The Five Knits Every Man Should Own

Whether donated by an Australian Merino sheep, Kashmiri goat or the cotton plains of the southern United States, knitwear has become an integral part of every man’s clothing collection, not just in terms of utility but also style.

Advances in milling technology, yarn quality and printing techniques in recent decades have meant that knitwear has taken on a much broader and flexible role within the contemporary wardrobe, working itself seamlessly into formal tailoring while at the same time proving it has the panache to stand alone as the focus of one’s outfit.

However, that’s not to say all knits are born equal. There are still some that will have you looking like the proverbial geography teacher no sooner than they are donned – an ignominy no stylish man should ever have to endure.

With this in mind, we’ve selected five key knitwear styles that have stood the test of time and are perfect for this autumn/winter…

The Classic Round Neck Jumper

Consider the classic round/crew neck as your staple, go-to sweater. How you wear it is most likely determined by what it is made from, which in turn will inform how it fits and functions.

It’s a flexible category that includes a number of different styles – and while that might seem like a good thing on the surface, it can present you with styling problems given the huge choice available. So, as a rule of thumb, if you’re looking to achieve a smart-casual or formal aesthetic, your choice has to be either wool, cashmere or, for warmer climes, a linen-blend.

Smart Styling

With regards to formal wear, i.e. suiting, we’ve recently seen the collar and tie become less of an ever-present, allowing the crew neck sweater to push its way onto the scene. This isn’t a new look per se: Left Bank intellectuals were favouring the roll neck (more of which later) over the shirt and tie as long ago as the late 19th century, but while the tie still dominates, the crew neck offers a more creative and less formal escape route.

Given that you don’t want to be carrying lots of woollen bulk beneath your blazer, fine gauge sweaters are the only option here. Both John Smedley and Pringle of Scotland offer high quality merino wool knitwear that is ideal.

When looking to craft your own outfit, the fit on your jumper should almost be figure-hugging, without feeling restrictive. Patterns should probably be avoided, but colour is a matter of personal preference. A shock of bold wool beneath a charcoal grey suit can be very effective, as seen on the Fendi AW14 runway, but the generally dark and sombre tones present throughout this year’s autumn/winter shows would perhaps be more appropriate.

Cerruti ran grey crews beneath suits in autumnal hues, while Les Hommes utilised a dark and seductive palette, showing how to wear the jumper over a collar and tie. At Bottega, the necks were big and arcing, making for a very masculine look in moss green, while at Jil Sander it was another minimalist masterclass – the founder having left her brand in good hands, it seems.

As a rule of thumb: the broader the neck, the more casual the look. If your work colleagues can see your collar bones, it’s time for a rethink.

ami berluti Cerruti 1881 fendi jil sander les hommes

Lookbook Inspiration

digel aw14 avva aw14 charles tyrwhitt 2014 burton aw14 ovadia & sons aw13 club monaco aw14 bally aw14 reiss aw132 florentino aw14 reiss aw14 banana republic pre aw14 digel aw14

Casual Styling

On the flip side is the crew neck sweatshirt, which in most cases is constructed of cotton. The meteoric rise of sports luxe has meant that a garment originally designed to play sport in has now become an intrinsic part of designer collections.

We particularly loved Neil Barrett’s lightning bolt version this season, which gave a flash of white to an otherwise black collection (tying in with AW14’s monochrome trend), and Richard Nicoll, who blends smart and sporty genres so well, didn’t disappoint with his bold slogan designs either.

ami emporio armani gucci Michael Bastian neil barrett Richard Nicoll

Lookbook Inspiration

pull & bear ss13 allsaints ss13 pepe jeans aw13 debenhams hammond & co aw14 bershka 2014 bwgh ss14 falconeri 2013 banana republic pre aw14 drykorn aw14

Key Styles
  • Asos Merino Crew Neck Jumper
  • United Colors Of Benetton Merino Wool Jumper With Crew Neck
  • Esprit Crew Neck Jumper
  • M&s Collection Pure Cotton Crew Neck Jumper
  • Cheap Monday Sweatshirt With Over My Dead Body Print
  • He By Mango Message Cotton Sweatshirt
  • Reiss Onyx Merino Wool Jumper Bordeaux
  • Uniqlo Men Cashmere Crew Neck Sweater
  • Uniqlo Men Cashmere Crew Neck Sweater
  • Reiss Onyx Merino Wool Jumper Charcoal
  • John Smedley Luke Sea Island Cotton Sweater
  • Maison Kitsune Printed Loopback Cotton-jersey Sweatshirt
2. The Roll Neck

The roll/turtle/polo neck has been warming the larynxes of many a philosopher, actor and politician over the last century – and the style was back with a bang in this year’s AW14 collections.

Like leaves in autumn, they were everywhere. Where to start? Hermes, Juun J, Haider Ackermann, John Galliano, Dries Van Noten, Y Project, Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs Men, Fendi, Dirk Bikkembergs, Pringle of Scotland… we could go on and on.

Bold hues, blacks, greys, autumnal browns and on-trend greens; high necks, low necks, chunky necks, fine gauge – they were all on display. Frida Giannini’s textural use of the roll neck at Gucci was a particular highlight and a lesson in how to wear all-black. We also liked Ports 1961’s take on the design, with the brand choosing to layer it underneath cutaway collar shirts and sharp tailoring:

ami giorgio armani gucci hardy amies hermes louis vuitton Michael Bastian Ports 1961 tods

There is just something about covering up the neck that implies sophistication. Perhaps it’s to do with how it carries the head, giving it a stronger, more prominent base. Whatever the reason, it works.

You’d do well to have a couple of fine-gauge wool or cashmere roll necks in neutral colours (black, navy and white are modern must-owns) hung up in your wardrobe for smart-casual wear or dress-down Friday in the office, while also investing in a bold and chunky design that will form the centrepiece of your off-duty ensembles.

Lookbook Inspiration

ovadia & sons aw13 Crombie AW15 ti for men aw14 he by mango winter 2014 tommy hilfiger tailored aw14 burton aw143 next aw14 reiss aw14 comodo square aw14 toast aw14 tiger of sweden 2014 florentino aw14

Key Styles
  • Anerkjendt Jumper In Rollneck
  • He By Mango Turtleneck Wool Sweater
  • Allsaints Anjou Roll Neck Jumper
  • Topman Navy Chunky Cable Roll Neck Jumper
  • Selected Homme Tower Rollneck Jumper In Ivy Green
  • Reiss Crow Roll Neck Merino Jumper Burgundy
  • Etro Cable-knit Rollneck Wool Sweater
  • Reiss Shore Houndstooth Roll Neck Jumper Black
  • Reiss Crow Roll Neck Merino Jumper Grey
  • John Lewis & Co. Made In Italy Oversized Roll Neck Jumper
  • Uniqlo Men Extra Fine Merino Polo Neck Sweater
  • Next Roll Neck
3. The Classic Aran/Cable Knit

The Aran jumper, which takes its name from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, is as rustic as it gets. Although traditionally it came in white or off-white, these days you’ll find it in every hue imaginable. What makes it an ‘Aran’, rather than just another warm chunky knit, are the cable patterns (often incorporating around four to six intricate designs) that striate the chest.

Admittedly, it’s not the type of sweater that’s going to palpate the aortic valves of front-row fashion editors (which is why you won’t see many on the runways), but rather it’s the Aran’s versatility, tactility and ruggedness that is its selling point – and has been since the early 1900s.

So what should you look for? In terms of fit, the Aran lends itself well to being worn slightly oversized: sleeves that brush the knuckles and a hem that finishes a good few inches below your hips for ultimate comfort. Combine with lean-fitting legwear to create a dramatic contrast and really play with the concept of silhouette.

Sunspel have produced a very nice Aran knit made from 100 per cent flecked Merino wool for AW14, while Pringle of Scotland have incorporated an argyle pattern into a cashmere version, which, predictably, you’ll have to pay through the nose for. Of course, for those on a budget, the standard cable knit jumper offers a low cost alternative and is produced by every high street and mid-priced brand on the market these days.

For reasons unbeknown to us here at FashionBeans, the classic Aran just isn’t as popular as it should be, at least not in men’s collections – so when you find a good one, snap it up.

Aran & Cable Knit Lookbook Inspiration

realm & empire aw14 h&m ss13 he by mango 2014 john lewis aw14 burton aw14 reiss aw13 hugo boss sportswear aw14 penneys aw14 he by mango winter 2014 tesco f&f aw14 louis vuitton pre aw14 barneys new york aw13

Key Styles
  • He By Mango Wool-blend Cable-knit Sweater
  • River Island Jumper In Cable Knit
  • Barbour Jumper With Cable Knit
  • Eleven Paris Arran Knit Jumper
  • Pringle Of Scotland Cashmere Argyle Aran Knit
  • Beams Plus Marled Cable-knit Wool Sweater
  • Sunspel Aran Jumper
  • Soulland Aran Knit Sweater
  • Ben Sherman Blue Cable Knit Jumper
  • Austin Reed Twist Aran Wool Jumper
  • Inis Meain Wool And Cashmere-knit Sweater 207185
  • Uniqlo Men Wool Blend Cable Crew Neck Sweater
4. The Fair Isle Knit

Another sweater whose genesis is a bleak, windswept and freezing cold island in the middle of nowhere. “Traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour,” says Wikipedia, but to us the Fair Isle knit is really any jumper with patterns of even remotely Gaelic origins.

These geometric motifs bombarded autumn/winter collections a few seasons back and although this contemporary leg of the trend has waned, there is still lots to be said about owning this type of sweater.

For one, it’s a ‘look at me’ piece, in the best possible sense. Furthermore, a multitude technical innovations mean that traditional patterns have morphed into shapes and designs that can genuinely be classed as contemporary and will sit comfortably in a modern wardrobe.

Yet, perhaps above all, there is a light-heartedness about the Fair Isle knit. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is ideal for casual winter weekends (particularly during the Christmas period).

Moncler have produced a beautiful intarsia knit with a monochrome pattern for AW14 while Danish brand NN07 put a nice, minimal Scandinavian twist on their version. But perhaps our favourite take is found at Sibling, with the brand juxtaposing classic snowflake patterns with a vibrant red leopard print body.

Store them well during the summer months and your Fair Isle will be for life, not just for Christmas.

Lookbook Inspiration

j crew aw13 bellfield aw14 tesco f&f aw14 he by mango winter 2014 hugo boss sportswear aw14 house of fraser army and navy aw14 asos aw14 next aw13 pennys aw14 ted baker aw13 bellfield aw14 drykorn aw14

Key Styles
  • He By Mango Jacquard Wool Sweater
  • Asos Fair Isle Jumper With Mohair
  • Barbour Jumper With Fairisle Pattern
  • Reiss Snow Fair Isle Jumper Navy
  • Allsaints Privateer Crew Jumper
  • He By Mango Jacquard Wool-blend Sweater
  • Moncler W Fair Isle Intarsia-knit Sweater 212853
  • Gap Lambswool Reverse Fair Isle Sweater
  • Oatmeal Fair Isle Crew Neck Jumper
  • Nn.07 Fair Isle Wool Sweater
  • River Island Ecru Fair Isle Stripe Crew Neck Jumper
  • Sibling Leopard Fair Isle Wool Sweater
5. The Shawl-Collar Cardigan

When you slip your arms into a chunky shawl-collar cardigan, something special happens. Firstly, your testosterone level rises inexplicably and you find yourself assuming the character of a 1960s Lothario. Secondly, you begin to thirst for an Old Fashioned to sip in front of a crackling fire, in a log cabin located deep in a deserted, snow-covered wilderness.

Just me then?

Nevertheless, combining elements of tailoring (the shawl collar/lapel was traditionally found on gentleman’s smoking jackets) with the warmth and ruggedness of a chunky knit, the shawl neck cardigan is the epitome of winter masculinity.

If there’s a best way to wear a shawl collar cardi, it’s to think of it as a piece of outerwear. Personally, I prefer the broader, deeper, more expressive collar where the ‘lapel’ finishes a few inches below your sternum, but if you want to wear a blazer or jacket over the top then a short collar – or better yet, a shawl neck jumper – in a lighter, thinner yarn is far more practical.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a brand that doesn’t have a shawl-collared cardigan in its collection, so shop around. For inspiration from the AW14 runways, check out Ermenegildo Zegna’s lesson in how to wear it oversized, or to be different, we also loved Giorgio Armani’s double-breasted take.

canali Ermenegildo Zegna giorgio armani tom ford

Otherwise, the likes of Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Maison Martin Margiela all have wonderful classic versions in stores now that can be worn over a suit during the week or with jeans and chunky boots at the weekend. Just don’t come haranguing me in my log cabin, OK?

Lookbook Inspiration

he by mango winter 2013 banana republic aw13 boomerang massimo dutti october 2014 j crew aw14 scotch & soda AMSTERDAMS BLAUW FALL 2014 massimo dutti equestrian aw14 peuterey aw14 he by mango ss14 simons aw14 massimo dutti nyc 5th avenue aw14 reiss aw14

Key Styles
  • Asos Shawl Neck Cardigan
  • New Look Cable Knit Cardigan
  • Barbour Cardigan With Cable Shawl Knit
  • He By Mango Shawl Collar Textured Sweater
  • J. Crew Lambswool Three-pocket Cardigan
  • Solid Jumper With Shawl Collar
  • He By Mango Shawl Collar Cashmere Cardigan
  • Gap Cotton Cashmere Shawl Cardigan
  • He By Mango Aran Wool-blend Cardigan
  • Reiss Kingsland Shawl Collar Cardigan Navy
  • Polo Ralph Lauren Cable-knit Wool Shawl-collar Cardigan
  • River Island Grey Shawl Neck Knitted Jumper
Final Word

Knitwear plays an extremely important role within the modern gent’s wardrobe, from both a practical and style perspective. Each of the five styles above would make an excellent addition to your cold-weather arsenal, helping bring character, texture and personality to any look you choose to create this AW14.

But now it is time to hear from you – which of knits showcased today is your favourite? Do you own any of them already? If so, how do you plan on styling them this season?

Let us know in the comments section below…