Sweater Inspiration

As it dips into the low 70s here in Los Angeles, I’m proud to say that sweater weather is finally arriving! I’m ready to pull out my fair isle sweater vests and cotton-wool crew necks out of the bottom drawer of my dresser and start wearing them with tailoring.  But as I do that, I’m reminded of the fact that while high rise has come back in recent years, the length of the sweater has not changed. The hem should really be shorter!

While long sweaters did exist in the 1920s (probably since they were intended as the final, outer layer), there actually was a time when sweaters were hemmed to hit at the natural waist, instead of close to the hips as is done now. This was mainly done in the 1930s-1940s, as you can see in the included images. Also unlike today, the sweaters were cut with higher armholes and a trimmer body in order to make a very fitted silhouette. This silhouette was further emphasized with the wide ribbing, which ensured that the sweater would “cinch” at waist well.

It’s just a personal observation, but I think that sweaters were made this way not just to wear under a sportcoat, but to play into the masculine ideal of the time: broad shoulders, small waist, and long, wide legs. Overall, it’s also probably done to echo the tailored look of a waistcoat (which also tends to be on the long side today). This has since disappeared the closer we got to the modern times. As rises got lower, sweater hems got longer to compensate; sweaters also lost that fitted look.

Now I like to wear sweaters, but it’s definitely a problem with high rise trousers since manufacturers haven’t quite caught up. I run across this problem whether I’m buying good basics at Uniqlo/J. Crew or when even when looking at contemporary, higher quality ones on eBay. To make up for the length I either just tuck the excess fabric into itself or do some awkward blousing which almost always results in a slight muffin top effect. The effect is made obvious as I’m not particularly tall or lanky, which means even a standard small can be a bit long and puffy on me. Though it may be my fault for preferring an extremely high rise, I’m sure that some of you can understand this frustration with your own wardrobe.

A sweater cut for extremely high rise trousers.

A sweater cut for extremely high rise trousers.

It’s especially tough when rocking sweater vests (both the pull over and waistcoat style), since the long length can’t be hidden with any sort of tucking. And having a good fit is probably one of the only ways to make sure you pull off the sweater vest.  Some guys try to cheat the system and shrink them in the wash, but then it could potentially be an expensive mistake. You can always hide the blousing with a sportcoat, but it’s not quite that cold  in LA to layer too much; plus I like the more “casual” look of simply wearing a sweater with denim or chinos.  And as much as 1990s Ralph Lauren is a vibe, I’m not sure many guys are willing to tuck their sweaters into their trousers, especially if they are wearing a button-up and tie underneath.

Luckily, some makers have taken notice. One that comes to mind instantly is Simon James Cathcart, a niche vintage reproduction brand. They have released a virtually identical sweater to ones from the 1930s, complete with a high V, waist-correct length, and wide ribbing for a fitted figure. It’s pretty perfect, though it probably leans a bit too vintage for most and there aren’t many options available yet.

Thomas Farthing, another UK brand, also has a waistcoat style sweater. I also seem to remember that the Drake’s x Armoury sweater vests are cut higher to for this reason. I own an original one from Drake’s and they fit the bill just as well; I also leave the last few buttons unfastened so that the true length isn’t as apparent. I’m sure there are others who have taken notice and with the rise of online custom, it won’t be long before guys are able to order a decent length for high waisted trousers.

For now, I’ll try my luck with vintage since it’s an affordable way to get the details without compromising too much.  Picking a true vintage one from the 1960s or 1970s (hopefully in natural fabrics) can be common in select thrift stores and still comes with a decent length for high rise trousers.  Occasionally I’ll come across ones from the 1930s-1940s online, which are the real gems. I’ll just take the small moth holes as signs of character.

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If vintage isn’t for you, trying on modern brands in a size smaller than you’re used to could also achieve the look; not only will it be shorter in length, but the trimmer fit could be more desirable, especially in a merino wool (I wouldn’t recommend that for a thick shetland number).  Of course, there are a bunch of DIY tricks I’ve heard from other guys like shrinking or even hemming it at the tailor but that’s also a dangerous road to tread. Or we can just be hopeful that the market will lean in our favor, just as they did for high rise trousers.

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Ethan Wong
Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.
Ethan Wong

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4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    October 19, 2018

    Ethan, great article and sweater illustrations.
    It appears that over the years certain adaptations were made by those of us who sport sweaters such as “folding under when too long”, which can be successful when the bottom or ribbed edge is tight enough to remain under. Two to three inches below the waist has been the best fit for me. Even with short waist sweaters there is sometimes slight bunching above the waist due to normal body movement. Also, wearing non-belted slacks has been successful, at least for me, to insure a clean flat appearance and eliminate bulging.

    V-neck sweaters are popular, but not so much in the “preppie style”, worn over buttoned shirt and tie, but “pressed to the flesh” as though it stands alone. This is not a new style, as I remember sporting this version four decades ago. “In the grand sweep of things, it all comes back around”.

  2. Reply

    Lewis

    October 21, 2018

    The gray sweater is not too long.
    All lengths of sweaters and jackets should be in accordance with the body of the individual.
    Any master tailor worth his weight will tell you that. If you are smaller it should be balanced to your proportion.
    The gray sweater with the guy in it fits his long torso. In addition to that, the vintage movie called “ The Bad Seed” features wonderful sweaters in it that may be more instructional.
    Short sweaters for guys that currently wear the low rise pant is also a big mistake.
    Lou

  3. Reply

    Cuff Shooter

    October 21, 2018

    Glad to see I am not the only one with this issue. Thanks for the recommendations.

  4. Reply

    Camilo

    October 26, 2018

    Many sweaters from Japanese denim companies are meant to end at the natural waist. Only cotton SW&D type sweaters though.

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