Saturday, February 23, 2013


As we continue to look at casual dress we’ll now get into some details, starting with sweaters. Sizes like “M” “L” or “XL” are unreliable these days. You only really know by trying it on or getting the measurements. As a rough guide you can go by the following (which also applies to shirts and jackets): 

SIZE (inches)

US Neck size 
5  14-14.5

US Chest size        

US Waist size           

Given these numbers, what will work for a shirt won’t work for a sweater, since you are going to want a looser fit, so you may need to go up a bit. When in doubt go larger because nothing looks worse than a tight, poorly fitted sweater on a man. With a larger size you can bunch and fold, and it generally will be more flattering to your silhouette, provided it isn’t overly long. A good fit will have room around the belly, so that if you happen to protrude there it won’t be as noticeable, as well as around the neck, so you don’t feel constricted.  With a sweater the most important measurement you can make is armpit to armpit, which when doubled should equal your chest size. As long as you exceed that number comfortably you’re fine. 

Good sweaters usually come in wool, or wool blend, or cashmere/cashmere blend, but the 100% pure variety is generally better than a blend with some cheaper fabric. In the winter nothing keeps you warm like a good, two-ply cashmere sweater. There are, however, different grades of cashmere. Good cashmere will be covered with a kind of plush fuzz, whereas with cheaper cashmere you’re more likely to get piling. The best cashmere comes from kashmiri goats from Mongolia. The fibers are actually combed out by the herdsmen, and the harsh conditions produce a fabric, which, when loomed, provides the tightest, most effective insulation. 

The finest wool comes from New Zealand Black Forest Merino sheep. Merino originated in Spain, but is also produced in Australia, the US, and South America. The fibers are fine and soft, and there are different grades, the best of which is ultrafine. Loro Piana, which makes some of the finest fabrics anywhere, holds a contest every year to find the best wool in the world. There are many other varieties of wool, with names like Shropshire, Hampshire, Debouillet (a type predominant in the US), etc. and distinctive forms, such as tweed from Scotland. Worsted wool is more of a process that results in wrinkle-resistant fabric used mainly in suits. Wool is static resistant, as well as sometimes even water resistant, due to lanolin, like an Irish fisherman’s sweater from the Aran Islands, or a New Wool sweater from England (called Virgin Wool in the US), as in the photo below. 

These are thick and warm, which is ideal for cold weather. This is not something you want to get natural and untreated, since the lanolin smell is quite pungent. When it is processed or dyed the smell is removed. Norwegian sweaters that are still made in Norway, such as the one below, are also excellent. 

Other fabrics from South America, like Vicuna (the rarest of all), and Guanaco, make great cashmere-like fabric, as does the superfine grade of the more abundantly available alpaca, which the cardigan below is made from. 

For warmer weather cotton or cotton blend sweaters work well, although a heavy cotton sweater is also suitable for winter, such as the Coogi sweater below. 


In addition to cotton, fine, lighter sweaters like the one below, are made from silk (usually raw silk),silk blend, or linen/blend.  Natural fabrics breathe well and stand up to use, however you can sometimes find good sweaters that blend natural fibers with man-made material such as acrylic threads. 

However, generally, the woolly fabrics mentioned above remain the primary material for sweaters, especially in cold weather. Unfortunately, they are also preferred by moths, which always seem to zero in on the finest cashmere first, so you need to have a good supply of cedar blocks or other moth deterrent. You can also bag this kind of sweater, but it is better to let it breathe if your storage is moth-proofed. 

NEXT: Sweater types

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