Well-chosen knitwear can be everything to all men as the weather starts to turn. It’s both warm and insulating while also forming the focal point of a look, but where should you start? If only there were some kind of ultimate guide to men’s knitwear you could refer to… Never fear, we are on hand to help. First, begin with the fabric. “The quality of yarn is so important, both for how it will feel when wearing it but also for a garment’s longevity”, says knitwear designer, Emily Grieves.
Then, decide on the garment’s weight, which both dictates how warm it’ll be and how you can style it. Lighter weight designs work great as layering options, while chunkier knits can replace jackets as legitimate pieces of outerwear. But don’t just take our word on the style potential of knitwear. Some of history’s best-dressed men have relied on the knit during the colder months of the year.
French actor Alain Delon preferred his with an open weave and a collar; John F Kennedy wore classic crew necks on his yacht and Steve McQueen had a wide range from cable knits to shawl collar cardigans. Which is the one for you? You’re in the right place.
Like all great items of clothing, the cardigan has links to the military. It was said to be based on the knitted waistcoats worn by British officers of the Crimean War, and named after major general James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan who fought in it. Despite these heroic associations, the cardigan has long been fighting its staid, overly preppy reputation. But this is the case no more, as many of the world’s coolest menswear brands have turned to the button-through design for their winter collections.
Part of the cardigan’s appeal is its versatility. It’s an item that can easily be dressed up, thanks to its more jacket-like design. Go for a chunky shawl collar cardigan and wear it with tailored trousers or chinos, a crisp Oxford shirt and suede desert boots. Or opt for a thinner merino or lambswool piece though and layer it over denim jeans, T-shirts and canvas trainers.
Son of a Tailor Cardigan, £179
3D knitted as a single piece, this beautifully textured sweater balances an elegant silhouette with the cosy feel of much heavier knitwear.
Peregrine Waffle Shawl Cardigan, £140
A heavyweight, chunky classic, this waffle-knit cardigan is the perfect layering piece, complete with a statement shawl collar and slouchy comfort.
The cable knit, or Aran as it’s sometimes known, is defined by its textural weave, which is visible throughout the garment. A typically chunky piece, it originated around the turn of the 20th century, when it was designed for fishermen working around the Irish islands of Aran.
Traditional cable knits are fairly time- intensive to produce, while the knitted patterns can vary hugely, from simple ribbed lines through to more elaborate zig-zag styles. Look out for those with a fairly simple weave, made from a soft lambswool or cashmere blend. A more casual knit than most, cable knits are a natural pairing with denim jeans, commando sole leather boots and beanies.
Patagonia Recycled Wool-Blend Cable Knit Sweater, £180
Made from wool and nylon – both recycled for a refreshingly low carbon footprint – this cable knit crew-neck is the perfect comfy camping companion.
Noah Cable Knit Sweater, £220
Slightly svelter than other cable knits, this holly green piece from New York-based label Noah is the perfect fashioned fit for winter.
If you just want a simple knit with little embellishment or notable detailing, the crew neck is for you. This is knitwear at its most minimal. Crew necks come with a round neckline, knitted cuffs and hem, and a fine texture, making them both comfortable and incredibly easy to wear. As they are such a simple design, you could look to the fabric to make a point of difference.
Solid colour designs are commonplace, whether in classic navy, grey or black, but a number of brands also craft them out of more interesting fabrics, with flecks of colour and more open weaves giving plenty of texture. You don’t have to think about how to wear the crew neck. It’s the kind of piece you could just throw on over anything, from casual trousers and jeans through to smarter pleated pairs or even suit trousers.
Asket Merino Sweater, £85
Balancing quality with affordability, Asket’s take on the wardrobe staple – here in a rich burgundy – is immensely breathable in extra-fine Merino wool.
New & Lingwood Navy Donegal Fleck Crew Neck Jumper, £145
Luxury British style is New & Lingwood’s raison d’etre and that extends to knitwear as much as their signature dressing gowns. Case in point, this soft mustard crew neck.
Although similar to the cable knit in that it was initially designed to keep seamen warm while at sea, the fisherman knit is different in a few ways. The most notable is the weave. It comes with a more minimal rib stitch, which is woven vertically down the garment. This makes it a chunky knit, like the cable, but with a cleaner, more understated look. It also typically comes with raglan shoulders and a slim hem opening, so it can be worn rolled.
If you’re looking for a fisherman knit, find one made from oiled wool, which hasn’t been dyed so the yarn still has its natural lanolin oils. For something more contemporary though, look out for merino wool or even cashmere, which are both softer against the skin.
Finisterre Mora Knit Jumper, £115
The Mora is Finisterre’s best-seller for a reason. The rib-stich uses almost double the yarn of a normal jumper, making it perfect for cold nights on or off the water.
Luca Faloni Chunky Knit Cashmere Crew Neck, £390
A more streamlined take on the classic vertical fisherman’s weave, the lava red makes this a perfect autumnal transition piece, perhaps under some Italian tailoring.
For ultimate warmth, look no further than the roll neck. This is a classic piece of knitwear design that’s been worn by everyone from James Dean to David Beckham. It comes with excess fabric at the neck, which is designed to be rolled over to protect the wearer’s neck from the cold. This is a design that can be smart or casual, depending on the fabric and the fit.
Go for something slim and made from a lightweight yarn like merino wool and you’ve got a sharp piece of knitwear that’s ideal for wearing with tailored trousers or even suits in the winter. Look for heavier designs made from chunky lambswool and you’ll find a robust, warm and comfortable piece of knitwear for the coldest months of the year.
Private White VC The Cashmere Submariner Rollneck, £297
A super-soft roll neck in an autumnal moss green shade, this Scottish cashmere offering is pure cold-weather comfort.
Shackleton Hero Sweater, £255
Inspired by the very sweaters worn by Sir Ernest Shackleton, this basket weave roll neck is expedition ready in Super Geelong lambswool.
The knitted polo has a certain relaxed elegance that’s missing in most other garments. It’s perhaps because of its collared front that mimics button up shirts. Or it might be in its closeness to the polo shirt, a style with plenty of sporting heritage. Either way, the knitted polo is an effortless, laid-back piece that’s also incredibly easy to dress up.
It usually comes with a fairly slim fit, as well as a knitted collar and a two or three button closure. You’ll find them in either lightweight merino wool, or slightly heavier lambswool or cashmere blends. Whatever you go for, if you want a smart casual, versatile piece of knitwear, this is the one for you.
Malloch’s Kelly Long Sleeve Sports Jumper, £255
A fantastic smart casual staple that can be dressed up or down, this classic sports collar jumper is Scottish-made and warm enough for the Highlands.
Knickerbocker Merino Needle Polo, £273
A warmer take on the polo with its striped ribbed knit, and ribbed cuff and hem, it still has all the sporty good looks of a classic polo.