This ain’t sponsored, I just really like this thing.
Nothing says grandpa or old-man style like a sleeveless cardigan. And that’s exactly what I want, so I bought one!
For a long time, I’ve been enamored with sleeveless cardigans. Also known as knit waistcoats, these garments are something that instantly bring your mind to “geezer style” (coined by GQ). They’re kind of rare to find, as most stores won’t stock or make them since young guys aren’t all that into it. All of that contributes to the fact that the sleeveless cardigan is an eye catcher and a perfect addition to a vintage or vintage-inspired wardrobe.
Now in the past, the sleeveless cardigan was worn pretty often. They were seen as the alternative to the traditional waistcoats that men would wear with their suits and sportcoats. These cardies were still made of wool, but in a knitted form, making them more casual and sporty. However, they were still cut like a traditional waistcoat, with pointed edges and curved sides. They are also cut pretty short in length, as you are to wear them with high rise trousers.
That is what most sleeveless cardigans look like now. You can see that the body is too long and they lack the pointed fronts (like a normal waistcoat). Also you could argue that the placket is a little too tiny, but that’s just how cardigans are made now. In general, they lack any sort of figure and the lack of cool detailing result in the garment having too much “front”, which is similar to having tiny lapels.
So that’s where Drake’s comes in.
As I noted before, wearing this sleeveless cardigan with a sportcoat + denim has been synonymous with the Drake’s brand (at least for me). As we can see from the pictures, they’re designed very well. With only 5 buttons (that are actually pretty big to take up visual weight) and a wide placket, they seem to be taking after the classic waistcoat design. They’re much better than what you’d find from Menswear House.
I’ve been seeing these worn in almost every F/W lookbook from Drake’s and been loving it. It provides a very old school look that brings college professors and grandpas to mind yet it is the expert styling (and fit) of the Drake’s staff that give a youthful vibe to the garment. They’ve also produced the cardies in bright shades of color to complement their more standard options, giving dressers an opportunity to stand out in a new way. Like I noted earlier, the sleeveless cardigan steps up the sartorial game since the sleeveless cardigan is similar to a suiting waistcoat, but the soft knit s much more casual and slouchy, which I definitely prefer.
Legendary menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer penned an ode to the sleeveless cardigan on the Drake’s website.
Seeing the waistcoats every year from Drake’s inspired me to try and find one for myself. As you may recall, I did find thrift one that was 100% lambswool, same as the one from Drake’s. It’s was a good find (in a great color), but there were a few details that made it miss the mark for me. This includes the long length, the amount of buttons, and the fact that the buttoning goes up too high. It’s also got some high/tight armholes, which you can’t see in the pictures.
I assume that this sleeveless cardigan is from the late 1960s to the early 1970’s as it as the label contains the Woolmark symbol, which was used officially in 1964.
Even though it may not be the perfect piece, I think it’s still pretty cool. I keep the top and two bottom buttons unfastened to give it a more natural, easy look as I believe it would look too stuffy if they were all done up. As you can see it works really well with dark browns and blues, the main colors of my wardrobe.
I thought that this was going to be my only option until I made my NYC Trip and visited the Drake’s store on Crosby St.
The Drake’s Sleeveless Cardigan
So when I was at the Drake’s store, I briefly considered buying a tie. $180 for a tie is quite a lot (especially since I’m used to paying under $40) and decided not to in the end, as I already have quite a few ties. Instead, I decided to try on one of their sleeveless cardigans after only seeing them worn in pictures. I tried on their XS (38) and eventually walked out with a XXS in the wine color. I’m not normally a big fan of saturated colors, but the red was calling out to me. It’s pretty ivy looking to me, since it remind me of my burgundy sack jacket that I got from Roxy’s Vintage Deluxe. I did try on the navy one, but the Drake’s guys all agreed that this was the better choice.
For sizing, I went with a 36 (XXS) since I wanted it to fit a little snug and (most importantly) have a short length. I can’t help if I wear high rise trousers all the time! I know I wore it during my NYC trip, but I didn’t get a good look at it until I brought it home.
The 100% lambswool sleeveless cardigan features only five buttons which I think is great, since having too many really put it too much into waistcoat territory. The buttons are a nice cream-ish shade and are made of horn, which are definitely a great sign of quality. There’s nice semi-wide ribbing that calls to mind how sweaters were knit back in the day. I also love the use of patch pockets, since it takes up more visual space on the front of the cardigan.
As Mr. Boyer notes, the left placket is lined with grosgrain silk, but not for luxury purposes. Instead, it is meant to reinforce the button, as buttonholes on knit garments tend to fray easily. I think this is a good move, since I am terrible with buttons and would definitely destroy mine.
They retail for $225, which came out to near $244 after tax. It’s probably is one of the most pricey items that I’ve purchased but I think it’s worth it. What other company can you think of that sells a great sleeveless cardigan/knit waistcoat that works with high rise trousers?
I couldn’t not do the Drake’s uniform, especially since I finally got my own brown plaid sack jacket. It’s not exactly like the the Drake’s one (theirs is completely unstructured and unlined) but I love mine just the same. Purchased from Sean Crowley during my NYC trip, the jacket is a vintage 1970’s Brooks Brothers sack jacket, with 3-roll-2 buttoning, wide lapels and two flapped-patch pockets. It’s a light brown with some brownish-red in the plaid; I think it’s going to be my new favorite jacket. Looking at my closet now, I don’t think I even have many patterned sportcoats!
True to the Drake’s uniform (as seen earlier in the article or here), I paired the jacket with an OCBD, patterned tie, some high rise denim, and suede chukka boots. The boots are important because if you know Drake’s, you definitely know that they love wearing their Alden chukkas. The shirt was one of my first OCBDs that I thrifted; it’s probably from the 90s, but it’s actually worn in and has an unlined collar, so I wear this thing all the freakin time.
Here’s a good way to see how the cardigan fits. The length is prettty perfect for high rise trousers, if you don’t button the fasten the bottom two buttons. I will say that it is slightly long for some of my other vintage trousers, but I certainly won’t mind pairing them with my new cardie.
As I stated before, I bought a 36 (XXS) since I wanted that shorter length. I did fit a little snug when I first bought it, but over time it has certainly loosened up, as it is made of 100% lambswool. It’ll only get slouchier with each wear! I certainly recommend sizing down once or twice if you want a more vintage look.
I stated in my NYC trip recap that I was hesitant to get this sleeveless cardigan in red (online it is labeled as “wine”) since it was going to be too bold. Not as bold as their purple or orange ones, but certainly pretty intense for me. I mean, I did have the maroon SJC waistcoat, but that was darker, less intense, and was edged with brown, so it wasn’t too much of a problem.
However, all the Drake’s NYC guys said that red was good. I even could see that it would work with ivy inspired outfits (red seems like a school color to me anyway), so I bought it for $250. After doing the Drake’s uniform and getting more inspo from the Drake’s Tumblr and Instagram, I made some more outfits. Hopefully they’ll give you some inspiration if you decide to rock the knit waistcoat (in wine!).
This is outfit was inspired after being bombarded with that amazing green cord suit from the Drake’s EasyDay collection. Mine is the wool/silk Camoshita piece, so obviously the fabric is different, but at least it’s still softly tailored with a 3-roll-2 buttoning to make it similar. The cardigan works well with it for some subtle Christmas vibes (but not too festive); I added a blue stripe Kamakura OCBD and a brown abstract print tie for some “Ethan style”.
Inspired by Drake’s yet again, I went for a separates combo. This time, I wore my grey tweed jacket with a white OCBD, and brown corduroy trousers. Again, I think it’s a little christmas-y thanks to the red + gold of the sweater and tie, but it isn’t bad. I know that there’s some inspiration somewhere but I can’t figure out where I saw it!
I’m really digging how it looks with suits, since the color of the sweater forces you to consider your choices for a sportcoat and odd trouser; its much easier to have the red eveloped by some solids. It’s worn here with my grey tweed Southwick suit, blue stripe spearpoint, and a blue square motif brocade tie.
I’m starting to see more of how the Drake’s style has influenced me, but I think I still keep the Ethan spirit alive!
Now I’m really proud of this one. I was getting a little bored of “ethan style” outfits and decided to go for a bow tie look. Now I seldom wear bowties, but I do have a few good ones for random occasions, like this burgundy polka dot one I bought off of Spencer. I’ve been waiting to do a red print bowtie + blue stripe shirt after seeing this video of Ethan Newton, and I decided to just roll with it. For a shirt, I put on my seldom-worn contrast club collar shirt. I don’t wear it because I made the collar way too short and the collar also has a wide spread (something that I wasn’t in control of).
I opted for a really vintage inspired outfit by wearing the sleeveless cardigan with my plaid sack suit. People always ask us how to go about doing a vintage look in the modern era, and if our typical ivy-esque style isn’t for you, this is a good one to recreate. The sack suit is inherently vintage looking thanks to it’s 3-roll-2 buttoning (most suits today don’t know that), wide lapels, and cool plaid pattern; this is supplemented by the bowtie and club collar, which you also don’t see often. The cardigan takes up the empty room from the bowtie, and adds in some extra character.
Like I said, I’m really a fan of this outfit even though it might be a little bit too vintage than what you’d expect from me.
I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m really enjoying my new sleeveless cardigan from Drake’s. They did a great job in their marketing, as the cardie is featured quite heavily across all their marketing. Hell, the guys at the Drake’s store even wear them often. It’s a natural pairing for their tweed jackets and high rise denim, whch I really think is the Drake’s Uniform. They should really call it that.
There aren’t really any other brands that make a knit waistcoat anymore, let alone one that works with high rise trousers. If you remember correctly, you’ll find that the SJC ones are even too long for high rise trousers, and that’s a vintage repro brand! Other than that, you’d be hard pressed to find a good one that doesn’t look like the sweaters you get from Men’s Wearhouse.
Drake’s has made a fantastic garment that works well for all aspects of classic menswear, contemporary or vintage. The 5 button closure is perfect, the length is good, and the pockets add some interesting flair that is usually missing from similar garments made by other brands. With it being available in a multitude of different colors, I’m sure you can find one you like. I’m probably going to save up and buy the navy blue and brown one next, just to flesh out my wardrobe. They are pretty pricey at $250 (after tax), but that’s the price you have to pay to get details you can’t find anymore!
Always a pleasure,
Street x Sprezza
Photography by Ethan’s tripod