Anything Paul Newman wore for six decades straight gets automatic entry to the Menswear Hall of Fame. You don’t need to see its papers, just wave it through. Newman loved a sweatshirt. He wore one as a preppy, blue-eyed heartthrob in the 50s and 60s and never took it off, showing up to red-carpet events in his 80s still wearing the ageless style.
Newman understood that in a sweatshirt, he could look casual but considered, chic but athletic. All at the same time, all with a simple pullover. It’s seasonless, flattering to every body shape and easy to layer: one of the few genuine everyman items in men’s fashion.
Its appeal is down to comfort and versatility, says Pelle Lundquist, founder and creative director of Swedish brand A Day’s March. “It’s hard to find a more comfy garment that also goes well with what most people like to wear. A sweatshirt is easy to use both for a street or a smart-casual look.”
It’s also a trailblazer. The sweatshirt blurred the lines between sportswear and fashion half a century before a marketing executive coined the word “athleisure”. And it was the first item of clothing to be emblazoned with logos, turning us all into walking advertisements for the brands we wear.
Before that, it was a technical garment. First made for American football players in the 1920s, its lightweight cotton construction wicked away sweat (hence the name) and felt more comfortable to exercise in than the heavy wool jerseys worn at the time.
Ivy League students made it part of the preppy look in the 1950s, wearing sweatshirts on campus, proudly displaying the name of their school or team across their chest (giving birth to logomania in the process). Icons like Newman and Steve McQueen adopted it. Then the style went urban in the 1980s when hip-hop made sportswear its own. Now, it’s at home in practically every menswear alma mater you can think of: there are styles for streetwear kids, surfers and skateboarders, Scandi minimalists and men of athleisure.
Whatever your look, you need one. “Sweatshirts have never gone out of style,” says Mr Porter style director Olie Arnold. “They hold a place within all categories of menswear, including the luxury and designer worlds.”
What To Look For
Choosing a sweatshirt is like choosing a T-shirt: your options are almost limitless. But the essential blueprint is an athletic top, usually long-sleeved, with a ribbed hem and cuffs. Before deciding on a particular style (see below) look for design touches that have been there from the start.
“The original design was rendered in classic grey featuring long sleeves, a rounded neck and a triangle of elasticised material stitched onto the top front,” says Claude Troisfontaine, CEO of Russell Athletic, the brand whose founder invented the sweatshirt back in 1925. “This subtle yet distinctive detail was introduced to collect sweat around the neckline as well as provide stretch and reinforcement when pulling the garment on and off.”
Raglan sleeves are another throwback touch, first designed to give more freedom of movement during exercise. “If you want a classic look, go for a raglan style in a 100% cotton loopback fabric, somewhere around 330-380 grams,” says Lundquist. “If you want a clean contemporary look I would go for a fleece-back cotton-polyester mix. That makes the sweatshirt a bit more sturdy, gives the colours a bit more pop and it’s also a bit more soft and warm.”
Jersey is another comfortable, sturdy option that leans more sportswear. Or if you just want to loaf in luxury, there are cashmere versions that feel incredible on everything but your wallet.
How To Wear A Sweatshirt
Dress it up
Like white sneakers, a clean-cut sweatshirt (probably in neutral colours, definitely without logos) is a piece of sportswear that plays nice with smart-casual looks. “[It’s] best executed in that Ivy collegiate look, preppy and layered in a considered way,” says Arnold. Wear a slim-fitting grey style with chinos or selvedge denim and either smart sneakers or casual shoes like a Derby or loafer.
You can also layer it under a jacket or coat. Sweatshirts work with the most casual of suits but match better with bomber jackets, leather jackets and varsity jackets – or a formal overcoat. “When wearing a sweatshirt or hoodie under an overcoat, I would opt for a more traditional print such as a houndstooth check.”
Dress it down
Jersey sweatshirts work well as loungewear, comfortable, oversized and neutral, but it’s also a way to be more daring with sportswear. “Most recently, streetwear and logomania have dominated much of the catwalk collections, with logos being sprawled across everything from hoodies to slides, and a sweatshirt is an easy way to jump on board with this trend,” says Arnold.
Try block colours and big logos, styled with jeans or joggers. “I would advise wearing a branded sweatshirt over a classic white tee with denim jeans and sneakers,” says Arnold. For those brave enough, a full branded tracksuit is a strong look and to own it you just need a great pair of sliders and bags of confidence.”
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Classic Grey Marl
The most commonly made, frequently bought and easily worn style of sweatshirt, this is one of the evergreen basics of a man’s wardrobe, like selvedge denim and white sneakers. In fact, pair one with exactly those items for what is perhaps the single easiest way to look like you’ve made an effort. Not bad for a piece that moonlights as lazy loungewear.
The sweatshirt gained mass appeal when university sports teams began using it as a way for people to wear their allegiance proudly on their chest. Today, designers are doing the same thing. Pick a side: you can either go for a loud streetwear look and plaster your labels all over Instagram, or use your branded sweat as the single loudmouth in an otherwise quiet outfit.
Short Sleeve Sweatshirts
Short-sleeved sweatshirts fall into one of two camps. They’re either sporty in an 80s kind of way or a little oversized, with wide, Kimono-style sleeves for those who like the Japanese street style look. Aside from baring your forearms, they’re the same as the other styles on this list, most often made in a cotton-jersey fabric. Yeezy had it right styling these in neutral, tonal looks.
Health warning: if all you typically wear is navy, grey and black introducing a flash of colour to your wardrobe can lead to involuntary shortness of breath. The sweatshirt is your sartorial brown paper bag. As an easy mid-layer that you can half-hide under a jacket, it’s an easy way to experiment with trending pastels or primary colours. And if loud tones don’t make you nervous in the first place, just lose the jacket and brighten up every room you walk into.
The sweatshirt went from sportswear to casual dress on the campuses of Ivy League universities around the middle of the 20th century. Every loud and proud logo in fashion can be traced back to this period, when designers realised that a sweatshirt could turn its wearer into a walking advertisement. Enrol in the style with contemporary preppy brands like Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Motif & Embroidery
Like big logos and and college affiliations, printed or embroidered motifs are a head-turning embellishment that turns a sweatshirt from a background player to your outfit’s main attraction. Playful or provocative, you can match the design to your personality or quietly reveal your brand affiliations (Kenzo’s tiger or Coach’s cartoon T-Rex). A deliberately big look, these play nicest with neutrals.
Only a particular kind of masochist would wear one for the average burpee workout these days, but the sweatshirt is still closely associated with fitness. Like retro sneakers, these styles acknowledge the bona fide fashion heritage to be found in sportswear: Russell Athletic and Champion have the longest history, but you can also nod to 80s or 90s trends with styles that respin designs from those decades.
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