Business casual sweaters are as much a part of man's wardrobe as sports jackets or neckties are, yet they're worn considerably less and often worse.
Most of it comes down to wearing the wrong style for the situation.
The fact is many of the garments thrown into the general term sweaters are very different garments.
In fact ask men which sweaters are made for the workplace and which ones are designed for fishing & hunting – and most will give you a blank stare.
We are about to make it simple.
6 Office Appropriate Business Casual Sweaters
Anything you're wearing to work should be dark and simple.
Bright colors and vivid patterns belong on the ski slopes, not at the office. You'll also want thinner sweaters – bulky weaves should be left for outdoor oriented wear
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you could wear the sweater with a sport jacket if you wanted to. Even if you're not planning on actually doing it or the color and pattern don't really lend themselves to that look, it's a good test for work-appropriateness.
V-Neck Business Casual Sweaters
A solid-colored V-neck is the ideal sweater for wearing with a necktie.
You let some of your shirtfront and necktie show, which makes a more visually complex outfit and lets all the colors and patterns really come into play.
Of course, this also makes it the easiest style to make a color-matching error with — there's no hiding a clashing choice with a V-neck! So be careful and know your color wheel.
Crew-Neck Business Casual Sweaters
The basic wool pullover look is the crew-neck: a round, symmetrical neckline right up against your neck.
The knot of a necktie will still show over a crew-neck, but the shirt collar and tie can look a little constricted. It's better worn with an open-collared dress shirt, a thin turtleneck, or a long-sleeved T-shirt.
A good, plain-colored crew-neck and a pair of dark slacks is unimpeachable work wear in just about any casual office setting.
Business Casual Sweater Vests
If you've got a good dress shirt, show it off with a sweater vest!
A solid-colored or lightly-patterned sweater vest is eye-catching and a little more unique than your basic crew-neck or V-neck pullover.
They tend to come in V-necks (although crew-necks or other styles aren't unheard of), making them a good way to sport a shirt and tie with a little more flair than the standard office look.
You can wear a sweater vest with or without a tie. Adventurous men can pair them with
Adventurous men can pair them with sport coats as well, but be careful of getting too many colors and textures in the same outfit! You'll need restrained colors to pull that look off.
Business Casual Work Sweater Styles
Not all sweaters are dress clothing. Some are purely practical — and others are just plain bad. Unless you have a very relaxed workplace, you'll want to avoid wearing these in a professional business setting:
You might be surprised to see this one here, but the cardigan is technically a casual sweater even though it looks incredibly handsome when paired with dress slacks and a dress shirt.
The reason it's a casual piece lies in it's construction – any sweater that buttons or zips up the front is not as formal as a similar garment that slips over the torso. The visual clutter of the opening front is unsightly in work wear.
Cardigans are a great style and men can get a lot of use of of them — we've written a whole article about them recently in fact — but remember they're still a casual style.
Fair Isle Sweater
The Fair Isle sweater was traditionally handmade sweaters from the Scottish island Fair Isle where it was first knit.
They were originally knitted with colors and stories of a clan's heritage, but today are more decorative and lighter-weight than their hearty ancestors.
These sweaters can be worn with chinos, but look best with denim and should be reserved for casual Fridays in a laid back work environment.
Sweaters That Do Not Belong In The Workplace
Sweaters are a classic wardrobe item and any man missing these indispensable and functional pieces is going to have a hard time dressing sharp in cool weather.
Yet many are not made to be worn in a professional environment.
If you try to do too much with them, or if you wear one that's made for rugged outdoor warmth rather than casual style, you end up looking pretty glaringly out of place.
Know your basic styles and why they exist so that you're always keep these casual ones out of the office.
Developed before WWII and popularized by the British Military's commando units, it was a ribbed close fitting sweater made from material that could dry quickly and help retain heat under harsh conditions.
The close fit and high armholes were important, as much of a commando's success depended on stealth and dexterity with a blade in close hand to hand combat.
You might be able to get away with an Aran sweater or cable-knit fisherman's jersey on a really cold day, but these styles are usually considered too bulky and functional to count as dress items.
Like cardigans, they can be a great-looking part of your off-duty wardrobe, but shouldn't be making regular appearances in your work-wear (unless, of course, you're a fisherman…)
Anything big, thick, and patterned with snowflakes belongs on the ski slopes, not at the office. There's no exceptions to this rule.
Vary Your Wardrobe
The last point I'll make about wearing sweaters is to not being “that guy that always wears the sweaters.”
Own a wide variety of colors and styles so that your outfits don't look the same every day. Switch off with sport coats and blazers for more variety, and wear different colors and textures of trousers so that you're not always using the same sweater–pants combination.
If you can stick to the dressier styles of sweaters and keep them varied, you're guaranteed to stand out as someone who dresses well all winter long.