If you haven’t noticed lately, sweater vests have become a thing. This signature staple straight from the prep school uniform handbook has ruled the runways for a few seasons now (here's looking at you, Gucci, Prada, Coach), in addition to being popularized by the street style set. What at first may have seemed like a trendy blip on the fashion radar, has proven to be a classic closet mainstay, frequently seen in regular rotation on celeb style gurus such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Alexa Chung and Harry Styles. So why the sudden resurgence en mode?
“The sweater vest had a little hiatus, but it’s no surprise everyone is embracing it again,” Jen Olson, brand marketing consultant, tells TZR. “It speaks to how people want to dress these days, using simple foundation pieces that you can wear many times in many different ways.” Simplicity is definitely a key to dressing nowadays, of course — but the nostalgia factor of the sleeveless knit top has also been strongly resonating with the fashion crowd, as well as consumers, alike.
“We’re always looking to the past for new silhouettes and shapes we can reintroduce in a modern way,” Natalie Joos, founder and designer of JoosTricot, says. “I guess it was the sweater vest’s turn.” Alyssa Coscarelli, digital entrepreneur and founder of Infinite, also adds, “There’s something so special about a knitted piece, and a sweater vest has that handmade, nostalgic feel without committing to an entire sweater. It shows a bit more skin while still having that throwback appeal.”
For some fashion aficionados, however, the silhouette has always been a closet essential. “I’ve always worn vests,” says Joos, a bonafide vintage collector. “I have a really cool vintage Dior vest, and an oversized Sportmax one that I usually wear over a short Mickey Mouse slip dress.” Coscarelli concurs: The best pieces come from the past. “My style is always extremely vintage-inspired, and I’ve been drawn to vests in general for as long as I can remember. I love that [vests] feel a bit unisex, and are such a fun styling piece to layer or wear a lot of different ways (over a shirt, with pants or jeans, with a skirt, over a dress, etc).”
This versatility in the styling department is what makes the sweater vest a universal item, allowing for a mindful now-and-later approach to seasonless dressing. “I look for simplicity of cut, timelessness, and versatility. It should pair back to lots of different things in your closet,” Olson tells TZR. “Transitioning sweater vests from summer to fall is all about layering: In the summer, wear it on its own (nothing underneath) paired back to loose jeans, or throw it on over a dress. In the winter, I love wearing them with a turtleneck or underneath a suit.”
Joos agrees that going bare is a great look for hot weather. “I love vests because they’re a great alternative to sweaters in the summer,” she mentions. “In the summer, I wear them without anything underneath, even the wool ones. And in the winter, I like to wear a button down underneath my vest and a blazer over it. It reads casual and men’s.” Coscarelli’s suggestion? “For now, try one with your favorite denim cutoff shorts or a mini skirt. Come fall, you can really get creative. I love wearing them on top of oversized collared shirts.”
A few more words of advice to guide you. “Because I’ve worked in fashion for so long and seen more lookbook and trend cycles than I can count, something really needs to be unique in order to stand out to me and catch my attention,” Coscarelli says. “With sweater vests specifically, we’re talking unique yarn or fabrication, an unexpected silhouette, or maybe some details like embroidery or a fun color combo.” Be sure to look out for details like these, in your quest for the best sweater vests.
Keep scrolling for more cute ways to wear vests now and later, inspired by these experts’ personal style and more.
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As Coscarelli mentions above, quality and uniqueness defines the modern day sweater vest. “I’m partial to this one, because I had a hand in designing it for my e-commerce platform called Infinite, where I collaborate with emerging makers all over the world on limited-edition pieces,” she tells TZR. “This vest in particular is hand knit in Finland (made to order to your measurements) and uses upcycled denim for the flower appliqués. A forever piece, if you ask me.” For a perfect style pairing, try blending the feminine nature of an embroidered vest with something tougher. “Because this vest can skew a little girly, I wanted to toughen it up a bit with a ‘90s grunge feel,” Coscarelli explains. “This kilt-leaning skirt was the perfect complement, to give it some edge while still feeling seasonal and flirty.”
Street Chic Casual
Cottagecore dressing is still top of mind for many, so a billowy white dress with plenty of pomp and circumstance is a summer must-have. Breathe new life into the silhouette by adding a lightweight sweater vest on top, for a street style-approved vibe that feels crafty yet cool. This look will take you from summer to fall in a heartbeat, and can even be worn with an oversized coat come winter. Pair yours with the equally sought after white Hoka sneakers and a puffy satin headband for instant hypebae appeal.
“I’m wearing the smiley vest from our Fall collection with a vintage Ralph Lauren button down and jeans,” Joos tells TZR. “It’s definitely a dressed-down kind of feeling. A vest makes most outfits look casual and a little masculine.” Take style notes from Joos’ signature spin on the trend, injecting a little quirk to the retro look, with an of-the-moment shape emblazoned with a dopamine-inducing smiley icon. Accent the outfit with chunky, organic gold hoops and a white cowboy boot for a truly eclectic feel.
Country Club Redux
We have seen a revival in all things country club, from pleated tennis skirts to golf dresses flooding our Instagram feeds, but the iconic sweater vest is still topping our list. Look for a sleeveless knit with patterned appeal, to keep things from becoming too literal. Pair your graphic vest back to a clean, white t-shirt and utilitarian cargo pants for a raver meets clubhouse look that is fresh for summer. Pile high the candy jewelry and add square-shaped pink sunnies to truly hit the summer style high notes. Come fall, trade your short sleeve for a long-sleeve tee and don’t forget the kicks.
Fairisle & Fancy Free
An argyle or intarsia knit is probably the most thought-of, iconic style when it comes to sweater vests. Thankfully, these are no longer reserved for the prep school classroom. Take note: When wearing a heritage piece, keep it from skewing too collegiate with a few modern elements. An unexpected color pairing, like fall’s must-have hot pink, will really amp up the cool factor this season. For summer, try a linen pleated pant with the item (sans undershirt, of course), and then switch to a corduroy bottom when the air begins to get crisper. Standout accessories, like plastic slide sandals, will be ideal for now, and a closed, cap-toe block heel taps into the autumnal mood for the months ahead.
Prep School Perfect
“I’ve always loved a bit of a boyish look, and sweater vests lend themselves perfectly,” Olson tells TZR. “I love Alex Mill's sweater vests. Somsack [Sikhounmuong, co-founder and creative director of Alex Mill], has an eye for the classics and always chooses the best fabrics.” Stick to tried-and-true designs and go for an easy, V-neck shape, with or without buttons. Team it with your favorite high-waisted, vintage-inspired jeans, for a throwback look straight out of a John Hughes film. Grab a crisp, cotton button down to layer underneath for fall and toss a blazer over on top to further the menswear-inspired mood. To complete the look? Opt for a Vans Authentic sneaker, another seasonless closet classic you’ll reach for time and again.
Striped & Sporty
Channel a slightly sportier mood with a more fitted, stretch-knit vest style, complete with graphic stripes and a downtown vibe. Khaki pants, another preppy staple, are totally now in a roomy, pleated fit, perfect to wear through the hot days of summer, and easily transition to the cooler months ahead. Wear this look bare-armed or with a white tee underneath now, and add a wool camel coat topper for later. To keep things trendy, translucent red shades in a ‘90s-inspired shape, lace-up kitten heels and a vibrant, knitted bag will add a bit more clout to your look.