The widely accepted law governing men’s fashion is that fall is the most stylish time of year. Summer, winter, and spring are about dressing to accommodate the respective extremes of heat, cold, and rain; autumn, on the other hand, with its mild temperatures, is the Goldilocks season: just right.
But fall’s sartorial supremacy is also due in no small part to the beauty of knitwear. And before you mutter that you don’t need us to tell you how useful your cashmere collection is, we’re talking Sweater 2.0 here. No doubt in reaction to the pandemic-spurred trend of all things comfy-luxe, brands both new and established have come with a staggering spectrum of styles for fall ’23, from the sumptuous, offhanded sprezzatura of L.A.-based Italian designer (and Brunello Cucinelli alum) Davide Baroncini to knitting cooperative Flamborough Marine’s hard-wearing, hand-knit fisherman sweaters. Make no mistake: Right now, a statement sweater is the key to a stylish season.
It’s why Warren Alfie Baker, a stylist in L.A. who dresses dapper gents such as Andrew Garfield, Patrick Dempsey, and Richard Madden, loves them for clients—and for himself. “I have a beautiful Brioni knit in a chocolate brown that soothes my soul,” he says. “It’s just a great color to pair with everything. But I also have a bright red Ami cardigan that’s a little oversize and is a statement—it’s my happy piece.” Baker also name-checks Zegna and Brunello as other go-tos. “Zegna has an array of beautiful colors and lightweight fabrics, while Brunello’s cashmere sweaters are just so chic; tossing one over your shoulder for an evening dinner is superb.”
For his celebrity roster, Bake likes knitwear for its latitude, with a range of interesting options for everyone from jet-set types in stealth-wealth Loro Piana to haute hippies in tie-dye from the Elder Statesman—though a current favorite style is both familiar and wildly unexpected. “I’ve noticed a lot of sweater-vests coming back,” he says of the divisive preppy standby that has, in recent years, largely fallen out of rotation. It’s a convenient transition piece from summer to fall, he notes, easily layered over a T-shirt when warmer and with collared shirts as the mercury drops. (That it evokes a bit of Ivy League elegance is a bonus amid the current fervor for all things old money aesthetic.) Baker has also been keen on V-necks of late, such as those from the aforementioned Parisian label Ami. “They’re so good to style with white jeans and a tank or a T-shirt,” he says. “But also with a cool pleated trouser and a white oxford shirt.”
And sure, sweaters for autumn might feel like shorts for summer—yawningly familiar—but designers are approaching the category with renewed creativity and an eye toward standing out, if subtly. Take, for example, the rippling texture of Kiton’s dove-gray cardigan, which adds verve and visual interest to an otherwise avuncular staple. Worn over a T-shirt with khakis, it feels professorial yet offhanded, evoking the trad scene-setters of the beloved prep handbook Take Ivy, while under a blazer or chore coat it’s a discerning update to the post-pandemic office uniform.
And even the staidest basics can make a statement when worn correctly. Jason Jules, the British creative director and author of Black Ivy, recalls years ago, while styling some friends in a band with an Oasis vibe, suggesting they wear cardigans—and the shock it engendered. “I think there’s this assumption that knitwear is an old man’s game,” he says. “But I’ve always loved knits because of their versatility.”
Jules’s rule of thumb, when it comes to fit, is to think of contrasts to help break up an outfit. “If I’m wearing pleated trousers, or even slightly oversize jeans, I’d probably wear them with a fitted cardigan, sweater, or sweatshirt,” he says. He keeps to a mostly neutral palette (think earth tones or black, white, gray, and navy) so that everything in his wardrobe works together without falling into his pet peeve of overly coordinated outfits. He also prefers lighter, airier weaves as opposed to chunkier ones—a practical necessity as a Londoner. “You get on the train and you’re overheated, then it’s subzero outside, then you have to take it back off in the office,” he says, adding: “The things I’d wear in the summer, I’d wear in the winter.”
Such a glut of options may seem a challenge for some, but consider it an opportunity instead. Knitwear as a category has exploded into something so expansive, and so creatively fertile, that your choices are bound to reveal something about your inner character: Like the eyes, a favorite sweater is a window to the soul. So have fun with it.
“I think what makes a great piece is how it makes you feel,” Baker says. “There are so many great options out there, it’s just finding what’s comfortable for you.” In other words, even in this brave new knitwear world, some things never change.