What’s not to love about knitwear? Warm, textural, tactile – and depending on the weight of the yarn, able to be worn right the way through the year.
Although it truly comes into its own in the colder months, good quality merino and cashmere also boasts great temperature regulating qualities and is very breathable, meaning fine-gauge knits and open weaves should also have a place in your summer rotation. Moreover, wool takes dye very well, providing you myriad colour opportunities.
As far as sustainability goes, the production of wool has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade, with many of the biggest producers such as Zegna and VBC now operating closed-loop facilities in the Mecca of wool manufacturing, Biela, Italy.
If your wardrobe is lacking some yarn-stormers, or you’re looking to build a new knitwear collection from scratch, these are the key pieces we think every man should consider.
Cashmere Crew Neck
The king of natural fibres, those super-soft cashmere hairs – which were once eye-bleedingly expensive but now seemingly affordable and ubiquitous – come from the undercoat of the cashmere goat. The hairs have a diameter of about 18 microns, similar to superfine merino, hence why it feels like pulling on a jumper made of cloud.
It goes without saying, then, that a cashmere jumper (or three) is a non-negotiable menswear staple, not only for its mood-enhancing softness but also for its versatility. A classic cashmere crew neck, for example, is one of those pieces you could wear with a pair of shorts on a cool summer evening or layered under a suit or separates come autumn. You can make it part of a preppy look with chinos and loafers, or mix up genres with track pants and sneakers.
When it comes to the thin-gauge turtleneck, we have a lot to thank a box of chocolates and James Bond for its popularity today. Sean Connery donned a grey number in the 1967 Bond flick You Only Live Twice, followed by Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973) and, more recently, Daniel Craig in Spectre (2015). Cadbury’s further affirmed the turtleneck’s modern machismo in the 70s with its ‘Milk Tray man’ adverts.
Regardless of whether you feel like an international man of mystery when you’re wearing one, there’s no denying that the thin-gauge turtleneck is a smart and versatile knit. Its tight weave has an almost silky feel, which makes it perfect for wearing with tailoring in lieu of a shirt.
Typically cut quite slim (even body-hugging in some cases), it’s a particularly flattering choice for well-honed physiques.
Knitted Polo Shirt
The knitted polo was a Riviera staples in the 50s and 60s but for some reason came off the boil for many a decade, presumably a result of cheaper fabrics and faster production methods. Thankfully, menswear has come to its senses once more with many wool specialists and fashion brands rediscovering the knitted polo.
Unlike its cotton cousin, the knitted polo has a beautifully soft and smart drape, with an equally admirable soft rolled collar. And it feels like butter to wear. It is many sartorial notches above the common cotton polo, being perfect to slightly dress down a suit or separates.
Worn with a pair of pleated summer chinos and loafers, the addition of the open-weave texture makes for a very sophisticated evening resort look.
Knitted tees – specifically merino ones – as an everyday style item is a pretty modern idea that has stuck. The genesis of merino tees comes from the adventure apparel industry, where manufacturers quickly realised that merino wool had all the moisture-wicking, temperature-regulating, breathability properties required to make it the perfect performance base layer.
Since then, specialist brands have evolved this product into something we can wear on a day-to-day basis to elevate our casualwear options. Once you’ve tried a merino tee, you’ll never go back to cotton.
It’s an excellent way to dress down a suit as it has a more interesting textural quality than your average cotton T-shirt but it also drapes that much better, too, making it ideal to wear with tailored shorts or chinos in the summer months.
If you prefer your knits with a more athletic dynamic rather than a traditional aesthetic, then make a bee-line for the zip-neck sweater. With all the warmth and structure of a classic roll neck jumper, the simple addition of a zip-up funnel neck instantly transforms it into something more sporty and casual.
Referencing the tracksuit shapes of the 70s, the zip-neck is most certainly destined for the more casual areas of your wardrobe, easily morphing into your loungewear options. There are a wealth of zip-neck styles around, from cable-knits to ribbed iterations, while you might also want to consider the full-zip styles that you can wear as a pseudo cardigan. Speaking of which…
Immortalized by Steve McQueen, the shawl-collar cardigan is the pinnacle of casually knitted nonchalance. The fact that it takes one of the most formal lapel styles – the shawl – and subverts it into a statement of laidback cool tells you all you need to know about the style cachet of this garment.
Often woven in a chunky cable-knit style or rib-knit, the shawl collar cardigan is at once preppy, cool, comforting and elegant thanks to that collar (which provides all the protection your neck needs in the cooler months). The aforementioned King of Cool often wore his completely unbuttoned with a pair of jeans and minimal sneakers, an easy casual look we can get behind.
Cable Knit Jumper
A cable knit is one of the most rugged-looking knits in one’s menswear arsenal. The term simply refers to the way the stitches cross one another, giving the textural appearance of overlapping cables. Texture is the key word here, as those overlapping elements create an extremely tactile handle.
Typically reserved for winter weight wools, the cable knit is generally worn as a thick layer or even as an outer layer itself. You can find plenty of traditional brands specialising in classic styles, or fashion brands using it in jumper panels or smaller details. Either way, it pairs easily with raw denim or tailored wool slacks.
This one’s slightly leftfield, but we couldn’t resist including the mohair jumper in this curation. Crew neck, turtleneck, we don’t really care when it comes to mohair because the silhouette takes second stage to the textural qualities of the fabric.
The fibres come from the Angora goat (not to be confused with angora yarn which comes from the angora rabbit), both from its topcoat and undercoat, a combination that gives mohair its unique frizziness. Pure mohair is itchy to the point of being unbearable so look for it mixed in with merino and/or cashmere.
There’s something fun about its slightly mad-looking texture, which can add something truly different to your knitwear collection.
The height of modern luxury? If you find yourself slobbing around in a cashmere hoody, then suffice to say you’ve made it. Bouji? Yes. Indulgent? Of course. Necessary? Absolutely. The cashmere hoody is like fabric therapy – slip it on and flip up that hood and all of a sudden the world is alright again.
Part luxury, part loungewear, it pairs well with a beautiful wool overcoat for a warm outdoorsy look, while at the say time being very much at home at home doing precisely nothing.