The sweater over the shoulders

Wednesday, January 4th 2017
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We took this picture of Patrick Johnson, founder of P Johnson, last month.

It occurred to me at the time how hard it is to wear a sweater over the shoulders, as Patrick does. It's something I rarely do, and it's probably worth unpacking why.

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As with so many areas of menswear, the enemies here are pretence and connotation.

Appearing natural in your dress has long been central to definitions of style. Elegance, grace, sprezzatura: all involve the idea of appearing at ease and unforced.

Beau Brummell and the hours of work required to make his neckwear look natural are often referenced, but the idea crops in the ideas of taste and style in many different cultures.

When the effort involved in an outfit becomes obvious, it risks looking mannered and affected. (Terms such as stuffy and stiff might also be used - the idea of constraint is central.)

Such unnaturalness becomes more likely the more ostentatious a piece of clothing. So a key problem with wearing a sweater over the shoulders is that it attracts attention, and appears too deliberate.

p-johnson-tailors

How do you avoid this? Most obviously, by wearing it as naturally and with as much ease as possible.

So tying the sweater a little askew, for example. Having it slanted ever-so-slightly to one side. (Although not so much as to appear deliberate, of course.)

Perhaps it helps if the knitwear is thin - a fine merino that looks a little wrinkled and rumpled.

It is certainly helped, on Patrick, by the softness of his tailoring and the dark, monotone colour palette. There are no showy patterns, no other suspect pieces of ostentation (not even a pocket handkerchief).

patrick-johnson-shoes

This understated style also helps with the connotations. 

Whether we like it or not, our ideas of style are influenced by what we see others wearing, and in what contexts. A sweater over the shoulders is associated by many, rightly or wrongly, with the landed upper classes. 

You might like that association, of course, but if you want to avoid it then dressing in decidedly urban colours is a good first step.

No checks, no tweeds, no bright life-saver colours. Just shades of navy, white, grey and blue.

 

Photo: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

More on Patrick Johnson and their London pop-up shop soon

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Hristo

Justus TUM BWL asks:
“Why they sell Lacoste pullovers in different sizes? They are anyway only to be worn over the shoulders.”
In German:
https://www.facebook.com/BWL.Justus/
https://www.facebook.com/BWL.Justus/photos/a.1672909182958775.1073741828.1669506439965716/1706022079647485/

Johannes

Porsche 911: Der beste Weg um von unten auf andere herabzusehen

david

Hi Simon, the knitwear in this case as you mentioned has really helped give the effortless look that Patrick displays here. I think the knitwear can be either monotone or even single colour like the one here at Mercy&Loyal https://goo.gl/ncaJvu. Ideal for wearing over the shoulder without the burden of looking forced.

S

Simon,

Very interesting post, thank you.

One thing I wonder though is if the ideal is this effortlessness why are we so drawn to the classic (well fitting!) looks of white and black tie? Does a man ever look better than in those outfits?

And certainly the dress (of the wealthy) of the 1920s and 30s are much more visually pleasing than anything we see today?

A soft dinner shirt may be more comfortable, bit certainly a boiled front shirt looks much better? Etc etc

Thanks,
S

Tony Johansson

Hi Simon,

To have the sweater over a jacket is maybe to much “sprezz” for me but works quite well if it goes only over a shirt or piké or t-shirt. Even more “sprezz” would be to put the sweater over a coat 🙂

Anonymous

Putting a sweater over a coat negates the sweater……..

James

So does putting it over the jacket (really). I think that was the point that the original commentator was making!

Anonymous

True!

Dan Ippolito

I agree with Tony; a sweater over minimalist urban wear seems a little pointless, as well as ostentatious. I have a worn a sweater over my shoulders (raising a few eyebrows in the process, as I live in the Midwest), but I wore with a polo shirt or a button-down, BECAUSE I EXPECTED THE DAY (OR THE EVENING) TO GET COOLER. Form follows function!

Scott

This look is pretentious to say the least, not a fan. Men who wear this type of look are more dandies or fashionistas rather than well dressed adult men. This look is more appropriate for GQ, but not for Permanent Style except for a piece on what NOT to wear!

Jeff

I often use a merino wool, Smedley around the shoulders as a layering method. It is particularly effective during the fall/winter and winter/spring when I am out for the entire day and into the evening. When the sun sets or if the temperature drops dramatically I can slip the Smedlley on and wear it underneath my jacket.

Anonymous

Mon Dieu – NOooooooooo !
Don’t try this at home. You will certainly come off as a contrived, plastic poser – just as this poor unfortunate in the shoot does.
Affectations like this are up there with turning back shirt cuffs and other ‘Jason King’ type moves.
The only time you should have a sweater over your shoulders is in the most casual of situations – between tennis sets or poolside.
The idea of wearing one over a suit is the absolute antithesis of ‘Permanent Style’ and is the height of ‘Sprezz’ nonsense.

Nick Inkster

I wrote a post in a similar vein to the above by Anonymous yesterday but it appears to have got lost somewhere.

Anyway, hear hear re the above post.

Anonymous

Anonymous (of course he/she is),
Appreciate your style dictatorial but unfortunately disagree. The laying of a sweater is practical, first and foremost, and an elegant way to avoid carrying the sweater. As is your suggestion of wearing it after a tennis match or by the poolside. Both ideas are due to excessive heat or changing temperatures as is my reasoning. Unfortunate that you feel that YOU cannot carry it off but as Simon wrote it is all a matter of ones own comfort.

Simon

When in Venice I saw a man on a bike wearing two sweaters around his shoulders, both in pastel shades. As it was Venice it worked but only just!

Matt

Have to admit that I can’t stand ‘sprezz’. It almost always comes off as looking hopeless contrived, formulaic and would undoubtedly look odd in any real-world situation which doesn’t involve perching oneself on that little wall outside Pitti.

Sadly these photographs are no exception to that rule. The only time you’ll catch me with a knotted jumper tossed over my shoulder is when I’m on holiday and heading out for evening with the expectation that it might get cooler later on.

Matt

Hi Simon,

I agree but there are certain ways of dressing which probably started out as genuine expressions of a devil-may-care attitude to the rules which have been copied ad nasuem and now appear very contrived.

I’m thinking of countless photographs of men wearing ties with the back blade hanging below the front; leaving a single strap of a double-monk shoe undone and; shirt collar blades protruding awkwardly from the collar of a roll-neck jumper.

It’s fashion not style.

Anonymous

I have been following Patrick anonymously on Tumblr and #menswear for quite some time. Hes an English man based in Australia somewhere or other and at first i thought his aesthetic was a bit ott but actually it works, granted its not for everyone but it certainly works for him.

Anonymous

Nah, he’s an Aussie who spent a few years in London – as we tend to do – before moving back to Aus and starting up his tailoring business.

Anonymous

Simon
Any experience, or heard anything, about rafaelle candilio in soho? I know the owner has passed away but wanted to know if you had any info on them. Believe their costs are approx 800 plus cloth

Anonymous

Careful with Candilo. The owner was the talent. Okay for alterations

Walter Sickinger

This works only if the weather becomes too warm to wear the sweater you previously had on under your jacket and you prefer not to carry it in your hands. Otherwise you look like you’re just trying too hard to be “cool”.

Scott

Of course a man can wear what he wants to, including a sweater over a jacket, but should he?. I think it’s an accurate statement that the sweater over jacket ensemble is extremely difficult to pull off. There are so many other ways to dress well with a casual or elegant nonchalance that Permanent Style has documented so well. Why waste time with a look that has a huge risk of making a man look pretentious at best or a gigolo at worst. As has been pointed out, this sweater over jacket look is fashion not style and, in my opinion, should be avoided.

ANM

I believe the “look” or concept probably traces back to the first half of the 20th Century in advertisements for luxury goods or experiences…and then people adapted it to real life (most ending up looking as if one is “affecting” a given appearance).

I think most people have an inclination to put a jacket, or sweater/jumper over one shoulder, but outside of that, wear it, leave it at home, return it to the car, or get a bag to carry it in..

The look is even made fun of (in an ’80’s sort of way) most famously here (at the 20 second mark)

https://youtu.be/0EWz_is36qI

Anonymous

How about tying a sweater around your waist instead of wearing it over your shoulders?

Adam

Of course many dont like the look (I am not talking about these pictures specifically, over a jacket etc) as it does have bad connotations with certain groups in society. I understand this as I live on the Herts/Essex border where people are doing this look for effect. But of course the other question is if you wearing a sweater and it gets hot, or your warm but you know it is going to get cold, what the hell are your alternatives?? Around your waist?? Don’t think so, I am not going to risk stretching the arms on an expensive sweater am I.

Scott

If you have the sweater on under the jacket and it gets too warm just take the jacket off and carry it until it’s cool enough to put it back on!

The Professor

When I was younger, and honeymooning in Australia, we ended up in Noosa, Australia (central east coast). Amazing place, and very luxurious. The weather was in the 60s (F), and I had on t-shirt and jeans as we trekked through their national park. Hastings Street is the central part of that little town, with incredible shops and restaurants. Like most of my Aussie friends who hate cold weather, the folks there were wearing topcoats/overcoats (it was their winter time), and on the streetside cafes and restaurants, I remember noticing that almost all the men wore sweaters on their shoulders. Enough so that I took notice (and at that time I didn’t notice fashion). I should add that they were all very well to do, or at least looked the part with their clothes and shoes. and were all much older than me (retirees likely). I don’t recall them wearing it over their jackets, but it was definitely sweater weather. I didn’t think at all that it was pretentious, but I remember thinking it fit the scene, fit the folks there, and also that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off as I didn’t have the clothes then. The men just looked very nicely dressed, that’s what I remember.

Anonymous

Noosa in Winter? Sweater -onlybweather. No way you would need both sweater and jacket (too warm). Tony in Brisbane (just south of Noosa)

Will

Stumbled upon this thread. Can’t believe how polarized the comments are. My two cents: the sweater HAS to be able to be worn under the jacket. It therefore needs to be very thin (Smedley) and appropriately colored. A little askew, etc.–c’mon guys! I know the whole sprezz thing is what is getting everyone’s feather up but if the function is there, then I think it’s wholly acceptable. My only issue with the model (Patrick)… I happen to be a believer that layers should go from light to dark, looking outwards from the body. So black shirts to me are no-no with any suit. Personally, I don’t own any though there were a staple of my wardrobe at the turn of the millennium. Untucked. With jeans. And square-toed shoes. Ooooof!

Michael

When’s the review coming? As a (relatively) long-term customer, I’d be interested in your view on their product.

Will

I’m flying to London tonight. Just to piss off United I’m going to wear leggings.

JR

Hi Simon,
I simply fold or roll mine into a slim line and throw it over my left shoulder. Can’t get more sprezz.

Matthew Dallow

I think Matt has a point and that is my main problem with “sprezz”. Most examples I see of men attempting it come off as contrived.

Whenever I see the two ends of a tie splayed as if they’ve had an argument it screams deliberate. It never looks like sprezzatura in my opinion as it’s the goto action for men who are trying to pull it off. Look at all the most popular mens style blogs – they all do it.

These days if you want to achieve sprezz then take, I think it was Hardy Amies advise, about dressing with care and then forgetting all about your clothes.

As for wearing a sweater over the shoulders – as soon as I saw the picture the word that sprang to my mind was “contrived”.

If you’re going out for a meal in the evening and expecting the temperature to drop and you’re wearing it over a shirt it’s ok. But only if you’re walking. And over 50. And only if you’re French or Italian. And have a beard. And smoke cigars. And even then, only just.

Matthew Dallow

Yes, I think your point about context is a good one, Simon but by the same token, in such a context as the one you describe some people might mistake the splayed ends of a tie for careless dressing or scruffiness as opposed to sprezzatura, particularly in a typical workplace in the UK as the English aren’t known for this style of dressing.

I’ve often thought of employing this sprezz ‘technique’ but haven’t for fear of people not understanding and mistakingly thinking I haven’t tied my tie properly. On the other hand I occasionally get nice comments about the way I look when I feel quite shabby which can be just as disheartening.

david calvin

Hi Simon, the knitwear in this case as you mentioned has really helped give the effortless look that Patrick displays here. I think the knitwear can be either monotone or even single colour like the one here at Mercy&Loyal https://goo.gl/ncaJvu . Ideal for wearing over the shoulder without the burden of looking forced.

Harris Reiss

Diego Della Valle does it with ease and a scarf!