Looking relaxed yet put together is something every style-conscious man aspires to. To appear effortlessly stylish, even in casual settings, is to be truly well dressed. Perhaps you’ve seen the floppy haired protagonists in British rom-coms, or the olive-skinned men in their lightly rumpled linen outside of Northern Italian coffee shops and wondered how they do it. The truth is that it’s as simple as having the right pieces in your wardrobe.
For those who live in temperate climates, a good selection of knitwear is one of the key tools in achieving solid casual style, and one of our favourite knitted garments is the shawl-collar cardigan. This unsung hero of the woollen world is something you can throw on in place of a blazer to give smart-casual looks a laid-back edge. It works great with weekend staples like jeans and Oxford button-downs, and it’s perfect either for layering up in the winter or wearing as a standalone piece in spring and fall.
Thinking of adding a shawl-collar cardigan to your knitwear collection? Keep reading to find out more about one of menswear’s most under-appreciated pieces, including what to look for and where to buy.
What Is A Shawl Collar Cardigan?
A shawl-collar cardigan is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s a button-up knitted sweater with a swooping oversized collar that folds back on itself and extends past the neckline to form lapels. This gives it a smarter look than a traditional V-neck cardigan, which means it is often worn in place of a blazer.
This type of knitwear first became popular in the mid 20th century and was a big part of the Ivy League look. It was often paired with other preppy pieces like chinos, loafers and Oxford shirts, and still carries a strong Ivy style connotation to this day.
Should I Buy A Shawl Collar Cardigan?
If you’re looking for something you can wear for three seasons of the year that will elevate casual outfits and give smarter looks a laid-back vibe, then yes, you should. The classic V-neck cardigan might have eclipsed the shawl collar in terms of mainstream popularity, but we think this thicker, smarter option is every bit as deserving of a place in your wardrobe.
It’s a versatile piece that can work well with most other casual and smart-casual garments, and it has the added bonus of being extremely cosy and comfortable.
Gauge refers to the number of stitches a fabric has per inch. A lower gauge is chunkier, more heavily textured and looser than a fine gauge. The vast majority of shawl-collar cardigans have a low gauge, which means they’re nice and heavy for wearing as top layers, as well as for layering.
Thin, lightweight shawl-collar cardigans do exist, but for versatility, a heavier option is usually better. If you plan to wear yours in place of a jacket, we’d say the chunkier the better.
Shawl-collar cardigans are almost exclusively knitted from woollens. Most are made from lambswool, but pricier premium versions often use luxury materials like cashmere. The best material to choose will depend largely on your budget.
Again, the price of a shawl-collar cardigan depends largely on what it’s made from and whose name is stitched into the label. A lambswool version from a high-street brand should cost you somewhere around £50-£100, while premium cashmere cardigans can easily run into the high hundreds, or even thousands for luxury options.
The Best Shawl Collar Cardigan Brands
When it comes to menswear, Italy is known for producing some of the finest materials and garments in the game. The trouble is that they’re often far too expensive for most budgets. That’s where Luca Faloni comes in. The brand is dedicated to making Italian craftsmanship more accessible, and knitwear is one of its specialities.
The brand’s chunky cashmere shawl-collar cardigan is admittedly still at the top end of the price scale, but is still a lot cheaper than a comparable garment from the likes of Brunello Cucinelli or Loro Piana. If you want an Italian-made cashmere cardigan, but find yourself priced out by these types of labels, this could be your solution.
Artknit is a sustainably minded knitwear brand with a zero-waste production process. It operates a direct-to-consumer model, which means no retail markups, and there are even cashmere garments available made using upcycled offcuts.
We recommend checking out the brand’s merino shawl-collar cardigan. It’s reasonably priced, made in Italy and is crafted using 100% natural fibres.
Scottish brand Inverallan has a long-standing reputation for making some of the heaviest, chunkiest knits money can buy. Each garment is hand knitted, meaning every piece is unique and of the highest quality, and many of Inverallan’s garments are still produced in Scotland by local knitters.
Based in Denmark, SNS Herning started out in the early 20th century, making chunky knitted jumpers and cardigans to keep local fishermen warm in the harsh Scandinavian conditions. Expect heavyweight knits, lots of texture and quality Danish manufacture.
Anderson & Sheppard
This Savile Row institution is best known for its bespoke tailoring, but it offers a whole range of British-made casual pieces too. The brand’s knitwear is handmade in Scotland and its shawl-collar cardigans are available in a range of tasteful muted colours.
Prices start at £365 for lambswool and go up to just shy of £1,000 for cashmere.
RRL is a premium line from Ralph Lauren that takes inspiration from classic Southwestern style. It features upscale spins on hardy workwear pieces like flannel shirts, denim and outerwear, and the shawl collar cardigan is a staple in the brand’s collections.
Look out for jazzy Intarsia knitted versions featuring the brand’s colourful Navajo-inspired designs.
London’s Drake’s is best known for its characterful ties, quirky patterns, upscale casualwear and relaxed tailoring. What you may not know is that it also carries a fantastic range of knitwear, including shawl-collar cardigans.
All of Drake’s cardigans are handknitted in Scotland, including the top-of-the-line cashmere versions, which feature raglan sleeves and 100% cashmere fabric.
If you’re looking for a great looking shawl-collar cardigan for a reasonable price, J.Crew should be high up on your list. The preppy American brand has a selection of cable-knit cardigans in a range of understated colours, with prices starting around £150.
Where better to buy a shawl-collar cardigan than from James Bond’s favourite knitwear brand. British label John Smedley’s high-end knitted jumpers and cardigans have proved popular with the creators of various 007 films over the decades, and while the brand’s Cullen shawl-collar cardigan may not have featured in a Bond flick, it is still worthy of your attention.
It’s knitted in the UK from a blend of recycled cashmere and merino, and available in four versatile colours.