David asks: Just recently found your blog, and it’s a go-to for me everyday. I do have a question. You are adamant about the “tie with jacket only rule." I am a history teacher at a suburban high school in upstate New York. The school has neither proper heating nor cooling, and I am constantly on my feet, walking around, at the front of the room, helping kids etc. So when is it OK for me to take my jacket off and roll up my sleeves?
When I wrote this piece on 25 things you should know, there was a bit of controversy surrounding my suggestion that you shouldn’t wear a tie without a jacket. A fair amount of controversy, actually. But I wrote it advisedly, so let me offer you some guidelines.
First of all, it’s perfectly appropriate, in the course of work, to take off your coat. I myself take off my coat when I arrive at the office, and hang it on a coat rack. Most people who work in situations that demand a tie also work in situations that require them to sit frequently, and sitting wears unnecessarily on your coat. If I go out, or meet a colleague, or get cold, I put my coat back on. Generally, though, it’s off. That’s fine.
There are a few reasons it’s better to wear a coat. The first is that you will look better. Unless you happen to be Ryan Lochte, your physique will generally be more flattered by a coat than a shirt. It also makes you look "finished,” as though you’re fully dressed, prepared. A bit of variety and layering also makes almost any outfit look better.
But if you have some reason to take your coat off, no one will begrudge you. Taking a long walk in the sun? Carry your coat. (Short walks are often cooler with a seasonally-appropriate coat shading you.) Digging a ditch? Take off your coat. That’s fine. It’s like wearing your hat in a train station – the activity trumps the normal etiquette.
The question comes in when you are dressing with a tie but without a coat.
Ask yourself: why am I doing this? What is the occasion that demands the formality of a tie but doesn’t require a coat? Besides transitory situations (sitting at your desk, digging a ditch, eating soup), why would you need to wear a tie but not a coat?
The answer is pretty much “I work at a cell phone store.”
Which is not a good look.
Now, there’s a certain semi-ironic aesthetic that peaked a couple years ago that alludes to the (work-engaged, desk-sitting) necktied nerd of the 1960s. The NASA engineer look. It usually involves an extremely slim shirt and trousers, a skinny tie, and a tie clip. The sleeves are typically short or rolled (an allusion to those engineers-at-work). In warm weather, this look has no coat.
While I’d say that the style’s a little stale, fashion-wise, it looked fine on some people. Mostly very skinny ones who could pull off the irony. I sincerely had no beef with these people. Have no beef with these people – I’m sure there are people who look fine in this outfit even now. The truth is, though, that 99% of the guys wearing ties without coats in America today look like yutzes.
The simple solution is simple. If you’re wearing a coat, and the situation demands it, wear a tie. If you’re not, and it doesn’t, don’t. There’s no need to put the cart before the horse.