Thursday, 14 July 2011

Jackets and ties

The other day, I got one of those bits of drive-by snark that most bloggers in this genre occasionally find left in their comments. Style is so utterly subjective that you don’t need to look far to find someone who disagrees with you, and little further to find someone who’ll express their disagreement in a short, uninteresting, and anonymous comment. Normally I’d ignore it, but this particular one suggested an idea for a post, and I’ve been short enough on posts of late that I thought I’d worth writing.

The comment was along the lines of ‘never wear a jacket without a tie' [Edit: I got this the wrong way round previously, meaning that the rest of the post made little sense. doh].

Well, it’s not terrible advice. To look their smartest, men should always wear a tie, and jackets tend to look better with something to cover the expanse of shirt which is otherwise on display.

The problem I have with this ‘advice’ is the same problem I have with any subjective opinion stated as an objective rule. Do jackets look better with a tie? Yes, often, but not always. Does that mean it’s somehow unacceptable to wear a jacket without a tie? Of course not. Suits look pretty bad without a tie in my view, as the smartness of the suit sits uncomfortably with the casualness of an open collar. The same isn’t necessarily true of a casual jacket or blazer, worn with jeans or chinos and brown shoes. Such an ensemble may have been unheard-of forty years ago but times move on and men, at least those who wish to look stylish and not merely ‘correct’, move with them.

Jeans, a shirt and a casual jacket is now the default smart-casual for most men, and a perfectly good option it is, yet it would look positively odd with a tie (I’ve seen it done, and it’s not a good look). Similarly, a man who works in a fairly casual environment, such as myself, can get away with sometimes wearing chinos and a tweed jacket without attracting anything but polite compliments. If I added a tie, I suspect I would tip over the edge into pomposity or even eccentricity.

The point always worth bearing in mind when dealing with people who insist on this sort of thing is that ‘rules’ for dressing well are often most beloved by people with no particular natural sense of style. I know I occasionally come across as dogmatic, but I suppose that is the nature of writing a blog like this, and I do my best to couch all my comments in terms of advice and guidelines, rather than rules for rules sake. Someone, I forget who, once said something to the effect that a man is not well dressed if he is not appropriately dressed. Stick to the dress standards of the 40s, and you may look smart but rarely stylish, and often simply odd. Accept that times change, but be guided by the best from decades past and don’t bend too easily to passing fads, and you are far more likely to be genuinely well-dressed.


  1. I think that you may have taken the sentiment of the commenter backwards. I believe the comment was meant to say that if you are wearing a shirt and tie, leaving the jacket off doesn't look right-- not to suggest that going tieless with a jacket on is a problem. But I could be wrong. I do like the blog, so this isn't intended as a criticism.

  2. Greg - thanks for the comment. Actually, I got the sentiment of the commenter right (their exact comment was 'please never ever wear a jacket with an open-necked shirt') but I somehow got it the wrong way round when I wrote the post. I've now corrected it, which means the post makes a bit more sense! Otherwise, you would be completely right.

    Thanks for pointing out the error. I really should learn to proof-read...

  3. Hear hear. There are innumerable examples of occasions where an open-necked shirt and jacket are more than acceptable.

  4. I'm afraid that I agree with the person who wrote "please never wear a jacket with an open-necked shirt". To me this looks sloppy and unfinished. It has been around before, it didn't look right then, and doesn't look right now. And, in my opinion, jeans plus jacket plus open-necked shirt - ugh! I'm happy to be forty years behind the times.

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