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Russell Smith

Cardigan or waistcoat – which should I wear with a suit? Add to ...

The question

What do you think of a fine wool cardigan under a suit jacket instead of a waistcoat?

The answer

Trendy men’s stores and fashion magazines are showing this all the time: It’s an easy way of presenting a large number of available items for a certain season more than anything else. It’s not yet a genuine revolution in suit conventions. Although these eccentrically dressed young models look very dashing in their suits and cardigans – usually without socks, too – you’ll note that they live merely in a photographed world, not in actual boardrooms, courtrooms and United Nations committee rooms. Take a look at how genuine power brokers dress next time you happen across a photo of a G20 summit: There is no place for either whimsy or fashion. Suits are dark and two-piece. Shirts are white and shoes are shiny. There are always socks.

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Now since few of us are in charge of nuclear weapons, we don’t all have to stick to such uniform sobriety all the time. My point is simply that store windows and reality are separate domains. A grey cardigan of fine cashmere can look great under a sports jacket. Pair it with a suit and it tones makes your look more lunchy-weekendy than television-news-anchory.

Generally, a lot of stylish guys are experimenting with “odd” (mismatched) waistcoats right now, especially with lighter-weight suits for spring. Peruse the website of Suitsupply.com, the Amsterdam-based retail empire that is making waves internationally by selling suits in high-end fashion districts at cheekily low prices: You’ll see light linen summer suits with loud check waistcoats. The effect is Edwardian but also youthful.

You’ll also see solid suits with plaid shirts. It looks great on these trim models, but don’t try it at work, unless you work in a creative industry, and even then, only if you feel you are in the “advanced class” – in which case, you don’t need to read me.

Novelist Russell Smith’s memoir, Blindsided, is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a style question? E-mail style@globeandmail.com.

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