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Business Casual Sweaters (What to Wear to Work)

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This men’s style guide will discuss the best sweaters for business casual attire and let you know what to look for and what to avoid when buying and wearing sweaters to the office.

Are Sweaters Business Casual?

Sweaters should be a core component of your business casual wardrobe. In the fall and winter months there is nothing better (or warmer) than a medium to light-weight sweater or cardigan on top of a collared shirt paired with wool flannel dress pants.

V-neck Sweaters

The safest and most versatile business casual sweater option in my opinion is the classic v-neck sweater. As the name suggests, v-neck sweaters have a v-shaped collar area that allows the collared shirt and tie worn underneath to be clearly visible. The v-neck sweater is more formal than the crew neck sweater and can easily be worn underneath a blazer, sport coat and even a suit.

Source: J.Crew

How to Wear

You can wear the v-neck sweater in a multitude of ways. You can pair it over top a dress shirt with or without a tie for cooler fall and spring days.

 black v-neck sweater for Business Casual Sweaters

A v-neck sweater pairs incredibly well underneath a jacket, blazer/sport coat and even a suit.

As for pants, pretty much anything you wear normally to the office including dress pants, chinos, khakis and even jeans look great with v-neck sweaters.

v-neck sweater , business casual sweater

What to Look For

  • Go for a finer fabric made from cotton, cotton/silk blend and merino wool.
  • The best fabrics for a business casual sweater are (su)pima cotton and merino wool.
  • Sweaters made from these fabrics are both durable and have the perfect thickness.
  • Stick to solid and neutral colors such as black, navy, shades of gray, brown, burgundy, dark green and beige.
  • These will look the best with a host of shirt and tie combinations and offer the greatest versatility.

What to Avoid

Source: Pinterest
  • Avoid sweaters made from polyester or synthetic materials since they will typically have poor breathability and will collect lint.
  • Don’t buy or wear a sweater to the office that is made from a chunky and thick fabric since these types of sweaters are for casual wear.
  • Avoid bright colors such as yellow, bright green, purple and the like.
  • You also want to avoid loud patterns such as bold stripes, any decorative designs or large brand logos. Remember, you are wearing these to work, not to a Christmas party.

Crew neck sweaters

Crew neck sweaters are more casual than v-neck sweaters and as such are not recommended over their v-neck counterparts for business casual wear. In fact, the way the collar area is designed on a crew neck sweater makes it difficult to pair with a collared shirt and tie.

Source: J.Crew

You can still wear a crew neck sweater with a collared shirt and tie but in my opinion it just doesn’t look as good. The tie (if you are wearing one) is barely visible and the shirt in this case just becomes an afterthought unlike a v-neck sweater where the shirt and tie take center stage.

If your business casual workplace does not require collared shirts (as is the case in the fall/winter months), then wearing a crew neck sweater is perfectly fine.

How to Wear

Wear the crew neck sweater on it’s own or under a jacket, blazer or sport coat paired with dress pants, chinos and khakis.

crew neck sweater , business casual sweater

You can also wear it over a collared shirt and tie, but honestly, a v-neck is a better choice in this case.

khaki pants with maroon sweater and dress shirt

What to Look For

  • As for fabrics, patterns and colors, the guidelines are the same for crew neck as well as v-neck sweaters.
  • Go for neutral and solid colors.
  • Merino wool and cotton are still the best materials.

What to Avoid

Source: Amazon
  • Avoid bulky/chunky fabrics as well as elaborate patterns such as bold stripes and polka dots.
  • These make the sweater come across as too casual.

Business Casual Cardigans

Many men shy away from cardigans because they are thought of as elder wear (i.e the uniform in an olds people home). This can be true because many grandads can be spotted rocking the cardigan on their grocery trips. But cardigans can still look modern and stylish if you are under 100 years old. You just need to know what to look for when buying one and also how to style it.

Cardigans come, generally speaking, in two types; shawl collar cardigans and regular (v-neck) cardigans.

Regular V-Neck Cardigan

Regular v-neck cardigans have a minimalist design with a classic collar design and button front. These work incredibly well over collared shirts and ties.

Shawl Collar Cardigans

Source: J.Crew

Shawl collar cardigans have a unique lapel style collar design which makes them quite noticeable and unique. Generally speaking, this shawl collar makes these cardigans casual so they’re not the best choice for business casual attire. Add to the fact that most shawl collar cardigans are made from a chunky material which makes them even more casual.

For business casual wear you should instead go for regular v-neck cardigans which do not have any sort of elaborate and chunky collar design. These cardigans also tend to be made from a finer material similar to v-neck sweaters.

An advantage of cardigans over crew neck and v-neck sweaters is that they sometimes have pockets which makes them more practical for business casual wear. You can use these pockets to put your pen, maybe a small notebook but definitely not phone because that can cause the cardigan to dip unsightly.

Fabric

Most cardigans are either made from a finer thinner fabric similar to v-neck and crew neck sweaters or are made from a thicker, chunkier knitted fabric. As you can surmise, cardigans made from a finer and thinner fabric are going to look best with business casual attire while the chunkier knits are best left for casual wear.

Since this article is focused on men’s business casual sweaters, it is best to go for cardigans made in a finer fabric for your work wardrobe. These cardigans will typically be made from cotton, merino wool or a blend of these materials and will have a lightweight feel similar to crew neck and v-neck sweaters.

How to Wear

For business casual looks, pair the cardigan over top a collared shirt, either a dress shirt or a button down collar shirt. You can opt for a tie for a more formal look or go tieless for a more casual look that is still business casual appropriate.

Think of the cardigan just like a v-neck or crew neck sweater but more unique. Not a lot of men will be wearing it so wearing one will definitely help stand out for the right reasons.

Top tip – The most important factor in determining if a cardigan is suitable as a business casual sweater is NOT the type of cardigan (shawl, v-neck et cetera) but rather the material. If the material is fine enough and not too chunky and the pattern and color are neutral/conservative then you can wear it with business casual attire confidently even if it has a shawl collar (or any collar for that matter).

What to Look For

  • Opt for a light to medium weight fabric when choosing a cardigan. This will allow it to pair well with the rest of your business casual attire.
  • Neutral colors such as charcoal (dark gray), navy, burgundy, dark green.
  • A well fitting cardigan that hugs your body with a length that ends at the waist.

What to Avoid

what not to wear as business casual sweater
Source: L.L.Bean
  • Chunky knitted fabrics that are thick and heavy. These will come across as too casual.
  • You also want to avoid cardigans with bold patterns since these will not be appropriate for office wear.
  • Avoid baggy and long cardigans since these will look sloppy.

Quarter/Half Zip Sweater

Some brands call their versions half zip while others refer to theirs as the quarter zip. Honestly however, they all pretty much half the same zipper length. It’s not as if the half zip has a longer zipper than the quarter zip.

So with that out of the way let’s get into why you should consider this sweater for business casual attire.

half zip sweater, Business Casual Sweater
Source: Ralph Lauren

The zipper makes these sweaters more casual than v-neck sweaters. But that doesn’t mean you can’t wear it like you would wear a v-neck. For business casual wear, you can wear the half/quarter zip sweater just like you would wear your v-neck sweater. So that means overtop of dress shirts, button down shirts and paired with dress pants, chinos, khakis and even jeans.

zip up sweater , business casual sweater

The shape of the collar opening on these sweaters elongates your upper body and enhances the look of your chest and shoulders. This is a great sweater option for men who are on the heavier side and perhaps don’t like the look of the v-neck or crew neck sweater since those sweaters don’t do much to hide the extra pounds.

Final Thoughts

Sweaters can and should be a core component of your business casual wardrobe. Hopefully this guide made it clear as to what types of sweaters are appropriate for business casual attire. We also gave helpful tips on how to wear these sweaters and style them for office wear.

Want to learn more about Men’s Business Casual Attire? Read:

Business Casual Shoes for Men

Are Jeans Business Casual?

Business Casual Polo Shirts