What would winter be without sweaters? A lot colder for one thing. Along with the myriad choices of patterns and colors they are available in, sweaters come in a range of fabrics with different properties, so you always want to read the label for fabric content. Following is a quick rundown of sweater fabrics to help you determine which kind will best suit your needs.
Everybody loves cotton. A cotton sweater can feel so comfortably light and breathable – perfect for spring, early fall or beachside nights. However, for cold winter weather, cotton serves best as an optional layer of insulation such as a turtleneck or even long underwear than for warmth in and of itself. If you do get a cotton sweater in winter, hopefully it means you’re using it for resort wear somewhere balmy.
While it may not be the warmest wool of all, merino is among the finest and softest varieties of sheep’s wool. Merino is fine enough to feel good directly next to your skin, and makes for a fairly lightweight, sufficiently warm layer over a button-down or T-shirt. It’s hard to go wrong with Merino for comfort, quality and price. Every man should own at least one merino pullover or cardigan. A merino vest can also prove an excellent insulating layer, notably with a suit.
Cable-knit wool can pack as much warmth as it can style. Just make sure the label says 100% wool or it may provide more bulk than warmth. It’s not something you want to layer under anything other than a coat or jacket, but looks great over a button-down shirt or a fine knit, and is especially classic under a pea coat or a tweedy blazer with elbow patches. A shawl-collar cable-knit over a shirt and tie will keep you warm and looking smart on the dreariest of winter days.
Sourced from the fine hair of the cashmere goat, cashmere is the gold standard of sweaters. Warm, soft, ultra-light, comfortable - and yes, expensive - it’s worth having a cashmere sweater even if just for traveling, as it can provide as much warmth as a sweater of twice the bulk. In fact, cashmere sweaters are available in single, double and even triple-knit, thereby multiplying the warmth factor without adding much volume. Even it’s too warm to actually wear it, many stylish gentlemen often simply knot their cashmere sweater over the shoulders for sheer chic.
Rarer and finer than even cashmere, vicuna is the finest and warmest natural fabric in the world. And the most expensive. Named for the llama-like animal native to the Andes Mountains, the vicuna’s fine coat is warm enough for it to live in frigid mountain altitudes. The species’ endangered and highly protected status require that the fur be responsibly harvested under utmost control, making it incredibly expensive. Even a vicuna scarf costs about $4,000, so you can imagine what a sweater will run you. If you’re able to afford a vicuna sweater, you likely won’t have to worry about being cold at any attitude. And if someone gives you one, hang on to them for added warmth.
Although acrylic fabric is a synthetic in the plastics family, it breaks down relatively easily, which is good news for the environmentally minded. It can serve as a suitable wool substitute, with acrylic knits being quite soft and lightweight. In fact, acrylic faux cashmere can be even softer than the real thing. Acrylics are often woven together with natural fibers for added strength and durability. Asides from being comparable to wool in warmth, acrylic holds color well, and is stain and wrinkle resistant. It’s also a great option for those who are allergic to wool. Sweater designers love acrylic because of the freedom it allows in color and pattern. And while an acrylic sweater can be incredibly cheap, a designer one can be as expensive as one from a four-legged creature.
So there you have it. Now go get yourself a new sweater – just not an ugly Christmas one – and no belts!