Sweaters: the What, When, & How

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It’s full-fledged sweater weather for most of the country by now, and that means it’s time to take a closer look at styling sweaters so that you can use this piece to add texture, variety, and approachability to your Winter wardrobe.

What Makes a Sweater?

The three classic sweater materials are wool, cashmere, and cotton. Each has a different appearance and feel and each is perceived differently, so it is helpful to know what each is best suited for so you can plan accordingly.


The classic. Super warm, generously textured, and can be very soft. Wool comes from a sheep (thank you FFA) and has some pretty nifty natural benefits like being anti-microbial (read: inhospitable to stanky sweat) and quicker to dry than cotton.

Wool is the classic for good reason – it can be dressed up in a thinner weight like merino or be really heavy and cozy in a thick cable knit, so it really can be the only material of sweater you own and it will do well in whatever scenario you find yourself in.


The fanciest. Just as warm as wool, but even softer, thinner, and more luxurious. Cashmere actually comes from a goat (didn’t know that until last month…). It is perceived as the classier option for sweaters because of its smooth texture and ultra soft touch. It doesn’t feel quite as durable as a thicker wool, but it usually isn’t going to be put in situations where it needs to be durable. Use cashmere for your thin fancy sweaters that you can wear all by itself or layer under a nice coat, and if you get the itch to go traipsing through the woods, leave your cashmere at home.


The forgotten one. Cotton is kind of whatever you need it to be. It can be thin and breathable or chunky and heavy. It doesn’t have the luxurious connotation of cashmere or wool, but it is really durable and really easy to take care of. Cotton isn’t really even a sweater material, yet people make sweaters out of it, so what do I know? It is best suited for chunky cable knit, burly ragg, and anything where you want a heavy texture. The thinner a cotton sweater is, the more it looks like a sweatshirt – which isn’t a problem unless you want to be wearing a sweater.

What Style Should I Wear?

Great question. It depends on what you want to communicate, because each style (like each material) has something different to say and will be perceived differently.

01. Long Cardigan

Creates a very flattering outline by elongating your silhouette. Has the interesting ability to dress up jeans but dress down more polished looks. Perfect for Saturday morning brunch.

02. Quarter-Zip

Welcome to the country club. A modern day classic in the sense that it has enjoyed its place in the spotlight for most men over the past four decades, but the style itself isn’t all that classic. It has its place in a sportier atmosphere, but if all you wear are quarter-zip sweaters, it’s time to branch out.

03. Turtle

If it’s actually cold and you need your sweater to pull its own weight, this would be the one to reach for. Somehow adding those four inches of material on the top of the sweater turn it into a portable furnace. The style is impeccable – a little dressed up while still appearing cozy and approachable, so the only question becomes whether you can take the heat.

04. Mock

My personal favorite. The style achievements of a turtle neck, with half the material on top. The furnace becomes a cozy fire but leaves the stylistic benefits largely the same, if not even more polished.

05. Crew

Any more classic and it would be a white t-shirt. A crew neck sweater is unassuming while still enjoying the benefits of luxurious materials and interesting textures. Best used as a casual stand-alone with jeans or layered under a coat for a dressed up look.

06. Boat

A style pretty much reserved for the ladies, and not the most versatile one at that, but one that should not be overlooked. A boat neck isn’t the best for layering under a coat because the edges just kind of disappear at the sides which creates the illusion of being unfinished. It is great as a standalone sweater paired with denim, though, and the wider neck shows off the collar bones nicely and flirts with the shoulders instead of the chest, which is a nice change of pace to embrace every once in a while.

07. V-Neck

This one is a great addition to any woman’s closet, but men have a few landmines to sidestep when choosing a v-neck. It works so well for women because it elongates the chest. It shows the same amount of skin you would in the Summer months, but you’re wearing a Winter material – which sets you apart. It has the opportunity to work equally well for men as long as you choose a shallow enough cut or wear a plain crew neck t-shirt under it – whether you have chest hair or not, a really deep v-neck sweater never really comes off right on a gentleman.

When Should I Wear a Sweater?

Absolutely any time that you feel like it (weather permitting). Sweaters enjoy a wide latitude with social acceptability
in just about every situation, partially because of their impeccable materials and partially because everyone agreed that we needed some more comfortable clothing options for holiday parties.

WIth that being said – a sweater, is not a sweater, is not a sweater. There is a world of difference between a trim cashmere crew and a heavy cable knit cardigan. Generally, the simpler and more unassuming a sweater is, the more you can dress it up. Conversely, the more patterned or heavily textured a sweater is, the better it is for a casual style with your favorite denim.

When in doubt – just wear one. We only have so long until sweater weather comes to an end and the flowers start to bloom again. This time of year, ‘warm’ and ‘cozy’ are two things we’re all looking for in our outfits and there’s no substitute for your favorite sweater. Also, everyone loves
to get a hug from someone wearing a sweater.

Comments +

  1. Luke Smith says:

    Thanks for pointing out that wool sweaters are easier to dry than cotton. I’m thinking of getting a sweater as a gift for my wife’s birthday but sadly I am not fashion conscious. I saw a women’s ashton sweater in a store the other day and maybe I’ll just buy that for her.

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