Don’t sweat sweaters at the office

Q. I get cold easily and the thin windows in my office do not help, so I often wear sweaters to my fairly formal work. Sweaters are standard for many and not an issue as such. This may seem silly, but when I wear a crew neck sweater I feel that others do not know I am wearing a tie…in fact, sometimes, even on cold days in my office, I will take off my sweater at some point in the day to show my shirt and tie. Do you have a solution?

A. Before I get to answering your question, I’m not exactly sure why it matters to you that others know you are wearing a necktie. Is it because ties are part of the corporate culture in your office? Maybe not, because, sadly in my opinion, lately many offices are dropping this element of men’s attire to the extent that wearing a tie has become the exception, rather than the rule. Or, is it because, no matter what the rest of the guys wear, part of your personal signature look includes a tie? If so, I salute you . . . not only for having the confidence to set yourself apart in this very nice way, but for recognizing that wearing a great-looking tie, even when others do not, is such an easy way to make a smart sartorial statement.

Now if that is your style, I’m sure others know it; they see it in warm weather, and even envision it under your sweaters.

As to your question, layering a sweater over a dress shirt and tie is a traditional business-casual look. It is less dressy than wearing a blazer/sports coat over a shirt and tie or than wearing a suit with an open-at-the-neck shirt (no tie), but it’s not totally casual. Most types of sweaters (except for turtlenecks and mock turtlenecks) layer nicely over a shirt-and-tie combination. Crew necks, V-necks, cardigans, zip-up cardigans, half-zip pullovers, and button-up polo styles all work. Some are dressier than others and some expose more tie than others, but they are all fine with a tie as long as the tie is not too dressy.

  • FABRIC – Shiny silk is the dressiest tie fabric, probably too dressy for a sweater. Textured silk, wool, cotton, and linen are more casual; they work well with a sweater. Knit ties, whether silk or wool, are perfect foils for pairing with a sweater.
  • PATTERN – Very small polka dots (known as pindots) are the most elegant, board-room perfect of tie designs. They are too formal to be worn with a sweater. Many other silk ties in more casual patterns do go nicely with a sweater. These include: stripes, small allover designs (known as “neats”), larger dots, paisleys, plaids, as well as solids.

Incidentally, sweater days are good days to use up your less-ironed shirts if you are sure that you’ll never take the sweater off that day!
Your accessories should project a positive image about you, an image that says, “He’s right on all occasions.” They should be appropriate and in keeping with the sweaters’ informality. This may be the opposite of what you’re thinking as many men try to counter the casual with the dressy, thinking that “averaging” makes it more businesslike. Focus on that medium-casual level by paying attention to the kind of shirts you select. No elegant French cuffs or white contrast-collars. Stay with more casual barrel cuffs on button-downs or plain point collar shirts. Oxford cloth and pinpoint Oxford fabrics are in harmony. Don’t make problems for yourself by mixing patterns; if one of the three garments (the sweater, shirt, or tie) has a pattern, then choose harmonizing solid colors for the others. As for trousers, dress pants and pressed khakis are ideal. As always, shoes make a huge difference. The dapper dresser chooses brown loafers or simple leather deck shoes, not buffed black wingtips that are better with a suit. Some men are addicted to high-quality boots. And, in a more casual office, a sharp new look is rubber-soled leather shoes. I’m afraid I cannot recommend wearing sneakers to work, unless just about everyone else in your office wears them. The same goes for jeans.

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