Considering buying a sweater but don’t know where to start? In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to buy a quality sweater that will keep you warm for years to come.
Many stylish men look forward to cold weather. One major reason is that when the mercury plummets, it’s time to break out sweaters. Every guy should have at least a few great sweaters in his wardrobe.
If you’re reading this during spring or summer, it’s actually a great time to shop for sweaters and other cold-weather essentials because shops are trying to get rid of last year’s stock. This often means that you can find deep discounts.
History of Sweaters
A version of the sweater has been worn for hundreds of years. According to the New York Times, sweaters were originally worn during the Middle Ages underneath chainmail. Besides knights in shining armor, fishermen and other laborers in Northern Europe have been wearing sweaters for centuries.
However, it wasn’t until the 1800’s that the sweater’s popularity began to soar. That’s when knitted wool garments started being issued to officers such as the Earl of Cardigan during the Crimean War (widely accepted as the first industrial war).
By the 1890s and into the early 1900s, sweaters became common in the United States. By the 1920s, sweaters, especially cardigans, became extremely popular attire for men and women alike.
From sleek turtlenecks to oversized quarter zips, the 20th century saw the rise (and rebirth) of many different types of sweaters. Today, sweaters are an almost indispensable part of the modern Western wardrobe for men and women alike.
How Should a Sweater Fit?
When buying a sweater, it’s important to nail the fit off the rack because it can be difficult to get sweaters tailored. If you do need to get a sweater altered, be sure to find a tailor that has experience with knitted fabrics.
Ideal sweater fit depends on the type of sweater and how you plan to wear it.
For instance, a v-neck sweater that you intend to wear under a suit coat and paired with a dress shirt and tie should be close-fitting — skimming the body without clinging to your chest or midsection. However, a chunky Aran sweater can be cut a little looser and still look good.
The shoulder seam of the sweater should line up with the end of your shoulder, just like a t-shirt. However, if you plan on wearing your sweater on top of several layers, you may want to opt for a slightly looser fit in the shoulders and body.
The body of your sweater should reach to about mid-fly. Any longer, and it can look like a dress; any shorter, and you’re approaching dangerously close to crop top territory.
Wearing a sweater with sleeves that are too long is one of the most common sweater fit issues for guys. You want the sleeve to reach to about the top of the large bone in the wrist.
It’s not a big deal if it’s off by a little bit either way, but a little bit too long is better than too short. You can always cuff the sleeves (and your sweater may shrink a bit in the wash).
When styling a sweater with the rest of your outfit, a good rule of thumb is to match silhouettes. A chunky sweater goes well with looser-fitting pants and work boots, while a close-fitting turtleneck sweater pairs best with slimmer trousers and shoes with a lower profile.
Consistency between each component of your look will help you to appear balanced and well-proportioned.
Where to Buy Sweaters?
These days, almost every store that sells menswear offers sweaters of some kind. It can feel overwhelming to have so many options to choose from. With so many (often low quality) choices it can be challenging to find a quality sweater that fits perfectly in a style you love.
When you’re in the market for a new sweater, it’s a good idea to have a game plan.
Do some research beforehand and get to know what you like. Know what kind of sweater — the style, color, material, and fit — that you want to buy before heading to the mall or shopping online. This will save you time in the long wrong run.
Consider starting your search with brands you know. Consider the brand’s overall style. For example, if you’re looking for an athleisure hoodie, shop at stores that sell sports brands such as Nike or Adidas.
Similarly, if you want a sharp-looking v-neck sweater to wear under a suit, look to your favorite retailers that sell more formal attire. Workwear brands generally sell “workwear sweaters,” trendy fashion houses tend to offer trendy sweater options — the list goes on.
To find specific niche types of sweaters, such as the Fair Isle (more on different types of sweaters below), you may need to do some research. In the end, you may have to pay a premium for a custom-made sweater to get what you’re looking for.
With sweaters, like so many other things in life, “you get what you pay for.” It’s very unlikely that you’ll find a stylish, well-made thick wool sweater on the clearance rack. That said, you might be surprised at what you can find for cheap at thrift stores and second-hand shops.
How to Care for Sweaters?
Don’t wash your sweater unless it really needs it. All clothes wear out to some degree when washed, but this is especially so for knit garments.
If you have a stain, do a quick spot treatment.
If that doesn’t work or if the sweater is soiled, try handwashing it, using a mild detergent and cold water. (If it’s a wool sweater, make sure the detergent is safe for wool). Hang dry.
Some sweaters you can throw in the washing machine, generally washing on a cold, delicate cycle (follow the label). Be careful when putting wool sweaters in the wash because if they still have their natural protective oils — lanolin — detergent can strip them away.
Again, it’s best to let it hang dry. Don’t put your sweater in the dryer because doing so can cause it to shrink.
Depending on what the label says and your comfort level, you may need to take your sweater to be cleaned by a professional. If possible, look for dry cleaners that specialize in knits.
After a while, it’s almost inevitable that it will start to pill (i.e., get little fuzzies all over). You can use a disposable razor to carefully “shave” the sweater to remove pilling. You could also utilize a special fabric shaver tool for the same purpose.
Regular maintenance is essential for longevity. A sweater can last years, even decades, if cared for properly.
Sweaters in solid, conservative colors are going to be more versatile than sweaters with loud patterns and bold colors. Your safest bet is to stick with classic, solid colors such as navy, white, cream, black, and gray for your first couple of sweaters.
After you’ve covered the basics, branch out into patterns such as stripes, checks, and plaids, and experiment with bolder colors like red, purple, and orange.
However, that’s just general advice. If you really want an (unfortunately named) “Cosby sweater” for your first sweater and it fits with your style — I say go for it.
Sweaters are commonly made from cotton, wool, and/or synthetic materials.
Synthetics and synthetic blends are best for athletic sweaters — sweaters you’d wear on a backpacking trip or to the gym (or when you want to look like you might go to the gym). Acrylic and polyester are two of the most common synthetics used in sweaters.
A blend of synthetic and natural materials can make for warm, stylish sweaters that have some stretch for comfort.
Cotton sweaters are what you’ll most often find on the shelf when you visit the mall.
A cotton sweater is a good choice for your first sweater because since they’re relatively inexpensive, you can “test the waters” and see if you like wearing knits before spending a lot of money on a higher quality (and more expensive) sweater.
Wool, as an animal product, is more costly to produce than cotton. Generally, wool sweaters are of higher quality than their cotton counterparts.
Also, wool garments are arguably more difficult to manufacture. Wool is prized for its unique insulating properties — it can keep you warm even when it’s wet.
Cashmere is a natural material derived from the soft underbelly wool of a particular breed of goat.
Cashmere is prized for its luxurious look and feel. You can buy sweaters made out of 100% cashmere or blended in with other materials.
8 Types of Sweater Styles and How to Wear Them
Here are eight awesome sweater styles to choose from.
Crewneck sweaters are a classic casual option for men. With its curved neck, you can wear these over just a t-shirt or undershirt in warmer weather or layered under a jacket when it’s more chilly outside.
A gray or navy crewneck sweater is a great choice for your first sweater.
V-necks are a little bit more classy option than the crew neck.
A v-neck is best worn on top of a collared shirt, whether that’s a casual patterned button-up or a crisp white dress shirt.
The quarter-zip is a pullover sweater with a short zipper in the front and a short collar.
Quarter zips are great for smart-casual looks.
Made famous by Beatniks in the 1950s and 60s, the turtleneck has long been associated with intellectuals. Steve Jobs famously wore a black turtleneck to draw attention to his face when giving a presentation.
For a less intense look, you might consider adding accessories or throwing on a jacket to add some visual intrigue to your outfit.
They’re not just for grandpa anymore. Recently, young men have reclaimed the cardigan as a stylish and versatile option.
Available in button or zipper versions, cardigans can be easily dressed up or dressed down.
Also called Irish sweaters, Aran sweaters get their name from the Aran archipelago off the coast of Ireland. Authentic Aran handmade sweaters are water-resistant (part of the reason they’ve always been popular with fishermen).
Irish sweaters are knitted in different patterns, called “stitches,” that traditionally reflect the wearer’s heritage.
Today, there is a wide array of variations of the traditional Aran sweater. From hoodies to cardigans, you can buy almost any type of sweater in an Aran-inspired pattern.
Fair Isle Sweaters
Also originating from the British Isles, Fair Isle sweaters feature bold, bright colors and patterns.
If you love unique clothing with interesting stories behind them, the Fair Isle sweater may be for you. Check out our complete guide to Fair Isle sweaters.
A sweater vest is, you guessed it, a sweater without sleeves. This is probably the most misunderstood option on our list.
When you hear “sweater vest,” you probably immediately conjure up thoughts of argyle patterns and pocket-protectors. Trust me; you can wear a sweater vest without looking like Steve Urkel — there are a lot of stylish sweater vest options these days.
The trick is to opt for a vest in a solid color (or a classic pattern) with a flawless fit.
Answering Questions About Sweaters
Here are answers to some of the most common questions men have about sweaters.
What Is the Warmest Type of Sweater?
How warm a sweater feels depends on its material and thickness more than the type of sweater. Thick wool sweaters are going to be among the warmest.
What Type of Sweater To Wear With a Suit?
V-neck, cardigan, and turtleneck sweaters can easily be worn under a suit coat. Generally, it’s best to keep sweaters thin when layering with a suit. To be safe, stick to classic colors.
V-neck pullovers are better for wearing with a tie than crewnecks because it leaves the tie knot visible.
Cardigans can also be worn with a suit and tie. As an alternative to a vest, you can wear a cardigan in the same color as your suit for an interesting “three-piece suit” vibe.
A turtleneck worn under a suit coat is a bold look. There’s no need to wear a tie, or even a dress shirt, to pull off this look.
What Is the Most Formal Type of Sweater for Men?
Sweaters are always going to lean more casual than formal. Sporting a black or dark blue cardigan is about as formal as you can get with sweaters.
Time To Buy a Sweater
I hope that this guide was helpful as you look to purchase and maintain sweaters. With so many types of sweaters out there, you can find one that fits your style and budget.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!