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The Basics of Wearing a Sweater

As grizzled style veterans, we tend to focus on larger issues of style, cultural context and the relative quality of various brands. But as a recent reader email reminded us, sometimes it’s helpful to focus on the basics.

And we mean the absolute basics.

In this case, the problem at hand is how to wear a sweater without descending into a rumpled mess by the end of the day. The request goes like this...

I’m currently a T-shirt or polo guy, but would like to start wearing nicer clothes like button shirts and sweaters, but I am not sure how to handle a few situations. This is going to sound ridiculous, but:

How do you wash your hands without getting your sleeves wet? How can I rinse my face? Button shirts are too tight at the wrist to push up, and sweaters will get stretched if I do it. If I need to cook, or even prepare a small bite to eat, things can splash. Should I wear an apron, or change my clothes? Is there an elegant way to take the sweater off without stretching it too much? What about putting it back on without it getting bunched up?

As I said, these are all ridiculous questions, but they happen in real life. Fancy clothes are great if you are just standing around for a photo, but when you have to actually do things where you need to move or could possibly get dirty, what is one to do?

It’s an interesting and rarely addressed question, especially if you’re moving from rugged nautical sweaters to softer, more easily mussed cashmere pullovers. Some of them are quite delicate, which means you have to move a bit more carefully and avoid too much activity. Rolling up your sleeves is still fair game, but cooking and cleaning are right out, at least sans apron. If you’re planning on either one for date night, we’d stick with a simple button-down. (It also makes for easier undressing.)

As for putting them on... it’s a messy business. For minimum stretching, we recommend leading with your head, then hiking up the torso portion to keep your arms free as you guide them delicately into the sleeves. (This strange art video is surprisingly helpful if you’re having trouble.) But as you may have noticed, there’s simply no way to manage this without looking silly, so we suggest tackling the task in private.

Even so, you can’t be too precious about these things. Good style is about self-assurance, and feeling at home in your clothes and your skin. If you’re worried about every last wrinkle and stretch, you’ll get neither—so take these rules as a light suggestion, not the last word.

Hope that helps.