Sweaters Cannot Be Stylish and Practical


drakes-lilac-cardiganA waistcoat is a practical piece of clothing. It keeps the trunk of your body warm, leaves your arms free and pins your tie in place. A waistcoat is also stylish. It allows for the possibility of different colours underneath a jacket and elongates the silhouette.

Unfortunately, a sweater cannot do both.

For similar reasons to those explained above, I would argue that the most practical sweater a man can wear with a jacket is a tank top – sleeveless and with the same shape, essentially, as a waistcoat.

A normal, sleeved sweater underneath a jacket creates needless bulk and heat under the arms. This is particularly true if your suit is of a Scolte-inspired, Anderson & Sheppard-modelled cut, with high armholes. As soon as the temperature rises a little, you immediately feel uncomfortable around the armpits and take the jacket off. The extra layer of clothing down the arms is equally needless and potentially uncomfortable.

So a tank top is practical and, let’s face it, looks fine as long as your jacket stays on. But it is not stylish and is damned to never be so. Occasional trends for geek chic aside, a normal (sleeved) V-neck sweater will always look the most stylish.

This occurred to me a while ago because of a recommendation on A Suitable Wardrobe where Will argued that sleeveless knitwear under a jacket is best as it performs the same function as a waistcoat.

Yes it does. But it’s hard to think of a less stylish knitwear option than the lavender tank top pictured in that post. It may look good under a jacket, but it will be very unflattering once that jacket comes off – which, I admit, most men are more likely to do more often than Will. At the very least a tank top should be just as fitted as a waistcoat, to flatter the physique. Unfortunately, this one is anything but.

I believe supporters of tank tops have unfortunately prioritised practicality over style. This does happen with more traditional gentlemen, as the geekish side of them takes over and they spend their time discussing, for example, the discovery of Russian reindeer leather rather than whether it is being used on an attractive last.

I should also mention that my opinion was backed up by the second in this ASW series – on roundneck sweaters and t-shirts with suits. Generally looks bad, and specifically looks bad in these colours (a pale orange horizontal stripe?)

Sweaters can be practical or stylish under a jacket, but never both.


Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.


  1. nem tudom says:

    Show/explain rather than tell how a sweater is not stylish. Go beyond the geek thing.

  2. Simon Crompton says:

    Nem Tudom, could you explain your question a little more? Do you want more on why I do not think this lilac sweater is stylish?


  3. Michael T. says:

    In my experience a sweater vest seems to be the best balance. It provides a fitted style and yet is quite comfortable under a suit jacket.

  4. nem tudom says:

    I suppose stylishness is in the eye of the beholder, but, to clarify my question, could you give an example(s) of why a sweater is not stylish at all? I agree with a lot of points you bring up in your article (i.e. a v-neck works well with geek-chic tendencies, a sweater-vest strikes the best balance), but I suppose, as someone who wears sweaters all the time for casual wear during winter and having a bit better style than the average layman, I like hearing different perspectives on this particular sartorial piece. Additionally, I can think of sweater -loving people like Miles Davis, Kanye West or dare I say Woody Allen who look quite stylish in a sweater. I do agree with you that a waistcoat looks much better than a sweater, but for casual wear, I feel that a sweater is both stylish and practical (a sweater under a suit does look a bit awkward).

  5. Juan Manuel says:

    I am involved in international trading and also teaching in a university.

    For teaching I rather not using a power suit or a tailored waiscoat, I don’t like the Wall Street / London banker image in the classroom, neither looking overdressed or too carefully dressed. I belive thet dressing that way will give a distant image with students.

    So I decided to use a sweter vest with a tie and a blazer or a tweed jacket. The only condition aside of reasonable color combination is fit. The sweater vest must not be bulky or to big.

    Anyway I agree with Simon, a sweater vest is more practical but not as stylish as a tailored vest.

  6. Simon Crompton says:

    Nem Tudom,

    My point and opinion is that a sweater underneath a jacket can only be practical (short-sleeved) or stylish (long-sleeved), not both. I don’t believe sweaters cannot be stylish at all. I hope that clarifies things.


  7. nem tudom says:

    I gotcha, I thought you were saying that long-sleeved ones were unstylish as a whole. Thanks very much for the clarification.

  8. I totally disagree. They can be both practical AND stylish. One just needs to use his or her discretion when choosing a sweater. I actually love the sweatervest, or “tank top” as you wrongfully call it, in my opinion…especially if it is not button up. It provides a very professional and finished look over button-down shirts, and can also be worn with ties.