy, blanket-like rash guards on the market. I wanted a breathable button-up for everyday street wear, one I’d throw over an outfit without detracting from my style. It took quite some digging to find pullovers, shrugs, and overshirts that function as regular old tops, except with built-in sun protection.
Finally, I landed on REI’s Sahara shirt, which caught my eye because it looks like a standard button-up I’d normally wear, protection or no, but with UPF 35 woven into its fabric (which means it qualifies for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation).
Despite the Sahara’s long sleeves, I stay surprisingly cool even in 90-degree heat, thanks to its convertible sleeves, moisture-wicking nylon, ventilated slits, and quick-drying underarm panels, which are treated with odor resistance (a crucial detail). The shirt is soft and stretchy, handily packs down small for transporting in my tote, has subtle snap pockets for storing my phone and sunglasses, and even a thoughtfully placed loop on the collar that makes it easy to hang.
The button-up comes in a range of pretty, dusky colors. I own it in both white and cool aqua and wear it everywhere, from grocery shopping to socially distanced drinks with friends. I get more day-to-day use out of the white but have worn the aqua one as a pop of color in otherwise all-black ensembles. The button-up has range and can be styled differently depending on whether you want a closer fit or a roomier, summer cover-up situation. I usually opt for a small when it comes to shirts, but in this case I sized up to a medium for a baggier look.
A sun shirt isn’t a substitute for wearing sunscreen, of course, and I still like to cover my bases with both, but the Sahara makes me feel less stressed about having to reapply every hour. For me, it’s well worth the price. I can tell that my skin is grateful for the shade, it enables me to stay outside longer, and it’s cute too. What more could you ask for in a summer shirt?
REI Co-op Sahara Button-Up Long-Sleeve Shirt
This sun protective shirt, designed with UPF woven into its fabric, is the perfect button-up to throw over your everyday outfit.
Available in sizes XS to XL.
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