I recently talked about the of v-neck sweaters, one of your cold weather wardrobe’s most versatile tools. It is, however, not the only option when it comes to lightweight or mid-weight sweaters. The other option is of course the standard against which all sweaters are measured – the crewneck sweater.
The crewneck sweater is a classic staple of men’s wardrobes everywhere. Based on the most basic of stylistic designs, this woven outer shirt is about as strait forward as a garment can be. And to me that is its enduring benefit; it can work with almost any outfit and easily be paired with jeans or grey flannels.
A good crewneck should have a lightly fitted body and trim arms, but not too tight. The hem of the sweater should sit at your waist with room to allow for sitting, stretching etc., but should not blouse over the ribbed bottom. This effect is unattractive on anyone and gives the impression that either you don’t know you own size (legitimately, a common and unfortunate problem for many guys) or that borrowed someone else’s sweater. Neither impression is a positive one.
The sweater should fit comfortably over an oxford shirt yet still allow for easy movement while maintaining a close fit. I like my sweater’s arms to either run a touch long so that I can turn back a good amount of cuff or end right at the wrist and allow some shirt sleeve to show. Anything in between tends to look out of proportion on me.
The neck is an area that merits additional attention. Some makers have neck lines that appear designed to strangle anyone foolish enough to stick their head through, while others seem to feel that wide gaping holes are somehow attractive. The ideal is a neck that allows the collar of your shirt to sit comfortably within, while the sweater itself offers a clean, firm neck hole that won’t easily lose its shape.
Regarding fabrics, lamb’s wool is a solid standby and tends to be the most affordable of classic sweater materials. It is light and warm but rough enough to avoid being particularly formal. Merino wool is an excellent material and many of my favorite sweaters are made of merino. But by almost anyone’s standard, cashmere is really the gold standard. One- or two-ply is more than enough for the average office dweller. Three-ply cashmere sweaters are often hawked this time of year, but don’t fall for it. Pictures of handsome people frolicking in snowy New England winters do no good while you are sweating up a storm in your climate controlled office building – every day.
When it comes to looks and construction, there are many different styles of crewnecks; from simple to elaborate, paper thin to bomb proof. After much thought, I have concluded that there are only two really useful styles: flat knit and cabled in solid colors.
A few years ago, during an after-Christmas sale, I came across a beautiful, chunky lamb’s wool Irish fisherman style sweater. It was a steal and I bought it. It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t wear the thing anywhere except outside on a cold day. It weighed a ton and trapped too much heat. The upshot? Unless you actually are an Irish fisherman or really do work outside, give this heavy style a pass.
A mid- or lightweight cabled sweater is a much better choice and is simply more usable. You can find them in every color under the sun; from preppy primaries to English heathers. Classics brands like Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Ralph Lauren and J. Crew offer a wide variety of this timeless model and each maker has its own take on the classic shape. Where Brooks’ might run a little roomy, like its oxfords, J. Crew is likely more fitted.
The same goes for flat knit sweaters. These seamless, modern versions can give you a more modern look while still hewing to a traditional silhouette. Like the cabled crewneck, they are incredibly versatile and mix well with different materials. Flat knits in particular are good to have around because, if you want to go with a more casual look, they can also act as a grownup sweatshirt – relaxed but not sloppy.
Sweatshirt alternative (Banana Republic)
Younger designers focused on the resurgence of American Ivy League style are just as enamored with crewnecks. Michael Bastian makes a great version and Zanone, part of Italian brand Incotex, makes the washed cashmere version in the top image.
Michael Bastian’s (l) take on preppy
Crewnecks also adapt well to layering, though don’t work as well as a v-neck if you want to sport a tie underneath. Like most pieces of classic preppy clothing, crewneck sweaters are a smart investment that will be in style long after their better days are behind them. But, that’s the charm of classic clothes: they get better with age.