It is not until a man has a decent range of knitwear that he begins to fully appreciate the importance of weight. Sweaters can vary from light summer V-necks to six-ply winter rollnecks. In between there is a myriad of different yarn weights, weaves and even materials (silk in summer, camel hair in winter). The result is knitwear to suit every temperature, humidity and occasion.
Which is why they should be layered more. After all, some of those multi-ply winter warmers will be heavier than a jacket; and some of the summer silks will be lighter than a shirt; there is no reason why two of those varieties of knitwear can’t be combined. All that is required is a light cotton undershirt to sit under the whole thing. (We couldn’t conscience knitwear against the skin – purely for the sake of the garment, you understand, rather than yours.)
Different ‘necks’ are more suited than others to this combining (all knitwear is one-or-other type of ‘neck’). The king of the underlayer, for example, is the rollneck. A rollneck can easily look forced or old-fashioned on its own, but under a jacket it is uncommonly flattering, and easily the most stylish style with tailoring. The same goes for layering it under other knitwear.
The king of the outerlayer is the shawl-collar cardigan. Named for the impression it gives of a shawl being draped about the wearer’s shoulders, the shawl-collar cardigan has always had an effortless elegance about it. Partly this is because it is the style most obviously similar to a jacket, with the collar and buttoned front, and therefore suggests more formal attire. But the simple shape of the shawl collar is also a factor – as with a shawl-collared tuxedo, for example, the soft roll of the collar connotes an easy, insouciant attitude to smart dress.
If the shawl cardigan is your top layer, most anything can go underneath – a V-neck with a shirt, most probably, or a crewneck with a T-shirt. If they are light in weight, the top layer can be worn effectively as a jacket and taken off when going indoors. Aside from silk, try Sea Island cotton for the material, or a 30-gauge wool such as that produced by John Smedley. Knitwear doesn’t have to be wooly, or indeed heavy.
One last suggestion. If the spirit of the dandy takes you while walking some fashionable promenade, remove the shawl-collar cardigan and drape it across your shoulders. It looks so much more casual than a similar arrangement of a jacket or overcoat, and it’s one more useful option in the mastering of layering/temperature balance.
By Simon Crompton
Photo by The Sartorialist