A quality sweater that properly fits is one of the most flattering garments a man can wear. It adds weight to a skinny physique and streamlines a large figure. Functionally it keeps you warm while style wise it can break up the monotonous wearing of dress shirts and slacks to the office. Yet most men know little about sweaters and even fewer take full advantage of all the styles and patterns available. This article will give you a strong understanding of sweater fabrics, fit, and style; the goal being not to change you, but rather expose you to options you might not have considered so you can dress in a manner that best reflects your individuality.
Part 1 – Sweater Fabrics
Sweater Fabric Types
Cashmere Sweaters – The gold standard of sweaters, a pure cashmere sweater can cost hundreds of dollars due to the scarcity of the long downy Kashmir goat hair from which it draws its name. Warm and light as a feather, a cashmere sweater is a substantial investment for any man. My advice when purchasing a cashmere sweater is to ensure 1) it fits perfectly 2) you have occasion to wear it at least four times a year 3) it is of a simple, timeless, dark color and 4) you buy it from a reputable merchant (counterfeit sweaters are a poor investment). Cry once about the price, then wear it every chance you get and feel like a million dollars. If you take care of your cashmere sweater you should get 200+ wears out of it over 10 years.
Wool Sweaters – The oldest and most common quality sweater fabric, wool is the traditional favorite when it comes to looks and function. Wool knitted clothing was historically the clothing of common laborers in rural England; today its proven ability to retain heat, fine hand, and history make it a favorite of men all over the world. Wool sweaters do, however, require great care as they are very susceptible to damage from heat and rough handling, especially when wet (wool loses 30% of its strength when soaked).
Cable Knit Cartigan
Cotton Sweaters – Sweaters made from cotton fabric (all other factors being equal) are going to be cooler than either their wool or cashmere brethren as their cellulose foundation sheds heat faster. This isn’t a bad thing – sometimes you want a cooler sweater and cotton sweaters can be worn directly on the skin with no irritation. Also, the use of cotton has helped to drive down sweater costs.
Synthetic Fabric Sweaters – In line with cotton, the big advantage of synthetic fabrics is that they have driven down the cost of these garments. Depending on the type of fabric being used, a synthetic fabric sweater can mimic the properties of wool or cotton, oftentimes without the problems of having to take special care of the garment when it comes to washing and handling. Be careful though when purchasing a synthetic fabric sweater – it will in most cases be of a lower quality than its wool/cashmere fiber counterpart.
Blended Fabric Sweaters – Oftentimes you’ll see a sweater made from two or more fabrics; the reason most manufacturers do this is 1) to save money and 2) to increase performance and desired performance properties. This cost savings is often seen with cashmere blends, as a company can call their sweater a “cashmere” sweater when in reality a large part of the sweater is made from less expensive wool or synthetic fibers. Neither bad nor good, this is simply a case where the consumer should learn to read labels and understand that oftentimes you get what you pay for. The second part, increasing performance/desired properties, is why I consider this practice acceptable. Simply put, by mixing in other fibers a sweater manufacturer can create a garment that fits and performs even better than a pure fabric garment.
Sweater color affects the situations in which a sweater can be worn. Darker colors are typically seen as more formal and conservative, although light-colored sweaters are more acceptable in the spring and summer months. Brighter colors, due to the fact they draw attention to the wearer, are less formal but can be great for casual wear and giving the impression of not taking oneself too seriously. Extremely bright colors are best avoided unless you are a performer or highway worker.
Simple solids are the most formal, with patterns, whether woven in or stitched, making the garment more casual. Argyle is one of the most popular sweater patterns seen on men in the winter months; it’s visually distinctive thanks to its lines and colors. The trick to wearing an argyle sweater successfully is to understand that the sweater’s pattern will be the center of your outfit. Match it with simple items that do not compete with it; also, be aware it will be remembered and should only be worn a couple times a month. Personally, I prefer to wear these sweaters a bit closer fitting to the body under a simple sport jacket. Sportswear sweaters and jerseys, with their unique pattern identifiers, make these types of sweaters casual by affiliation. Great for wear with jeans and suede bucks – not for a suit. For advanced sweater pattern wearing, look here.
Sweater weave affects the heat retaining properties, fit, and level of formality of a sweater. Typically heavy rib patterns will make a sweater thicker, increasing its ability to keep you warm and enabling a former fit. Plain woven sweaters are going to be less elastic, slightly cooler, but the more delicate look gives them a more professional appearance.