How to layer knitwear
Layering knitwear can be both stylish and practical.
Practical, because it gives particular warmth on a cold day - more, usually, than a shirt under knitwear.
The multiple layers are also easy to add and remove as the temperature varies.
And stylish, because it looks so relaxed and casual, yet unusual. There's zero chance of looking too stuffy or buttoned up, yet it's unlikely anyone will be wearing the same thing.
It's also extremely comfortable, of course, which is a prime reason to do it at this time of year.
Chuck a weather-proof layer over the top and it can be worn to the office - and then you can work in one or both layers all day long.
The cream cardigan here is probably too bold for most offices, but navy would work just as well.
I actually have this monster of a shawl-collar cardigan in navy too, both from Anderson & Sheppard (though sadly not available any more).
The fine-gauge merino underneath is from John Smedley, while the green-corduroy trousers are from Ettore de Cesare (Scabal 501281).
It is possible to layer knitwear in other combinations, but I find this the most practical.
A big shawl-collar cardigan provides a shape that frames the face - and therefore flatters most men - while the crewneck underneath has no collar to get in the way of the chunky shawl.
Wearing a shirt under the crewneck would also work (I'm wearing a T-shirt), and would make that layer easier to wear on its own. (At least for people like me, whose long neck means crews on their own aren't that flattering).
A shirt with a deep V-neck sweater would also be good underneath, as would a roll neck. The latter would be much more stylised though.
It's only as I write this post that I realise how much I love the combination of grey, green and white/cream.
I wear it often as a grey shirt, green jacket and cream trousers (see piece on grey-linen shirts here), and as a cream jacket over a grey shirt.
Most often, though, and smartest, as a white shirt under a grey jacket, with dark-green trousers.
There might be a post in that somewhere - similar to the one I did on swapping colour combinations.
The shoes are the new Sagan Grand model from Baudoin & Lange - the shots were taken as part of a photo shoot for them.
I don't own any of the Grand model yet so can't comment in depth, but Allan has certainly done a lot of work to try and make a very soft, very comfortable loafer.
The foot bed is complex, as are the areas where structure has been taken out of the shoe to increase flexibility - while still keeping the sharp lines of a dress shoe.
My only concern is the last shape, as loafers rarely fit me well off the shelf (wide joints, narrow heel). They seemed OK when I wore them here, but not perfect.
The scarf is from Begg, the bag from Dunhill.
Photography: James Holborow
All personal taste of course, but I would never mix pale gray, cream and green. As here.
Change the green for dark blue and things get better. Or change the pale gray for blue.
And I wouldn’t wear lightweight shoes with chunky knit wears.
Sorry, but I see this as a big fail.
Obviously disagree, but honestly welcome the view – thanks.
The shoes might wear a bit cold on the UK streets right now, but otherwise I just see it as an office version of robe and slippers. A little louche for some perhaps, but perfectly fine for a Friday in 2019.
Agree on the shoes comment.
Great post as usual! But what about layering pieces like roll necks under crewnecks, v-necks and even shirts?
I find it looks odd to many people, but I love it.
I find that looks too stylised to me, to be honest.
The most I’d ever do is a thin roll neck under a thicker overshirt
I was wearing a fine knit roll neck (turtleneck in Canada) during the Christmas break and felt a little cold. So I quickly threw a quarter zip sweater over it.
It looked really good and I stumbled on to a nice casual combination that I doubt I would have considered otherwise.
I couldn’t disagree more with the comment above. If the pale-grey sweater were blue, it would be too similar to the trousers and merge into one – you need the contrast between those for all three pieces to work together.
Sure, navy trousers would work as well, but they would have less personality and not fit with the overall rural tone of the colours.
I’m sure Simon wouldn’t wear these loafers if going on walk outside in the outfit either. But inside it’s very much of a piece with everything else.
Really great colour combination Simon. Unusual but harmonious.
I realise I’m going out on a limb here, but shawl cardigans – of any colour – are inappropriate for the office. Cardigans are the knitwear equivalent of dressings gowns, something to be worn only in one’s home. If you work in one of those silly infantile Google-Facebook nursery-cum-offices with coloured beanbags everywhere, then go right ahead and wear a cardigan.
The photoshoot above is set at home (I assume you’re about to put away the bag and scarf), so the cardigan is entirely appropriate.
Infantile or not, that’s a lot of offices in London these days (I’ve worked in a couple). Even wearing a sports jacket on a Friday is going to make you look out of place, in some places I’d suggest a shirt is pushing it. Standards and cultures change; acquiescing to this isn’t always the way to go but neither, imho at least, is blind obstinacy.
Alas, you’re quite right there. In my office, grown men have been known to come to work in pyjama bottoms. Sic transit and all that.
Alan you might be quite right, but in those same offices it is highly unlikely that you will find anybody wearing a cream cashmere shawl collared cardigan that probably costs close to £850.
It doesn’t have to be cream, or expensive… I suggested navy, and in lambswool it would be much cheaper
Simon would you prefer pockets or no pockets on the shawl collar cardigan?
On one this size I think I’d prefer pockets. It needs something to break up the body.
I’d never use them though, as if you did they’d get baggy quickly
Good point. How about pockets on a shawl cardigan that is close fitting?
They’d be less necessary, but I still wouldn’t mind them if they weren’t too bulky
I’ll suggest that the weight and style of the shawl cardigan matters. I personally would not wear a sweater like that so voluminous to my workplace, and definitely not over casual crewneck knitwear. But I do have a Smedley shawl collar cardigan, in a more subdued color, with a lot less weight to it, and without the very thick knit (sorry, wales?) that has worked well for me. It looks clean, and not like I should be at home with my slippers on.
Nice point Paul. You probably mean the gauge of the knit (it’s fineness)
What’s the cardigan made of, Simon?
If it is as heavy as it looks, I’m assuming it’s almost worth a bespoke blazer?
Price, my dear.
No, it was just under a thousand if I recall. Still a huge amount for a sweater, but a lot less than bespoke tailoring. Also a lot more value than you’d get from a Ralph Lauren or similar
Fantastic combination! I was sitting here in my home office wearing a cotton crew sweater in dark navy, and realized I was cold. Didn’t feel like changing, but was inspired (by this post) to throw a cardigan (mine is an olive green) over top. Well done!
Like the shawl cardigan Simon.
Interested by your use of the word stylised to describe a fine merino roll neck under a cardigan or crew neck sweater.Grateful if you could elaborate because I am really perplexed as I have always regarded it as a classic combination in winter,witness it’s use in the first Pink Panther film by a number of chaps.Also,taking the question a little further do you think a fine gauge roll neck under a casual suit is stylised as well?Would welcome your sartorial thoughts…. from a roll neck aficionado.
By stylised I mean that is more unusual, and might be the kind of thing adopted by someone trying to deliberately affect a certain showy style. It’s less every day, more likely to stand out.
While roll necks under crew necks may have been more common in the past, and indeed in the Pink Panther, it’s not really the case today – and therefore might be seen in this way. I wouldn’t say the same of a roll neck under a suit or jacket, no.
Must admit that I have never regarded this combo as “unusual or showy”. Nevertheless,I take your point as other people may perceive one’s dress sense completely differently from one’s own view.Continue the good work.
Plenty of conflicting views here but I’m with the nays. The shawl cardigan is so heavy that it looks like a bathrobe, but shawl cardigans of a more modest profile look (and feel) very relaxed and warm. And I’d have gone for a low rollneck (mock turtleneck) underneath rather than the crewneck which looks quite bare and cold.
Despite all of that, the main reason for the piece in advocating all knitwear Vs shirt/sweater is appreciated. I always look forward to reading this excellent blog.
Love that Dunhill bag! Sadly, it appears that the company no longer makes that model.
No, I’m afraid they don’t. One problem with shipping in the sales!
I’m really surprised how divisive this outfit has been. Personally I think the shoes look a little fine in comparison to the chunkiness of the cardigan but its by no means a deal breaker and otherwise really like the outfit.
Did look at getting the medium weight lambs wool version they did this year but by the time I looked to see what their offering was the cream had sold out in all but one size (and thats now gone too).
On the turtle/roll neck, their rarety to me makes them stylised in all cases and it is simply their reduced visibility under a jacket that reduces the impact partially -v- being under a crew neck
Quite a range of views here. Personally, I think that the colour combination is ok, though the choice of the shade of grey is important, and I like the approach to layering, which is something I’ve always done. However, cardigans are another story! My brief attempts to wear one never worked and I’ve avoided them for decades. However, partly as a result of reading PS, I was recently tempted to buy a shawl collared one in charcoal, quite close fitting and with a realitevely modest collar. I love it and my wife and daughter (my sternest style critic!) think it’s great.
To be honest the cardigan here looks a little long and “droopy “ to me, but that’s a matter of personal taste, of course, and probably a function of the fact that what I perceive as overly long knitwear is something of a pet hate.
Thanks Richard. It is a size up from what I’d normally wear, so deliberately over-sized in that respect
I’m a little surprised that readers don’t understand Simon’s preference for green trousers. He has argumented for them lot lots of times, while argumented against blue trousers. Personally I’m a bit biased since I like green as well. There is just too much black and navy everywhere as it is. Been looking for a chunky shawl collared cardigan like this myself, but they seem to be more common in Great Britain than other European countries. They are perfect for those of us who don’t work at a work place which require a jacket. When one might even be asked why one is so dressed while wearing just a pea coat.
Oh and some people seem to have something against what they call “Northern Star” look. Being that the upper half has a lighter collar than the lower half. Most often with sports coat that is, but I also don’t see anything wrong with this kind of look.
What’s missing here is context. This is the ideal day wear for country house wear. Traditionally, the country house is cold an under-heated by day. The smart trousers and jersey require a shawl cardigan for added warmth. Understandably some criticise the shoes but again they are perfect: slipper-like, light weight shoes; smart, comfortable but better than a pair of woolly moccasins. Moreover a pair of heavy brogues or boots would be unacceptable. Drawing from experience I would add a lightweight scarf (perhaps silk/light cashmere) to aid warmth and to smarten the neckline.
Can someone explain this to me, historically? I thought this clothing tied to Scotland, where people were mostly living through agrarian processes and fishing. I thought folks wore these sweaters outside, not just in the home. Didn’t brogues originate there? So why would heavy knitwear like this not work with substantive shoes? Or are we somehow suggesting this look is only for the elite who might not want to get dirty outside?
I think those pieces were rather different, in thicker, coarser British wools, and often with the natural oils still in there too. A workweae version of this might well work with boots etc, but not in loose cashmere
Ah, yes, that makes sense. This discussion is a great reminder for what I love about mens tailoring the most—that it’s all about the details. The type of wool used certainly matters. So since the cashmere cardigan is less practical, it should be paired with similarly more delicate shoes? I’m reading into this a general principle on the importance of function, though it seems few people are wearing workwear for the actual purpose of working as originally designed.
True. Workwear is worn more for every day use, but then is probably more likely to still be worn to play football in the park or go for a long ramble in the countryside, for which this combination probably wouldn’t be suitable.
I’d wear the cashmere with dress shoes, yes, which could still be loafers or boots
I really like your combination of colours! The cardigan looks a little bit to big, but fine…What a coincidence, today I combined a thick black cardigan with my own version of a longsleeve polo shirt, but the idea to wear a crew neck instead of the polo is an inspiring combination!
I have checked the new Sagan Grand, but the price seems high for loafers off the shelf….
Hi Simon, thanks as ever for the interesting post; do you have a view on N. Peal these days as a purveyor of cashmere and heavy knits?
Not really, sorry. Been a while since I’ve been in there
Great stuff! Been looking at your, ‘Which office are you’ article, seriously looking for a navy merino shawl collar cardigan, so sleek. Am same build as you, which one out there would you recommend?
I’d recommend the Drake’s lambswool or cashmere – unless you like the shorter cut of that Anderson and Sheppard one
You can get the Drake lambs wool shawl cardigan from A Hume (William Lockie branded) for £220. An absolute bargain.
I have a similar cardigan from Dunhill in Fumo grey. It set me back a king’s ransom some years ago and it’s really a staple for me that I wear mostly around the house.
Personally, in winter, I tend to wear a flannel shirt or a long sleeved polo underneath. In this instance, I don’t think that the texture of the Smedley crew neck enhances the look and if wearing it with cords, I’d certainly go for a heavier shoe.
This weight shawl neck also works well in the summer to slip on for those chilly evenings on the deck. It looks great over a T shirt.
Hi Simon – I would like to try and understand a little more about ‘fabric’ quality and in particular to ‘what is worth it’? I used to buy cashmere jumpers from Brunello and not that long ago they were £300 and now they are up to £1,000. Their cotton jumpers are £400-500. What cashmere or cotton are they using that makes it worth it. I still have both from when they were more reasonable so they do last – but not necessarilly longer than other brands. Similarly, Loro Piana Roadsters used to be £350 and they are now twice that – and they are thinner? Am I missing something? I buy t shirts from The White T Shirt Company and they are £35 and are of unbelievable quality and wash well – what makes a Brunello one with 10x that? As these other brands get bigger and/or bought by mega brand holding companies, are we just suffering price inflation for the sake of it without any other benefit. I welcome your thoughts.
You’re certainly getting worse value for money from those bigger brands in terms of pure quality of raw material.
The best way to think about it is not that the brands are just making big profits (they aren’t always) but more that they just spend money on different things. Cucinelli has re-built an entire town, holds extravagant shows and advertises everywhere. And like most designer brands, they have a big design team.
You’re paying for marketing and for design. The latter should not be underestimated, but for basics it’s unlikely to be worth it.
Read this piece for more info.
Whenever I wear corduroy or moleskin trousers I invariably choose a close fitting ribbed or cable stitched sweater.The slim jumpers balance the poor drape of the trousers producing a fairly sleek effect.
In the same vein if my knitwear of choice is looser or longer I will opt for a slim fitting trouser in flannel or heavey cavalry twill.Once again this combination should look stylish and trim.
Interesting to see all of the comments about what is and what isn’t appropriate in the office nowadays.
The reality is that in the vast majority of offices in London, suits are not worn and would look entirely out of place unless meeting clients. Sorry to shatter the illusion that older/foreign readers might have, but in most industries at least in the UK the suit is dead! Don’t believe me? Do a tube journey at rush hour. This sort of attire is very sophisticated for most office environments in the UK.
Love your shawl collar cardigan,
What are your thoughts on clothing replication?
Reason I’m asking is I love the Tom ford Shawl collar cardigan worn in James Bond QOS, but it’s really more than I want to spend.
Before I knew the cardigan was by Tom Ford, I googled James Bond cardigans and came across a guy in Australia who replicates them so they are almost spot on. They don’t have Tom Ford labels in them or anything like that and are made in China.
Love to know what you think.
All the best
In most cases I would dislike that, but if it’s Tom Ford I wouldn’t really care.
I struggle with Tom Ford, Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli for their prices feeling they are overpriced, especially knowing how the mark ups work with Private White VC.
I really struggle with buying replication though, AND NEVER Fakes.
I feel the same way with chairs like the Eames Lounge Chair or the Miles Van De Rohe Barcelona chair, so easy to find replicas but can’t bring myself to buy a replica.
Sometimes I try to justify it in my mind by saying “did these guys invent the chair, or did Tom Ford invent the shawl cardigan so aren’t they replicas in some way, especially the Tom Ford cardigan as that in itself is based on what he saw Steve McQueen wear years ago.
I like the look a lot.
Quick question – how should a shawl cardigan fit? This one seems to be a bit more loose than the navy one from A&S which you wore in another post.
Should it fit at the back like a nicely tailored jacket or it’s acceptable to have it a bit more loose?
I got the last L size done (no more M size in stock) by ESK in Scotland and wonder if I should return it as it’s slightly loose or it’s acceptable and can look good even in 2019?
I think it’s very much a personal taste point. They can fit close, or be much more sloppy like this one. It should always look relaxed, but I find there are normally two sizes I could wear – with the navy Drake’s for instance, I could have worn 38 or 40, and went for 38 to be a bit snugger. This cream one is probably more like a 42
Hey Simon! Unusual and quite stunning outfit, I especially like the color combination. Quick question: Can you recommend a couple of specific corduroy fabrics for trousers? I assume the “Scabal 501281” would be among them, but are there any other you would recommend me taking a look at? I’d like to add two or three corduroy trousers to my wardrobe which I can wear casually but also a little more formally with a jacket. Thanks for your help!
Scabal has a great colour range, but if you want ones just for trousers, I’d go to Brisbane Moss. They tend to have ones that heavier and have more body
Thanks, Simon! One last question: Do you have any issues with lint/fluffs with your green Scabal cloth? I’m asking since I have a pair of Brisbane Moss trousers (in navy) and it gets pretty bad…
No, but then navy shows stuff like that worse than anything else
I’m struggling to find the right color for the chunky shawl collar cardigan. If you were to have only one cardigan, which color would you choose? I was choosing between burgundy and dark navy. The former one looks more Christmassy to me, while the latter one is more versatile, especially when mixing with jeans I guess.
Hope you can help me with this.
I’d definitely go with navy Bill.
I noticed in one of your latest Instagram stories that you were wearing a nice shawl collar cardigan from Colhay’s.
My query is: is it too bulky to put on under a coat?
Thanks, yes that was the cream lambswool one, in size 40.
I would say it would be too bulky to go under most coats, yes. Perhaps a big duffle coat or a capacious raincoat, but anything remotely fitted won’t work.
I guess it’s more for being around the house, or wearing on its own outside in that respect.
I love putting a merino wool crewneck as a layer on top of a shirt, but am I the only one that finds it very unpractical?
It is very hard to ‘unlayer’ it, as in my case, the wool always seems to be ‘stuck’ on the shirt. Maybe it is just too tight, but it does not feel like it when wearing them.
I love this as an office look in the fall, but when they put the heat on I need to remove the crewneck otherwise it gets way too hot. But removing is sometimes so difficult.
Is this something you recognise?
In an office, sure it can be a problem that the temperature is just too hot.
But in terms of merino crewnecks just sticking a lot, no it’s not a problem I recognise really. Sounds like maybe it’s too small.
Hi Simon, great content —
1- Do you wear knitwear (I’m thinking crewnecks) under odd jackets anymore?
2- During bespoke, do you often request the jacket sizing to accommodate knitwear?
3- Do you think the look of a crew neck or turtleneck under an odd jacket looks too affected?
1 – Yes, though always with a shirt as well
2 – Yes, though only a fine-gauge one really
3 – Without a shirt, a turtleneck looks smart and is certainly more stylised. In the right situation, and if you wear it well, it can look very good though. A crew neck with a shirt always looks good. A crew neck without one only looks good on certain guys, often those without a thin or long neck
I like this overall look, particularly with the fully-fashioned tee (I think that’s your term). Where do the cord trousers lie on the formality continuum? Does a wool-cotton composition make them a bit more formal (I can picture them draping a bit differently)? I’m thinking about something similar, but maybe a bit more urban and contemporary–maybe needlecord would be appropriate, or a color with a more urban connotation, such as gray?
The composition won’t make much difference, it’s mostly about colour, and perhaps a little the width of the wale. This width or narrower is fairly smart, and do it in a darker, colder colour like this green, or grey as you say.
Thank you. I think an olive drab, with a distinct grayish cast, might do the trick. Relatively dark, but cold. And pairs easily with mid-gray to dark navy knitwear.
Nearly since two years I am thinking about a chunky cardigan in cream. I guess yours is not affordable, but I saved some money. Colhays cardigan looks quite nice, but is also expensive. Do you guess it os worth the money?
Yes, I certainly think the Colhays one is worth the money
Dear Simon, thank you for your fast response! Do you have any other recommendations? I took a bit research, but haven’t found comparable cardigans. The William Lockie cardigans are not that chunky and the cut seems to be different…
Drake’s or Scott & Charters perhaps.
merry christmas! I have decided for the Colhay’s and it is a very lovely piece. But something concerns me, after the first washing (I followed your great video help and Colhay’s instructions, drying on towels, not hanging, etc…)it seem that the cardigan as gain a bit in length and became a bit loose at the waist and the finishing bottom part. The upper part and arms are still in perfect fit. Do you guess it is normal? Maybe you can recommend something, which maybe helps to bring back the original shape?
Appreciate your help!
Hmm, hard to know remotely. I assume you washed it on a delicate cycle, inside something like a pillow case? That’s usually what can cause stretching, plus the drying hanging, which it sounds like you avoided
thank you for your response. I washed it by hand with children shampoo, no hanging for drying… It took some days to become dry in flat position on a towel…
OK, thanks. Perhaps talk to Colhay’s about it then.
What do you think about Johnstons of Elgin’s knitwear quality Simon? How would you rate it to others?
I haven’t tried their own-brand make I’m afraid
maybe you can tell me how do you wash your chunky cardigan. Do you wash it by yourself or do you give it into the hands of a laundry?
I would dry clean it at a laundry. It’s very hard to wash it normally as it takes days and days to dry, and can become distorted more easily than other knits
I have found a reasonably good solution for drying is to use a de-humidifier in a small room (I use my bathroom as depending on what type of house you live in, it is possible to overly dry out the fabric of the walls/building and some types of furniture). Not something I need to do very often.
Dear Simon and dear readers,
may I be allowed to add to the discussion that shawl-collar cardigans generate cosy warmth at your shoulders and neck – but also leave a very cold spot at the upper chest? This is pronounced even more when worn over thin layers. As the heavy cardigan is probably used when it is chilly, this may not be comfortable for everyone.
Of course I am totally aware that this may be a stereotypical view from across the North Sea. But while I do like the style of the shawl-collar cardigan very much, my own physical constitution does oppose to this thermal contrast.