When you hear the term knitwear, you’re most likely to associate it with colder months — especially if you’re from the Northern hemisphere. However, knitwear designed for summer is most certainly something to consider — be it locally and abroad. Rikesh Chauhan navigates the what, why and how to for all things summer knitwear.
Given that knitwear is such a staple for those of us hailing from the United Kingdom, as well as in Europe where the temperatures plummet as soon as the clocks move back, you’d be forgiven for thinking that knitwear designed especially for summer months was somewhat of an alien concept.
The sheer variety of fabrics, styles and designs, plus production technology now available to us has meant that more and more categories of clothing not only get introduced, but quickly become mainstays — just look at how well the sartorial world has taken to tailored trousers with elastic waistbands. Summer knitwear, whilst perhaps not as new or groundbreaking, is no exception.
Knitwear has such a long history, with uses throughout pretty much every part of the world, that its origins remain relatively ambiguous. The process of knitting that we know today was said to have potentially originated from the Middle East, before being introduced to Europe and beyond through various trade routes.
One of the earliest ‘knitted’ garments discovered was produced in Ancient Egypt between the 3rd and 5th Century AD (a pair of socks, in case you were wondering). Certainly in those times and the subsequent years that followed, garments were created from coarser fabrics to primarily protect against the extremely harsh elements, and lack of heating or electricity.
Knitting techniques would continue to develop throughout the world, with a wider array of clothing being created and catered as needs must. Fast-forward to today and in London, you’re likely to see knitwear adorned throughout the autumn, into winter and finally lighter layers during the spring.
In fact, layering is the key word here when looking to incorporate knitwear into your ensembles for colder weather, but how does it work in the heat? And why would you even consider knitted items for hotter climes? Well, let’s break this down through fabrics, styles, and follow by how to implement them into your summer wardrobe.
Wool, oddly, can be a remarkable fabric for the summer — just ask our style consiglieri Chris Modoo — you just need to ditch the classic connotations of the fabric. Wool isn’t always heavy in weight, nor should it always be coarse, thick or warming. The lighter and looser the weave, plus the fineness of the cloth itself can in fact provide you with a garment that not only acclimates but will even keep you cool. Merino wool specifically is your best bet here.
The Woolmark Company — a global authority on wool — describes Merino wool, and specifically Australian Merino wool, as “the finest and softest in the world. Its natural benefits are so great that no other fibre – natural or man-made – can match it.” Fine micron Merino wool carries so many incredible properties, making it the most desirable commodity for summer wear. You’ll often find Merino wool used commonly for pullovers and polos, the latter of which we’ll touch on first.
Polo shirts were first introduced, as you may have guessed by the name, during polo games played in British India circa mid-1800s. The shirts were worn by riders and made using thick and generally cumbersome Oxford cotton cloth. As with the development of the Oxford cotton button down and the tennis shirt, the polo slowly developed over time to allow for greater movement and comfort. The fabrics would become more lightweight and breathable, ensuring that it served its purpose.
The updated polo shirt grew in popularity during the 1920s through René Lacoste and Brooks Brothers, before a certain designer named Ralph Lauren embraced its style properties and the rest became history. Whilst the classic short-sleeved cotton polo shirt is still very much popular by today’s standards, by opting for a knitted wool or a blended iteration instead (think wool-cashmere-linen mix), you’ve significantly upped the style stakes.
Just look at the two examples below of Sergio Guardí and Vladica Andelkovic. Both shirts have a similar silhouette to the polo (same half-placket, whilst Guardí has annexed buttons for an open collar), but the cloth and weave provides a beautiful shift in texture and the deep colours make them both incredibly stylish, and dare I say rakish when paired with summer tailoring. Bryan Ferry eat your heart out.
As with pullovers, Merino wool gives polo shirts a beautiful handle to ensure you have a great addition to your wardrobe staples. However, that doesn’t mean cotton isn’t a steady option for warm weather. In fact, Egyptian cotton is one of the best fabrics that one could use — and is often the go-to fabric for summer and business shirting. So versatile is this fabric, that Rampley & Co. will be introducing some incredible Piuma Egyptian cotton long-sleeve crew neck pullovers in classic colours including blue and navy, dark and light brown. Naturally, a long-sleeve pullover will provide a touch more warmth than a short-sleeve polo, but that needn’t throw you off. Their new polos come in ecru, light grey, maroon and navy using extra fine Merino wool. All in all there’s plenty to look forward to, so watch this space.
One of my favourite summer knitwear pieces is the vest — be it buttoned or a pullover. It’s the perfect stop-gap between seasons, and is incredibly — yes, I’m using the word again — versatile. The vest can provide the perfect solution when you need a layer in the evening once the temperature drops, be it over a linen or cotton shirt. A well-proportioned vest will work wonderfully as a standalone piece to replace a jacket on a warmer day, and can also provide a beautiful addition to your overall aesthetic.
Another great thing about summer knitwear is the variety of colours on offer. I’ve always loved wearing a muted, classic coloured outfit (think browns, navys, greys) and pairing it with a slightly punchier vest. Two great examples can be seen below. They’re bold but the rest of the ensemble provides a lovely balance to the overall aesthetic. Navy and yellow are such wonderful colours to put together, and if it’s good enough for Yukio Akamine, it’s good enough for us.
The beauty of the polo and pullover stems from the fact that they’re probably the easiest of pieces to style. When summer comes into town, simply pair it with tailored linen trousers, or shorts for that matter, and either summer loafers or sandals. You can play around with different colours and find the ideal combinations for the city, or the Riviera.
In addition to colour, texture is also a great asset for creating a beautiful ensemble. Take, for example, Richard Biedul’s two looks below. For the first, he’s paired a soft pink (or salmon, perhaps) vintage knitted short-sleeve polo with tobacco brown linen trousers. Even from a distance, you can pick up on the texture differences between the weave of the top and the fabric of the trousers. And note again the simplicity of it all — he’s completed the look with brown loafers and that’s it. Nothing else is required.
The second look is completely different but follows the same principle. This time, the knitted pullover has a significantly larger, more open weave, is long-sleeved and has an open collar. The striped pattern and texture clash make it a statement piece certainly, so there’s not much else you need to do to complete the look.
Keep the trousers simple, in a tonal colour-way. No nonsense, no fuss. Also, remember what I said about the elasticated waistband earlier? These knits could work either tucked in, or if the hems are ribbed and the knit isn’t too long, then wear it over the trousers.
These pieces shouldn’t be worn with any layers underneath either – so basically, no t-shirt. They should sit plush against the skin, as that way you have a more elegant fit and you won’t overheat. In some cases, light layering over the top will do the job and it’s often more interesting in terms of experimenting with your style.
One of the most immaculately put together people you’re ever likely to meet is Chris Modoo. Seen below, he’s worn a soft blue crew neck pullover and turned it into a great centre garment by pairing it with a tonal neckerchief and linen safari jacket.
It’s a great outfit, especially for when it’s not too hot and you need to accommodate for the whole day. Wearing shorts and a plain t-shirt would be fine for day time, but when those cool summer evenings take effect, you’ll be wishing you had a layer or two at hand. From intricate looks to the art of simplicity, Anton wears a high neck pullover with navy trousers, and when something fits you as well as this does, you needn’t do more.
Cardigans, for no particular rhyme or reason, have always been a bit hit or miss in the menswear landscape. Get it wrong, and you’ll look older than your years (and not in a good way), but get it correct and you’ll be wondering why you waited so long to include a few in your sartorial arsenal.
Due to the nature of styles available when it comes to vintage and contemporary cardigans, you want to avoid patterns and colours that are quite dull and grandad-esqe. Opting for more fitting, svelte silhouettes, in solids or subtle patterns can help bring a casual look together, whilst retaining a certain well-kempt nature. You could go for a ribbed collar cardigan with a classic placket, or more of a shirt-styled design to keep things a bit more interesting. Either way, having one contrasting layer underneath will help it sit well — such as the denim shirt under the cream cardigan, or the white t-shirt under the dark striped cardigan showcased below.
A looser fit is generally acceptable here, provided you don’t end up with a lot of excess cloth which can be unflattering and make you come across as moderately dishevelled. Whichever knitted garment you so choose to implement into your wardrobe, the key things to remember are that it should always be a shape and length that flatters, in a fabric that isn’t too heavy, and a quality that can stand up to the test of time.
As summer knits are often lightweight and fine (if not extra-fine), maintenance is of the utmost importance. Like cashmere, you should always fold – never hang – your knitted garments. Keep them situated in a drawer away from the elements (or moths for that matter) and follow washing instructions to the T. Keep these things in mind, and the rest will fall into place.