As a child of the 1990s, I’ve been tying sweatshirts and flannels around my waist for as long as I can remember. It’s a practice that has become as seasonally inevitable as blossoms blooming and leaves turning. When those days arrive when it gets too warm to wear a jacket but it’s still too risky to leave home without one, this becomes an invaluable tool in your dressing arsenal. Feeling too cold? Just pop it on as usual. Getting a bit balmy? Back round the hips it goes. Admittedly, the waist-tied top isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing solution, but it does the job. So whether I’m on holiday, off to see a movie, or going on a springtime hike, chances are this trusty trick will come into play at this time of year.
It’s only in recent times, however, that I’ve adopted the similarly styled and no less controversial trick of wearing a jumper as a scarf. The preppy cousin of the grungy plaid-around-the-waist look, it serves a similar purpose. When it’s just a tad too warm to keep your knitwear on but the threat of an impending chill is real, simply throwing it around your shoulders seems a perfect solution (Not least because tying it around your waist could stretch out the arms and make sitting all but impossible without ruining your favourite knit). And where I live in Scotland — which has roughly three hot days a year and about six months of winter that’s otherwise interspersed with an ambiguous, overcast gloom — it becomes all but essential.
The round-the-shoulder sweater is also a considerably better look than the inevitably schlubby bum flannel. Plus there is a certain practicality to it. When the time comes to start packing your scarves away for the season, it helps being able to put your sweaters to their same use should the need arise. Nothing quite scares away the chill of an airconditioned theatre or an al fresco meal like a trusty knit tossed about your neck and spine.
Mostly though — and I grant you that this is a matter of opinion — I think it can look as cool as all get-out. The word sprezzatura was all but invented for this kind of thing. I reckon part of the appeal is a curious blend of seeming at once deliberate and careless. Leaving your jumper dangling about your throat reads equally like a conscious, calculated choice and, conversely, as though you just couldn’t be bothered — the kind of vibe, in other words, that birthed a thousand menswear blogs.
It is, however, not without its risks. Wearing your knitwear in this particular way (Urban Dictionary informs us) puts you at risk of looking like a ‘sweaterdouche’ — that is, ‘a person [who] decides to wear a sweater LOOSELY around their neck’ (outraged emphasis in original). And be warned: pop a collared shirt and you’re only making it worse. Of course, we all know the cautionary tales of ’80s and ’90s popular culture in which the neck-bound sweater was an unambiguous mark of either villainy or nerdery or both. Think Carlton Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Pete Campbell from Mad Men, Rick Martel from the WWE, or practically any villainous prep tormenting the outsider heroes in the teen dramas of yesteryear.
Oddly, though, none of this has spoiled the look for me. Perhaps I’ve just never been near enough any of the blue-blooded, country-club-going, lacrosse-stick-wielding stereotypes to have had it soured. Instead, I came to the look more recently via menswear brands like Ralph Lauren, Drake’s, ALD, and others, and through menswear stalwarts like Simon Crompton, Ethan Wong, and others.
It strikes me as an unexpectedly versatile choice. It works with T-shirts, polos, button-ups, or even over a nice jacket or a casual suit. In general, though, things with an appropriately Ivy or Italian bent seem to be the safest choice. I’ve even seen it work over a second piece of knitwear if you’re feeling adventurous. If you prefer playing it safe — or, anyway, as safe as you can do while wearing a tied sweater — sticking to subdued tones and making sure your jumper blends in with the rest of your ensemble is usually what’s advised. Imagine it as a compliment rather than an accent. On the other hand, if you’re already going as far as making a noose out of your knitwear, you may as well try to catch an eye in the process. So why not go for salmon, periwinkle, or whatever floats your boatneck.
As with anything, it really comes down to making it your own. Do it with confidence, comfort, and, above all, a sense of comportment that won’t have you confused with any movie villains and you’re all good.
All that remains for me now is to conquer the final frontier: tying on my jumpers sideways like a woolly shoulder bag. I’ve seen a few people nail the look, but I can’t imagine carrying it off myself. Still, I might get there one day, but I’ll need a good few springs’ worth of practice yet.
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