As men have been wearing less tailoring in recent years – particularly to work – I’ve been getting more questions about colours of knitwear.
I tried writing something along those lines yesterday, but quickly found that the area was too large to make sense in a single article.
So today, I’m going to discuss colour only. In future pieces, we will look at styles (crew, V, cardigan etc) and then both materials and fineness together. The last two have also come up in comments, as it is so much more technical, but makes a big difference to how smart something looks.
First, navy and grey
As with a lot of menswear, the most versatile colours for a smart jumper are navy and grey.
They’ll go with almost every colour of shirt, and the only trousers they clash with are also navy or grey. For that reason, my advice is usually to pick the colour that you’re least likely to be wearing below the waist.
If you wear a lot of dark indigo jeans and navy chinos, go with grey. But if you wear a lot of tailored trousers in grey, then go with navy.
This applies to sweatshirts as well as jumpers. The reason a mid-grey sweatshirt is the most popular colour isn’t just that it was the one worn most for sport historically. It’s also that men have more casual blue trousers than grey ones. So the grey goes with everything. (Grey is also a better partner for colour, which helps.)
If a young guy were going to invest in just two knits for all occasions in life, I’d suggest a navy wool crewneck and a grey sweatshirt. That would go a long way.
Of course, most people will have more than that: navy, grey and other colours besides. But, they may only have one in a particular style – say a collared fine-gauge or a big shawl cardigan – and that’s often when this advice comes in most useful.
Then the neutrals
After navy and grey, there is a broad spectrum of colours that are lovely but a tiny bit less versatile. Here the choice will depend more your style as well as the rest of your wardrobe.
Dark brown and dark green, much like jackets, are great colours to look at next. Brown is easier to wear for most guys, but it’s also more likely to clash with brown trousers.
Cream goes with everything, and most people rarely wear cream trousers or white jeans. Cream’s only disadvantage is that it will get dirty quicker than other colours, and require more frequent cleaning. For that reason it’s often best as a second or third knit in a particular style.
Beige or oatmeal is also great, though usually best with a white shirt rather than blue, and not always great without a shirt in between the knit and the face. Charcoal can be useful, and even black – if you wear a lot of cold colours – given you probably don’t wear black trousers or jackets.
The rich colours
After that, there’s a set of rich colours like forest green, purple and burgundy.
These can look very elegant, particularly something like a purple knit under a navy jacket, or a burgundy under grey.
But, they will often stand out more than the more neutral colours above, and so it’s usually best to have one or two of those first. You could wear a navy crewneck almost every day, with a variety of shirts and trousers, but if you did that with green you’d fast become the ‘guy in the green jumper’.
Personally, I also find that while I own knitwear in these colours – or have done – I wear them less and less. I usually prefer to wear either something more muted, or a real pop of colour.
And the bright ones
By a pop of colour, I mean something like a yellow, orange or red. Perhaps even lime green or pink.
These aren’t colours you want in volume, but one or two as a fun alternative can be really nice. They’re especially pleasing in something woolly like a shetland (above).
But even here, I find there is a division. Knits that really are primary colours – lemon yellow, fire-engine red – are much more playful, often in an Ivy manner. They’re often worn in that manner, combined with everything from flannels to sweats, and styled with beanies and baseball caps.
I would say there is a subtler version of most of these colours – gold rather than lemon, a faded red sweatshirt rather than a bright new one – which will suit more guys and are generally easier to wear.
There’s actually been an interesting move towards more colour among Americana brands like RRL or The Real McCoy’s – but usually in these faded, softer colours.
Other questions are which colours of knitwear specifically go best under tailoring – and I’ve covered that previous in an article here.
And I’m sure the topic of which colours suit which skin tone will also come up. My general line is that it matters far less if you’re wearing a shirt collar between your face and the sweater – and that changing that also makes a big difference. More on the topic here.
Meanwhile, if there’s anything you’d like to see in further pieces in this series looking at colours and styles of knitwear, please do let me know.