The Perfect Fit: Sweaters

by Beau Hayhoe  |  in Style Tips

It may have been a while since you saw the Perfect Fit series on this site, but we’re bringing it back… with a vengeance.

We’re talking about those essential layering items: men’s sweaters.

Yes, they come in all shapes, sizes and forms – we’ll get to that in a second. But whether you rock a shawl-collar cardigan or a more casual crewneck sweater, the Effortless Gent core principles still apply to all men’s sweaters and cardigans.

It’s all about fit and quality. So we’ll start there and show you the essentials to buy along the way.

How should men’s sweaters fit?

Consider the classic winter sweater – maybe something reliable like a J. Crew merino wool V-neck. You should look for a sweater that hugs your shoulders but offers room to move – and layer.

Sweater sizing is different for everyone and some brands feature slimmer fits than others. For example, an H&M V-neck sweater could be cut slimmer than the J. Crew V-neck.

Bottom line: Trying on brands as you go is a must.

The same fit principles apply whether we’re talking men’s V-neck sweaters or men’s crewneck sweaters.

Pick a crewneck sweater that allows you to show some shirt collar while maintaining the same proper fit as your V-neck. Either way, think “tailored-but-mobile”.

A visual example is helpful. Let’s go with the actor who plays everyone’s favorite secret agent, Daniel Craig.

Are we all blessed with Craig’s physique? Certainly not.

But his V-neck sweaters fit his frame well (if a bit snug). They define his shoulders with a high armhole and a slim arm.

Again, some of that is from the dude’s hardcore gym habits. But the overall example is worth following.

When on-screen, Bond knows how to rock a V-neck sweater with the best of them. Note the tailored fit and just-right length.

Think of it this way:

  • Avoid excess fabric below your arms and through the sides.
  • You should be able to comfortably slide on your sweater over an Oxford shirt.

What about thicker men’s sweaters?

The same principles apply to a sweater with a thicker knit – say, a more casual, sportswear-inspired crewneck sweatshirt.

The fabric is going to be thicker – potentially something like French terry cotton. But you should look for a sweater with a higher armhole and no excess fabric through the sides.

When it comes to equally thick knits – like a ribbed shawl-collar cardigan – turn again to our main man Mr. Craig. He layers a rugged henley under a shawl-collar cardigan to great effect.

Throwing on a pullover? It should be similar in fit to men’s V-neck sweaters or men’s crewneck sweaters – with a quarter-zip front, of course. You want higher armholes and minimal excess fabric through the sides and waist.

This can be more difficult to achieve given that some pullovers are cut a bit slouchy. Modern brands like J. Crew offer trimmer fits.

Think of it this way:

  • The same rules of fit apply to casual and thick-knit men’s sweaters.
  • Look for a slim fit through the arms and sides.

How long should it be?

Follow this rule of thumb. It works for more formal men’s V-neck sweaters or men’s crewneck sweaters in breathable fabrics. Like cotton or the aforementioned merino wool.

Ensure that the sweater hits at about the mid-point of your belt line.

The belt breaks up the look – any longer, and your sweater might appear oversized.

Any shorter, and your sweater could ride up and show excess shirt.

Again, Daniel Craig’s example is worth following.

Casual crewneck sweaters or shawl-collar cardigans feature a thicker bottom cuff with heavier stitch. That means the length varies a bit.

Take this Todd Snyder crewneck sweatshirt. Again, you still want to reach for a piece that hits at about your belt line or below. This offers a clean, polished look – definitely not baggy.

The Perfect Fit: Sweaters

When it comes to that rugged cardigan, let’s not forget a crucial final touch:

Leave the bottom button unbuttoned, no matter how you layer up.

It looks cleaner and avoids the appearance of excess weight around your front. The number of buttons varies from cardigan to cardigan, but no more than two should be unbuttoned for a clean look.

The top button is optional. But the bottom button always stays unbuttoned, folks.

Think of it this way:

  • Sweaters should reach your belt line or just below – definitely not higher.
  • Never button the bottom button. Ever.

What to avoid

You don’t want a paper-thin sweater from a budget retailer. Start your sweater search at reputable brands like J. Crew.

There’s higher quality and better fabric in men’s sweaters from J. Crew versus a sweater from H&M, for example.

Want a sweater that stands up to multiple wears without losing its shape? You can’t go wrong with merino wool. Or something like this heathered cotton sweater (which can also be washed in the laundry).

The Perfect Fit: Sweaters

A fabric blend like cotton-cashmere should also reliably hold its shape. It’s breathable and easy to layer, too.

The Perfect Fit: Sweaters

How about more casual-yet-still-comfortable fabrics? Lots of vintage-inspired men’s crewneck sweaters use French terry cotton. It’s soft and makes for an easy-to-layer sweater.

Think of it this way:

  • Start your sweater search with reputable menswear brands.
  • Merino wool or cotton blends will hold their shape best.

How do I layer my sweater?

Layering is a personal choice. But at the minimum, you should be able to comfortably slide something like a rugged long-sleeve henley or a V-neck T-shirt underneath. (For a visual reference, see the photo of Daniel Craig above.)

The Perfect Fit: Sweaters

That’s right, no bare chests. Let’s at least throw a shirt on under your sweater, ehh?

A thicker, more textured shirt like a classic Oxford is fair game, too.

But make sure your sweater isn’t too tight over the slightly thicker shirt.

Want to go dressier?

A crisp white dress shirt under a merino wool or cashmere sweater is a crisp and polished look.

Think of it this way:

  • Thicker, textured knits (like a classic chambray shirt) best complement thicker, textured men’s sweaters (like a rugged shawl cardigan).
  • Thinner men’s sweaters (like a cotton V-neck) look better with lightweight, subtly textured shirts (like a classic white dress shirt.)

That’s your crash course in men’s sweaters.

I hope we helped you get all the basics down.

As always, a tailored-but-not-tight fit is key. Lighter fabrics offer better breathability and layering potential. But thicker knits stand up to rougher base layers, like a shawl-collar cardigan and a rough-and-tumble chambray shirt.

Turn to stylish guys who get layering right if you need a place to start – i.e., Mr. Bond.

Either way, I think we should all aspire to be a bit more like Daniel Craig (or Bond, or both) when it comes to wearing a stylish sweater.

What are your questions about sweater fit? What’s your favorite way to layer your sweaters? Let us know in the comments!