Don’t sweat sweater details, a handy guide to fashionable sweaters

Don’t sweat sweater details, a handy guide to fashionable sweaters

Q. I moved a couple of years ago from New Orleans to Little Rock, where the winter temperatures get pretty cold. I own a few sweaters now and need advice. When is it OK to wear a collared shirt under a sweater? Does the sweater have to be V-neck? Also, do you think sweater vests are stylish? P.S.: I love your column!

A. One of the best ways for a man to get the biggest bang for his buck is to buy a few truly special sweaters. They can stand out from the crowd by way of color, fabric, style/cut, or pattern. Each option, when well selected, helps significantly to upgrade a man’s casual and semi-dressy wardrobe.

COLOR: A man has almost no color limitations when it comes to choosing a sweater (compare that to wearing a very light- or bright-colored suit or sports coat, which marks him as ill-advised!). Everything is acceptable in sweaters – from an elegant pure white or light yellow or pastel pink through the preppy bright reds, Kelly greens, and royal blues, to the most wear-everywhere standards of burgundy, navy, and gray. Sometimes the sweater just provides a splash of color to style-up a too bland combination. If you look great in some color (if it brings out the color of your eyes or complements silver hair, etc.) or if it is a favorite color that you cannot indulge in anywhere else in your wardrobe, buying a sweater in that color is your answer. You really have no restrictions.

FABRIC: All the natural fibers can be woven into handsome sweaters. Each has its own characteristics that could fit a particular niche in your closet. Wool, cashmere, alpaca, cotton, linen, silk, and blends of two fibers in various proportions, can all contribute another element. Of course, the warmth of wool is the usual element one looks for in a sweater, but it is not the only factor to consider. Sometimes what you want is a rugged look that comes from a bulky cable-knit or an Irish fisherman’s sweater. Sometimes it is just the opposite, the note of dressiness/elegance found in a smooth-textured cashmere or a cotton-and-cashmere blend.

STYLE/CUT: Sweaters’ structure can range from the simplest crew-neck to the Ivy League look of a V-neck pullover. They can have a high turtleneck or a super-casual henley neckline. They can be loose-fitting or body-hugging. They can include polo-style buttons or half zippers at the neck opening. And some sweaters are cardigans, either the button-front or zip-front types. It is harder for a cardigan to look stylish. Not that cardigans can’t be cool, but it does take more know-how to pull it off so you don’t end up with a grandfather look.

Most sweaters have long sleeves, but some of the most fashionable ones are sleeveless vests – you asked whether these are stylish, and for many this question is really “are they nerdy?” The answer to both is yes. They can come off as quintessentially geeky, think Raj from the “Big Bang Theory”, especially with a bow-tie (although, I love bow ties), or as particularly handsome and self-assured (think LeBron James or Ryan Reynolds.

Almost every sweater (except for a turtleneck or a henley) allows you to layer it over a collared shirt. This also allows you to either unbutton the top two shirt buttons and go tieless or to wear a casual necktie with your sweater, depending on your preference and the occasion.

PATTERN: Here is where your taste and your pocketbook enter the picture. Handsome patterned sweaters are often expensive. In fact, sometimes very expensive. While good-looking solid-colored sweaters can range in price from very reasonable at the Gap, L.L. Bean, and Lands’ End to more costly at high-end stores, unfortunately, great-looking patterned sweaters are often in the hundreds-of-dollars category. The more sophisticated abstract patterns that add a casual swagger are usually only found in such luxury upscale men’s shops as Ralph Lauren, Paul Stuart, and Burberry; they seldom show up in your favorite thrift shop. This is one place where I give you “permission” to spend a large amount. If you find a sweater with an interesting pattern that really appeals to you, I encourage you to allow yourself to make the investment. Expensive sweaters are worth the money. They last for years. They are versatile. They work for many occasions, and they don’t go out of style. They can elevate the overall tone of your casual wardrobe. They are noticed . . . and appreciated.

The important point to remember is that a great-looking sweater gives you many, many options and allows you to change your look from casual to almost dressy, from laid-back to stylish, and from ordinary to very special. Best of all, it makes you feel good.

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL:

Categories: Male Call