Jeremy Langmead: How To Nail Knitwear

Our resident style columnist on how to stop sweating over sweaters this winter

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’Tis the season of chunky knits.

And there are some mighty fine offerings out there this winter: triple-ply cashmere pullies, cable-knit cardies and voluminous crew necks in mohair and angora. But as much as you want to touch them, snuggle up in them, and rub them all over your naked body (oops, don’t know where that came from), there’s a big problem with chunky knits. An inherent problem, really – and it’s that chunky knits make the wearer look, well, chunky. In fact, whatever your waistline, however minor or momentous your moobs, most of the covetable knitwear at the moment will make you look like a great big fatty boom-boom.

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I recently fell in love with a striped cashmere cable-knit cardigan from Dunhill. I stared longingly at it on screen for weeks and weeks. But when I eventually ventured in-store and tried it on, tragedy struck. Instead of David Gandy, I looked like John Candy, or an obese Dennis the Menace. And I’m a 32in waist and 38in chest. I can’t work out who the guys are who are able to wear these gargantuan items of knitwear and not look like someone peering forlornly out of a beer barrel.

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The other knitwear trend I’ve tried to embrace, with little success, is the polo neck. In theory, these are a marvellous idea: they keep your neck warm, worn with a jacket render a tie unnecessary and have a healthy hint of Seventies Bond villain. The reality: they make your head look like a rather-surprised boiled egg. And, if you’ve got sensitive skin like me, an uncontrollably itchy neck.

My final knit pick of the season is the woollen beanie. Why does nearly everyone but me look good in these? I’ve tried wearing a big baggy one that hangs off the back of my head, a tight ribbed one that fits snugly, and something in between the two. But no. Whatever I do, I end up looking like an unattractive extra from Fargo. I was relaying this problem to my ex-wife who kindly and succinctly solved the problem: “You’re too old.” Awkward.

So, if you want to wear something warm on your torso or your head and, like me, you’re a couple or so years older than Justin Bieber, what’s the smart and stylish solution?

I think the trusty old V-neck doesn’t get as much of a look-in as it deserves. The V-neck had some bad press a decade or so ago and it has taken a while to recover. Some think V-necks are an item only dads wear to match their Farah slacks (they are); others are still reeling from the memory of Michael Douglas wearing a V-neck with nothing underneath, while throwing a few uncomfortable moves on the dance floor with Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Ewww.

But, worn well, a V-neck will add a layer of colour into an outfit; fit snugly under a blazer and negate the need for an overcoat. And, if you pop over to Milan, you will see how well the Italian men carry them off: not too baggy, made from cashmere or merino wool, in either a delicate pale blue or lilac, or a chic grey or camel. My favourite combination is a crisp, pale blue cotton shirt (Brioni this autumn) worn under a school-grey merino wool V-neck (John Smedley) with a navy wool sack blazer (Boglioli). Yum.

Talking of yum: please note that if you get one that fits well, it can be far more forgiving regards festive lumps and bumps than just a shirt can.

If I’ve not convinced you that a V-neck isn’t boring, the shawl neck is a stylish alternative. These look pleasing worn over a button-down Oxford shirt, or a plain white T-shirt for the weekend. If you pick the right one – especially a cardigan – it can look smart enough to wear with a tie to the office. John Smedley does a neat silver-grey cashmere/merino wool version, while Burberry London offers a good navy one.

If all else fails, there’s one item of fashionable knitwear that fits and suits everyone: the trusty scarf. My friend Bobby, who looks marvellously like Uncle Monty from Withnail and I, has the most extraordinary collection of vividly coloured and patterned scarves. And he looks wonderful in them. He’s living proof that, in fact, you can have your cake and eat it. I take my beanie off to him.

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