Posted by: Nathan | December 16, 2008

A Sweater Vest Equals a Necktie

Throughout my history of listening to football commentators watch replays of a wide-out catching a pass near the sidelines, I’ve heard the phrase “one knee equals two feet” over and over. The idea is that if the receiver has the ball and one knee lands in bounds, it’s same as if he had two feet touch inside the white line.

I feel there is a parallel situation with men’s attire. In workplaces where a tie is required, a sweater vest ought to be a legitimate alternative. Sweater vests bring a high degree of formality to any work outfit; I simply cannot imagine one looking at a sweater vest-wearing employee and thinking he looks less formal than if he did not have said vest. The same is true of the necktie/dress shirt relationship. One should not be forced to wear a tie when a sweater vest works just as effectively to add class to one’s appearance.

Temperature is also an important issue. When one wears a piece of cloth knotted around one’s neck (with the top button fastened), naturally one is not well-ventilated. Sweater vests add a layer of clothing over the torso, so one is warmer despite having an unbuttoned neck. How cruel, then, to force a sweater vest wearer to seal off all means of proper air flow by wearing a tie! Do employers want their males to become dehydrated (unlikely) or pit-stain their shirts (very likely)? Nay, let’s keep antiperspirants working effectively by not overheating employed men.

All of this is not to say that a guy should never wear both a sweater vest and a tie. When tie, shirt, and sweater vest all coalesce into a coordinated whole, the aesthetic is quite pleasing. However, this super combination should be used sparingly and only for the most stately of functions, e.g. the opera or a wedding. All things in moderation, even handsome vest/tie combinations.

But what about sweaters?, you say. Well, sweaters change things a bit. Add sleeves to those vests, and you eliminate all hope of air flow. Also, many sweaters don’t look very formal. However, if one has a nice sweater and wears a collar beneath, I don’t think a tie does much to alter the outfit’s appearance. If all one can see is the knot of the tie above the sweater’s collar, not much is lost by removing its presence.

As you may have guessed, my workplace has the mandatory tie rule, but I feel that defining dress clothes by one article of clothing is too narrow. Just as one needs review in football to make the right call, so should we take another look at the dress code requirements to ensure justice is being done. Allowing a sweater vest to be equivalent to a tie will add much-desired flexibility for men’s dress clothing without sacrificing any of its formality, and it will permit men to choose between alternative methods of ventilation.


  1. I’m not sure I can agree that a sweater vest equals a necktie. The open neck (unbuttoned top button) of the man without a tie adds a casualness that is simply not present when a tie is worn, and cannot be fully countered by a sweater vest (it does so only in less of a professional way and in more of a sporty, jaunty way).

    Even with is age, more professional haircut, and get-down-to-business document thing in his hand, this tie-less sweater-vest wearer looks more like he’s ready to sit outside at the country club, while Jerry O’Connell (yes, fratboy-ish Jerry O’Connell!) in a tie looks like he’s ready to get some real, professional business done.

    And despite your praise for the super combo, I still think it usually says “I’d rather be having fun“.

    That being said, I hate wearing neck-ties, and still think a sweater vest should be a valid alternative; not because it’s equivalent, but because it’s good enough and a heck of a lot more humane.

    A very enjoyable post, Sir.

  2. I read this post a while ago, but have been too lazy to comment.

    I’ve gotta agree with Jason that sweater vest doesn’t equal necktie. Any collared shirt that’s unbuttoned – even with a sweater vest – is business casual at best. It works for going out (as you point out with the opera), but not for the work environment that requires business attire.

    I often employ the sweater vest/necktie combo at work if it’s going to be a slow day (or a Friday), but must go shirt/necktie (plus suit, of course) if I need to be really dressed up for something.

    That said, I wish the open-collared shirt was passable at my work. It’s much more comfortable, and in some ways says, “I’m certainly here to work – hard – but I don’t want to be stuffy and conventional in my work/ideas.” Maybe some day.

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