A recent Wall Street Journal piece covering the “new corporate uniform” brought to my attention one of the worst men’s-fashion trends since blond tips: the fleece vest. Sported by finance bros across the nation, the fleece vest is typically worn, rain or shine, “over a button-up shirt and paired with chinos and brown dress shoes of any flavor,” according to WSJ’s men’s-fashion editor Jacob Gallagher. While the L.L Bean or Patagonia-supported “midtown uniform” is now closely associated with New York’s financial district and, yes, Midtown, the trend’s cozy-casual roots are in San Francisco, where “outdoorsy fleece vests matched the youthful, countercultural Silicon Valley spirit in a way suits and ties never did.”
Though I have doubts as to how many of the desk warriors of the finance industry are spending any extended amount of time in the outdoors, a few minutes spent within the vicinity of Rockefeller Center or on the Instagram feed of @MidtownUniform makes clear the ubiquity of the fleece vest. To be sure, the self-perpetuating allure of fitting in can be squarely blamed for the popularity of this seemingly nonfunctional piece of attire; after all, how much does a vest actually keep you warm? But I feel comfortable blaming something in addition to conformity: corporate air conditioning.
The perils of the frigid summer office are intimately familiar to most women who keep an arsenal of shawls, blankets, and contraband space heaters tucked under their desks to keep them warm once the air conditioning kicks in. But according to a recent Popular Science article, most office buildings are actually kept too cold for everyone.
According to the article, a majority of offices fall between 68 and 72 degrees, meaning even the higher end of the temperature spectrum is a little too chilly for most. Only in these suboptimal conditions could a fleece vest that’s theoretically designed to maintain your core temperature in the dead of winter become so popular. We’ve only become complacent with the ridiculous sight of Tom from accounting wearing fleece in the dog days of summer because we ourselves are shivering from the blasts of arctic air circulating through the office. While I’m personally still a bit confused on the actual logistical utility of a fleece vest, it seems abundantly clear that this hideous trend is being propagated by the wintry conditions of modern office life. And since the office temperature rises just as the outdoor temperature falls, we don’t even get a seasonal respite from the fleece vest—it makes Jim’s limited ironic ugly-sweater season almost seem like a treat.