Whilst an article about knitwear in winter may not be particularly groundbreaking on paper, there are now more options available to us than ever and the choice can be quite daunting. These days, even the most simple of wardrobe staples need careful consideration – throwing a jumper over your standard jeans just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid.
With this in mind, I’m going to focus on a fabric that every man should own – merino wool. Amazingly versatile and famously soft, merino wool is found on its namesake sheep, and is characterised by smaller fibres that creates its trademark fine gauge. Whilst the material may not be a newcomer to the menswear market, there are several ways to wear merino wool, meaning just one or two key pieces can completely revitalise your existing wardrobe.
I am not going to bore you today with the history/specifics of merino wool, how you should wash it or any of the other padding. What I am going to concentrate on, is how versatile it really is – so whether your personal style is smart and refined, classic and casual, on trend and preppy, merino wool will adapt to your particular needs effortlessly.
With party season upon us, you may be stuck for ideas to impress at the office Christmas get-together, especially if your colleagues see you in that same old suit day in, day out. How do you stand out from the crowd when it comes to smart suiting? Ditching your shirt and tie may be the answer.
One of the biggest black tie trends this season has been the return of the roll neck, which, when paired with an evening suit, can become a chic alternative to your standard tuxedo and oozes effortless European style. Merino wool is perfect for this purpose; soft enough to be worn with nothing underneath, yet fine enough to wear under a suit jacket without you feeling bulky or overheating.
The beauty of a roll neck jumper is that your choice of suit is largely unaffected – most colours and prints will be acceptable, whether it be your on trend burgundy number or a heritage inspired herringbone piece. For a perfectly subtle yet effective outfit try a midnight blue suit, either single or double-breasted, teamed with a simple black roll neck and Derby shoes.
For extra sartorial points, try a coloured/printed sock and matching pocket square – the small details will make all the difference.
Alternatively, if you want to add a new element to your existing formal looks, why not layer in a merino cardigan or jumper? A simple fine gauge cardigan worn over your shirt and tie will draw the eye and give the impression of a well considered outfit build.
Choosing a cardigan the same colour as your suit will help avoid the ‘Geography teacher’ stereotype, instead giving off the air of a modern gent. For example, a grey Harris tweed suit worn with a grey marl merino wool cardigan, simple shirt and black leather accessories will ensure you look more sharp than stale this winter. [To delve into this technique further, read Matt Allinson's guide to 'The 21st Century 3-Piece Suit'.]
One of the easiest ways to integrate merino wool into your wardrobe is to opt for the ever on trend preppy look. Geek chic has never been so popular, and this look can be dressed down or up with minimal sartorial tweaks.
To achieve a smart yet preppy inspired outfit, think about the details. Your merino wool inclusion will be fairly simple – a plain cardigan or crew neck jumper in any colour that suits your personal style. Grey or black are timeless and easy to wear, but the more adventurous can try seasonally appropriate hues such as burgundy, mustard or forest green.
Team your choice with a smart white shirt, dark indigo jeans and brogues, then add accessories to individualise the look. Bow ties, braces, glasses and trilbies all work extremely well, but try to avoid accessory overkill. For those that require a bag, a smart leather satchel is a refined choice that helps emphasise the collegiate/preppy undertones.
In order to take this tried and tested look to the next level, finish with your choice of blazer. A tweed/wool version will channel a more refined Ivy League aesthetic, whilst a statement pastel colour or check pattern is the height of preppy style and sure to get you noticed.
For a slightly dressed down version of this look, you only need to make slight alterations – and chances are you will already own most of the pieces necessary to do so. By swapping your dark slim jeans for a lighter chino you will instantly feel more casual, but you can still pair these with the smart white shirt, or swap for a short sleeved printed version (weather permitting).
To finish off your daytime look, layer your merino cardigan or sweater under a varsity jacket and add one well-placed accessory – your bowtie still works extremely well here.
Although merino wool naturally lends itself to smarter outfitting due to its fine gauge and often minimalist styling, there is still scope to include it in your casual outfits. One of the biggest trends for men this winter is workwear – rugged denim and heavy duty cotton are the traditional materials of choice, but with some clever layering a well thought out merino wool piece can slot right in.
You will need to be more careful with colour choices than in the previous looks, as whilst monochrome options will still work well, earth tones or blues are preferable. For a simple workwear outfit, choose a brown merino wool cardigan to wear over a thick cotton pocket tee, heavy duty overshirt/work jacket and some appropriate chinos (here we opt for on trend camouflage print for extra sartorial points).
In terms of footwear, try hiking or Chelsea boots paired with thick woollen boot socks. You shouldn’t over complicate this look with too many accessories, but a canvas backpack and thick knit gloves/scarves are all excellent choices, if required.
Alternatively, why not try your hand at one of the trickiest trend looks to pull off – double denim. For many, this may conjure up images of 1970s blokes clad entirely in bleached denim and sporting Tom Selleck moustaches – however, the current version is much more contemporary and masculine.
To ensure you embody an authentic workwear look, pick a selvedge denim jacket and jeans in the same shade of dark indigo or grey and team them with a simple pocket tee and merino cardigan. Please do not colour match your cardigan to your denim – your layering should provide a subtle contrast in order to break up the individual elements. Try a grey cardigan with indigo denim or a blue cardigan with grey denim.
A smarter boot will work well here, meaning your backpack may have to be replaced for a rugged leather bucket bag or satchel.
With everything from jumpers and hoodies to socks and trousers now available in this versatile fabric at a variety of price points, it has never been easier to add merino wool to your wardrobe:
So there you have it, merino wool is surprisingly versatile and one or two pieces can adapt to a variety of current looks and trends. The key is to make sure you invest in good quality, minimal pieces in versatile colours. And remember to treat it with care, as it will continue to be a wardrobe staple for many years to come.
So, what do you think?
Let me know in the comments below…