Shawl collar cardigan is one of the garments in men’s wardrobe that is appropriate around the year. However fall is maybe the most obvious season to wear one. The circular line of the shawl collar nicely frames the face and protects the neck. And the body of the knit keeps you comfortable and warm.
As the fall is really here it is good time to update the write-up regarding this iconic piece. The update is also timely because a couple of months ago I got myself a new shawl collar cardigan. And it seems that my personal search for the right piece has come to an end.
How to wear a shawl collar cardigan?
In general shawl collar cardigan is an easy piece to combine. First of all you can use it with jeans or chinos and a t-shirt. Or you can wear it as a “replacement” for a sport coat with grey flannel trousers, a dress shirt and a tie. Once again versatility is the key when we talk about shawl collar cardigans. The cardigan can stand in when a sport coat would be a little too formal choice. It is also an easy on-and-off layer for those days when you’re moving between indoors and outdoors. And there ain’t many body types a shawl collar cardigan would not look good on.
If you are looking for a shawl collar cardigan there are however few things to consider. If you search something that will work as a jacket or sport coat-replacement, try to find a slimmer and more fitted model. In case you want something to wear only with your t-shirt and denim, look for options that are more slouchy and even a bit oversized. Also pay attention to the collar. It should rather be of a substantial size and roll nicely through the collar. Best option is naturally a piece which would combine all these elements.
Three simple ways to wear a shawl collar cardigan:
- Dark blue cardigan, light colored denim, white oxford cloth button-down shirt and white classic canvas sneakers
- Light gray cardigan, olive green cotton trousers, blue striped button-up shirt and brown suede chukka boots
- Burgundy cardigan, gray flannel trousers, white shirt, gray wool tie and brown calf leather toe-cap derby shoes
Where to find a decent shawl collar sweater?
In general shawl collar cardigans are really not that hard to find. Almost every brand and manufacturer have some kind of a version of their own available. Finding just the right one featuring the right price tag can be difficult though. I searched mine for years. I had a couple pieces in mind for a long time, but I never pulled the trigger on those. I’ve tried many on me, but either the fit, aesthetics or the price has been off on that moment.
The variation regarding the price range when looking for a shawl collar cardigan can be substantial. As always, the good (best) ones usually cost money. It is a fact. But even if you could not afford them, they’re nice to look at every now and then. And you can find inspiration through them. Most of the best and most expensive ones are usually knitted in Scotland. And they are made from multi-ply wool, cashmere, lambswool, or camelhair yarns.
What multi-ply means is that multiple plies are twisted together to form a thicker, stronger yarn. This gives the sweater more warmth and durability. The yarns are also usually made from longer animal fibers. This means there are fewer weak points that can break and result in pilling. Finally, the weaves tend to be denser and tighter. This helps to ensure that the sweater will keep its shape for years to come. The result, while expensive, is something that’s incredibly chunky, plush and warm. In the end you will feel the quality (and the reason you have paid for it) when you put one of these on to you on a chilly morning. Time after time.
Alpa shawl collar cardigan
And then to the reason why I wanted to update this post. As mentioned above, a while ago I got myself a new shawl collar cardigan. It was a gift by a friend of mine Lauri, who is one of the partners of a new Finnish knitwear brand Alpa.
Alpa started by making knitwear for women but now they are producing garments for men as well. As Lauri offered me a chance to try out their new shawl collar cardigan, I got enthusiastic. And not only because of the fact that there seems to be a new respectable and promising Finnish player on the knitwear market. After the discussions we had and what I had read from the tyylit.fi-forum where Lauri described their development process of this piece, I got my hopes quite high. According to their own words the process took nine months before they had a sample piece they were satisfied. And finally in this month they got it to their store and available for customers.
Alpaca wool cardigan
As the name of company suggests, all of the products are made of Alpaca wool. The shawl collar cardigan is made of 100% 4-ply fine special alpaca wool. And the collar of the cardigan is actually made of 6-ply wool. It is heavy and it is quite chunky as well. But as you can see from the pictures, it is still quite fitted and slim.
The cardigan is available in three different colors. I chose the navy blue as it is the one that is in my opinion the easiest to wear with different kind of garments. And in terms of knitwear the dark blue also suits me better than burgundy or the dark gray. The Alpaca wool comes from Andean Mountains and the cardigans are made responsibly in Lithuania with modern knitting techniques and machines.
I have now used the cardigan for a couple of months and so far I am pleased. So far I have used it for more casual occasions. I have worn it at home, for quick grocery store visits but also for traveling. And I have used it a couple of times at the office as well, combined with jeans and a button-up shirt. In fact I’ve been a bit surprised that I have used more than I thought in the first place.
Classic and versatile choice
If I had to describe the Alpa cardigan very shortly, I would say that it is classic and simple. The design is in fact pretty understated. It is not as chunky and big as for example the classic pieces by Drake’s London or O’Connels. But the weight and thickness separates the cardigan from many other options on the market. And in fact the combination of quite heavy weight, thickness and yet quite fitted shape makes the cardigan more versatile than most others.
I mentioned already that I used to search for the right cardigan for years without purchasing one. One reason for this is the fact that even though I think that shawl collar cardigan is a classic piece every man should have, it is not a corner stone of my own style. A good example of this is that I would very rarely replace the sport coat with a cardigan. But still I think that Alpa has done a very good job in creating a piece that is in fact formal enough to be used as that kind of a replacement but at the same time casual and totally appropriate to wear with denim and a t-shirt.
As you can see from the pics, you can wear the Alpa cardigan in quite different kind of combinations. One of my personal favorites is actually the one below. The cardigan paired with a simple t-shirt and pleated suit trousers. The most common ensemble I tend to come up almost every weekend however, is to pair the cardigan with light colored denim and a casual oxford or a denim shirt.
The Alpa cardigan in a nutshell
A shawl collar cardigan is actually a piece you look for to have for years. And as it in my opinion is a staple in a man’s wardrobe, I recommend to look for a cardigan that is classic and will stand time. Based on first impressions, Alpa cardigan checks these boxes.
In terms of fit I am not the best point of reference. But first of all it is good to point out that the saddle shoulders help the cardigan to fit you better despite the build of your upper body. And naturally if you have broad shoulders and chest compared to your other body – like I do – it will make you look even better. Or bulky. I was a bit afraid whether the cardigan would be too long. In my opinion the optimal length for this kind of a cardigan is just around your crotch. This is naturally a matter of preference but I want my cardigan to be shorter than for example my sport coats or suit jackets. And remember that in case you feel that your cardigan is too short, you can always modify it a bit with water, steam and iron.
As I personally tend to use the shawl cardigan as a part of more casual combinations, for me the Alpa cardigan could have been even a bit more “chunky”. And the collar could be even more substantial and voluminous. But that would have instantly made it less versatile. Instead, as I said above, Alpa has created a piece where they try to combine the best aspects of casual and more dressed-up versions of a classic shawl collar cardigan. And to put it shortly, as far as I am concerned they have done it well.
Iconic knitwear makers and high-end fashion brands
In case you are looking for a new shawl collar cardigan you can start by taking a look at many “classic and iconic” knitwear clothiers. In addition to the above-mentioned Alpa, you can take a look at names such as Drake’s, Johnstons of Elgin, Peter Johnston and O’Connell’s. All of these have some nice cardigans available. And they are usually made of cashmere or 8-ply lambswool.
Also more fashion-forward brands such as Maison Kitsuné and Missoni have their own versions. Highly priced but good looking. And you might find them from sales every now and then.
And then, if you are looking for something more special, you can try and order the same kind of a cardigan than Daniel Craig wore in 007 Quantum of Solace from Magnoli Clothiers. I have no personal experience of Magnoli and the opinions I’ve heard have been very mixed. So I can’t really unreservedly recommend this option.
Shawl collar cardigan on a budget
For those who are looking for something a bit more affordable there are still many brands available. Shops such as Massimo Dutti, H&M, Zara and Brothers usually have their own versions every season. With these one should carefully pay attention to the materials and quality how the garments are done. Sometimes you can make nice finds. In addition to the mentioned brands, you can check out for example Orvis, Brooks Brothers, J.Crew or SuitSupply.
One thing that is good to have in mind is that most of the cheaper versions tend to be thinner than the more expensive ones. And they will also likely have cheap, plastic buttons instead of animal horn or leather. But of course you can get the buttons changed.
Sum up – 5x shawl collar cardigan
Finally, as a conclusion I give you five options that are available this fall. Though some of these are not seasonal but always available. The listing includes options that are more chunky and at their best when you wear them as a “light jacket” replacement. And then there are options that are suitable for more casual layering. This time I picked them all in shades of gray. I could have added the Alpa piece into the list, but I believe you already got a hint of what I think about their cardigan.
Iconic piece made of finest 4-ply cashmere by Drake’s London. Perfect shawl collar, side pockets, raglan sleeves, throat latch, and handmade leather buttons. A comfy and chunky alternative to a sports jacket.
A more affordable option by Manufactum. Horn “toggle” buttons adds casualness – combine this with your corduroy or denim trousers and wear it over a roll neck as an overcoat.
6A is one of the most classic and iconic shawl collar cardigans on the market. It is handmade in Scotland of 100% Scottish lambswool. The cardigan features a cable knit pattern and over-sized wooden buttons together with chunky ribbed fuffs, hem and collar. Shortly put this is a “streetwear classic”.
Suitsupply offers a version that features a bit smaller shawl collar. This makes it easier to wear the cardigan under your jacket. The cardigan is made of wool with 5% cashmere that brings in a touch of softness. The mid-gray color makes the cardigan easy to combine with for example different shades of brown and other earthy tones.
For this season this would be one of my personal favorites. A double-breasted shawl collar sweater by German Braun-Hamburg . In my opinion a cardigan does not get any more dressed-up and elegant than this. Pair with blue wool trousers, white oxford shirt and a gray wool tie. But if you are looking for a casual option, drop this one from your list.
Original post posted on 30.9.2014. Updated 10/2017.