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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Embrace Transitional Layering

Transitional layering is one of the greatest pleasures that menswear has to offer, but it’s also a source of a surprising amount of difficulty for a surprising number of men. It’s understandable, really – we’re bombarded with heavy outerwear and beach-ready clothing, and you have to look to find the stuff that falls in between, as plentiful as it is.

We’re big fans of light outerwear at Styleforum, and while a leather jacket, M-65, or other option worn over a shirt and maybe a sweater is a simple way to win at life, there are more interesting ways to layer. Let’s go over a few of them.

  1. Wear Two Shirts at Once

    Seriously. Well, not two normal shirts; @Conceptual_4est wrote a great article on the Shacket last year, and his advice on the matter is still relevant. A shirt-jacket can be worn alone, or under a heavier parka should the weather already have turned on you. Denim or canvas workshirts also do well at this, especially if they’re noticeably thicker than your standard button-up. I haven’t tried one myself, but Styleforum affiliate Yellowhook is making some denim workshirts that would work for this. Otherwise, Evan Kinori, about whom I’ve written before, does a good field shirt; and I happen to have a flannel, pocketed variety from Cloak. This is also one of those pieces you can find at LL Bean or the like, although they’ll be of a different, Bean-ier variety. Note that this is specifically casual – wearing two shirts under a sportcoat probably isn’t going to go over that well – literally and figuratively.

  2. Put a Jacket Under Your Jacket

    It doesn’t have to be a shacket, either. It’s really easy to slip the ever-present chore jacket under your outerwear, but there’s other stuff that can work as a midlayer. Say, a knit jacket that’s cut like a blazer. And a sport coat can be certainly be worn under a field jacket or hunting jacket. Nifty, no?

  3. Are you a Cardi-can, or a Cardi-can’t?

    The cardigan is the perfect transitional layer. If you’re wearing a suit or sportcoat, you can wear a thin merino cardigan under your jacket as a warmer stand-in for a waistcoat.  If you’re putting together a casual outfit, you can easily substitute a heavy cardigan (say, the perennial favorites from SNS Herning, or perhaps a cowichan) for a jacket. This works with both denim and with trousers, as the buttoned (or zipped – FULL zips, please) front makes the knit look a bit more like a jacket, and tends to lend a more flattering silhouette to the wearer than a sweater would.


  4. Vestos are the Bestos

    By vest, I don’t mean that you have to wear North Face puffer the way you do when you’re raking leaves or otherwise living the suburban dream. In fact, it doesn’t have to be made of nylon at all. There are some really cool insulated (and not) vest options from a whole host of makers, and it’s worth your time to check them out. Vests are super handy, and although I can’t endorse the Instagram hero vest-over-blazer look, I’ll happily wear a vest over a more casual garment, such as the aforementioned shacket, chore jacket, or cardigan.

I can’t really think of anything for number 5, but my main point here is that you don’t have to resort to a grey sweatshirt or a heavier sport coat for autumn. Nor do you have to immediately fall into a rotating uniform of light jackets, as I’m certainly guilty of doing. Experiment with colors, silhouettes, and textures. More importantly, experiment with layers of various weights, because autumn can be fickle and proper layering is the key to staying comfortable.