A bulky, ill-fitting and scratchy affair tarted up with reindeer, snowflakes or sleds, it’s value as Christmas kitsch inversely proportional to its usefulness in a modern world that enjoys central heating. However unwieldy or unwelcome the seasonal sweater may be, it continues to survive through sheer force of tradition, like fruitcake. Also like fruitcake, it’s artisanal value has been co-opted by capitalism. Fruitcakes every bit as wretched as Auntie Gloria’s are readily available at Costco, as are tacky, Grandma-style holiday sweaters. Often they can both be found in the same aisle.
We believe the festive season should celebrate the warmth of family and friends, not lead to a burning sense of shame. Here, sweater options that will see you through to New Year’s (and beyond) in style.
No single garment for men is more evocative of the holidays than the cardigan. From Bing belting out “The Little Drummer Boy” with Bowie, to your gramps sitting in his chair and sucking on a Werther’s, cardigans make everything seem quaint and homey in that Norman Rockwell way.
Brunello Cucinelli’s multi-flecked model ($2,295 from Harry Rosen) is on the high side of our budget, but it is handmade in a historic Italian village (by actual wood sprites untouched by the debt crisis, no doubt). For a younger update on the cardi, look no further than a shawl collar sweater like Banana Republic’s less sticker-shocky Italian lambswool sweater ($160, pictured).
Bill Cosby took the lowly sweater to vertigo-inducing heights in the 1980s and ‘90s. Even outside of the holidays, the Cos’ penchant for ebullient colours and dizzying patterns was the stuff of legend. Now, irony-loving hipsters have reclaimed the TV dad’s wardrobe malfunctions as their own. (How else to explain some of the “jumpers” in British knitwear designer James Long’s new collection for Topman?)
Unfortunately, this particular piece that looks like it was knotted together by epileptic mental patients is only available in the U.K. — pity.
The king of wool. Soft, warm, thin. Giving and getting cashmere says, “I like you and am willing to spend considerable sums to prove it.” It also tends to trump all other knits when it comes to saying “sorry grandma, I can’t put on this lovely mint green elf sweater you made for me with your failing eyesight. I’m wearing cashmere.” As an added bonus, cashmere sweaters tend to come in solid colours or bright argyles — no wreaths or Santa puppies on luxury goods.
Holt Renfrew carries three reasonably priced styles this season: a cardigan ($275), zip-up ($260) and crew neck ($240). If you want the feel of cashmere without the feeling of a light wallet, Joe Fresh has returned for a second year with its house line of cashmere sweaters for a mere $99 (pictured). Use the savings on an extra bottle of bourbon to spike the egg nog.
That stalwart of the swinging ‘70s is back with a vengeance. Yes, the turtleneck. Whether worn lumberjack style under a flannel plaid shirt or in a jaunty après ski fashion that hints at your depth and refinement, recall the words of Neal from Freaks and Geeks: “Everyone looks cool in turtlenecks.”
For longevity’s sake, you might want to invest in a basic colour, like grey or black; cranberry can get old very fast. For an affordable, everyday layering piece, we recommend something like PYA’s basic heathered wool turtleneck from Harry Rosen ($175, pictured) or, for something a bit more luxurious, get one in cashmere by Michael Kors ($595). Of course, for some, a turtleneck’s snug fit is uncomfortable. For a similar but slightly more relaxed look, try a rolled neck sweater like this black boater from Joe Fresh ($39).