Style / March 2018

How to Style a V-Neck Sweater

The V-neck sweater has come a long way since its sporting roots. Taking inspiration from some of its notable proponents, we explore how to style the versatile sweater today.

Paul Newman wears a V-neck sweatshirt on a beach, circa 1958. Photograph by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

There’s a single scene that almost did it for the V-neck sweater. In Basic Instinct, Michael Douglas works his way through a crowded nightclub – already slightly fish-out-of-water for the setting – wearing a V-neck sweater. Not a V-neck over a shirt or T-shirt, mind, but on its own, in a way more commonly associated with women’s dress. Oh, how the costume designer’s choice was condemned, even if, with hindsight – and much replication – it perhaps wasn’t the faux pas that style commentators ridiculed it as being.

Thankfully, the V-neck sweater survived what would be just another of the many ups and downs the style has weathered over the last century. The V-neck had, by the film’s release, already become the habitual raiment for the well-off, middle-class, golf-loving man of a certain age and unadventurous wardrobe. It was the knitwear equivalent of a pair of slacks and some comfy moccasins – safe and easy, for men who wouldn’t know a fashion item if it stood them a pint of IPA.

Ronnie Corbett owned the look. So, frankly, Douglas was trying to do the garment a favour. And he had precedent, too: make note of Rock Hudson’s cool in Come September – white pumps, white chinos and powder blue V-neck sweater, sans any kind of garment below.

It was in sport – cricket, tennis and, yes, golf – that the V-neck sweater had its origins, serving a not dissimilar function to the sweatshirt, but in a more refined fashion for a time – the 1920s – when gentlemen still dressed to be players. It was a warm layer to slip on during or after play, that V cut making the putting on or taking off of the sweater that much easier, while also allowing some breathing space around the neckline, which in turn became a focal point of trim in collegiate colours.

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Contributor

Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a writer on menswear, design and much else for the likes of Wallpaper, CNN, Robb Report and The Times. He's the author of several books on menswear, the latest 'The Details', published by Laurence King. He lives in London, has two small children and is permanently exhausted.