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Do I always have to wear a buttoned shirt with a suit?

Try pairing a suit with a sweater for more casual occasions, but be mindful of fabrics

Hermès’s spring show.

It's important to make the distinction between big meetings in your life – some happen in the boardroom, while others happen when breaking bread. In any case, a suit will make you look respectable, but what it's worn with sends a message. The tried-and-true shirt-and-tie combo is classic. But depending on the scenario, the look may come off like "downtime" isn't a word in your vocabulary.

The solution? Mixing it up – up top. Try pairing a suit with a sweater for occasions that call for good taste but aren't a fussy affair. Look to Hermès's spring show for an example, where a burgundy sweater was worn with a tan suit – equal parts je ne sais quoi and savoir faire.

To approach this intersection, be mindful of fabrics. Merino wools, cashmeres and well-made cottons are great options and will speak to refinement without screaming it. John Smedley's turtleneck is an example of fine British knitwear, slim enough to fit under an equally English tweed suit. A polo-style sweater from Banana Republic, done in silk cotton cashmere, is chic enough but still has an affable quality. Whatever you do, resist the urge to wear an undershirt that will peek through at the collar – that's untidy, a far cry from the unstudied look you're actually trying to achieve.

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A sweater with some kind of pattern, such as Ted Baker's crew-neck offering, works well too; wear with a suit in a solid hue to keep it grounded. And this advice doesn't only apply to no-ties-required restos – you can get away with different top options for a suit depending on your office culture, too.

Long-sleeve polo, $95 at Banana Republic (

John Smedley Cherwell rollneck sweater, $284 through

Damlar Birdseye sweater, $189 at Ted Baker (

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