I’ve had a few requests over the years to do one of these, our wardrobe-building guides, about knitwear. 

One of the challenges of doing so is that very little is right or wrong, and a lot is personal. Still, there are some helpful things that can be said about colours, styles and materials I think, particularly if the main aim is versatility, which it usually is with these pieces. 

Our presumption is that we’re talking to a young guy trying to put together a small wardrobe of quality clothing, who needs to buy things that work with everything else, and can ill afford mistakes or whimsy. And then along the way, hopefully I say things that apply more universally.  

Reflecting that challenge of knitwear, this piece is not organised as five individual knits, but the three choices that affect each of them. Each category (colour, style, material) is organised in order of priority, from the most versatile to the least, so the appropriate selection can be made from each. 

Note that we’re talking only about fully-fashioned, knitted-together knitwear here, by the way, not sweatshirts. 

 

 

Colours of knits

Grey

Unlike tailoring, grey is probably the most versatile colour of knitwear, for most people. Why? Because it goes with pretty much every colour of trouser, the only exception being grey itself (eg grey flannels). 

Navy 

Navy is next, and is only limited by the fact that you might own some dark-rinse jeans or navy chinos that it could match too closely. Which of navy and grey works best for you depends a lot on your trousers, therefore. And chances are you’ll end up with both anyway.

Brown, beige, cream 

After those first two, most other muted, conservative colours are similarly useful. I especially like dark, cold shades of brown, but then I know they fit well with everything else I wear (eg black jeans, cream jeans). Beiges vary quite a lot but are similarly useful; creams don’t, but not everyone finds cream easy to keep clean. Easier in a tough material like shetland wool. 

Green in all its shades

Greens are similar to browns, in that it’s all about the tone. I love a dark olive knit, but wear stronger, warmer greens much less often. 

Charcoal and maybe black

These come some way down the list because they often make quite specific demands on the trousers. Charcoal is by far the easier of the two, but it’s fairly smart while not being as universal as navy. Black knits are an easier way to wear black than most other categories, but are still less versatile (the aim, remember) than most other colours of knitwear. 

Strong, rich, bright

Strong colours are not the friend of the versatile capsule wardrobe. An orange shetland can be beautiful, but you need enough other knitwear such that you’re not always wearing that sweater. Other than that yellow/orange, my other favourite bright colours are lilac and purple.

 

 

Styles of knits

Crewneck

The two main styles of knit are crewneck (round) and V-neck. There are many reasons why a V-neck is great, and it depends on the depth of the V, as well as your neck/shoulders, but for most people, most of the time, a crewneck is a better first choice. Easier to wear without a collar underneath as well. 

V-neck

See above. Really flattering when the V is relatively deep, and accentuates the opening of a shirt, the line of a lapel. But harder to wear with just a T-shirt. I’d always have three crewnecks for every V-neck I owned. And in fact I own more of the next category.

Shawl 

Perhaps this should have gone above V-necks. Anyway, this covers both shawl necks and shawl-collar cardigans. The latter are a real menswear staple, and with good reason. The collar and the chunkiness (it should be chunky) are flattering, and they are very happy with both a shirt and a tee. 

Collared/polo

A knit with a collar, like a polo shirt. Some makers even call their knits, in any weight, polo shirts or sports shirts, which reveals something about their origins but feels rather out of step. Still, this is a great option because it flatters the face like a shirt collar, and is easy to wear. Only issue is it doesn’t look as good with a shirt collar, as a result. Too many collars. 

Roll neck

Great for winter, cosy and flattering under a coat. Not that forgiving on its own, however, unless pretty chunky. Too many fans of classic menswear buy them and then realise this when they take their jacket off. 

Cardigan

Those without a shawl collar. Cardigans are a really nice option if they flatter you, but many don’t. They’re much easier to wear with a shirt underneath, and can create pleasing lines under a jacket. For thoughts on the right cut, see PS articles on sleeveless ones, relaxed ones, and sloppy ones

Vest, zip, funnel, mock

Vests – sleeveless V-neck sweaters – can be great, but in particular cuts and combinations. Probably not one for a small capsule. Zips are, in general, the devil: a lazy choice by those who mistakenly think they work with both shirts and T-shirts. Funnels and mock necks are rarely better than rolls, but for more on mocks see a piece on necklines here

 

 

Material

Cashmere

Arguably, this shouldn’t be the first choice for a guy buying his first quality piece – let’s say a navy or grey crewneck. It’s expensive and it’s delicate. But actually, if it’s looked after well it’s not that delicate, and we are talking fairly smart knitwear overall. I’d only say, don’t buy really cheap cashmere. If that’s your only choice, buy lambswool instead. 

Lambswool

See above. Perhaps a good option for your first knit, it should be easier to look after and unless you’re wearing it over a T-shirt and are fairly sensitive to such things, shouldn’t be itchy. 

Fine merino

So, lambswool is also merino; one is the age of the animal, the other the breed. But in general, when people say merino they mean a finer merino lambswool yarn, one that produces a thinner, smarter knit. Think about John Smedley. This is lovely, but can be too smart for jeans, workwear etc, whereas the thicker wools above are often good with everything. Hence why it’s third on the list. 

Cotton

God I love a cotton sweater in the warmer half of the year. There’s nothing like that feel of heft, of being clothed, with the accompanying coolness of cotton. Our fictional reader starting out shouldn’t get one until he has at least four or five other sweaters, but eventually he should get a great chunky cotton knit. 

Shetland

More a style choice, a way to add something interesting, which is what pushes it down the list. Some people also just plain don’t like them. But if you like your sweaters rugged and fuzzy (plus, often, strongly coloured) shetlands are wonderful. 

Linen, mohair etc

There are a bunch of other fibres I wouldn’t recommend to our knitwear naif, including linen and mohair, so they’re not that relevant, probably, to this piece. But feel free to ask about them and every other permutation in the comments. Or read this on mohair. 

 

 

So. Completely unsurprisingly, the capsule wardrobe starts with a navy cashmere crewneck, perhaps a grey lambswool crewneck, and then a shawl-collar cardigan. 

The hard thing to decide is, which variable do you change with each acquisition? Should that shawl be navy or grey, as that would be the most useful, or is that too boring? Is this why guys end up with nothing but navy knitwear?

Given there are approaching 600 permutations of the above variables, this is something we must all have made decisions on, as nobody (not even me) owns that many. And we haven’t even got onto other design choices, like cable knits or Fair Isles. 

So what choices do you make, and why? 

 

 

Knitwear shown (with links to the articles they come from):

That last piece is also a nice sub-set of the question we’re discussing here: which knitwear colours are best under tailoring

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Adrian

They always make me chuckle these ‘if you only owned five’ articles. Should be ‘as if you only own 5’. I get the point of the articles but I suspect that most readers will own way more than 5 pieces of the garment in question as regular readers will undoubtedly be subject to the driving force of consumerism created by this site and others similar.

Alex

As someone who is not young but steered clear of knitwear until discovering that cashmere wasn’t unbearably itchy, this article is helpful.

Jay

I am a regular reader and own way less than 5. This site In my opinion promotes quality and buying less over rampant consumerism. This is why I love permanent style.

Brian

It’s interesting that you would consider this site as a force for consumerism Adrian, as my sense is that it is actually anti-consumerism. The philosophy that comes across to me is to; buy quality versatile items, take care of them, repair them and keep them for a long time to enjoy how quality ages well.

These capsule articles emphasise versatility, and combined with the ‘Which Office are You?’ articles are excellent examples of how one can utilise fewer, versatile pieces to create multiple ‘looks’ rather than having to acquire an outfit for every separate occasion and context.

bogdan

“but I suspect that most readers will own way more than 5 pieces of the garment in question”

that’s somewhat irrelevant. i own more than five sweaters, indeed, but thinking about what are the most essential five still helps. first, because i might discover i have a gap in my collection i need to fill (so more consumerism i guess). second, because as some of my sweaters wear out, this can help me decide if i should replace them or not (so less consumerism).

used this way, articles like this lead to less consumerism overall for people who have plenty of clothes.

Karol

“If only you owned just five pieces of knitwear”

Lindsay McKee

This is one of the best posts I’ve ever seen!
It just nails it for me.
I’ve a few jumpers the wrong colour and will be replaced eventually.
My go to makers are Smedley ( in the sales)and North Sea ( look out for the frequent sales) but I may add other makers over time. I’m not averse to cheaper makers though.
Any thoughts or suggestions on cheaper makers Simon?

Lindsay McKee

Thanks again
Lindsay

Aaron L

Howlin uses Harley to do it’s knits and they seem to be about the same quality. Good if you can find a sale on some of their less outlandish stuff.
Jamieson does solid low-stretch knits, but I’ve found the way they dye their wool to feel a bit too synthetic feeling (single bright colours). Nothing wrong with that, but I love when people make the most of wool knits’ ability to sneak in colour variation. Oh – Jamiesons also use plastic fake leather buttons. That said – I’m wearing a Jamiesons fair isle right now, and don’t feel too much aesthetic pain when I look at the yarn.

Peter Hall

I think the best way to wear a roll neck is as a base layer. I often do it with a crew neck. Turning the roll inside makes it a little smarter.

I so love my chunky, cotton shawl . Makes a nice change from the ubiquitous aran. I think I spotted one in Oppenheimer.

Peter Hall

Not had that experience. I have a short neck, and it work best with a thinner one. It avoids me looking like Smiffy from the Beano.

I wouldn’t do it with a chunky roll neck.

Aaron L

Great tip! I’ll try it out 🙂

Alexander

How versatile would you rate the “natural” colour from Rubato?
https://www.atemporubato.com/products/standard-crew-neck-in-natural
I only own jeans from them so far (off-white and indigo), so I know the first knit to try from them should probably be the navy crewneck. (I also realize that if I would only pair the knits with my Rubato jeans, grey and natural are probably easier than the navy crew…)

Henry

Will you say it’s more versatile than the fawn?
https://www.atemporubato.com/products/standard-crew-neck-in-fawn

Carl

If you add Rubatos ”stone” color to the comparison https://www.atemporubato.com/products/standard-crew-neck-in-stone
How would you say that it compares to the Fawn or Natural colors in versatility? (Online theyre not that different). I am looking for a grey crewneck that I probably most ofter will use with raw denim and sometimes khaki chinos.

DAN

Have you seen ercu in person in comparison to fawn? Which one would you prefer? It’ hard to guess for me, because the shades are different depending on the screen (iPhone/desktop) I look at. I like the ecru, but I think fawn will be more versaitle and easier to wear.

I can’t really decice which colors in which style I should choose for my next purchase. I have their v necks in earth and stone and the most obvious to buy is another v neck in navy alongside a navy cardigan for sure.

Than another cardigan plus a crewneck both in ecru or fawn, but this is were I am trapped at. Maybe one of these two colors is better for a particular style?

I also like the yellow and the new lighter blue, but I think I should go with the more versaitle colors for now.

Ebernezer

Are Rubato slim fit?

WW

Simon can I ask what size you wear for Rubato knitwear? Thanks.

Daniel

Hi Simon
A lighter, flannel grey, Shetland roll neck is a favourite. Worn on its own, it feels relaxed and not clingy unlike other smoother materials. The texture adds interest, and paired with a baseball cap in a contrasting (maybe washed out) colour, can look nicely put together.

Andreas

Am I the only one who just doesn’t like the way cashmere feels? It often feels to me like it’s been rubbed with butter, or oil (yes, I’m talking about the expensive kind of cashmere, not the 89,99€ kind), and I feel like I need to wash my hands after touching it. And if your hands are dry (which usually happens during winter, the only time to wear cashmere), it tends to snag on the dry bits of skin on the knuckles, which just feels horrible.

And of course, overheating is always an issue when wearing cashmere indoors, since most public buildings and subway trains seem to be heated to a ridiculous degree, even after gas and electricity prices went through the roof.

Most of my winter sweaters are chunky merino/lambswool knits from Drumohr and Alpha Studio, which I think is the best of both worlds: smooth, soft merino fibers, knit in a way that doesn’t say “office sweater”.

Aaron L

Coming from New Zealand, I applaud your appreciation of sheep’s wool. Clearly the superior animal in all respects 😉

Tommy Mack

I also find cashmere too warm most of the time. I have a couple of cashmere scarves that I love but I rarely wear cashmere knitwear. If I do wear it, I always wear a base layer underneath that looks good by itself when I have to take off the knit.

I’m a chunky winter knit fan too. My wife was skeptical until she started wearing my jumpers during the cold winter in London this year and couldn’t believe how warm and soft they are. She also wears my cashmere scarves! In fact she’s said women’s knitwear is rarely warm enough for the winter.

Leo O-W

I adore my linen jumpers (mostly from Inis Meain). They breathe, wear very cool, and drape well. Why don’t you like them?

Robert M

Rollnecks are not versatile enough for me – I can’t wear them indoors because it’s just too hot. Similarly with v-necks – can’t wear them with t-shirts, so I just don’t buy them.

My capsule would be: navy and green fine merino crewnecks, cream and brown mid-weight cashmere crewnecks, thicker navy lambswool crewneck, chunky navy shawl.

A bit outside the scope of the article, but there are also short-sleeved knitted t-shirts that I absolutely love for the ‘casual chic’ look in the summer.

Robert J

Robert, Excellent call on your knitwear capsule. Getting hot indoors is an issue – for the majority of my knitwear I’ve found finer weights work best with a suitable weight jacket for the outdoors if required. Once inside the jacket comes off anyway and the body heat can regulate.

And

I am of very similar mind. I don’t really wear normal t-shirts anymore except as under knitwear or as loungewear at home, since knitted t-shirts have completely replaced their use.
They are much more flattering (especially for a short guy imo), and also much more versatile: by themselves, most people don’t even realize at first glance that I’m wearing knitwear rather than a standard, very casual t-shirt; on the other hand, they are much more easily dressed up by just adding a jacket, often unstructured, on top in spring or autumn.

In winter, and this is a bit funny, I actually wear chunky rollnecks mostly *at home* (since I can control the heating and use as little as possible, and also the neck gets cold but I would feel weird wearing a scarf indoors), and then actually often wear thin mocknecks when going out to most heated destinations, under a jacket and/or coat.
I do think rollnecks look better than mocknecks, but it’s a compromise I’ve decided is unavoidable until the entire retail and corporate worlds suddenly realize they over-heat their buildings. Which I wouldn’t count on.

DAN

I do understand your preference for crewnecks because of their versatility, but I think many of them are too wide and loose around the neck to look flattering without a shirt underneath. For me with a longer neck and some sloppy shoulders this is even more true.

I have shetlands in cream and mid brown from Natalino with a higher and closer fitting neck. I wear these on there own quite often and it goes well I would say, but my William Lockies with a “standard” crewneck do not work like that. With a T-Shirt underneath you can sometimes see signs of the neck of the shirt under the crewneck and I think this looks very very bad. Then you are better of with a close fitting T and a v-neck.

I think Rubato’s crewnecks have this higher/closer fitting neck too, but I prefer there v-necks. I have them in grey and brown and gonna order navy and or fawn next.

Robin

Colour , style , material .Fantastic structure to this article !

Maybe do the trousers and jackets capsule in the same way.

I find the hardest knitwear to nail is for transition weeks/months . With temperatures recently jumping 10 degrees in a week it’s proven even tougher to remain comfortable and I think that’s where zipped knitwear is the gap I need to fill.

Really enjoyed reading this .Thank you, Simon.

YiXiang

I found that mock necks looks better than roll necks on me , probably due to my shorter neck.

MBB355

I also like a mock neck because it covers more neck than a crew, but feels a little subtler and less flamboyant than a rollneck, which can sometimes feel a little too fancy or effeminate.

MBB355

I agree that a mock neck is a bit unusual, and might draw some extra attention for that reason, but I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. The rollneck is difficult to wear because its associations with intellectuals and artists might make it look a bit pretentious on our fictional reader. A mock neck, despite it being a little unusual, lacks those connotations but achieves much that a roll neck does–it covers more neck than a crew and usually rises above a jacket collar so that it looks good under tailoring. So, while I understand that our fictional reader might be loath to draw attention to himself, he’ll also want a versatile knitwear selection, including knitwear that looks good under tailoring without a collared shirt underneath. I think the mock neck is probably the better choice for those circumstances.

Peter

An argument I’d make for considering Shetland more seriously as a first or second choice is its durability. Shetlands I’ve had for years look more or less identical to when I got them. They’re so hardy. Even lambswool requires a good deal more upkeep by comparison and will nevertheless suffer over time.

Neil

Morning Simon,

Thanks for pointing out that it is normal to have a closet full of navy knitwear, I feel safe in numbers.

I would suggest the primary purpose of knitwear is temperature related, and so the environment you are in, (or mainly in), should be the primary factor in choosing any knitwear article.

Most styles and knits derive from a particular purpose, which would be climate driven.
I have my own experience with certain materials and styles that just do not work for me and others that are brilliant.
Cashmere in almost any style, is simply too hot for me. Maybe my time of life!
I seem to have found a good balance with Merino, whether fine knits or coarser.
I would love to know your thoughts on the temperature control element of knitwear.

Style-wise, Roll necks, cannot be opened and so a hike in temperature means I boil over, again.
Zips and button fronts suggest a solution but rarely sit well, and as you suggest, there is something about a zip right next to your face that means you have lost a sartorial element.

I tend to wear knitwear as an additional layer beneath a jacket/ on top of a shirt, my default has become fine / finer merino knits with a v-neck, whether that be a jumper, cardigan or slipover. Seemingly nearly always in the ubiquitous navy.

Finally, I do not know if you have covered elsewhere, but the biggest problem with quality knitwear is unnecessary evil of moths. It is inevitable my best loved knitwear will have been the site of moth debauchery, leaving the most evident of gaps as a crisp white shirt shines through the navy.

Thanks for the article.

Neil

Neil

Thanks for the moth information.
The little darlings have perforated about £1000 or my most loved
jumpers. And so the super fumigator at £6.95 (per year) seems great value.

Lindsay McKee

Get the moth fluid from Pest Expert.
I spray it in my wardrobe and drawers twice yearly. Top and bottom,all sides and even under the drawers and under any shelves in your wardrobe. You might want to wear a mask though… it’s quite pungent but not unpleasant to use.. just be careful.
Hope that helps somewhat!

Neil

Would you be able to elaborate on why rollnecks are not that forgiving on their own, unless they are pretty chunky? I just wanted to better understand the reasoning behind that.

John

I completely agree that a chunky roll neck is best. I have tried merino ones in the past and found them too feminine worn on their own, or even with a jacket.

SAO

Lots of very wise, thoughtful advice here. I would have saved a lot if only I’d known earlier!
My personal five for the putative aspiring menswear nerd would be:
1; mid-weight mid-grey lambswool crew neck (for maximum versatility, as above). 2; navy fine merino crew neck a la Smedley (great with pale battered denim, but also quite smart). 3; navy mid-weight lambswool v neck cardigan (much as I enjoy a shawl collar, this is more versatile and somehow less look-at-me; I bought a William Lockie version on the recommendation of a PS reader and it’s extremely useful and substitutes for the occasions when a v neck jumper might be handy too). 4; Mid weight beige/fawn polo neck, either cashmere or lambswool (goes with all trouser colours except beige very well; both smart and casual; Harley do nice, simple wool ones; Altea do nice cashmere). 5; a hefty mariner type sweater, either in cream or in navy (Andersen-Anderson do nice navies that have always appealed, but I don’t own; I have a North Sea Clothing one in cream that I like with a slightly retro shape to it). Looking at my list, it is perhaps a little dull (much navy, a lot of mid-weight). But I think the “only five” versatility criteria makes it what I would now recommend.

JSB

Interesting article, for me particularly the section on cotton knitwear. I’m not sure why, can’t really put my finger on it exactly, but I have some kind of mental block when thinking of cotton as a material for knitwear, or should say sweaters specifically.

As silly as it sounds, I suppose it’s because I associate cotton too much with shirts and t-shirts, and to a lesser degree casual trousers but also the fact that cotton generally wears cooler and at first thought seems antithesis to knitwear which is for warmth. I’ve seen designs, particularly in A&S that I have really liked but never proceeded because of these (perhaps wrongly placed) thoughts.

A comment on durability of cotton versus various wools might good, if you could Simon?

JSB

Thanks for your additional thoughts on cotton as knitwear, Simon.

I might just have to take another look 🙂

Alex

Hello Simon. You touch very briefly on them at the end. Please could you offer a thought on how you like to wear cable knit sweaters (or do you not like this as a style)? I cannot recall an article where you wear this.

Brian

I think the thing to remember with an Aran jumper is that it is traditionally worn by fishermen, essentially workwear, and so is often better paired with more chunky casual items like jeans, a heavy chino etc. For outerwear (because let’s face it the loose knit isn’t great at keeping out the wind) I would also tend towards the more casual end of the spectrum; a parka or duffle coat maybe. Certainly not the most versatile item in the wardrobe!

Brian

Interesting Simon. It’s not a look I can ever recall seeing, and it’s not one I think I could pull off! Perhaps it’s down to associations. Having grown up in the west of Ireland, the Aran jumper still evokes the rugged wildness of the Atlantic for me which doesn’t sit close in my head with the refinement of a tailored overcoat.

Patrick Fermoy

Brian it’s not quite right to say Aran is traditionally worn by fishermen. Arans have a wide number of “patterns”, and the rope design signifies a fisherman.

The others signify many different occupations, allowing observers to identify how people earned their livings.

Brian

Interesting Patrick, that’s not an explanation I’ve heard before. I had heard that the patterns represent different aspects of island life. The cable pattern representing fishing ropes, the diamond pattern representing fishing nets, the trellis representing stone-filled fields etc. Although, my friend from the islands suggested to me that it’s more a case of describing the pattern based on what it looks like rather than it having a deeper meaning. I’ll interrogate him in more detail next time I’m over and report back!

Sean Breezie

Alex, the relative stuffiness of a cable cashmere sweater marries excellently with more casual trousers (denim and five pocket cords). Or to be a touch smarter grey flannels

Vinny

what a great article!

living in Brazil my first option is always cotton (crew neck or v-neck) knit. Around here even winter is just another kind of summer. Last year I bought a fisherman sweater and cardigan, both in made of wool in Scotland and they didn’t get much use and I decided to donate them to my parents who live down south.

When you say “Our fictional reader starting out shouldn’t get one until he has at least four or five other sweaters” I believe it is probably based on PS demograph (I assume north hemisphere). In the south hemisphere I believe it’s the other way round.

cheers,
Vinny

Gonzalo

See why you wouldn’t include vicuña in this budget-conscious/starters list. That said, why didn’t you include alpaca (esp. baby alpaca)? A good alpaca jumper shouldn’t be more expensive than comparable cashmere knitwear. Moreover, I would expect these to be available in most of the colours and styles that you recommend.

MBB355

In your view, does the Colhays cashmere painters shawl cardigan have the requisite chunkiness? I really like it and think it might even be more versatile than Colhays’ original, thicker lambswool shawl since it’s more appropriate in the office, where our fictional reader probably spends a lot of time.

Ian Fraser

Hi Simon, nice article, but I was surprised not to see burgundy in the colours section – after navy, it’s my most worn colour.

Stephen

Hi Simon, A enlightening and interesting article. Even for more experienced readers it’s useful to see a thought through process. It also explains why I have so many navy sweaters!
A few points from me:
I agree roll necks can be a bit unforgiving especially if the face/neck is a bit fleshy and best avoided in that case. I do find however a tendency to wear them a bit on the small side doesn’t help, so even if one doesn’t go for heavy knit, sizing up a little and ideally in cashmere (or a thicker merino-not fine knit) can make a roll neck a bit more forgiving. Also always wear a layer underneath whether a long sleeve cotton t-shirt or thermal vest ina fitted style. Not only does this lessen the need for washing the sweater it als smiths the bumps a bit!
Crew necks I agree are very useful, but if wearing a shirt underneath I tend to stay away from fine knit marino as any rucks in the shirt or the buttons and placket show through so I’d tend to go for cashmere or a least heavier merino. Ideally cable knit but less good under jackets. Fine knit crew necks I find best with a crew neck T-shirts underneath.
Finally like yourself I love cotton or cotton/cashmere mix sweaters, I do however think one sweater of this type in a crew can fit into a capsule wardrobe as it’s very versatile in navy (here I go again!)- with a shirt or t-shirt underneath and trans seasonal depending on layering, also nice in cable.
Hope readers find the above useful and further food for thought.

Eric Twardzik

There’s another point relating to knitwear selection (at least in my mind) that I hadn’t seen discussed here. I prefer thicker, chunkier knits for many reasons, one being that they can be folded and stored for months without much impact, whereas as the creases that arise on finely knit, lighter-weight sweaters drive me crazy.

Henry

Do you have recommendations for specific brands for chunky cotton knits?

Amon

Ghiaia Cashmere does marvelous ones!

Liam

A really useful article as I’m just thinking about adding a cardigan to my wardrobe for the autumn. Initially I was fully focussed on a shawl collar cardigan, likely in navy as it’s (for me) the most versatile, and probably a lambswool version from William Lockie. But as I’ve shopped around I’m beginning to think a standard cardigan might be more versatile in that it’s more wearable indoors (less danger of overheating) and easier to layer when outdoors. Decisions decisions.

Another helpful article would be on the role of the gilet. I have a few of these and they do tend to work most successfully with knitwear. A do’s and don’t on gilet styles and how to wear perhaps?

Liam

Thanks Simon, I take the point about the risk style wise with a standard cardigan.

Markus

Great article. Do you wear the fine merino crew necks and long-sleeve polos on their own or always with a jacket? I sometimes have the feeling that if I wear those alone, something is missing (like a fine shirt without a jacket).

Gary

There is an additional assumption that you have made, i.e. that your fictional reader does not plays sports such as cricket and tennis. I recommend Alan Paine’s cricket/tennis jumpers in 100% merino wool or thick cotton. My large chest of drawers contains Shetland, lambswool, fine merino and cotton jumpers in various colours, all made in Scotland. If I was living in a place with very cold winters, I’d get some Submariner, Guernsey and Norwegian jumpers.

Gary

Really? Most cricketers wear knitwear on cooler days but, like most sportswear garments, they are now made from synthetic fibres such as acrylic. Like football and rugby clubs, counties and city teams make large margins selling colourful strips to their fans. However, I still see local club players wearing traditional jumpers made from natural fibres.

Ralph Lauren usually has cricket and tennis jumpers in its annual summer collection but they are very expensive, £269 this year. Mine was a sale bargain from a country retailer for only £80. It’s ideal for warming up on a cool day and walking to or from my club. Alan Paine usually has a choice of several colours in both wool and cotton. Even John Lewis had its own brand version this summer so they seem to be more popular than you think.

William Kazak

I seem to prefer three colors in knitwear; cream, medium blue and navy blue. I am blonde. I like crewnecks without a shirt, just a t-shirt or a long sleeved t shirt underneath. I do have a long sleeved knit merino polo shirt that is nice to wear with a blazer. Shetland is very warm. Lambswool is comfortable indoors. Both can be worn outdoors under a coat or jacket. I am not a fan of v neck, although I do have one in a thin merino. I wear with a t shirt, not my best look. Cotton sweaters are kind of useless to me in the Midwest USA. Too hot to wear in summer, too cold in winter. I do have a few crewneck versions. They get a little wear in fall for me

MBB355

It’s worth investing in black knitwear because black is so easy to wear in knitwear, but so hard to wear in other categories. Black worn right is tough to beat. But it’s hard to pull off. The best way to wear black is through knitwear–with a crewneck (without a collar underneath to avoid excess sharpness), a non-shawl cardigan (your black mohair cardigan with dark brown chinos is a perfect PS look–subtle yet unique), a knit polo, or a shawl cardigan. Because black is so great yet so difficult, and best executed through knitwear, I think our fictional customer should be gently nudged toward black knitwear.

Justin

I have found the cashmere hoodie from Luca Faloni to be the most versatile piece of knitwear I own. I understand the look isn’t for everyone, but for my style I will wear it alone, over a collared shirt, and under a sports coat. It can be fairly dressed up—I’ve worn it with a tie—though the hoodie definitely limits this from being too formal. I also would make a plug for light blue as a highly versatile color. It can be worn with navy, gray, browns, black, most denim, greens— most other staple colors in my wardrobe that are both casual and smarter.
As a starter piece I realize this can be a harder sell, but this has been my evolution after owning many more than 5 pieces of knitwear.

Andreas

I really like the methodology of this article. Nice job sir.
I want to know the suede Western-style lined jacket you wear in the first photo. Great casual piece!!! Thanks

Thorbjørn

Great article, Simon. I was wondering if you could specify further on your problem with zips? I find chunkier wool zip cardigans to be quite versatile, especially in darker colors like olive or dark brown.

Thorbjørn

I agree that buttons usually provides a more elegant look. My problem with buttoned cardigans lies in how they interact with the waistband of the trousers. I find the buttoning points do not align with the waistband, therefore you can get a distracting opening where a shirt or t-shirt would poke out, and buttoning a lower button wouldnt be flattering. This is particulary problematic if you wear trousers or jeans with different rises. With a zipped cardigan you can adjust dependent on the trouser.

Phil

On navy, I find it works well with blue trousers. I usually either wear a navy knit (thin merino or polo) tonally or like to wear complementary colours like a dark petrol green (thin merino) or purple (lambswool). But I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid just going for navy and I think knitwear is a good starting point as the texture softens the colour. Neckties and scarves, while not always as hairy, are a similar excuse for colour while still keeping the conservative base of grey trousers, blue shirt etc.

david rl fan

Just to recommend Uniqlo as a great starting point to try out a style without breaking the bank and then in the future getting something of a higher quality.

I’ve been very impressed by Merchant Fox, Brycelands and Anderson Sheppard offerings on their sites but have not tried in person

david rl fan

Also to add the Permanent Style shop as a recommendation on par with the other companies I mentioned

Nils

I think you guys are sleeping on rollnecks, they’re real ladykillers! Under a jacket they look chique and sophisticated and women notice. I agree that on their own they don’t look that great and perhaps even a little bit effeminate, but in situations where you won’t take off the jacket (like a date with the missus). They’re also a great alternative to a shirt and tie, as they frame the face nicely without requiring a tie.

Having said that, I always have great difficulty in finding good knitwear as I have rather long arms and knitwear generally comes in regular sizes like L and XL.

bogdan

my capsule would be:
(1) dark blue linen sweater – i prefer linen to cotton, and the Inis Meain i have is keeping its shape pretty well so far
(2) merino black chunky rollneck – works with most of my winter pants, which are mostly various shades of grey or dark brown. it doesn’t go well with dark blue pants (except for denim) but i don’t have that many of those
(3) thick merino navy shawl collar cardigan – obvious why
(4) thick merino olive collared sweater – it goes well with my long neck and most of my winter pants (even the dark browns)
(5) dark brown shetland – i find that it’s cool enough to wear in transitional seasons along with the linen sweater, and again, the color is quite versatile.

my next choice would probably be a cream or dark blue/navy donegal sweater, or a fawn lambswool (like Rubato’s).

in retrospect, most of my sweaters should be one or two sizes larger – they just look better, and it’s easy to shrink them a little if they become too large after wearing.

Amit

Hello Simon was looking at these https://therealmccoys.com/collections/tops/products/indigo-aran-shawl-collar-cardigan over a PS Tapered T-Shirt white / Japanese Tees white and over my Chambray / PS Everyday Denim Shirt (now discontinued) over my Washed mid-blue & Indigo Jeans and Fatigue Trousers (olive). Please let me know your thoughts and if I’m thinking on the right direction here?

Thank you Simon 😊

Jason

A great article, as always. You mention that charcoal knitwear places quite specific demands on the trousers, what do you mean by this?

S.F.

Absolutely not disappointed by that characterization of zips (“the devil”). I’ve seen quarter zips beautifully done (to the point that I think I want a really nice one), but then I remember all the bad examples I’ve seen and remember I probably don’t want to be in their company. It also helps me make sense of the colors I own/wear.

Fred

Hi Simon!!!
I found that a mid-to-dark blue (a gray-ish blue) is more versatile than the navy. It produces less contrast with a light-blue/white shirt for example, and the effect is more subtle, less dramatic.
I am also surprised than the burdeos is not an option (it matches very well with a wide range of colours, even the cold to the warm palette).
Assuming than the shirt is the “workhorse” of a classic wardrobe, I think that the V-neck sweater would be the first option, over the crewneck.
Finally, in the more casual side, a black rollneck sweater, a jean, a pair of boots (chukkas, for me) and a black leather jacket, is a look that every gentlemen must be use once in a lifetime, at least… (with motorbike or not, hahaha!!!).
Regards.

Georgios

Simon, which brands have the best fit with jeans and workwear ? Im interested in hardwearing knits since i most wear jeans

Georgios

Sorry for the late response, i had a really difficult week so i just now found time. I like mostly chilly knits and not so much the ones that are particularly made to be worn with tailoring. I also noticed something very interesting last year. As long as i live in germany where the sun is a rarity blue doesnt flatter me us much as it did when i used to live in Greece. Grey is a pretty boring color and i have mostly sweatshirts at it. Do you find a black rollneck and suede loafers/boots a good combination or something that should be avoided ? Have you found this year any nice crewneck in charcoal ?
Thanx for the time

Georgios

By the way, could you suggest a shawl cardigan that looks nice and you can wear it without overheating ? I tried the one of colhays last year and while it looked really nice and was flattering i found it too warm for my taste. Should i look at something with merino ? I dont want to feel the scrathiness of lambswool but cashmere is for me too warm on that volume.

Eugene

Nary a fisherman’s style at all. Not an Aran nor a Gansey. I like fine knitwear, but I prefer textured knitwear. Obviously, it’s more casual, but I just find it more interesting to the eye. Granted, the shawl collar cardigan has nice texture and body to it.

Ivan

Honestly I think your article is a bit self indulgent Simon, but I suppose that’s on brand for your namesake cardigans…
Navy sweaters in merino and lambswool are the most affordable and cost effective when starting out, everyone knows this.
In reality beyond navy sweaters for work it’s all down to personal preference. A person could get by with a navy sweater in every variety when starting out, and never really need more. The reason being that navy knitwear and jeans work together. It’s informal, yet classic. Given how much you push jeans I’m surprised they didn’t feature in this article…

Ivan

True, that’s a fair call considering your average reader is potentially more willing to take care of clothes then the average punter.
Yes, you did also mention dark wash jeans, but I more so meant the “classic” mid wash of jeans most people tend to own. Again in menswear dark wash jeans are coveted, so it makes sense a begginer would have those too.
I suppose we’ve reached an understanding here Simon.
P.S. readers take care of your knitwear especially if it’s from the P.S shop and you’ll enjoy it longer!

Andy Dutton

Great article to do to your list . My personal preference would be lightweight cotton crew and v necks that I find enjoyable useful and durable. (A winning combination). Not so fond of darker greys and navy’s as they feel a bit to much the colours of the office.

Mark Gross

Great survey, as usual. But I think you underrate the utility and style of a black cashmere crewneck. It looks great with jeans, chinos, or even medium grey or brown wool trousers. Can be worn with a simple white tee shirt or a collared shirt underneath. I agree that grey is the most versatile, but I would put black over navy for a wool sweater. And save the navy for a chunky cotton v-neck for cooler summer days or evenings.

jason

my most used knits are the navy cashmere crewneck, grey lambswool and ivory heavy shawl cardigan all from colhays. I’ve added some nice alpaca knits in orange, pale green cashmere and a lilac howlin’ lambswool as I’ve gotten more comfortable with colours.

Alex

Hi Simon. Do you think there is any scope for a PS “finest cotton sweater” in the future?

Felix Sylvester Eggert

Hey Simon,

Beautiful read and well timed. I’m about to buy some more versatile pieces for the coming autumn.

Rubato has become my go-to here. Have you ever tried their rather new cardigans? If so: how would you rank them in terms of versatility? I’m asking because regarding weight I’d rank them somewhere between the common chunkier Shawl cardigans and finer cardigans, e.g Smedley

Walter

Many thanks for this, Simon! This is very timely. I’m 23, just starting a career which demands a corporate (or thereabouts) wardrobe, and soon I’ll be going to Europe (from New Zealand) for the first time. In New Zealand, merino is abundant, but other lamb wool fibres, like Shetland, or quality cashmere are scarce (if there are other readers from NZ who can correct me, I’d be grateful to them). Looking forward to browsing what Europe has to offer, armed with your sage advice. Thanks very much!

John

Hello Simon, great addition to the ‘five pieces’ series.Two questions, if I may:

1) Have you considered releasing a lighter-weight version of the PS Rugby? There are many polos out there, but I find them floppy in the collar, with a far too low neckline. The Rugby nailed it, and a 2-ply version would be welcome.

2) Do you think this dark brown shawl cardigan from Colhays is sufficiently dark to be considered a cold colour? https://colhays.com/collections/superfine-lambswool/products/superfine-lambswool-shawl-collar-cardigan-in-dark-brown

Many thanks.

John

Thank you, Simon.

And thanks for the pointer towards Colhay’s. I see they have a promising looking 2-ply cashmere polo:
Cashmere Polo Shirt in Dark Brown – Colhay’s (colhays.com)
The description claims that the collar has extra structure so that it doesn’t fall down, so it sounds promising. My previous experience has been with Luca Faloni and Trunk, both of which were very floppy.

Just one more question: brown suede shoes with dark brown knitwear – is it too much of a look? If the shoes were calf then i don’t think it would be an issue as they are more reflective of light. But suede and knitwear both suck up colour and i was worried may look rather contrived worn together.

Thank again.

John

Thanks Simon, appreciate your comments, as always.

Eric Michel

Black is underrated, it is a basic which works great in many occasions. In term of colour, navy remains number 1, but black is number 2 for me when grey is just a no colour: which works with more or less anything but most of the time is not great, just a bit boring. I love roll neck cashmeres from mid October to mid March. Not too light, not to heavy, in Navy or Black, it covers 90% of all situations, with denim, chinos and any kind of coats or jackets… Laid back and always smart.

Lindsay McKee

Eric,
You might want to to refer to my comments on Smedley’s Orion Green below any indeed the reply’s, particularly Simon’s on colour co-ordination. Smedleys also do a black of course in knitwear and shirts etc. Have a look at North Sea for those polo necks and crew necks too. Superb winter stuff here!

Elly Groothuis

Ik woon in Noorwegen en waar wij wonen kan de temperatuur tot meer dan 20 graden celsius zakken.Dan ben je blin met jouw wollen ondergoed en lekkere dikke truien en sokken.Ook in de zomer draag ik een wollen hemd.Ik heb gemerkt dat het mijn lijf koel houdt in de zomer.
Hilse Elly

Lindsay McKee

John Smedley offer a distinct colour, Onion Green, probably the darkest green anywhere.I wonder how it would fit in on the conservative/ formal scale. I’d like to see an example of what colours of trousers etc would match this dark green.

Lindsay McKee

I agree, but what other colours eg. trousers, shirts would match with very dark green?

Lindsay McKee

Super
Many thanks
Lindsay

Lindsay McKee

Correction Simon!!!
I meant Orion Green from John Smedley, not onion green!!
Sorry about that
Lindsay

CK

Very handy article, Simon, clean cut and to the point. Actually I would have found this very handy a few years ago when I started investing in quality knits. Got there in the end though, few pricey errors though I guess that’s part of the process, know my colours now, what I find most useful etc.

As an aside, can I throw in my vote for another ‘favourite ever pieces’ to round out the year again? Think you skipped last year, but I found it a great read over a couple of coffees over the previous holiday season, checking other readers favourites, some real gems and crackers in there.

CK

Had to have a quick look back just to double check, yeah that’s the one. Totally take your point now I think about it, however absolutely a little tweak to the category would be good, just always interested to find out what other readers have purchased they’re excited about, what their all time favourites in the wardrobe are etc. Workwear would be a great one actually.

Barry Bannan

I second Lindsay’s recommendation of North Sea, excellent quality and value.

Lindsay McKee

Many thanks. North Sea are great people and great products but not for Summer!
Summer equivalents would probably be Smedley or equivalent.
Lindsay

Adam

Hi Simon not sure if anyone’s mentioned but there seems to be a massive delay when open ring your mobile site. I get a white screens for quite a while before the site opens. Initially I thought the site was down

James

I had this issue for a couple of weeks on Android. I found that clearing my cache solved the issue. Hope this helps!

Adam

It’s been like that for few weeks for me. I’m on Vodafone and use an iPhone

Markus

I have the same issue.

Markus

I am afraid not. I use an I-Phone.

g

Any ideas about silk for knitwear ?

azim

Just here to say thank you and you are goated.

Hal

Lightweight V-necks and chunky shawl cardigans FTW. Sums up my entire stack of knitwear. And not a zipper in sight.

I particularly like my lambs wool L.L. Bean shawl cardigan. A bit pedestrian, perhaps, but it does the job admirably.

And I also like to wear ties with my knitwear whenever practical. It just feels more… complete.

Benn

Agreed that v-necks aren’t quite as versatile – but how DO feel they look over a T-shirt (if the v isn’t too deep?

Benn

Good points! Thanks.

Jonas

Can only agree about zips. I own a navy Merino full-zip sweater but have had difficulty finding a suitable use for it. The color and material make it smart but the zip makes it sporty and those things just seem to clash.

I’ve tried to treat it as kind of a blazer with a shirt or polo underneath but that doesn’t work. I’ve tried to treat it as a casual bomber with a t-shirt underneath, but that doesn’t work either.

Paul Rodriguez

For me I wear the following most:
Navy merino crew
Grey cashmere crew
Navy merino v neck
Grey merino crew
Navy merino cardigan
Black merino polo

I have browns and greens but I don’t wear them at much, but I am a bit addicted to navy.

M

Hi Simon – what’s your take on wool/poly blends? I purchased a 80/20 wool/poly Doppiaa turtleneck from a high-profile web store (incidentally, it was advertised as 100% wool). The sweater feels pleasant to the touch, if a bit coarse, but I’m worried about it retaining its shape / quality in the long run.

Ben R

So The Finest Crewneck would be the #2 (closely behind #1) for color and #3 choice for material? Would you consider it a good first purchase in terms of versatility and wardrobe building? Or would cashmere be a better first piece, and if so why?

Could a grey version be in the offering in the future?

Ben R

I had forgotten the charcoal from the PS Shop Autumn/Winter update.

Is the versatile grey mentioned in this article a mid-grey or lighter grey?

Lindsay McKee

A question?
John Smedley is a representative example of Fine gauge knitwear and North Sea Clothing an example of heavy guage knitwear . I cherish both firms are they, unlike too many others, are generous with sizing and I love and buy from both of them because of this.
Who, in your opinion, would best exemplify medium guage knitwear and also allow for generous sizing for big and tall guys like myself?
I fear that Colhays, N.Peal, Faloni and possibly others are too small in sizing for me?

Lindsay McKee

Excellent!!
Many thanks

Lindsay McKee

Lindsay McKee

William Crabtree seems to be good and pretty keenly priced and carries larger sizes and good colours too.
Thanks again
Lindsay

Ian A

I get the feeling that the advice on knitwear here at least as it regards to colour choices and versatility can be applied to sweatshirt choices too?

Daniel

Hi Simon. Really interesting regarding navy in this casual context . I have a zip up hoodie in navy, and (up until now) had not been able to work out why I couldn’t get it to work. Perhaps it’s the same with a navy chore – I think you may have touched in this before. Better to go for a different shade of blue or another colour altogether?

Alexander

In the autumn I mostly wear these three outerwear pieces on the weekends: Jungle jacket (same as yours), brown suede leather jacket, and most of all: the PS Wax Walker. Trousers would be mostly blue jeans (dark rubato and mid blue fullcount dartford). Would you agree that the new black crew neck from Rubato would be very versatile with those pieces? Navy would also be fine I guess (not so good with the wax walker and probably also not ideal with the jungle jacket), but I am tending towards black. Thanks!

Keshav

What is your opinion on knitted shirts like these?

Screenshot_2023-10-04-18-38-35-510_com.android.chrome.jpg
Keshav

Can it be part of a classic wardrobe or does it look a bit odd?

Reed

I just discovered WHY I’m drawn to, and so very impressed by Shawl Collared Cardigan Sweaters. They’re an easy and grand substitute for wearing a Blazer. Especially a Navy Blue or Black shawl collared cardigan. And they give the viewer (as well as the wearer) a very warm feeling internally. I’d like to find an equivalent sweater to this Double-Breasted shawl-collared cardigan for well under the $2000.00 price of this Ralph Lauren cardigan with metal buttons. Does anyone happen to know where to find something similar?

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Royal CARDIGAN.jpg
Mike

Hi Simon,
How do you find the Rubato Nonpareil crew necks fall in the formality scale?

What about the warmth? I see they are cotton, but they look a bit thicker than their lambswool crew necks. Cooler than both lambswool and cashmere, I would guess.

Mike

Perfect, thank you!

Carl

I have a thin cashmere V-neck in navy made by Loro Piano. Definitely one of their “classics”. It has now started to have a lot of signs of hard wear and I am looking for something similar. But I think that the prices of Loro Piano are too high and I would prefer a cloth like the one you are using in your “finest crewneck”. Do you have any recommendations? I see that Colhay have nice v-necks but they are in a heavier lambswool.
Any recommendations?

oliver

Why do roll necks look unflattering. For fat people?

Bob M

Thank you for the timely article!

I’ve been culling my own knitwear to better reflect what I actually use. I’ve finally settled on a black cashmere crew neck (worn on its own, no jacket), navy casual “military” jumper (worn with jeans), Fine gauge merino roll necks in navy, snow (worn out, under a jacket).

Now, I feel comfortable buying the best quality I can afford in each.

I love the feel of a cashmere sweater, even if I can only wear it occasionally. (It’s generally too warm, but there are 6-8 weeks where it’s ideal.)

What are your thought on the 70/30 cashmere silk blends?

Alex

Hi Simon, I was wondering what kind of knitwear you’d recommend to be worn with a business suit and tie for when it’s cold and a coat isn’t enough?

Jack

Hi Simon, could I ask what you think would go well under the black V-neck sweater other than white and cream shirts/polos?

Many thanks,
Jack

Jack

Thanks, Simon. I tried it with pale denim and it looks nice. Do you think pale pink or blue shirts could work as well? I thought the white polo underneath would certainly go well but it looks like there is a bit too much contrast which makes the whole outfit look a bit boring to me. What would you say?

Jack

Ah, great, that’s very useful indeed!

david rl fan

Also stripes

Andrew

Hi Simon,

I’m working on upgrading my wardrobe, and I think my next purchase will be a long sleeve knit polo (something along the lines of ‘casual chic’). I figure that going for a long sleeve knit polo – rather than something like pique – would go well with flannels.

Most of the time I won’t be wearing it with a jacket, but may do so occasionally. I wanted to see if there are, say, 2 or 3 brands that you might recommend who do this well that I could check out.

I appreciate any thoughts or advice you have.

Markus

Hello Simon,

I have a few questions about brands that sell chashmere sweaters (crew- or rollnecks) that are not – at least not regularily mentioned – on Permanent Style and one question about Shetland sweaters:

Do you have any experience with the following brands or feedback from somebody you trust (cashmere products):

+ Johnstons of Elgin, who have their own factory I believe

+ Malo, who also have their own factory I believe

+ Drumohr

Have you tried the Connoly Shetland Sweaters?

Your advice would be very much appreciated.

Kr Markus

Markus

Thanks a lot.

Magnus

Hello Simon, any thoughts on Rubato’s new Brushed Shetlands? Curious if you’ve seen them in person and any thoughts if so. Thanks much

Martin

@Simon – What is the jacket you’re wearing in the first image please?

Dmitriy Yastrebov

That’s ridiculous I thought I’m selecting profile pic but instead I posted a photo of mine in comment 🙂

Dmitriy Yastrebov

One thing is to read an article and absolutely different thing is to try to read most of comments below – it takes much more time.
Either way, thanks for the article. Now I’m considering to acquire a shawl cardigan – something I’ve never considered before.

Markus

Hello Simon,

this is a very well written and helpful article for someone who is building a wardrobe.

What particularly interests me – as someone who already has quite a lot of knitwear – are your articles on knitwear styles with a history that is unfortunately not found much on the European continent. For example, you and also Manish have written very interesting pieces about Shetland sweaters of which I have never heard before but am now the proud owner of two.

Hence a suggestion: An article on slightly more unusual styles and your opinion on them would be very interesting, e.g. on Fair Isle Sweaters, Donegal Sweaters, Aran Sweaters, Argyle knits, tennis/polo sweaters, or even something more exotic but heaving its particular niche like Lopapeysa sweaters (Iceland, a favorite of mine and being close to a national symbol), or traditional Norwegian sweaters. 

All these might not really be your style, but they might interest readers of PS having bought all the basics and more. I would be particularly interested to know which of these types you think are wearable in a classic men’s wardrobe plus recommendable producers.

Kind regards,

Markus

Joel

Hi Simon, please can you advise on what to look for thick/chunky fabric wise which is soft against the skin?

I’ve tried sweaters and cardigans from the likes of William Lockie, Peregrine and Outdoor Knitwear using, Geelong, British Wool and Merino wool and they are all scratchy/itchy.

The only fabrics I’ve found nice against the skin are Cashmere, Cashmere & Silk blends.

Thanks so much.

Joel