One Thing: Cashmere Crewneck Sweater

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As the holiday season ratchets into full swing, my wife usually asks for my wish list. We both understand that in my case this particular list is really more of a lifetime To-Do list than a “what I want for Christmas this year” list. I have things on there like “Rolex Submariner” and “Interview Ralph Lauren for the blog”; not exactly presents to whip together in a few weeks. There are however several items that I see as luxuries within reason.

This led me to come up with a list of items that I think every man should have. Some are more extravagant than others, but each is classic and useful. I will be profiling each item over the next few weeks. For my first “One Thing” I chose the cashmere crewneck sweater.

The crewneck sweater (jumpers) is a classic staple of men’s wardrobes everywhere. They can work with almost any outfit and be easily paired with jeans or grey flannels. A good crewneck should have a lightly fitted body and trim arms, but not too tight. The hem of the sweater should sit at your waist with room to allow for sitting, stretching etc., but should not blouse over the ribbed bottom. This is always an unattractive sight and gives the impression that you are either carrying a week’s worth of extra lunches around your waist or you borrowed someone else’s sweater. Neither impression is a good one.

It should fit comfortably over an oxford shirt yet still allow for easy movement while still maintaining a close fit. I like my sweater’s arms to either run a touch long so that I can turn back a good amount of cuff or end right at the wrist and allow some shirt sleeve to show. Anything in between tends to look out of proportion.

The neck is an area that merits additional attention. Some makers have neck lines that appear designed to strangle anyone foolish enough to try and stick through their head, while others seem to feel that wide gaping holes are somehow attractive. The ideal is a neck that allows the collar of your shirt to sit comfortably within, while the sweater itself offers a clean, firm neck hole that won’t easily lose its shape. I guess the best way to put it is that when viewed from any angle, your head should not appear constrained.

Regarding fabrics, merino is an excellent material but cashmere is really the gold standard. One or two-ply is more than enough for the average office dweller. Three-ply cashmere sweaters are often hawked this time of year, but don’t fall for it. Pictures of handsome people frolicking in chilly New England autumns do you no good while you are sweating up a storm in your climate controlled office building – every day.

When it comes to looks, there are several different styles of crewnecks; from simple to elaborate. After mulling this over for literally a decade, I have concluded that there are only two really useful styles: flat knit and cabled in solid colors.

A few years ago, during an after-Christmas sale, I came across this beautiful, chunky, heavy lamb’s wool Irish fisherman style sweater. It was a steal, and I bought it. I quickly realized that I couldn’t wear the thing anywhere except outside on a cold day. It weighed a ton and trapped too much heat. The upshot? Unless you actually are an Irish fisherman or work outside, give this heavy work style sweater a pass.

A thinner cabled sweater is a much better choice and simply more usable. You can find them in every color under the sun; from preppy primaries to English heathers. The same goes for flat knit sweaters. They are incredibly versatile and mix well with different materials. Flat knits in particular are good to have around because they can act as a grownup sweatshirt and adapt well to layering.

So there you have my first “One Thing” recommendation. Stay tuned for more.


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Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice