Ok, here’s the problem. I like ties. Such is their ability to add an exciting dash of colour to an outfit, I prefer to wear one whenever possible. Yet sweaters have their advantages as well, and the two are hard to wear together.
Let me explain. If you wear a V-neck sweater with a shirt and tie, the back of the shirt’s collar is pulled forward, hugging the neck as its top button is fastened. The collar is at least an inch higher and probably half an inch closer to the neck that when that button is undone.
No V-neck sweater can cope adequately with both situations. Either it is bunched when your collar is undone, or (as is nearly always the case today) the sweater stands away from the collar when it is done up. So when you wear a sweater, shirt and tie, there is likely to be a gap, however slight, however variable, between your shirt collar and sweater at the back.
Some sweaters attempt to deal with this problem by adding a strip of felt to the inside of the back at the neck. Reiss often does this, even taking the effort to add a felt strip in a complementary colour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really keep the sweater in place – rather like the rubber tabs that some tailors include in the inside of a trouser waistband.
Of course, a waistcoat wouldn’t have this problem, being both stiffer and tailored to fit a fastened collar. But that’s a different bias and a different argument.
If it’s sweaters you want, the key is a sweater with a collar. There are broadly three options (as illustrated by the three Ralph Lauren pictures opposite): the folded, shirt collar; the shawl collar; and the zip collar. I personally prefer the shirt collar, followed by the shawl. But this is largely a personal antipathy towards zipped sweaters born of some shoddy Gap varieties worn in my youth.
These collars solve the shirt/tie problem because they all have a greater rise at the back of the neck, avoiding any chance of a disconnection with the shirt.
I advocate the Ralph Lauren merino wool collared sweaters, which have only just been reintroduced for the fall/winter line this year. I bought one in a dark grey last year and found it so versatile and such good value that I looked for more. Unfortunately, they are not considered spring/summer items and so were put away until this month.
The other, secondary advantage of this look is that you can get away with some bold short/tie combinations, given that they only have a narrow triangle of wool to play in.
I quite liked the combination of a pink gingham shirt under a bright green tie (with red crests). It fizzed around the neck without any danger of overwhelming the outfit, thanks to the sombre grey surrounding it. A Paul Smith shirt decorated with small blue flowers also benefited from this limited exposure. Equally, one noticeable thing about Etro catwalk outfits is that many shirt/tie combinations look great under a sweater, but would look ridiculous worn on their own.