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A sampling of the author’s extensive sweater collection, from top: a silk/cashmere blend from Orvis and a lambswool sweater, ancient bulky thing and Norwegian sweater with rare red thingies from L.L. Bean. Photo by Patrick L. Sullivan

How to Navigate Sweater Weather Without Breaking a Sweat

Men’s Fashion

I have a lot of sweaters, and they all get worn under different circumstances.

First thing you need to decide: Am I going to wear a sweater under a sport coat? As a stand-alone garment, or under some type of coat?

Second thing: Do I have the physique for a thinnish, clinging sweater?

The advantages of wearing a sweater under a sport coat are numerous. It’s warmer. If you overheat, you can remove a layer. With a crewneck, you can wear a tie. With a V-neck, you can wear a tie and people can see it.

The disadvantages are obvious. Modern enlightened thought holds that the human body must be gently poached at an average inside temperature of 72 degrees in winter. It’s in the Constitution.

Therefore, when Sam the Sweater Man comes into the coffee shop after a brisk walk, he immediately breaks out in a sweat. And after he obtains his cappafrappacino with heritage whipped cream and four extra shots of caffeine extract, he steps outside again and turns into an icicle. He then concludes he has COVID-19 (delta variant) and sequesters himself inside until March. And so the long day wears on.

So let’s consider the big bulky sweater. The kind that fits under some kind of coat, if it’s snowing, or is worn as the primary outer garment, if sunny.

The classic here is the L.L. Bean Norwegian sweater. You’ve seen it a million times in its navy blue with white thingies variant. Sometimes it’s offered in different color schemes.

Or you can go with the sort of thing usually marketed as a “fisherman’s sweater.” These are generally a looser weave than the Norwegian, which can be good if you’re moving around a lot.

On the thinner side of the equation, there’s an outfit called Naadam that sells a cashmere sweater for 75 bucks. I have examined these in person. They look and feel right. The fabric tag says “100% cashmere.” It also reads “Made in China,” which is hard to avoid and is not, shall we say, a particularly robust guarantee of quality.

Since I enjoy a physique kindly described as “sturdy,” I tend to avoid the clingy cashmere. And as I often wear tweed jackets, the bulky sweater is out because they are too big to get the jacket over.

Over the years I have found a way. L.L. Bean’s washable lambswool sweaters are thick enough to smooth out the peaks and valleys of middle age, and thin enough to fit under a sport coat.

Notice I am avoiding sweaters with buttons. This is because at age 59, I am not yet ready for the Full Fred Rogers.

Availability is a problem in fall 2021. The same pandemic-related forces that caused shortages of toilet paper have also disrupted the clothing business.

Normally, in late August, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, Orvis and the other usual suspects would be promoting their fall and winter lines.

But a quick spin around the various websites reveals slim pickings in the categories mentioned above: Lots of cotton sweaters from Bean, ditto from Lands’ End (plus a cashmere number that is twice the price of the Naadam item), and a lot of sweaters designed for activities from Orvis. (Although Orvis does have a cotton/silk/cashmere blend crewneck that isn’t too clingy for the sturdy sportsman. I know this because my mother gave me one for Christmas last year.)

A notable exception to the gloomy outlook is J. Press. They have cotton/cashmere sweaters in stock, and their signature piece, the Shaggy Dog, is made of Shetland wool and is, in fact, shaggy.

So, the Great Sweater Search of 2021 will be more arduous than usual. I advise diligence, frequent scouting trips online and in person (if practical), and considering more pedestrian options such as fleeces, which aren’t much to look at but undoubtedly get the job done.

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