Getting comfy in sweaters

The knits are it as sellers cater to men who need to restock the seasonal staple.

Good news for sweater-lovers: Retailers, in their rush to keep men shopping, are stocking up on the knit staples.

"It's the one thing men always feel comfortable in," said Tom Longo, owner of the Metro Men's Clothing boutique in South Philadelphia. "Not to mention, sweaters are one of the few items they can wear out and to work."

Trends this cold-weather season are all about the classics meeting the eclectic. Pullover sweaters with deep V-necks and leather patches on the elbows are really in. Shawl-neck cardigans - yes, like Mr. Rogers - are also hot for guys, as is the cozy fisherman look.

"The big chunky sweater is back," Longo said. "Guys are figuring they want to be stylish as well as comfortable."

But the main reason dudes will be getting a lot of wear out of new sweaters this winter is necessity.

Men had stopped spending money on apparel, especially in the last five years, said Candace Corlett, president of Strategic Retail, a New York-based shopping and retail consultancy. Some of it had to do with their disdain for the task, but a lot of it was related to the economy, Corlett said.

Now, the staples are worn out, so men have started shopping, shopping, shopping - even more than women - to replace the basics. According to NPD Market Research, total men's apparel sales are up 5.7 percent: from $50.6 billion from September 2009 through August 2010 to $53.4 billion in the comparable period ending in August this year.

Sweater and vest sales were tracking upward in that period too, jumping 11.7 percent: from $1.136 billion to $1.269 billion.

"Men are finding themselves needing to shop now," Corlett said. "But the other part of the story is that they are choosing much more interesting things than they did in the past because now they have permission to wear bright, fun colors and interesting patterns."

Hence the decision of snazzier urban labels such as Ben Sherman, Penguin, and Scotch & Soda to mix classic masculine shades - navy blue, forest green, burgundy - with pops of color such as sea-foam blue, yellow, and pink. These untraditional shades still leave guys looking manly.

Whatever hue a man chooses, fit is the most important part of getting the right look.

Sweaters may hide a multitude of sins - namely the beer belly - but that shouldn't drive men to err on the side of oversized. Guys, Longo said, should opt for slim fits in their actual size. Even if slim fits seem tight (read: scary).

Another tip: Make sure said sweater is not so long it must be folded up at the bottom. Tacky!

Your sweater should not go all the way down to the crotch; it should stop just at the belt line.

"That 'trick' doesn't hide your gut," Longo said. "It only makes you look like a slob."

Got that?


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704,, or @ewellingtonphl on Twitter.