Once a part of every man’s wardrobe, the sweater has lost popularity to its modern descendant, the quarter-zip pullover. Which, frankly speaking, is a shame. Knit sweaters not only offer comforting warmth, but they also offer you freedom of ease and movement that many of their cut-and-sewn cotton cousins can’t contribute. That said, we offer the following information in defense of the good old men’s sweater.
Sweaters didn’t play a regular role in a man’s dress wardrobe until the 20th century. Before that time, they were worn mostly for work (like the famed sweaters fishermen wore) or sport (skiing, biking, polo, cricket, and the like) – which, by the way, is where the name came from: when you wore a sweater, you were planning to work up a sweat.
Somewhere along the line, sweaters came to occupy a rightful place in a man’s wardrobe as an everyday garment, not one reserved for sport. Sweaters with beefier yarns and textures were considered more casual, while sweaters knit from finer yarns were dressier. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that a man would even consider substituting a sweater for a men’s sport coat.
Today, sweaters are less ubiquitous than ever, thanks to their popular cotton counterparts: the cotton sweaters for men. Some think sweaters are hard to care for, some find them “old-fashioned” and still others find the prices a bit daunting. Still, we think there’s a place for a sweater in every guy’s lineup.
Hash marks. Look at where the sleeve is attached to the body of the sweater. If you see little lines that look like a two-toed bird left footprints, you’ve found gold. Those are “fashion marks” where the pieces are joined. A fully-fashioned sweater is shaped in the knitting: the body and arms are knit, then linked together – not sewn – to create the finished garment. The process is more time-consuming and expensive, but it’s the mark of better-made and better-fitting sweaters.
Some sweaters and most of today’s men’s cotton quarter zip pullovers are made by cutting pieces from knitted or woven materials and then sewing them together like you would to make a shirt. There’s nothing wrong with that sort of construction: it’s sturdy and won’t rip out. But it creates a seam and a seam can rub you the wrong way after a long day of wearing. Fully fashioned sweaters won’t do that.
Wool is the warmest of all. Wool sweaters are meant to be worn during the coldest days of the year. By wearing a simple undershirt, you’ll be comfortable wearing this type of sweater wherever you go, including work. Pair it with denim pants on casual Fridays and a pair of lace-up boots, or for a more appropriate office look, you can pair a wool sweater with a pair of dress pants in a solid color such as black, grey, or navy. You can even wear a pair of pants with a subtle design such as plaid with a pair of Oxford shoes to make them look professional and dapper.
Fabrics made from fibers such as cashmere, wool, or cotton are the best when it comes to sweaters. If you’re looking for a sweater that will last you more than one winter, be sure to look at sweaters that are made with these materials. Sweaters that are made with anything synthetic, acrylics, rayons, or polyesters may easily fall apart.
A sweater of good quality should last three to four years and can go even longer. Of course, it all depends on how often you wear it and whether or not you follow the care label. If you follow care instructions such as dry cleaning when the label specifically says “Dry clean only”, hand wash or use the delicate cycle on your washer, and lay flat to dry instead of using your dryer. By using the appropriate cleaning methods you should be able to have your sweater for years to come. Keep in mind that sweaters do not need to be washed every time you wear them, especially if there’s no perspiration, spills, or odors. If you keep them clean throughout the entire wear time, you can get up to five wears before you need to add them to your laundry day pile.
Another way to preserve your sweaters is by folding them instead of hanging them. When you hang sweaters they tend to stretch out on the hanger between the weight and the loose weave. Hangers can also create shoulder drooping.
Because sweaters with loose weaves can get snagged, it’s best to fix them right away to stop the snag from getting bigger. You can easily take care of a snag by turning the sweater over and tying a knot to keep the snag in place. If you’re nervous about doing it yourself, you can take it to a tailor who can do it for you.
Once you’ve found a men’s wool (or cashmere, or merino) sweater that you love, you’re faced with another dilemma: what do you do when sweater season is over?
Clean the sweater according to the manufacturer’s directions. Fold it carefully so as not to create any creases you don’t want next fall. Then put it in a cloth or linen bag or in a plastic tub with a cedar block or cedar balls made for this exact purpose, ensuring the cedar isn’t in direct contact with the sweater to prevent discoloration. Why the cedar? A simple four-letter word: M-O-T-H. After all your searching for the perfect sweater, the last thing you want to find when you pull it out is a series of tiny holes (usually in the most conspicuous places!).
If that sounds like too much work for a garment you’ll wear only occasionally, just remember the long and lustrous lineage that makes up the DNA of today’s sweater: seagoing captains fighting the wind and waves, fishermen struggling against their nets. Wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?