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Has Santorum ruined the sweater vest?
August 11, 2012 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Calling academic fashion mavens! Can I rock this look (tweed jacket & sweater vest) as a woman?

I'm a professor. I'm in physics, so the fashion bar is low, but I'd like to come across as a little more professional—and older. (I'm pushing forty, and am still frequently mistaken for a student. At first I thought it was my long hair, but I got a more stylish cut, and still.) I've slid from blazers, button-down shirts, and slacks in my early, eager days, to my current uniform of solid-colored T-shirts, cardigans, and dark-wash jeans. I've always liked more of a tomboy look, and I've been struck by how smart a vest looks under a jacket (in general, and on me).

My plan is to get 4-5 conservatively-styled wool jacket/blazers in neutral colors, a bunch of no-iron white oxford shirts, and as many excellent sweater vests as I can lay hands on (and/or knit). For pants, I'm planning to stick with the dark-wash jeans, because they're comfortable and practical, and I don't want to look too stuffy.

I'm in a college town with an impressive array of secondhand stores for this academic year, so I am well-positioned to inexpensively acquire tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows, and suchlike.

I've experimented with no-iron white oxford shirts from Land's End and found them satisfactory. (Much of the slide from sharper dressing to t-shirts has been due to a lack of motivation to iron.) Sticking to all white, I figure, will make my life easier (though I do already own some colored and patterned button-down shirts.)

Sweater vests for women are the challenge. I just don't see a lot of them in stores and catalogs, and the ones I see are... well, frumpy. More elementary-teacher than professorial/professional. Despite this, I'm confident that through thrifting and my ability to knit I'll be able to assemble a satisfactory stable. (If nothing else it seems like I should do okay with a men's solid-color cashmere vest, right?)

But should I take the paucity of vests for women on the market as a sign? I am aiming for a timeless, classy look that is dignified and professorial; I'm afraid that instead I will end up looking rumply, weird, out-of-fashion, and clueless.

So, give me the Tough Love: should I scuttle this plan? If I do go ahead, as I'm buying pieces, what I should look for, or avoid? Any killer accessories that will totally sell this look? Knitters, do you know of particularly stylish vest patterns?

Thanks in advance for your help and guidance.
posted by BrashTech to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I haven't seen sweater vests for women in a loooooong time. To keep your look more updated, you could try scarves instead. They jazz up the rest of the "uniform" and can be changed easily. Try this video for ideas about how to tie scarves.
posted by frizz at 11:36 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Boden always does sweater vests, if you do end up going in that direction. Here's this season's batch.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:39 AM on August 11, 2012


I love this type of look on women! Don't take the fact that women's sweater vests are hard to find as a sign not to do it. However, I think you need to make sure the pieces you get fit you properly or else I think you will end up looking frumpy. By that, I mean that vests and jackets should be somewhat close fitting, come in at the waist, be fitted around your arms, etc. For this reason, I would avoid men's clothing unless you find pieces that do the above or can be altered to fit your body. I do love the sweater vest that charmcityblues linked, especially the ones with the fair isle pattern all over.
posted by kitty teeth at 11:48 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks, charmcityblues, Boden looks great. Could you learn physics from this woman?
posted by BrashTech at 12:19 PM on August 11, 2012


The very cool librarian rockstar du jour, Char Booth, has pulled this off well. Most of the Google Image results for her are headshots, but there's a pic of her at a speech on a library school student's blog.

Like kitty teeth said above, you can see that her jacket is close fitting and comes in at the waist.
posted by metarkest at 12:20 PM on August 11, 2012


You're in luck; J Crew relatively recently had a women's sweater vest for sale (possibly findable on eBay -- sorry for lack of link but I think "reverse fair isle" will help your Google; sold out on the site but may still be viewable), which means Old Navy etc will likely knock out a sweater vest or two...

Staid British firms that sell nothing but knit wool and/or cashmere will have respectable classic vests. I think I'd stay away from men's, which will be boxy.
posted by kmennie at 12:25 PM on August 11, 2012


Oh, golly, yes. You're in academia, in a male-dominated field, and even without those two factors I'd say it was perfectly respectable. Dare I say even cute. (In a terribly professional way.)
posted by Madamina at 12:25 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're busty, it may not be a flattering look. But "flattering" isn't the only criterion for what to wear!
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:30 PM on August 11, 2012


You can absolutely rock this look - Woolovers has a good selection of vests in modern colors, which tones down the frump factor immediately. If you're worried about bagginess, making sure your base oxford is well fitted (size for your bust off the rack, then take it to a tailor) will make a huge difference, as will choosing a knit with some cling, such as a rib or cable. Pair with trouser jeans, jacket/blazer and (my personal favorite) colorful high top shoes. You'll look smashing!
posted by givennamesurname at 12:49 PM on August 11, 2012


I agree not to add the vest if you're busty, and also that it must fit properly otherwise you're going to have layers bunching up and riding up.

I also think that a vest *and* a tweed blazer worn at the same time, would look very very hot and sweaty. One of the other would be just fine though. There's absolutely no reason not to go for this look.
posted by tel3path at 1:48 PM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that the key to making this a professional and polished look is to make sure that everything fits really well. If that outfit hangs baggily on you, it will come off looking like you're wearing someone else's clothes. Take your lovely thrift-store tweeds to a tailor and have them altered to fit you flatteringly. Pants and shirts too - the sweater vest will look really good over a properly fitted shirt, and lumpy over a shirt that's too big. Also consider looking at rayon or silk button down shirts for a softer look. Another interesting addition to that outfit, on a day when the sweater vest is too warm, would be a long thin scarf tucked under the lapels of the tweed jacket.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:50 PM on August 11, 2012


ooh, and good shoes - they don't have to have very a high heel, but something sleek and stylish will really pull it together
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:55 PM on August 11, 2012


What you're describing sounds a lot like what Ellen wears. I think she wears it well.
posted by cazoo at 2:14 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do this, but I wear it with a pencil skirt and pumps so that it's a little more formal and feminine. I've gotten vests at Banana Republic (maybe their outlet, not sure), and United Colors of Benetton. They're both a few years old, though.

A v-neck cardigan under a suit jacket looks pretty similar and is a lot easier to find. I do this a lot because my building is horribly cold in the fall/winter. It can look almost comically preppy so I tone it down with colorful sweaters and/or interesting accessories. As cazoo noted, use Ellen for inspiration, her style is awesome.
posted by gatorae at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2012


I think this is a good look--professional but stylish. I love a good fitted blazer + dark jeans, because it's polished but not overdressed. I've never added a sweater vest but this is seriously making me consider it.

Seconding everyone about the importance of good fit for your pieces--baggy fit will not achieve the look you're going for.

Make sure you like the look of your outfit with just the shirt + vest, because classroom temps can vary; you might get too warm and need to remove the blazer.

Some attractive vest patterns on Ravelry (caveat: I've never knit any of them, though I've started working on a Ms. Marigold):

Put Together
Academia
Angostura
Wood Hollow Vest
Ms. Marigold
Geek Chic
Deep V Argyle Vest by Metafilter's own peachfuzz
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:37 PM on August 11, 2012


Here's a pretty kickass vintage sweater vest...bet you could score similar things from Etsy and thrift shops. You could actually make this more interesting by wearing a patterned blouse with it (something from H&M, perhaps), or a colored blouse (you could even do something collared and polyester, if you have a sense of humor about your outfits) and/or a more fashion forward blazer, like something from Scotch and Soda. You'd look like you dropped out of a fabulous early-70s episode of Sesame Street. Your students would remember you forever.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 3:45 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


From Woolrich: Women's Davon vest.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:46 PM on August 11, 2012


This sounds like a sophisticated and hot look. I wish my professors would dress like this. Thrifting sounds like a good way to achieve this look. Good luck!
posted by MT at 5:07 PM on August 11, 2012


Student in academia and working in the health profession here: I'll go out on a limb and share a shameful secret: I sometimes layer a cotton v-neck tshirt over a button down shirt under a blazer; much less warm than a full-on sweater for warmer months.

The fashion police are coming for me, aren't they?
posted by absquatulate at 5:18 PM on August 11, 2012


Nthing using Ellen Degeneres' style for inspiration. There are tons of Ellen clips on youtube if you want to see her in action. I love the way she dresses.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:23 PM on August 11, 2012


Yay for talking about academic fashion. What you're describing reminds me very much of what some of my (few) female profs were wearing back when I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s. It all seemed to go businesswear after about '96, but I definitely remember one particular older lady who went as far as wearing a knitted tie under the knitted vest. It definitely carries a bit of gravitas.

FWIW (as a guy) I experimented with wool pullovers under tweed jackets a while back and I have never been so hot in my life. I think there's a reason they were popular here in the 1940s when coal was rationed.
posted by cromagnon at 5:54 PM on August 11, 2012


I love the outfit you made on Boden, and agree that it's a great look for a professor. Another idea you might consider, which is between your current uniform and it's high maintenance predecessor, is solid color t-shirts with a blazer. No ironing, but still looks smart, and can make suit pants more casual.
posted by tinymegalo at 6:42 PM on August 11, 2012


I'm gonna go ahead and mark you all as the best because YOU ARE. Thanks everyone for the feedback and ideas.

(absquatulate, if the fashion police come for me, I promise that I will never reveal who gave me the idea, even if they offer me a plea bargain.)
posted by BrashTech at 6:21 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stephen Harper ruined the sweater vest long before Rick Santorum did. But neither of them ruined them for women.
posted by Kurichina at 9:09 AM on August 13, 2012


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