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Has Rick Santorum ruined the sweater vest for everyone?

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, center, holds a pair of boxing gloves at a campaign stop in Hollidaysburg, Pa.

Jae C. Hong/Jae C. Hong/AP

The question

Are sweater vests ridiculous only because Rick Santorum wears them or are they inherently dorky? Can they ever be worn with a suit jacket or a tie?

The answer

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Santorum alone cannot claim credit for this odd contemporary trend. He may not know it, but sweater vests, especially with jackets and ties, have been, for about 10 years now, staples of fashion photo shoots in exactly the kind of progressive press that the former U.S.-presidential hopeful must loathe.

Semi-ironic granddaddy V-neck sweaters − either sleeved or sleeveless − worn with narrow ties and jeans are so commonly seen on skinny waiters in downtown restaurants that the look is almost a cliché of sexually ambiguous hipsterdom. (Of course, Santorum does not wear them this way: He de-ironizes them by pairing them with his best khaki pleated Dockers.)

But it is a fashion I have always detested, whether worn as proud suburban conservatism or as nonchalant retro-casual chic. Sweater vests are always evocative of the seniors home; they are resolutely square, unvirile and unsexy, no matter how slim you are. If you absolutely must add a layer of knitted wool to your spring ensemble, keep it under a sports jacket so that the silly armlessness can't be seen. And never, ever wear one with a suit.

Russell Smith is a novelist. His recent memoir, Blindsided , is available as a Kobo e-book.

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