As men have been wearing less tailoring in recent years – particularly to work – I’ve been getting more questions about colours of knitwear. 

Specifically, readers ask what are the most versatile pieces to invest in – creating a similar guide to our ‘If you only had five jackets’ or ‘If you only had five suits’.

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. 

 

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Chris

Hi Simon,

I don’t think I’ve commented here before, but I’ve been reading for a few years, so first I should say a heartfelt “thanks” for your efforts here on Permanent Style.

I find grey knitwear harder to wear than you suggest in this piece because I am blessed (?) with grey hair, and that tonal continuation all the way from the waist up to the top of the head tends to make my face look washed out. I suppose a shirt collar might break things up, but shirts under knitwear aren’t really my style in general. Black and charcoal seem more forgiving, as do cream and oatmeal, despite all of them being more of a “look” in their different ways.

I agreed with you on faded colours, and I have been on the hunt for a washed-out red sweat or hoodie for a couple of years without quite finding the right thing. Suggestions here would be welcome !

Chris

Charles

On the red sweat, if you can’t find one then you might just need to buy a regular bright red and hang it outside to be sun bleached, which will take time.
You could even spray it with some salt water for extra aging. This would be sort of replicating the effect of spending many summers yachting which is what gave the original “ivy” pieces their faded appearance.
But it will take time, I have no idea how long. Depends on how bright it was to start with and how faded you want it I guess.

Aaron

Great to see this article. I wish more knitwear was available in dark/bottle green, it really is fantastic and one of my favourites. I definitely need to get a solid grey wool jumper at some point, especially with working in court.
I’m very much looking forward to the styles article!

Stephen

Very much agree on the navy and grey before all else. However, most useful are a pale or chalky or milky kind of grey – more versatile than charcoal, in my view, and covers for those occasions when you may want cream or oatmeal. With the navy, though, I’d go in the opposite direction – a very deep or inky navy. The reason probably says something about my deep-rooted need for a uniform: when wearing white/ecru/beige trousers or trousers a darker top can be useful (the navy). Darker trousers seem to point somehow towards lighter tops (the grey).

Beyond navy and grey, I like browns and camels (especially good with pale blue or white shirts). And I’m a big fan of cream knitwear: the chunkier submariner type, certainly, but also lighter sweaters, to wear with a shirt underneath. The cream v neck in the pictures is great and unusual.

Robin

I think generally when it comes to colour for men the principle is keep it simple .

So shirts …. White, blue , pink

Trousers …. Navy , grey, beige ….. at a push a green

Jackets … grey, navy …. At a push brown

Shoes … brown , black , burgundy

And jumpers / cardigans …. Navy , grey …. pushing out to burgundy .

You can’t really go wrong with those ‘staple’ colours

Personally on cardigans / jumpers I have colours ranging from navy, oatmeal, burnt orange , racing green , red , burgundy and purple .
Of course living in the UK one then not only contends with colour but crewneck or v neck or cardigan and then …… weight .
No wonder our wardrobes are so full of clothes !!
But jumpers ……It’s the one item of clothing where you can really play with colour .

Tommy Mack

Weight: yes, absolutely. My wife’s always saying “you really don’t need any more jumpers!” but you practically need a different weight for each month in the UK (and I sometimes point out I’ve still got far fewer than her!)

R Abbott

I agree that for most men it makes sense to start with basic colors like grey and navy. Opinions on where to branch out next will vary a lot (depending on hair color, complexion, personal preference, etc.) which is just as well. For instance, it appears that Robin leans on variations of red as a secondary color: pink shirt, burgundy shoes, burgundy cardigans, etc. Personally, I wouldn’t call red or pink a “staple color,” but it can be for some people.

(E.g., I think pink looks best on men with dark brown hair. I have blue eyes and dark blond / light brown hair and lean heavily on various shades of blue, with brown and olive/green as secondary colors).

JSB

Nice read Simon.
I have to second the purple that you’ve mentioned. I’ve had a v-neck purple from Ralph Lauren for more than 15 years which I’ve found incredibly versatile pairing well with most other colours. Doesn’t look garish at all in my opinion but I would add that the shade of purple is important, mine is quite dark.

JJ Katz

A very good point, I thought, about selecting colour based on trouser choices.

Trews / Jumper

grey / navy, green, rich dark brown, reds
blue / grey, lighter browns
tan / navy, green, dark grey
cream / dark and mid brown ?

Stephen

Hi Simon,
An interesting and informative article, whilst also being a change of pace from reviews. I find the way you mix up different types of article keeps your blog feeling fresh.
This article is useful for building a stylish and useful investment in a knitwear wardrobe and arguably more important, making more of what you already have.
At some point when you have completed the other areas you mention in this article, together with the related linked articles such as knitwear with tailoring (etc.) you could consider pulling all related links together into one article . Or perhaps in a small hard copy volume with some of the great photographs you have amassed.
All the best.

Peter Hall

A piece of high neck knitwear ,, over a shirt, is such an easy way to smarten your appearance.( So reliable and so quick, my wife finds it incredibly irritating ). It’s an easy way to recycle all those tiny collared shirts we have all bought over the years.

Nice to see colour returning, The French soft pink is a wonderful shade.

Alexander

I was thinking about buying a navy roll neck sweater and I also was planning to wear it with my PS wax walker, as I like the idea of navy and dark brown together (or are they both too rich together?). But I think the navy would crash with the black collar of the wax walker. Any shade of grey (if not black, of course) would be much safer. Do you agree that navy + wax walker is not ideal? Thanks

Ian Skelly

Seeing as we are looking at building a knitwear capsule, is it possible to give a rundown of the best cashmere providers ? obviously it would be subjective and probably have loro piana at the top but if you could recommend which producers you would choose in simular price range i.e would you choose johnstons of elgin or luca faloni etc ? I think that would be usefll as I will happily pay 2-300 for a plain blue jumper if I now its one of the best in class and with care will age well. Slightly off topic but can anyone recommend jacquard / patterned knitwear (like loro piana do ) but with out the LP price tag?

Gio

Hi Simon,

Thank your for this new article.

Could you please tell me the brand of the crewneck from the last picture? (Oatmeal)

Is it from L.Faloni? Which size are you wearing?

Cheers,

Rogey

In my wardrobe all shades of olive and mossy green get worn a lot.

MBB355

One knitwear color that has been a revelation for me is Colhays’ dark olive cashmere. It is, at least in my experience, rare–you don’t see it often. Yet it’s muted and highly versatile. Works wonders with a chambray button-down shirt underneath. Goes with nearly any jacket over the top, and great with grey flannels or beat-up jeans. And can be worn with or without a shirt underneath.

Rogey

I agree. I have the same piece.

Chris K

Agreed, I’m considering getting the crew neck in this colour later in the year. Their brown is also a great, dark muted shade.

Fashion Bear

Simon,
As a knitwear obsessive, I am very much looking forward to this series. That is all.
Cheers,
Daniel

I think I've got something to say to you

I suppose one gap in your proposed series is patterned knitwear. I have fairisle and donegal knitwear I like to wear in the depths of winter. And you have your legendary RRL cardigan. But perhaps that stretches capsule a little.

Jim

My favourite at the moment outside of navy is what Jamieson’s call “camel” – it’s a rich light brown, made more so by variations in the yarn. It’s just such a luxurious, and smart-yet-relaxed colour – something like this (I have one of their v neck cardigans) in a variegated Shetland knit is anything but muted businesswear, but looks great with a grey Oxford button-down (current favourite) and grey flannels – and a tie as well, although I know that’s not to everyone‘s tastes. And of course, it’s perfect for more casual as well.

Hywel Jones

I’ve really enjoyed this article and the points made which are useful. I’ve been very selective in my knitwear purchases a brown cashmere/wool mix button through cardigan and a cream jumper for late spring. I’m thinking of injecting a bit of a splash of loud colour such as an aubergine sleeveless cardigan or maybe even pea green. This is partly due to the comments made by Gianluca Migliarotti in an article on here a while back. I would wear this with grey flannels and a navy blazer in spring and autumn.

The main message here though is so helpful – plan carefully and be selective.

Peter K

I have a crewneck from Uniglo in what they used to call “camel” but now call “beige”. It leans a little toward mustard and it is muted. I find it goes very well with jeans and can add a nice pop of colour under a navy jacket.

robert

Your Saman Amel cashmere sweater is smashing. Took me a bit to find the review searching through the archives. Possibly consider a RTW offering through the PS Shop?

Keith

Sorry for the non sequitur; but, I was wondering if you have considered making an app for all of your content.

Tony H

To each his own, of course, but I reckon a black sweater is more versatile than a navy one. They go well with grey trousers, and work perfectly well with other black elements in a way that a navy can struggle to with other navy pieces.

Plus, they’re really good at fading into the background and leaving the focus on your face.

Tony Hodges

I certainly agree with the risk of looking cheap, especially against bright colours, but I’d be interested to know why you think it can look less smart.

I feel like it’s the most formal colour, which is why it can be confusing for beginners that tuxedos are black but casual.

Adrian

As always interesting article, thank’s. In fact, navy (a kind of uniform) and gray are indispensable in anyone’s wardrobe. The choice of color often depends not only on personal preferences and versatility, but also on the weather/season: in winter it is mostly cold colors, in summer – light colors with hints of brightness, in autumn – brown, green, yellow and rust.

Chris K

Great post Simon, looking forward to the rest of this series. On grey, I’ve noticed Colhay’s grey is just fantastic. Slightly darker than most light/mid greys out there, but lighter than charcoal. It sits in a middle ground and I don’t think I’ve found another grey quite like it out there.

Stewart Roxburgh

Really good piece Simon. Thank you. You are spot on. My Merino crew and my grey cashmere are the most consistent pieces I wear. I have a couple of ‘pop’ items that get an airing occasionally (orange and cobalt) I have a lighter sky blue that when worn with chinos looks very classy (last outing was in Milano Marittima, Italy….when we could travel). I don’t own a cream or beige sweater though, so would give some consideration to that for the Scottish summer. My favourite of all time was a black merino high crew neck (not a roll neck though) that went with anything and under a jacket too. I miss and have never been able to find another one. Keep up the great work. Always a pleasure to receive your updates.

George

A very nice article. Inoticed that i wear less and less blue the last years and i dont know why. Maybe because i am headed more to cold colors but i instinctively dont look more for blue clothes at all..
Id like to ask something irelevant. Could you suggest some brands to look for a good leather jacket ? Im trying to find something for a long time with no success.

George

Im looking more at something more luxe and italian looking. https://himelbros.com/products/frobisher?variant=11854317027371 This one looks nice for example.

George

Thanx for the recomendations, i think i like a lot the cromford Hoffmann jacket style( i know very very different than what i showed you). Have you ever tried something like that ? Thanx for your time and the enlightening by the way 🙂

Steve B

Hi Simon, I find these articles concentrate the mind on the essential & thereby most cost effective & sustainable wardrobe. A rich colour that works with my wardrobe that differs from yours & I find more unusual is aubergine, it stands out but not too much & makes a little different & works well with smart or casual navy & tweeds with a heather huge in them. Otherwise love the ecru, charcoal crews & olives & moss, not sure on bright as I’dleave that to a scarf if I felt the need for something bright.

What’s your view on knitwear colours for black corduroy, suit or separates; I have a Smokey blue Inis Meáin knitted polo that works but considering an alternative, thanks.

Martin

My approach is simple:
Buy everything in black.
Problem solved.

Mark

Hi Simon – a very useful article, thank you.

Regarding your comment on grey sweatshirts, I agree but I have quite long grey hair and it can sometimes seem a bit strange when I wear it.

Are there any manufacturers you know of who offer a slightly darker shade of grey or perhaps an alternative colour that would be as versatile?

Mark

Gerry

Hi Simon, I’ve been following you for years and you have certainly influenced my style, but I often wear a navy jumper with indigo jeans. I am 5’4” and feel that breaking up the top and bottom halves with different colours wouldn’t be helpful. Have I got this very wrong?

Jonas

Thanks for the article Simon. You said beige and oatmeal may not go well with blue shirt but which color do you think goes best with blue shirts ? perhaps if you were to choose three ?

Rowan Morrison

Hi Simon,
By coincidence, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks looking for the perfect example of one of your suggestions here – a mid to light-grey crew neck. I’m thinking lambswool or Shetland. But surprisingly I’m not turning up much – perhaps it’s the time of year and most places have sold out of their winter stock by now?

Anyway, just about the only place I found online selling something that looked like it fits what I’m after was here – https://www.shetlandknitwear.com/product/crew-neck-jumper-ecology-pebble/

It’s not a company I’ve heard of before and what I’m interested in your opinion on is … Is there anything I should be careful of when ordering from companies like this? The website description makes it sound like it is something of an artisanal product but it is quite low priced (similar products from more renowned country wear manufacturers seem to run around double this). There are customer reviews on the site , but not many of them and they all award the products five stars. If this is a genuine artisan producer of traditional country wear, how does one assess their quality, if not an expert in such things?

JD

Outstanding treatment, Simon.

With each day, I find my right brain winning the battle against my left brain and taking more liberties with color–pretty much all across the entire spectrum of menswear. I favor earth tones as a base to bring the navy and gray. I prefer jumpers in the midrange blues and browns, which I believe can act as neutrals and pair well with any dark shade of trousers.

As for pop, I like ochre and burnt orange knits over a white, cream, or ice blue shirt.

On a related note, I also tether my knitwear purchases to the outerwear I already have (or am contemplating). I invest in coats and jackets that give me a lot of latitude with color. Winter in Chicago can dictate your fashion choices on any given day.

Jonas

Lovely article as always. Could you elaborate on why a navy sweater will clash with navy trousers? Is it exactly the same color that is the problem?

Tony

Dear Simon. What are you thoughts on quarterzips. I don’t think I’ve seen you have one on. Where do you place on the spectrum of formality/casualness of let’s say an outfit with quarterzips over a Oxford shirt and tie?

Ryan

SC –

Curious about that cream cricket sweater! So many I’ve come across have stripes…

Ryan

Much appreciated, Sir. That post is enjoying a birthday today! And, if I may say, a truly sexy piece of knitwear, that.

A shame you don’t find the color more versatile in terms of shirt pairings…
In the hunt for that elusive ‘third’ color, it seems that ‘wears well over all PS oxford cloths’ might be a useful yardstick?

In my own pursuit, I find myself drawn to the spectrum of paler brown tones, ranging from the more saturated oatmeals and variegated taupes (I like the “biscuit” of that Cariaggi ‘Peppercorn’, which seems to fall in between those?) through the colder camels. Might any of these tick the aforementioned box, in your esteemed opinion?

Michael

Whenever i make a new purchase for my closet, i come here to check out the “rules”. Your site has been so beneficial many times. Thank you so much for that. Having recently purchased a dark brown sweater, however, I am unsure if it will go with gray and charcoal pants? Any hints?