In the bleak midwinter, as the carol doesn’t put it, you need knitwear. Today, there is a number of high-tech thermo-regulating fabrics that will keep you warm with greater efficiency, but, it must be said, not with the same style.
Since knitting is one of the oldest means of making clothes, it’s natural that it has given rise to some of the oldest styles of clothing too. Their survival into the 21st century makes every one a classic.
Pick your style, yarn and the weight of your jumper according to your needs – as a base layer against the skin, mid-layer under a denim jacket, or even as serious outerwear.
Everyone from James Dean to Ernest Hemingway has made natty knitwear look like their outfit’s main event. Cable knits, cardigans, sweatshirts and Breton tops are all high-impact options in a man’s wardrobe.
Just remember to keep yours clean or packed away airtight – it’s the oils absorbed from the wearer’s skin that attracts those pesky moths. And few things are as disappointing as pulling out your favourite jumper for another cold season of duty to find it looks more like lace. That’s not a good look at all.
9 Men’s Jumper Styles To Try This Season
A crew neck knit is probably the most anodyne of all jumper styles. But then, it’s hard to argue with the idea that, as a result, it’s also the most versatile. The simple design can be worn with just about anything casually – over a shirt or T-shirt – and even with a suit or check blazer. Available in different weights – from fine merino through to chunky highland – it’s the easiest winter jumper choice any man can make when in a hurry.
A plain design works best (and is essential for office outfits) despite recent seasons pushing intarsia – when a random pattern or image is knitted into the sweater. If that’s your preference, go abstract to avoid CJD – Christmas Jumper Delusion, the belief that such a style can be worn on any day other than December 25th.
The hardiest of all men’s jumpers, the close-fitting form and dense weave of the fishermans knit is guaranteed to see you through the harshest of days. Small wonder, given that it was originally devised for wear at sea. The Guernsey, as it’s otherwise known, is also knitted so that it can be worn either way round, which is useful when dressing in the dark, as well as so that any holes can be easily knitted over.
The Channel Islands may have originated the style, but it’s been common to most historic British fishing communities. Indeed, the patterns knitted into the jumper style were localised so that it allowed the identification of any fisherman lost at sea, should their body be recovered. Think on that next time you’re wearing one all cosy by the pub fire.
Scotch & Soda
The origins of the roll neck – and its cousins, such as the funnel neck and mock neck – are positively medieval. The style was created as an undergarment for ye olde knights, who needed to protect their necks from chafing chainmail. Jump forward half a millennia, and it took English playwright Noel Coward to make the look popular in the 1920s.
However you wear yours, it’s an eminently wintery one, effectively having a built-in scarf. Arguably the roll neck does its best work when dressed up with a suit – liberating men from the need for a shirt and tie – but a casual pairing with chinos is not one to be overlooked either.
Fitted cardigans are not easy to wear, unless you’re a Mod aficionado and completist in your style. The cardigan came well before the scooter-riding lads of the 1960s, though: an easy-on, easy-off layer devised by the 7th Earl of Cardigan in the 19th century, no less, to wear while on campaign in the Crimean War.
The chunky cardigan complete with a shawl collar is a wardrobe staple. It’s at once comforting and comfortable, and is the ideal ‘house coat’. But, thanks to iconic fans the likes of John F. Kennedy and Steve McQueen – who wore theirs over a white T-shirt or button-down Oxford shirt – it’s become a casual classic too.
Like the fishermans pull-over, the cable-knit jumper has its origins in the unforgiving conditions of deep-sea fishing, specifically those off the most westerly point of Ireland, where the Aran Islands are found.
The cable takes its inspiration from the fisherman’s rope, and the diamond pattern often knitted from the fisherman’s net. It’s intricate work. But it also helps make for an incredibly functional garment (the wool used traditionally has a high lanolin content, making it water repellent).
And if it really chucks it down? The proper cable knit sweater can take on 30 per cent of its weight in water before the wearer feels wet. All of which is another way of saying this is true winter wear, always good with jeans or casual trousers.
Despite being a hallmark of golfers and the wilfully middle-aged, the V-neck sweater is one of the more surprisingly versatile jumper styles around. In fairness, it does originate in golf attire – as a long-sleeved version of the fair isle tank top, which Edward VII made popular for play. But today the style is wearable over a shirt and tie, so works for business-casual, but can also figure over a T-shirt, albeit less successfully.
Best still avoided is the V-neck sweater over nothing: Michael Douglas’s character in Basic Instinct was castigated for this style choice, though in retrospect it looks almost edgy. Today it might pass if the jumper was in a sufficiently lightweight merino wool, but it’s still a bit ‘Hollywood leading male’ photoshoot. And whatever you do, avoid anything labeled ‘deep V’. Shudder.
After sneakers, the sweatshirt is arguably sport’s definitive contribution to men’s style. Devised by Russell Athletic as a hard-wearing, comfortable, absorbent layer for athletes to wear to keep warm, these days it’s one of those reassuring go-to garments that can get better with age.
Up until the 1970s, many were made using a slow and complicated loopback knitting technique, which gave an all-cotton sweatshirt density and stretch but allowed it to hold its shape. That went out with cheap cotton-polyester versions. In more recent years, however, loopback styles have – driven by Japanese Americana obsessives – made a welcome return.
Breton Stripe Knit
The Breton top might be hard to wear without prompting jokey questions along the lines of ‘where are your onions?’ And ‘have you lost your beret?’ Such is the quintessential Frenchness of the style.
This cotton, boat-neck top was created for the French Navy during the 1850s, the stripes – traditionally 21, blue-on-white, said to mark each of Napoleon’s victories – were chosen to help sailors spot a man overboard.
It was a staple style for Riviera-era Pablo Picasso and The Great Gatsby writer F. Scott – and makes for an easy way into pattern, worn with jeans or khakis or under a blazer. Just check out Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief.
Knitted Zip-Up Jumper
Like the idea of a cardigan but not quite ready to start emulating your dad’s dress sense yet? Switch the buttons out for a zipper to bring this conservative knitted garment up to date.
The dad comment may have been a little unfair, but there’s no shying away from the fact that a knitted cardigan is hardly at the cutting edge of modern menswear. That’s no problem for some, but if you like your knitwear a little more fashion-forward, then the contemporary aspect offered by the addition of a zipper could be what you need.
Whether it’s a full zip-through design, or simply a three-quarter zip, it’s a simple way of giving this menswear classic a modern edge. Layer up with Oxford shirt, unstructured blazer and wool overcoat, or dress things down with a light jacket, tailored joggers and a pair of suede running shoes.