The weather is cold and the holiday season is fast approaching.
I personally love this time of year.
In fact, I have a collection of about a dozen high quality sweaters that keep me warm, work with the rest of the clothing in my wardrobe, and look great on me (at least that's what my wife says!).
Do you own sweaters you love?
If the answer is no – then you're going to enjoy this article as I focus on five things you need to look for when buying a quality sweater. I want you to own sweaters you love so much you'll wear them till they fall apart!
When you think of sweaters most men think of just the classic, generic pullover they wear atop a white t-shirt or other base layer.
This is a good starting point, but there are so many other features and varieties that go into this timeless piece.
The five buying tips I'll cover are:
- Sweater Material
- Sweater Size
- Sweater Style
- Sweater Color & Stitching
- Sweater Price
FYI – click on any of the images in this article to be transported to the Aran Sweater Market.
They do occasionally go out of stock – so if you see a style and color you like grab it!
Probably the most important thing to look for when buying a sweater is the material it’s made from.
This is especially true given sweaters are usually made to help protect you from harsh conditions and cold climates. The material really does play a part in the level of warmth it will provide you.
Here are the various types of material your sweater should be made with, and ones personally recommended by me:
Wool is the best material available for providing warmth. The key to its ability to retain heat is based on its insulating level. Wool comes from sheep and has been used for centuries to create garments specifically for warmth.
Given the various grades of wool, I always recommend going with the highest you can afford (merino wool is a great indicator of quality). Wool can be pricey, but the luxurious feel is second to none when compared to ones made of lower quality (defined as recycled wools which use a shorter fiber).
Cashmere is another form of wool made from fiber extracted from Cashmere Goats.
Since cashmere is technically a type of hair and not a wool, I am treating it as a separate material in this article.
Although the warmth provided by cashmere is not as good as the standard wool varieties, they still provide solid heat retention. Cashmere is a timeless material that goes well with many items in your closet.
Cashmere's popularity is due to its softness. This high quality fabric can be blended with wool to yield warm, yet incredibly soft, sweaters.
Alpaca fiber has been very popular in South America for hundreds of years. With properties very similar to wool (warmth) and cashmere (softness), it has been used to make ponchos, gloves, hats and winter or high altitude sweaters.
First the good – cotton is cheap, easy to maintain, simple to wash, resistant to wear and easy to find. If made from a high quality cotton, they make excellent warm weather sweaters for the beach or a spring/fall evening.
However cotton is not a fiber made to retain heat. Once wet, it stays wet – and worse for you it feels wet (compared to wool which can hold 30% of its weight in water and not feel wet).
If you buy cotton, understand it has limitations – even with these limitations, well made sweaters in this material can be had at a fair price
Polyester & Cheap Cotton
A note regarding cheap cotton and polyester type blends that seem to be popular in today’s society. While I am not totally against these materials, they really are a step down compared to wool and cashmere.
The reasoning for that is based on the following:
- They have a hard time retaining their shape, especially after multiple cycles in the wash.
- Lack of ability to retain heat. There are some heavy and bulky polyester and cotton sweaters out there that do provide some heat retention. Unfortunately, they still are no match for the wool varieties due to the properties of their fibers.
2) Sweater Size
When searching for sweaters, it is important to get measurements done similar to how you would for a dress shirt. At a minimum, ensure you are measured for:
- Sweater Chest Size – The sweater should hug your body but not restrict you in any way. It should look slightly fitted but never trump comfort.
- Overall Sweater Length – Have someone measure from the back of your collar to your waist to get an accurate sizing of how long the sweater should fit you.
- Sweater Sleeve Length – This is usually measured from your shoulder blade right up to your wrist bone, or the tops of your shoulders to your wrist bone.
Lastly, keep in mind that many animal fabrics tend to shrink after a wash cycle or two.
There is nothing wrong with getting your sweater just a little bigger than what you are usually measured for. If you take care of your sweater, and avoid exposing it to extreme conditions (especially heat), your sweater should retain its shape for the most part.
3) Sweater Styles
As mentioned earlier, there are many varieties available to men. Each style has its place with some working better in specific environments compared to others.
I am going to list out the varieties from most formal to least formal so you can gain some context that will work for your unique situation this holiday season:
The crew neck varieties are among the most common and formal styles you can own, and also one of the simplest.
From heavyweight Aran's – as seen to the left – to lightweight crew necks in a wool cashmere – worn under a jacket, the crew neck sweater is a classic style found in menswear for hundreds of years.
The neckline is round, and has a narrow band of ribbing that adds just a touch of bulk.
This is a good-looking, minimal style that pairs easily with most clothing. They don't play well with neckties, however, and can pinch the collars of some dress shirts as well.
A wider, softer neck opening can help leave room for those business-casual staples.
Sweaters with a very tight crew neck opening will be limited to collarless undershirts, and definitely no neckties.
The V-neck sweater does what the crew neck does not: leaving room for a visible necktie and, in most cases, the points of a shirt collar.
A common variant of the V-neck is the Cardigan design – notice the deep plunge at the chest. There are also common variants that do not open at the front – these usually have a shorter V plunge.
The V-neck and it's variants are great sweater options to pair with a suit. It will keep you warmer than just a standard 2 piece and not look out of place. In fact a Cardigan can be worn in lieu of a jacket in casual cool weather settings.
The great thing about the V-neck along with the crew neck is their level of versatility. They can work well with formal as mentioned, but also can be worn as the most outer layer, which will give it a more casual feel.
Click here to buy a Cardigan from The Aran Sweater Market – a company I personally recommend.
A tall collar folded over on itself makes the classic turtleneck style.
Collars that do not fold over, but still rise high on the neck in this style, are referred to as mock turtlenecks – I personally enjoy both styles.
Stretched out, the collar on a classic turtleneck would usually end around the lips or cheeks; doubled over, it makes a nice thick band around the neck. A great practical piece for warmth – their practicality for those living in harsh climates make them a staple.
Moving on to the less formal type of sweaters, turtlenecks add warmth and make a nice dressed-down replacement for the conventional pointed turndown collar seen on dress shirts. When worn with a jacket, make sure to opt for a lightweight build.
The doubling over, which is the turtleneck's iconic look, adds bulk. They tend to be among the thinner knit sweaters, making them good layering options for men.
A much more casual style to the turtleneck.
At its core, a rollneck sweater is essentially a baggier version of the turtleneck…..without the neck 🙂
It shares the base of an elongated neck, but has a wider opening and a looser knit, This allows a baggy roll around the lower neck.
Often made with a lighter weight knit, these have a working man history but over the last 50 years have worked their way into the cities for weekend wear.
The shawl neck is a style of sweater that can possibly be moved up the list given it pairs well with a shirt and tie combo.
It is a staple for men who love sporting business casual attire.
The shawl neck is commonly seen on cardigans or half-zip sweaters, and has a wide, turned-over collar that narrows to points on the front of the chest.
Sometimes the points overlap for a vaguely double-breasted look, but more often they meet in the center of the chest, usually where the opening ends or the buttons/zipper begin.
The notch neck is a cousin of the V-neck, and mimics the T-shirt style of the same name. It has a simple circular opening most of the way around, but features a small V-shaped cutout at the front, just below the Adam's apple. A sweater that subtly highlights a mans jawline, giving him a more masculine look.
Unlike V-necks, notch necks aren't cut wide or deep enough to frame a necktie knot. They're a more casual style designed to add some visual interest to the basic pullover sweater (and, it must be admitted, to allow well-built guys to show off a hint of tautly muscled upper chest).
You'll usually see these on the lightest and tightest knit sweaters; typically colorful cotton ones made for younger men to wear in trendy outfits.
Sweaters that contain openings are another classic variety that I highly recommend. Overall there are two standard openings on sweaters: the zippered and the button up versions. To break this down a bit:
- Half-Zip is sporty, simple, and easy to snug up tight for warmth in windy weather. Opened up, it leaves room for a collared shirt beneath the sweater.
- Full-Zip is the most outdoorsy, active-wear sort of look. It's functional and very practical for sweaters that are going to be the top layer or a layer under a winter coat a lot, but it's not very dressy and doesn't pair well with sports or suit jackets.
- Half-Button looks a bit dressier than half-zip and plays nicer with turndown collar styles. It can look oddly bulky buttoned up in some cases however, so a lot of these spend their whole lives unbuttoned.
- Button-Down is the classic cardigan look. It's relaxed but nice, and can work as both a top layer or a substitute for a button-fronted dress shirt (or even paired with one) under a sports jacket.
Colors add some life to your sweater and allow your personality to shine through. I am a firm believer that a man should stick with the foundational colors initially before branching off to the more vibrant shades.
With that said, I would recommend the following colors:
When choosing colors, keep in mind that solids generally look the best and provide the most versatility to your wardrobe.
Also, take a good look at what colors go well with your hair color and skin tone. There really is a difference in wearing colors that work with your skin, regardless if you are warm or cool toned. Stick with colors that really make you stand out in a good way.
Sweater patterns are a deep subject – I invite you to learn more here and promise to release a video soon in which I discuss patterns in detail.
Notice I left the price of the sweater for last?
My reasoning is that so many of us look to price as the #1 factor in buying clothing – this is a mistake.
Instead look at how well it measures up using the above factors – Material, Fit, Style, and Color/Pattern.
If the sweater makes you feel great, and you look forward to wearing it (vs it just sitting on the shelf), those are the types of sweaters you want a closet full of.
A sweater you spend $50 on, and wear once, and then NEVER wear again costs $50 per wear and was a waste of money.
A sweater you LOVE and buy for $150, that you wear for 10 years every chance you get and have repaired multiple times because you just can't give it up…..that's what I'm talking about.
Oh – and it ends up being about $1 or less a wear – and every time you wear it you FEEL GREAT.
So save up if you have to – but buy what you'll love vs what's cheap.