Fashion

How to Look Chic in a Sweater: A Guide to Choosing the Best Fabrics, Colors and Styles

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Once the holidays are over and I’ve lost all reason to dress festively, I pretty much live in cozy sweaters. I mean, really, is there anything more cozy than an over-sized sweater and perfectly broken-in jeans?

When it comes to wearing sweaters, there is a very fine line between looking chic and looking frumpy. To make sure you always look pulled-together when wrapped up in your coziest knit, I’ve put together a quick guide to choosing the best fabrics, colors and styles.

Fabric

It’s worth paying a little more to get sweaters in quality fabrics like cashmere, wool and cotton. Not only will they look better, they will also last longer and are typically a bit more environmentally friendly than their synthetic counterparts.

Cashmere is made from the undercoat of goats and is typically touted as the cream of the crop because the fibers are very fine and soft. Mohair wool is the long silky hair of the Angora goat (not to be confused with Angora wool, which actually comes from Angora rabbits). Sheep’s wool is classified according to the diameter of the wool fiber- the smaller the diameter, the softer the wool. For example, merino wool is on the small (fine) and therefore soft end of the spectrum, while the thickest (coarsest) fibers are reserved for rugs and other non-clothing uses because they lack softness. So if you’ve ever wondered how merino wool was different from “regular” wool, now you know! It’s basically just skinny wool. (Fun fact: while researching this post I learned that the highest quality wool comes from sheep that are raised specifically for their wool. Sheep that are raised for their meat tend to make wool that is much coarser and less soft, which makes it undesirable for clothing).

What does all of this mean for sweaters? Cashmere will typically be the softest, while sheep’s wool is generally the best at retaining warmth. Mohair wool is soft and silky to the touch, has a bit of a luster to it, and is surprisingly durable. You will usually find it mixed with sheep’s wool because the mohair fibers are so smooth that the strands don’t stick together very well. Merino wool is an excellent choice because it is generally softer and less itchy than thicker wool (though not as warm), and it’s less prone to pilling than other fabrics. Just make sure to choose a merino wool that isn’t too thin- a see-through sweater definitely does not look expensive! Cotton isn’t as warm as wool or as soft as cashmere, but it’s easy to care for and is usually fairly affordable. Linen and silk blends are also good, expensive-looking choices. Avoid fabrics like rayon, acrylic, acetate, viscose (which is just another name for rayon), some polyesters, and other synthetic materials which tend to pill easily, deteriorate quickly and just generally look cheap.

Color

Neutral colors not only tend to look nicer and more expensive, but they will also be extremely versatile in your wardrobe. I’d be lying if I said a hot pink cashmere v-neck isn’t on my wish list, but, if I’m going to spend the money to get a quality sweater, I’d rather get one that I can wear with most of the other things in my closet. Your best bets are sweaters in black, gray, tan, brown, navy, white and cream. I also love classic navy and white or cream stripes.

Style

While bell sleeves and off-shoulder styles are all the rage right now, my recommendation is to stick to classic styles like plain, understated crews, cardigans, turtlenecks and v-necks. V-necks are universally flattering and can help you look longer and leaner, while turtlenecks and crew necks make your bust appear larger. I’m not saying there isn’t a place in your wardrobe for trendy pieces, but, if the goal is to look expensive and effortlessly chic, a classic v-neck will always win over a trendy, off-shoulder, ruffle-sleeved number.

Some of the best places/brands to shop for sweaters that meet all of these criteria are Everlane, Aritzia, Ayr and Grana. You can also find great wool and cashmere sweaters at more affordable prices at Uniqlo, J.Crew, H&M and Nordstrom.

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