The practicality of a sweater over the shoulders – Permanent Style

Wearing a sweater over the shoulders has a lot of negative connotations. But if you can get away with it – because of your style, of where you are, or just because of your personality – it’s incredibly practical.

This suit I wore at Pitti earlier in the year is a good example. The weather – like today in the UK – was cold in the morning and evening, but warm in the day in the sunshine. You’d feel silly carrying a coat over your arm all day, but freeze at night with just a jacket. 

The knit provides several options. Draped across the shoulders, it provides a surprising amount of warmth; if thin enough, it can be worn under the jacket; when the temperature drops, it can be tied closely around the neck, with the jacket buttoned and perhaps collar popped; and if not needed at all, it’s easier to carry in a bag than a coat. 

The difference in warmth between no knit, draped (above) and tied around the neck (below) is substantial. I had a cashmere watch cap in my bag too, as further back up. 

The look has negative connotations mainly because it’s associated with a certain upper-class elitism – with the East Coast establishment in the US, a Sloaney type in the UK. 

It’s a shame, because the look is both practical and stylish – the perfect menswear combination. It’s not only perfect for layering but provides another accessory, a colour and a texture, to play with in a tieless and hankless outfit. 

Here, the heavy cream-cashmere of my Saman Amel knit compliments the deep colour of the brown cord suit. The cream is related – but different in tone and texture – to the vintage white workshirt. Add black shoes and a black belt, and the overall look is subtle but detailed. 

You could do something similar with a cream scarf, but in some ways that would seem more unusual, not less, and wouldn’t have the same easy, relaxed feel. 

So if you like the look, how can you go about avoiding the connotations?

One easy way is to stand out less by using a darker colour – such as a charcoal here. Another is to drape the knit, rather than tying it, as I do above, though that isn’t quite as practical as having it tied. 

If you do tie it, you can do so roughly and not fuss with it – have it slightly to one side, one sleeve longer than the other and so on. Of course, this is sprezzatura, that much misunderstood term that refers to giving the impression of not trying, despite trying rather hard. 

There has also been a recent streetwear trend of tying a sweatshirt diagonally across the body, but to me this looks more artificial still, being a trend. Though it is worth noting that a sweatshirt is probably easier to wear than a luxe piece of knitwear.

Those connotations aren’t universal either. During our recent talk with Carl and Oliver at Rubato, they highlighted that in Sweden there isn’t the same association. Japan, of course, plays with these Ivy looks much more freely too. And I’m sure PS readers can let us all know how it would be seen where they are. 

Plus, it should be reaffirmed that just because something has a certain association, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Either because you like playing with the effect clothes have in that manner, or because you simply and genuinely don’t care. As we discussed recently, no one dresses entirely for themselves or entirely for others. 

Personally I’m happy to wear a sweater this way at Pitti or in Mayfair, but would feel more self-conscious about it at home. It doesn’t pass my so-called ‘bus-stop test’. 

If I did do it locally, it would more likely be with a sweatshirt or a dark knit – and I would do so largely because it is so damned practical. I do enjoy it holiday, with a cotton knit usually. There’s a very particular pleasure in wearing a piece of knitwear over the shoulders with linen trousers in the evening. 

The suit here is my brown corduroy, made unusually in two halves: jacket by Ciardi, and then later when I decided trousers would be good too, trousers by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury. 

The shirt is a vintage work shirt from Stock Vintage in New York. It’s delightfully battered, and has a good collar (essential for wearing something vintage with tailoring). I like the way the soft grey colour that it has become looks more casual than white. 

The belt is alligator from Rubato, the shoes my tassels in cordovan from Edward Green (also a practical travelling/weather choice). 

The bag is my faithful old tote from Frank Clegg, which adds a nice touch of rich colour to the ensemble. And on an subsequent day when cold was less of a concern, I wore an old Polo pink-cotton cap instead of the cashmere PS Watch Cap (above). That was a nice touch of colour too. 

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