The Coziest Status Symbol in Luxury Menswear: Hand-Knit Sweaters
Despite being a surprisingly hot commodity, hand-knit sweaters are available from major retailers and indie stores alike.
Formerly ridiculed as the uncool gift you would receive from your grandmother at Christmas time, hand-knit sweaters are enjoying a renaissance. Ralph Lauren, Sid Mashburn, Drake's, and Standard & Strange stock them, as do independent retailers like No Man Walks Alone and Standard & Strange. Many of these garments are priced similarly to cashmere, transforming the homespun fabric into one with a subtle elasticity.
He explains that hand-knit sweaters are essentially what your grandmother might have knitted at home, but are produced on a much grander scale. Standard & Strange co-founder Jeremy Smith stocks crewneck sweaters and cardigans hand-knit in Peru for the label Indi + Ash.
“What you’re getting is basically the consistent version of a sweater that somebody knit for you themselves,” he says.
Therefore, it will have a very different character from those made by machines. Since a hand-knit sweater's fibers must be grabbed and yanked into place rather than neatly sewn up, it will naturally relax as it wears. You should size down if you are in between sizes, according to him.
They should also be gently hand-washed at home rather than being washed in a machine on its gentle cycle or in a dry cleaner's chemical bath. He washes his hand-knit sweaters once or twice per season using Woolite or even Dr. Bronner's and lays them flat to dry. It's a little more work, but a garment with a potential lifespan of decades will be easy to maintain.
“It’s a forever piece. You buy one in your 20s, and it’s still going to be valid in your 50s. It’s not as if it’s suddenly going to become less stylish,” he says.
The hand-knit sweaters offered at No Man Walks Alone come from a wide range of brands, according to Rich Report, including Frank Leder, whose crewneck sweaters are crafted by a woman in a Berlin workshop, and Kanata, whose Cowichan sweaters were popularized by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski in collaboration with Indigenous artisans on Vancouver Island.
“Garments have become so standardized and driven by cost-effective industrial manufacturing that it’s hard not to be charmed by a hand-made garment, especially one that shows the irregularities and imperfections of hand knitting as compared to a machine knit,” Greg Lellouche, founder of No Man Walks Alone, says.
A signature item of Chamula, another brand stocked by No Man Walks Alone, are hand-knit sweaters made by Native Mexicans. Yuki Matsuda, who founded the label after visiting rural Mexico in the 1990s, believes the handwork goes beyond knitting. Merino wool from a nearby river is hand-washed, spun into yarn, and then hand-dyed before finally reaching the needles for the sweaters.
“Throughout this process, there are no machines being used: everything is done by hand,” Matsuda notes. “Even in our zip-up cardigans, the zipper is woven into the cardigan, not machine-stitched.”
Matsuda says his product avoids a common pitfall of this category by gently treating the wool in order to make it non-scratchy and breathable.
In a collaboration with Chamula, Drake's has released a collection of merino wool sweaters whose traditional patterns, such as Fair Isle and cable knit, are rendered charmingly irregular through hand-knitting.
“There’s something very special about that combination of time-honed expertise, paired with the distinctively human finish of hand knitting,” Michael Hill, Drake's creative director, explains. “It’s immaculately made, but it isn’t ‘perfect’… in the best way possible.”
A sweater knit by hand is the real deal, a pure expression of craftsmanship in a world of mass production and overused words like "artisanal." Taking it one step further, Matsuda says it's art itself, and therefore above fashion.
“It is a folk art,” he says. “I think it is above trends, even if it is trending now.”
The hand-knit sweater may be framed-worthy under that definition, but it belongs in your closet not a museum.