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Somehow, someway, the sweater vest has become a fashion must-have for fall 2021. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. The sweater vest has moved from something hidden in the background or worn by sad life insurance agents onto fashion runways back in 2018. It’s morphed from something worn by TV and movie chumps, the occasional golfer and boomers who want to relive their prep school youth into high-end knitted works of art to toss on.
Not only has the sweater vest made more appearances on the runway (2019 and fall 2021 shows), but now you’ve also got Harry Styles wearing those outsized knitted doilies (mostly Gucci) as well as Half of BTS, Tyler, The Creator, and others who you thought were too hip to wear them. Arguably, the last time a sweater vest was an object of desire was in the 90s when Brad Pitt wore one out on a date with Gwyneth Paltrow. Speaking of the 90s, Fashion designer Maryam Nassir, who’s created men’s knitted vests last summer and again for this fall, went on the record with Max Berlinger of the New York Times about the return of the sleeveless sweater.
“It has that sort of punk 90s thing … it looks very fresh.” Punk? Fresh? Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen photos of, oh, say, Suicidal Tendencies, Green Day or OG’s like The Ramones or Black Flag wearing sweater vests looking “fresh.” However, the idea of Henry Rollins wearing a sweater vest is strangely giggle-inducing.
Before that famous Brand Pitt photo, sweater vests, specifically Fair Isle knits, were seen either in Monty Python skits, worn by certain members of the UK’s royal family or period dramas.
Yet, they’re back. When you’re doing some online window shopping for fall clothes, you’ll see these sleeveless items in almost every price range. Perhaps it’s due to the rise of the cottagecore trend, bored fashion people trying to come up with something creative or all of us being stuck at home for over a year, or maybe a bit of all those factors mashed into one thing. Whatever it is, to some people, the sweater vest is one of fall’s most influential IT items … and they’re even saying it’s going to be a “must-have” for next spring too! This surge in popularity is highly ironic considering that it’s an item they wouldn’t be caught dead in a few years ago to many.
To a particular segment of the male population — college professors, mental health professionals, vintage clothing enthusiasts, old people — the sweater vest has always been and always will be a fashion essential.
Hermes, Prada, Saint Laurent, Wales Bonner, Etro; The list of designers creating sweater vests goes on, and it’s vast. There are sweater vests with oversized shoulders, sweater vests with crests, and sweater vests laced up or open at the sides — positively medieval. One last weird thing about the sweater vest; the higher the price ticket, the more flouncy the name tends to become. Sweater vest becomes sleeveless pullover becomes gilet; you get the point.
How to wear a sweater vest
If you’re thinking of trying out the sweater vest this fall, there are a couple of easy, stylish ways you can try them out. Take a cue from BTS, and wear one over a slightly outsized white T-shirt and jeans or paired with either complementary and contrasting colored shirts. To make the look less fussy, roll up the sleeves and wear the shirt untucked. Some fashion editorials and ads feature sweater vests worn on their own, layered under blazers, or if the weather allows, try it instead of a tank top.
So, in case you’re feeling daring, or want to look like a royal, we rounded up our picks for the 13 best sweater vests for you to try on this season.
1. Todd Snyder Reversible Sweater Vest in Tobacco
Todd Snyder knows how to update classic styles, knock out the cobwebs and turn them into sophisticated, modern clothes for guys. His reversible sweater vest in earth tones uses 7-gauge merino wool that’s so soft it feels like cashmere. Try it with chinos and lace-up boots for fall.
2. Gucci Green Argyle Knit Sweater
BEST DESIGNER SPLURGE
3. Marni Geometric Knitted Vest
Marni takes the sweater vest and turns it into eye candy. The aqua and mustard geometric print sweater vest takes its cue from Grand Dad style and the 60s thanks to its modern oversized cut and aqua ribbed trim.
4. SHEIN Men Slogan Pattern Sweater Vest
BEST HIGH-END LOOKING
You can always count on SHEIN serving up menswear and home decor that looks way more expensive than it is, and everything is always on-trend. If you’re not in the mood to spend money on a designer sweater vest, the next best thing to do is to snag one that looks like it. This oversized sweater vest has the trendy oversized silhouette that’s big in the knitwear world. You could easily wear this cotton-blend sweater vest with a simple tee and joggers.
5. Y-3 Camouflage Intarsia Textured Knit Sweater Vest
THE CAMOUFLAGE CAMOUFLAGE
6. Wales Bonner Brixton Striped Sweater Vest
BEST TANK STAND-IN
This slim-cut striped vest is made from chenille, so it’s slightly fuzzy and soft. You could wear it alone or over a long sleeve tee later on.
7. Maison Margiela Grey Knit Distressed Vest
Maison Margiela specializes in tweaking designs so that they have an almost futuristic bent. This solid gray stretch wool sweater vest has pointy oversized shoulders, side seams so vented that they don’t seem to be there, and a generous cut. It’s like a mashup between a blankie, poncho, vest and a knight’s tabard.
8. Awake New York Off-White Tulip Vest
Created by ex-Supreme brand director Angelo Baque back in 2012, Awake New York has collaborated with Reebok, Moncler, Black Lives Matter and more. It designed two colorways of this floral sweater vest for guys. The purple style might have sold out in a flash, but this yellow tulip print sweater vest is still fire. It’s made from a cotton blend so that you can wear it solo. Make it edgy this winter by pairing it with a tweed blazer and cords.
9. Zanone Flexwool Slim-Fit Flexwool Vest
Italian brand Zanone used the collegiate sweater vest as a template and gave it a jolt of modernity. It used flexwool, a combination of very fine merino wool with a high-quality stretch thread. This hybrid fabric creates a sweater vest that moves with you when used in knitwear. This slim-cut sweater vest can go trendy quickly. Leave only a few of the middle buttons buttoned, and either roll up shirt sleeves or unbutton the cuffs. Try this vest with Chelsea boots and black jeans.
10. ASOS Design Knit Sweater Vest in Gingham Stripe
Fast fashion brand ASOS showcases its sweater vests as options to wear instead of a tank top. The roomy collegiate-inspired sweater vest has a V-neck and ribbed trim. The cotton and acrylic blend sweater is super easy to care for; just pop it into the wash.
11. Ralph Lauren Fair Isle Sweater Vest
British fashion designer Molly Goddard featured Fair Isle sweater vests in her menswear show, and wouldn’t you know it, we suddenly see Fair Isle everywhere. However, modern traditionalist Ralph Lauren always has some iteration of it lurking around his American-heritage-inspired fall knitwear. This wool and leather button-up sweater vest uses 15 different yarns for its patterns. It features two front pockets and can be worn with tweed pants and a jacket or over a denim shirt and off-white cords.
12. Craig Green Laced Wool Sleeveless Sweater
BEST FRESH TAKE
Designer Craig Green takes the basic sweater vest and adds a dash of S&M to it, buy exposing what’s underneath with lace-up sides. The super-long yarn is supposed to be left loose and dangle, but if you buy it, you can do whatever you want. It’s modern minimalism that’s daring.
13. Commes des Garçons Striped Sweater Vest
The soft vertical stripes are slightly reminiscent of knit tennis vests and other sports where you layered clothing on or off the court. This wool-blend sweater has a round neck and a regular cut in a color palette that couldn’t be more on-trend.