What are the best knitwear colours under tailoring?

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This question about knitwear worn on its own (without a shirt) came up twice recently - once in a comment about polo-collared knits (above) and once in a reader question about roll necks. So it feels like it deserves its own post. 

Anyone that has worn a roll neck under a jacket in recent winters will know that it's not as easy to match as with a shirt.  

There is no colour of knit that is quite as versatile as either a white, or pale-blue shirting. Those two go with almost everything; there is no knitwear equivalent. 

Knits come in many useful colours, and navy, grey, cream and brown can all look great in different combinations.

But they all have disadvantages. The key is to consider those disadvantages in turn, and as a result work out which fit your wardrobe best. And perhaps accept that you just need more colours of them than you do of shirts. 

 

Cream

In general, knitwear is more versatile if it's more muted. A strong or rich colour is just more likely to clash with the jacket or coat.

And it is particularly useful if it’s pale, given the other clothing is more likely to be dark. That’s one reason a pale-coloured shirt is so much easier to match than a dark one. 

For those reasons, cream is a great option. It goes with everything and clashes with nothing (except cream or white trousers). 

The disadvantages of cream are that it can be hard to keep clean, and that fine knits (like the one above) can be see-through. The T-shirt or vest underneath is likely to be visible. 

Still, I wear mine with a vest, and don’t mind the look. (See here for more on layers under knitwear.) 

Heavier roll necks in cream don't have that problem. But, I don't find they suit many guys. They're great in theory, and work well under an overcoat. But on their own they wash out a lot of people. 

In general, I find this is less of an issue with heavier, coarser roll necks - the Drake’s rather than the Luca Faloni. So if you wear cream, head towards that end of the spectrum.

 

Navy 

Navy is the colour most guys are likely to have. It’s the most common and generally the most versatile knitwear - certainly if you don’t wear dark-indigo jeans much. 

And it does go with a lot of things. However, it is not a neutral colour (unlike cream or grey) and is actually fairly rich. As a result, it’s not so good under some other rich colours, like strong greens, or earthy colours like brown and beige. 

It doesn’t work, for example, under the brown or green jackets shown below, or as a roll neck under my Ciardi taupe or Liverano brown coats. Neutrals like grey, cream or black are much better there. 

You wouldn’t necessarily notice this when wearing navy knitwear with a shirt. But colour has a much greater impact when it’s in a larger block, against the face. 

 

Grey 

Grey succeeds on many of the criteria mentioned above. 

It’s a neutral - in fact, we know from discussing jacket and trouser colours that it’s the most versatile partner for any colour. And there are lots of wearable shades, from pale-grey to charcoal. 

The only disadvantage of grey is that you’re more likely to be wearing it elsewhere (at least in a smart wardrobe), given that grey is the most common colour of tailored trouser. 

I also find, personally, that lighter greys don’t work that well as roll necks.

They should do, but I find they make the roll neck a little more showy that it has to be - particularly under a jacket. Charcoal is better, and I wear that far more (as you can see here).

Still, grey deserves to be among the top two or three colours of knit, and I’d recommend a mid-grey polo (as above) or charcoal roll neck to most wardrobes. 

 

(Dark) brown

If navy can sometimes be overrated for knitwear like this, I think dark brown is usually underrated. 

If it really is dark and muted, like the one above, then I think it goes with almost anything - from navy to grey to green. 

Brown’s only disadvantage is that you’re likely to be wearing brown shoes or accessories as well. But personally I don’t think this is a problem, certainly with the knit tucked under a jacket. 

The other issue is that browns are just hard to find. The one above is from John Smedley ('dark cocoa') and I’ve never found one quite like it.

In fact I would have produced a Dartmoor in that colour, if any of the yarn suppliers had a suitable shade in their books. There are twelve shades of grey in Loro Piana Wish merino, but only two of brown. 

 

Green, black and others

Green is a useful colour of knitwear because it's unlikely to be worn anywhere else. That’s the reason it was the second colour of the old Finest Knitwear, and the current Finest Cardigan

However, it’s not so good as a collared knit or roll neck - against the face, without a shirt collar to help.

Still, it's a nice occasional option, underneath grey or country colours such as warm browns. 

Black is very useful, if it’s your style.

It has the advantages of being neutral, dark and unlikely to be worn elsewhere (other than shoes). I picked up a black Billy knit from Berg & Berg recently, and the colour is great. 

However, a lot of people don’t wear much black (as discussed), and won’t therefore find it the easiest thing to work into their wardrobe. 

There are bright colours like firehouse red, or burnt orange, which are beautiful, particularly in shetland wool. But you wouldn’t call them versatile. And the same goes for colours like beige, brown or camel. 

 

In the end, if you want to wear collared knitwear regularly under a jacket - which can be very nice, very casual chic - then you’ll likely need two or three of these colours, at least. 

And even then you’ll probably find there are some jackets, or some outfits, which just don’t work with any of the colours. There is no equivalent of good old sky-blue and white. 

By the way, the cream knit pictured above is a sample for a new colour of the Dartmoor. I’m not sure about it, given the transparency mentioned, but if it’s something you would wear, do shout and I'll add it to the decision matrix. 

Other clothes pictured:

  • With cream Permanent Style 'Dartmoor' knit:
    • Eduardo de Simone cashmere jacket
    • Whitcomb & Shaftesbury mid-grey flannel trousers
    • Frank Clegg tote bag
  • With navy Anderson & Sheppard funnel neck:
    • Connolly drop-shoulder coat
    • Whitcomb & Shaftesbury charcoal flannel trousers
  • With grey Permanent Style 'Dartmoor' knit:
    • Eduardo de Simone cashmere jacket
    • P Johnson cotton trousers
  • With brown John Smedley knit:
    • Zizolfi tweed jacket,
    • Same mid-grey flannels
    • Black-suede Belgravia loafers from Edward Green
  • With black Anderson & Sheppard funnel neck:
    • Permanent Style Bridge Coat
    • Lock & Co suede cap
    • Dunhill leather bag

Photography: Alex Natt

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John

Thanks Simon. The message that i take away from here is that it’s not easy to pair knitwear with a jacket. Indeed, it seems that it requires a unique combination of knitwear/jacket colours, which are outside of what is usually considered versatile. Great post in that it gets us thinking about these things.

Re. cream colored Dartmoor; ecru/cream knitwear works better in a heavy/textured composition such as lambswool than it does for a smooth fabric like merino, in my opinion. Therefore, i’m not sure about a cream Dartmoor. I think your grey version was a great compromise between a lighter shade that works under a jacket while also being suitable for wear on its own, with the compromise of it not being so good for grey flannel trousers.

Noel

Hi Simon, useful guide nicely illustrated.

Why wouldn’t a beige / oatmeal collared knit work (even if less versatile)? Couldn’t it go under darker jackets (dark brown, grey, navy, maybe even very dark olive)?

Noel

Good point Simon, I put too much emphasis on the jacket relative to the trousers. Perhaps jeans would work if it’s a casual sports jacket (say brown tweed) or mid grey trousers (flannel) if the jacket is not grey. The fact that it requires careful consideration makes it clear that whilst a beige knit would work with some outfits it wouldn’t be that versatile. I will have to think about how I could use my oatmeal Smedley polo with a jacket (I’m more likely to use it without ).

Anonymous

Very useful article. Please count my vote for a cream Dartmoor!
BTW, which Clegg tote bag is that and on what color? Looks amazing.

Anonymous

Simon: I have noticed you have been wearing your black suede Belgravias more frequently in recent posts. I wonder how versatile you find them? I think I read somewhere on PS that black suede shoes were of very limited use but it seems you are getting a lot out of them. I really like their look but given I don’t often wear black elsewhere, I am not sure if they are right for me. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Ian Skelly

seeing as you mentioned your “old” finest knitwear , do you have any plans to re-issue your navy crew neck ? failing that do you know anywhere else that sell navy loro piana merino wool crewnecks (except loro piana as I can’t afford their prices) I felt wish wool once and thought it was amazing qulaity

Ian Skelly

thats great thanks , I will email them now hopefully more people will be interested as it is a classic wardrobe staple

Al

For a great example of knitwear (mostly turtlenecks) and sport coats or overcoats I strongly suggest to look at the Jean Manuel Moreau instagram. He does a fine job in to explore all the possible interactions but stays always sharp in the outcome.

Zak

Hi Simon,

I found that a interesting article with useful and illustrative images.

As far as the pairing of navy knitwear with a brown jacket is concerned, I would not count it out without considering closely the colour saturation of a given brown jacket beforehand. In the image you are wearing a less saturated, cooler brown, which does not go particularly well with navy. However, a warmer more saturated brown in a coarser material, such as Harris Tweed, would -and does – work very well with a navy roll-neck, for instance. Although I think that for this to work well, the knitwear would need too be of a fairly soft material like cashmere or, lambs wool. To balance the coarseness of the jacket.

Thanks again

Zak

Nick C

I’m surprised there’s been no mention of burgundy – I have a lovely Shetland crew neck in that colour and it goes nicely under a grey or navy jacket or indeed with most outfits if the other items are fairly neutral

Kingstonian

I agree with Nick. Burgundy/maroon works where navy does not with green/brown etc.

Maybe your personal preferences are clouding your judgement?

Charcoal would be my third choice. I agree mid grey is not so successful.

Chunky submariner jumpers in ecru work very well. Aran knits too. I just don’t care for cream colours in lighter knitwear.

Light blue shirts are great, as you point out, but – for whatever reason – light blue does not work in other fabrics.

Kingstonian

Yes. Polo necks and long sleeve polo shirts, worn under a jacket.

MBB355

I can understand not loving burgundy as a single knitwear color block under tailoring, as it’s perhaps a bit showy or unusual. But what about a color like this “merlot”:

https://colhays.com/collections/cashmere/products/cashmere-ribbed-submariner-rollneck-in-merlot

It’s darker, grayer, more subdued, and in a thicker submariner knit. To me, something like would be highly elegant and versatile (a good match for navy, gray, and brown jackets). What do you think?

Peter

Merlot is an Interesting name for that colour. I imagine red wine, but on my screen it looks like a form of brown.

As for the garment, Todd and Hunter yarn is a big plus. With submariners though I choose wool in Royal Navy pattern. Woolaways In Leicester offer that a very reasonable price and their garment fits well.

Scott

What is it about burgundy knitwear that you don’t care for? I gather that you wouldn’t wear a burgundy rollneck or crew on it’s own. What about a burgundy vneck over a shirt?

Scott

I’ve been thinking about dark green knitwear recently, as I don’t own any. This article has refocused my attention on knitwear which I’ve neglected to a certain extent, very helpful.

Peter Hall

Great article. It can be a challenge! I’ve had success with ecru as a colour under tweed-the contrast is pleasing. I also have a v neck (from a small Shetland collective) in fern which has the depth and texture to look attractive and,as a v , gives you the collar to support.

Peter Hall

I realised that as soon as I pressed send😂Here in the Netherlands, the black roll neck is pretty ubiquitous . If not that, it tends to be white. My friends always comment when I turn up in my shades of brown.

Tom

Hi Simon,

Knitwear: Either under a jacket or on its own, button the top button or not?

ajbjasus

I’m definitely in the not buttoned up top button camp in polo shirt, jummy, or worst of all formal shirt with no tie! Voila –

https://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2021/01/19/four-lads-in-jeans-meme/

Anon

Much has been made online of the navy roll neck worn under a brown tweed jacket by Steve McQueen in Bullitt yet it seems a combination you do not favour.

Jan

I also quote like navy under brown – as in your own outfit here: https://www.permanentstyle.com/2019/05/re-introducing-the-dartmoor-polo-collar-sweater.html

As long as the navy is nice and dark

Mbb355

Great post, and interesting point that it’s easier to pair knitwear over a shirt than as a solid color block on its own. I definitely support a cream Dartmoor. I actually considered purchasing the cream Billy polo from Berg and Berg, but ultimately decided against it because I didn’t think the collar would work well under a jacket. Dartmoor collar solves that problem. I will say I don’t care for the polo buttoned all the way up. You lose the “V” shape formed by the unbuttoned collar that frames the face more attractively. And since it looks odd on its own (as you say), it’s unclear to me why it wouldn’t also look odd under a jacket. Both look odd to me for the same reasons. Finally, when you say lighter gray knitwear can be too showy, do you mean something like Luca Faloni’s Dolomiti Grey roll neck? Because I actually find it extremely versatile.

Jonathan

Personally I would buy a cream Dartmoor, and actually prefer that to grey. I also really like taupe in knitwear, but have a hard time finding much of it. I think the PS shawl-collar sweater (which I have in cream) would also be fantastic in taupe.

H

Hi Simon, some advice needed. I bought my first chunkier roll neck in November, the Berg & Berg Bernhard Raglan Turtle Neck in Navy. I’ve been wearing it so much over lockdown that I’ve decided I need another and I’m intending to buy the Private White cashmere submariner – but I’m not sure what colour to go with. I know now from experience I would wear the Navy enough to justify owning two, but I’m also contemplating the Ecru. Which do you think would be more useful, a second navy or a first ecru? I hope you don’t mind me attaching the link below for reference.

https://www.privatewhitevc.com/products/the-cashmere-roll-neck?variant=30113445347389

Douglas

Simon what name/style do John Smedley use to describe that very nice brown number?

Scott

Simon, if you can but the Dartmoor in dark brown would be great. As you point out its very hard to find that colour and would fit with the PS ethos of filling a gap in the market, if you can find a supplier……

Christopher

Dear Simon,

great post as usually, even if not all combinations are my favorites.
But the cream PS dartmoore looks fine, but I couldn’t find it in the shop. I guess a lot of readers had the same opinion and it’s already sold out…

James

Adding my vote for a cream Dartmoor! I think a cream works exceptionally well as a background to blues and blacks. And also want to echo another commenter’s request for a return of the navy crew knitwear. Obliged.

Jai Kharbanda

Hi Simon, are the dartmoors designed to be worn tucked in or out? Given how you’ve styled them I get the impression they should be in but from the pictures it looks like they’re out.

Anonymous

When you say tucked out, is that the same as untucked?

JB

I wear navy knits and brown jackets on the regular. I find it a very good pairing in general, brown and navy. But then I’m talking chocolate brown rather than mid brown as your jacket above. Not sure if that would make a difference for you in terms of pairing?

JB

Forgot to mention/ask: what do you think about light/sky blue knitted polos for instance, does it work as well as cream? I find most knitted lighter blues tend to be sort of.. electric blue which is harder.

I really don’t mind a cream on cream though, but it’s highly dependent on the shades of cream of the knit and the trousers. A belt underneath that could pop out sometimes would help too.

Anonymous

Do these recommendations apply to casual clothing as well? In this article https://www.permanentstyle.com/2016/05/colour-combinations-from-casual-to-formal.html, you do recommend wearing navy knitwear under a green jacket.

If the color combinations are different for casual clothing, have you written any articles on color combinations pertaining to casual clothing choices?

Jordan Healey

Recently I’ve bought quite a few knits from the korean brand Iolo, and the colors that I’ve started with are cream / beige, black and navy.

I bought the cream, beige and black primarily for under jackets, and the navy as a casual option. I think black is probably in the top three for versatility if you wear colder colored jackets.

Tony

I find olive is about the most versatile colour if your wardrobe tends country or casual. Much less useful in a traditional office suit environment, but that’s not really the natural home of turtlenecks or polo collars, either.

Stephen

Hi Simon,
I’ve worn knitwear under tailored jackets for many years, so guess I’m a fan! Even on occasion a v-neck or polo under a casual suit.
I thinks it’s an extremely versatile option although I am not as particular on matching- but then I don’t write a fashion blog!
A contrast or tonal works for me (especially shades of grey) which opens up lots of options. I tend to only avoid green ( as I don’t like on me against the skin). or shirt type colours such a light blue or white. Creams are fine , but for me a heavy knit as I really don’t like see-through on anything. I have as many knitwear options as shirts.
I particularly like a mid ribbed roll neck knits under tweed – since I saw on a few blogs.
As for top button on polo necks. Always closed under tailoring. I find when open they make the neckline look fussy and the collars sag. Cotton pique in summer looks ok when open, but that style ( eg Lacoste) tends to have a different collar style. Always open when not with tailoring.
As for navy roll neck under a brown tweed jacket. I think that looks good. Although it may be Steve McQueen makes it look good rather than the other way around!
Long story short – I like knitwear with tailoring.
Perhaps one day you can cover v-necks including sleeveless and knitted waistcoats.
Thanks again always a please to read your articles.

Stephen

Thanks Simon. I forgot about this one on knitted vests. Very good article, I really like all the looks you have put together and didn’t realise there were such differences in the quality of the finishes. I had a couple from Drakes , but the eye tends to drift to the bigger buttons. I’m going to stick with the type you have shown in future. On a side note my wife once chanced upon a merino wool one in an M&S sale! I just had the buttons changed. Sometimes there are bargains!

Stephen

For sure. Just a light hearted aside!

Buddy Levy

I look forward to a cream Dartmoor.

Anonymous

What would be your suggestions about crewneck sweaters, in terms of color and gauge, both under a jacket or without tailoring?
Thanks

Christopher Lee

I would posit mid- to light blue as a versatile hue under tailoring. Accompanies brown, lighter greys, navy, etc. Also creates less of a sharp contrast if you have extra pale skin and the absence of a summer tan given that most knitwear will be worn in the cold season.. Lastly, it complements brown hair nicely.

Steve

What are your thoughts on mélange, marled, or heathered fabric for knitwear? I am seeing more and more of it in higher quality jumpers. Navy and Black are usually solid but most lighter colors, particularly greys, have some amount of white woven into the fabric. I have always thought it looked like gym wear for running or something, but perhaps I am being to narrow in my thinking?

Ant

Hi Simon – a definite yes for the Dartmoor in cream!

And to another reader’s earlier point – whilst the colour is somewhat subjective, I did recently buy the PWVC submariner roll neck in ecru and it’s really very nice indeed. Works nice under the PS brown donegal, too.

Joel

Great Read Simon. So for cream roll necks to wear under tweed, are you suggesting chunky or more refined? Let’s say under your M&E Prologue jacket for example.

Joel

Any current makers you could recommend? Thanks!

Joel

Any thoughts on the Heimat U-boat? Seems to have a nice cream color.

Joel

Thoughts on the Timothy Everest rollneck in ivory?

john henwood

I would buy the cream Dartmoor.

Stephen

Hi Simon,
It’s interesting how much useful debate and exchange of advise / input was generated by this post. Suggests knitwear under tailoring is very popular. Hopefully you find it encouraging that readers are so interested to engage. Also thanks to you for taking the time to engage with them.
All the best.

James Gomis

Love my name dartmoor, and a cream version would compliment it perfectly. Definitely would pick one up.

Mbb355

Simon, any advice on how to style this blue Luca Faloni silk-cashmere polo with tailoring:
https://lucafaloni.com/collections/silk-cashmere/products/atlantic-blue-fine-silk-cashmere-polo.
I find it difficult to do so since the color is strong and it has a bit of sheen to it due to the silk. I’d appreciate any advice on this.

Winot

Simon – in the ‘navy’ section you list jacket colours it doesn’t go with, but what would you say it does go with?

Personally I have difficulty with navy under a jacket because it is likely to be darker than the jacket itself. I wouldn’t wear a navy shirt for the same reason.

Anonymous

If you had to choose one, would you prefer a mid grey or charcoal rollneck Simon? What jacket would you wear it with?

Also: black rollneck or black mock neck sweater? Merci!

Anonymous

Do you think a mid grey rollneck is generally too showy?

Anonymous

I’d agree, a mid grey turtleneck is quite noticeable under a jacket.

Do you mid grey is ok to wear and not showy when worn by itself (i.e. no jacket) with trousers?

And how do you feel about colors like navy and dark green turtlenecks when worn by itself w/ trousers?

Do you think charcoal is the only color turtleneck that is not too showy under a jacket? Sorry, many questions and very curious about how these colors work.

Anonymous

How do you balance a high contrast ensemble without being too showy? I find that high contrast outfits work for my dark hair and olive skin, but sometimes worry about the contrast looking too showy

MBB355

Simon, I’m considering John Smedley’s Cotswold to wear as a Dartmoor-like piece under tailoring:

https://www.johnsmedley.com/us/catalog/product/view/id/157042/s/john-smedley-cotswold-in-dark-cocoa-shirt-sml-aw20/

Do you have any experience with this piece? Do you know if the collar stands up well under tailoring? Thanks for any guidance. I really love the merino polo as an alternative to shirting under tailoring and have enjoyed my Dartmoor for that reason.

Mbb355

Got it, thanks. So, if one wants a Smedley piece with a stand-up collar, is it Dorset or bust?

Mbb355

Understood. Well, bring on the cream Dartmoor, then! 🙂

Mbb355

I don’t understand why you say here that beige knitwear isn’t versatile under tailoring. It seems highly useful to me. It works with grey trousers and the most common jacket colors, i.e. navy and mid/dark brown. Indeed, given its neutrality I’m hard-pressed to think of a jacket it wouldn’t work with other than beige itself. And I don’t see why beige wouldn’t work as a solid block next to the face, like you acknowledge grey and cream do. Beige seems of a piece with those other neutral, colder, subtler tones. Thanks for any clarification here.

Mbb355

Thanks, that’s helpful. I assume you mean it’s great *over a shirt with tailoring.

Anonymous

Hi Simon, what are some versatile colours (other than navy) for crewneck knitwear to wear over a shirt, grey/navy dress trousers, and calf leather loafers? Thanks.

Anonymous

Thanks Simon. Would darker or lighter grey knitwear be more versatile?

Anonymous

Hi Simon, what do you think of Trunk Clothiers’ dark olive Shetland sweater? Is the colour a versatile green?

Mbb355

Hi Simon, a few more questions on this topic:

1. You note that navy knitwear wouldn’t work well under your muted brown herringbone jacket. Why not? True, the navy is rich and non-neutral. But the brown on that herringbone jacket is quite muted, a little cold, so I’d think navy would work well beneath it.

2. What do you think of short-sleeved knits under tailoring as opposed to long sleeve? I understand it’s less formal and you lose the ability to show some knit sleeve under the jacket sleeve, which is a nice aesthetic touch. On the other hand, it’s more comfortable in the warmer months. Do you think wearing a short-sleeve knitted polo (for example, this: https://colhays.com/collections/ss21-collection-vintage-british-sportswear/products/cashmere-silk-tennis-polo-in-cream) is still an elegant alternative to a dress shirt? Or do you think all elegance is lost with the short sleeves to the point that it’s no longer worth pairing with tailoring? Thanks!

Anonymous

Hi Simon, how versatile do you think Trunk’s brown shetland knit is? Can it be worn with navy and grey wool trousers?

Nick

Hi, what do you think of crewneck with no shirt + tailored jacket combination?

MBB355

I’m also interested in this. As I see it, the casualization of officewear and the ambiguity of “business casual” has many, myself included, searching for dress-shirt alternatives. As A&S’s Audie Charles astutely observed in your video with her, reaching for a dress shirt every day feels dull, reflexive, lifeless. Knitwear makes for an interesting and elegant alternative, including pieces like your Dartmoor, sleeveless cardigans, and roll necks. But I draw the line at knitwear without a collar worn under tailoring. To me, wearing a crewneck under a jacket with no shirt looks too much like a concerted effort to “be different” and sacrifices too much elegance. One possible solution is tucking something like a square scarf or bandana into the crewneck to cover the neck, thereby substituting for the shirt collar and restoring elegance while maintaining interest.

Ant

Hi Simon – any further thoughts/plans on the cream Dartmoor? Definitely a decent few yes votes in the comments!

Ant

Excellent! Will email support now to get on the list 🙂

Benedikt

Hi Simon, just a short feedback: I ordered the Dartmoor sweater in cream and now that it arrived today I have to say it’s by far the nicest piece of fine knitwear I ever laid my hands on. I expected a lot and it still exceeded my expectations! Super nice make, perfect shade of cream and spot on fit (I ordered size L, I‘m 184cm, 80kg with 105cm chest). Thank you for putting all the effort into the development of these pieces and make them available at a fair price. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but now I can’t wait for the weather to cool down so I have a chance to wear it. Thanks again, chapeau and all the best from Munich!