It shouldn’t surprise you to know that I love vintage sweaters. Not only are they more interesting than ones today, but they just have a great silhouette for my aesthetic.
It’s about time they got their own article!
I don’t think that I have to explain a whole lot why sweaters are cool, but let’s give them an introduction anyway. In general, sweaters serve as a functional piece of clothing that allows us to keep warm while still looking stylish in a classic menswear podcast. I’m talking crewnecks and v-necks made from wool, cashmere, and cotton. I tend to prefer the latter, since it never gets cold enough for excessive sweater layering.
Still, I love wearing them! The entire look together is something that is a bit ivy, in the modern day. Think shaggy dog sweaters (or a plain grey athletic ones) over an OCBD for a true student look or a sweater vest with a tweed jacket for something more professor-y. A solid one navy or grey will get you through most situations (with denim and flannel) but I’m starting to dig the colorful varieties for fun’s sake. It’s this type of layering that makes fall-winter dressing so enjoyable since each layer adds extra interest to an outfit, which you don’t normally get to do during the summer.
I think Drake’s exhibits this vibe perfectly.
As much as I like this vibe, it’s a bit hard to achieve it well. Let me explain.
I wrote a short essay about sweaters for Styleforum a couple of months ago in anticipation of sweater weather. It was less focused on style and instead lamented on the fact that modern sweaters are simply too long. Don’t get me wrong, I tend to prefer the looser, comfortable feeling of modern cloth but the silhouette of a vintage one is just way better. Ones from the 1930s-1960s (if you can find them) fit closely through the body/arms and feature a short length that is perfect for high rise trousers. The wide ribbing at the hem only adds to this effect, cinching around the waist for good suppression.
Modern mall brand sweaters don’t look like this at all. Some might be slim, but the long length and lack of ribbing makes it appear shapeless and boring. In most cases, it just makes your torso look too long, as the sweater extends past the natural waist.
Now that it’s finally cold in LA (hopefully for a bit longer), it was time for me to break out my own. I mean, I definitely buy sweaters every now and then from J. Crew, Uniqlo, and Banana Republic (mall brands are good for basics, who knew?) but I get around this by “blousing” or folding the excess fabric over itself until it hits my desired place. Or I tuck it in, but that isn’t for the faint [fashion] hearted. Either way, it doesn’t always work. Most modern stuff is simply too long.
Luckily some makers keep some vintage details going, but it’s not that common. B&Tailor has made a few and Drake’s/The Armoury has that sweater vest that works just fine with high rise trousers if you size down and leave the last buttons unfastened.
Vintage is King
Vintage really is just better. It has more texture, more interesting designs/weaves, and has the correct body to make it flattering. I mean, just marvel at how long your legs will look!
These examples aren’t particularly ivy, but it does create more of an old school look, simply because it’s not commonly seen today. With that said, a short length/fitted/heavy ribbing sweater will help you look vintage even if the rest of your outfit isn’t that old. Add in other details like fun weaves, colors, and patterns, and you’ll have something that is not only just better proportionally, but much more interesting to look it.
My Vintage Sweaters
Because I think that vintage sweaters are great, I thought that it would be best to illustrate my point by sharing some of the ones from my own closet. Some are thrifted while others were purchased from curated stores like dealer friends or local vintage stores. Thanks to this, there are varying levels of quality and construction with some being extremely thick to ones that are light to ones that have a few holes. I love them all the same. In fact, they are the main reason why I look forward to fall/winter weather!
Hopefully it pushes you to consider vintage ones, though YMMV since you probably won’t find ones exactly like the ones I have.
Orange Varsity V-Neck
No, it’s not from Princeton but it’s close isn’t it? According to Benny Reese, it’s from a local California high school that probably had a tiger as the mascot (which explains the vibrant orange and black color scheme). If you look closely, you’ll see that the front patch was removed; we don’t know if it was a letter, school crest, or the tiger itself.
Because it was my first vintage sweater, it really ruined modern ones for me. The close fitting body, short length, and heavy ribbing were all great! Even though it’s a bold sweater, its fine if you don’t style it too much like a highschool student (no jeans and sneakers). It makes for an interesting choice when paired with tailoring!
I don’t wear it often because it’s pretty thick, but it’s a nice one to break out in a whimsy.
I’ve talked about this one before (here and here) and surprisingly it still fits! Like the orange varsity sweater, this one is also a V-neck (with wide ribbing and a short hem) but its a bit more wearable thanks to it’s looser weave. Other than the construction details, it boasts an abstract geometric design that adds to its vintage allure. You don’t see many sweaters like this anymore!
It’s been well loved (has a few holes) and it’s probably on its way out, but I’m going to wear it as much as I can before it completely dies! Plus I only paid $20 for it at an antique mall; what do I have to lose?
Argyle Sweater Vest
Okay, you know that I love sweater vests. It’s not exactly the preppy-ivy or 1930’s collegiate connotation, but simply that it’s an easy way to add a “mid-layer” to an outfit without fully committing to a normal sweater. Vintage ones are always better for their fit and details, since modern ones end up looking like sacks on you (and won’t give you the sharp look that you want).
Argyle is something I definitely call a “old man pattern”, but the term leans affectionate when it’s done well. You can just see the difference between the one I’m wearing and this cheap one (though mine was around $40 from a friend). It’s not just the way the pattern is presented or simply the fit, but all of these details working together.
Mine isn’t too versatile because of how brown it is, but I find that it works best with darker colors. For example, I wouldn’t wear it with khaki chinos, despite the temptation to keep things ivy. The red and yellow also provide some contrast, though argyle is a pretty hard pattern to match with stripes and bold patterns. Admittedly, a fair isle in a similar color scheme would have been better, but true vintage ones are hard to find and my seller only had this one.
Don’t worry, I still love this argyle sweater vest a lot!
Thrifted Navy Sweater Vest
Sometimes you’ll thrift a sweater that exudes the same qualities as a Golden Era one. This hearty wool/blend (sue me) navy one was found during a trip to DC years ago and actually has the same label as the company that made my high school uniforms (though I never wore these myself). To my surprise, it had wide ribbing and a snug fit, making it ideal for my vintage inspired style. The plain color/weave allows it to be pretty versatile and less “in your face” as the others. However, it is pretty thick and heavy, making it only wearable on the coldest (or bravest) of days.
True Vintage Navy Sweater Vest
I purchased this 1930s-1940’s Douglas brand sweater vest from Raggedy Threads, a more rugged/workwear focused vintage store. When you compare this one to the thrifted one, the true vintage sweater knocks it out of the water. This one has an open weave so it’s breathable and light, despite being 100% wool. It also has a much shorter length, a naturally (the thrifted one was taken in) trim fit, higher armholes, and extra wide (and stretchy) ribbing. All of these details make for a more flattering silhouette!
I wish the “V” was a little deeper so you could get more shirt/tie action, but it’s still a nice piece regardless. I think this and the Argyle one should be templates if I ever get to design my own knitwear.
Green Sweater Vest
Talk about in your face! A green sweater vest isn’t for the faint of heart, but I love it (especially since it’s my girlfriend’s favorite color). It also benefits from being very “Drake’s”.
Like most of the others here, it’s a smart match for dark clothing as the green is a bit brighter than the green sweaters we normally see. I’m not too sure on the age, but I’m inclined to think it’s probably 1940s since it has less ribbing (though that isn’t always a telltale sign).
This one doesn’t fit as close to the body as the other one, as it’s closer to a “medium”. I’ve considered taking it to my tailor in order to get it taken in a touch, but it’s not that big of a deal. I’ll probably keep it under a sportcoat for most outfits, though you wouldn’t get to see the amazing cable knit weave clearly!
Cream Sweater Vest
Ah, this was probably my third vintage sweater, purchased from Paper Moon Vintage, a must see place if you’re in LA. Writing about this piece makes me tear up inside sine I lost it shortly after taking this picture; it’s been over a month and I’ve turned my house, car, and office upside down looking for it!
It shares a lot in common with the green one before it; it’s got a looser cut and has thinner ribbing at the neck, sleeves, and hem. It’s also got a plain weave rather than a cable knit. That being said, I think that the creme color is probably the most versatile. This is due to the contrast it creates since more often than not, it’s the lightest thing you’re wearing (other than the shirt). To me, it’s similar to the cricket sweater or a fisherman roll neck. Because of that, I’d argue that it’s a better match for khaki than navy (but that might be my aversion to the school uniforms of my youth).
I definitely need to find a replacement, but there’s that human optimism that makes me believe I’ll find it somewhere!
Purchased from Joyride Vintage two years ago, this cashmere sweater is a beauty. Firstly, the color is an interesting shade of brown, almost a orange-tan combo. Next, you’ll see that the ribbing isn’t as wide as earlier ones which points to it’s “young” age. This is finally indicated in the “57” that appears on a patch in the lower left part of the body. The double arrows in the patch are reminiscent of the Chrysler’s “Forward Look” logo, though the directions are reversed. A guy in the Facebook Group first thought that it might have been swag won by a car salesman before noticing the change of direction; it’s probably just a coincidence, a design inspired by the forward look.
Remember this guy?
Now this is a beast of a sweater and is literally everything I want. I got this during one of my first “vintage sale” events when I first hung out with Spencer. It was previously owned by an almost lifelong vintage collector and remains one of my favorite pieces. With a two tone houndstooth front, wooden buttons, and short length, it’s the absolute best piece to wear with tailoring. It originally was a lot bigger, but I had it taken in at the tailor so it wouldn’t look odd when worn on its own; I made sure to save to excess fabric within it so I could let it out if I had to. There is some damage (most notably on the sun faded sleeves) but, like all the others, I’m going to wear this until it dies.
It’s like the the ultimate vintage sweater since it’s completely different to any other cardigan you’ll find today. Old Polo RL and the Drake’s sleeveless ones come close, but nothing beats vintage. There’s so much personality in these old pieces!
I really wish makers returned to the old way of making sweaters: close fit, wide ribbing, and most of all, a short length to be worn with high rise trousers. Everything today is way too long, leading me to blouse them or tuck them in. While I do blame my preference for extremely high rise, I simply think that knitwear hasn’t caught on to the return of the high rise. This is especially important if you want to wear knitwear without a jacket.
Vintage sweaters also have a bit more personality than the ones today. The selections at the store are always done by color (props to Drake’s for doing fun colors outside the norm) but that’s usually where the creativity stops. On top of that, it’s either a thick lambswool, shaggy dog, or extra fine merino (which I really don’t like). Compare ones from Banana Republic to the ones from my closet! Vintage pieces have so many fun weaves, colors, and patterns. The resulting silhouette makes them pretty choice. The only down side is the material, which can vary depending on maker, and the condition.
This may upset many of you guys who read the blog, but I really don’t like wearing wool sweaters. It just doesn’t make any sense living in California, since it barely gets cold enough to layer! While I am grateful for the chances I do get to wear these awesome pieces (and that some are slightly open weave), I’d really love it if they were made from cotton. Cotton sweaters are perfect for california, though most don’t really come close to the level of detail we see on vintage ones. The material is more comfortable, they become machine washable, and I’d be able to wear the sweaters as a weight-ier tee on a mild day. Overall, I would spend
a lo t an appropriate amount of money on a ribbed (jersey?) cotton sweater that was made exactly as the ones I own, whether it was a full v-neck jumper, a sweater vest, or a sleeved cardigan.
Until that happens, I’m happy with sweating for my vintage and occasionally wearing plain cotton ones from Uniqlo for that Drake’s vibe.
Always a pleasure,