Slinky, skin-baring styles are in, as are bright accessories and zany prints. These trends may seem more suited to warm weather, but this year, it’s not so. Winter 2021’s sweater trends are taking the boldest looks of the year and translating them to knitwear. While sweater shopping may have once been limited to decisions like wool or cashmere, chunky or fitted, and gray or burgundy as of late, things have gotten decidedly more playful.
“As part of the cottagecore and craft movement [of 2020 and 2021], knitwear drifted into homemade, eclectic territory,” Celenie Seidel, Senior Womenswear Editor at Farfetch tells TZR. While the rise of homespun fashion allowed emerging handcraft designers to develop a following, the Fall/Winter 2021 runways introduced more precious options. “This fall sees the category transitioning into a more elevated realm, with sweaters feeling either quite dressed up, or rare and art-like in form,” Seidel says. Sure, sweaters may serve as a layering piece, worn under blazers or cozy coats, but they can hold their own, too.
But, if you worry that embracing this year’s sweater trends means giving up the classics —cardigans, chunky turtlenecks, jewel tones — fret not. The season’s key trends embrace the out-of-the-box while staying true to what’s already working. After a summer of cutout dresses and tight tops, it’s time for something cozier. Keep scrolling to find out what sweater styles experts say will be everywhere in the coming months, then get a head start on shopping for them.
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Chic Sweater Vests
The sweater vest has had a long, albeit unexpected, run. And while it shows no sign of retiring, Seidel suggests those traditional, cozy styles may take a back seat to what she calls “neat-fitting” iterations this season. You can see it in The Row’s cap-sleeved turtleneck vest or Molly Goddard’s cropped Fair Isle option. “Sweater vests can be an unexpected element in a slightly racier look,” Seidel says, pointing at Saint Laurent’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection as a reference. Remember that argyle sweater paired with a metallic mini skirt? “This trend successfully redefines knitwear as something transitional that can translate easily from day to night.”
“High texture and high volume versions of cable and hand-knitted styles were a noticeably new idea [on the runways],” Seidel says. “[The look] spoke to the hangover from our 2020 collective gravitation towards a sense of comfort and protection.” Swap a slick silhouette for something unexpected — as simple as a bell sleeve or oversized weave. “They feel most natural paired with uncomplicated outfit elements like sleek trousers or tailored shorts,” Seidel says. And of course, don’t forget tall boots.
Over the last year, cutouts have dominated every category of clothing — including knits. “We’ve been loving cutouts in our knits, whether they’re at the waist, shoulders, or hemline,” says Caroline Maguire, Fashion Director at Shopbop. There’s reinforcement nearly everywhere on the runways, from collar bone cutouts at Johnathan Simkhai to Prada’s Swiss cheese-like sweater. Pair the style back to wide-leg denim for extra pizazz, or with a leather A-line maxi skirt for a contemporary cool-girl feel.
For many, cropped cardigans elicit memories of a prep school uniform. Today, they’re back in an adult-friendly way. “We’re seeing customers gravitate toward cardigans, including both longer lengths and more cropped styles [that are worn] buttoned up to the top, styled as sweaters,” Maguire says. The latter feels most prevalent this season, as it plays into the return of preppy staples. Think a pleated mini skirt, tights, or long socks paired with loafers, and then try Maguire’s suggested styling trick — layering knits over knits —and add a bralette or tank under your cardigan.
Preppy & Festive
The Royal Family has worn Fair Isle knitwear for decades (the late Princess Diana and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge wore the style), but you don’t have to be on a regal winter excursion to wear one. “While typically adorned on festive jumpers and skiwear, there is something distinctly elevated about the way brands have brought the Fair Isle sweater into play this season,” Heather Gramston, Head of Womenswear at Browns tells TZR. Playful plaids also lean into the festive ski-chalet-worthy aesthetic, and both are worth exploring in bold colors this year. “Bright pops of neon and kitschy color-mixing choices [are] such a joyful and exciting way to wear those extra layers, particularly for the darker winter months.”
If you thought the tie-dye craze from last year was over, the runway cordially invites you to think again. “Tie-dye had a moment in 2020, with its resurgence promoted by lockdown and people getting crafty at home,” Gramston says. “This season, it’s been rejuvenated and given a bit of a face-lift. We’re seeing it combined in more sophisticated ensembles.” Try wearing your knit of choice with loose trousers as a comfy yet polished alternative to sweats.