Why every woman needs a sweater vest in her life

The knitted vest has proven itself as Britain’s layering tool of choice during this latest January cold snap - Getty Images
The knitted vest has proven itself as Britain’s layering tool of choice during this latest January cold snap - Getty Images

It takes a special kind of fashion trend to appeal to an eclectic group of patrons; Chandler Bing from Friends, Princess Diana and model Gigi Hadid. But therein lies the beauty of the knitted vest - it is a look for all characters.

In chilly offices and draughty homes, the knitted vest has proven itself as Britain’s layering tool of choice during this latest January cold snap. Its versatility is impressive (as smart and suitable as business dress as it is curled up on the sofa) and the numbers vast - 120 styles to choose from Net-A-Porter alone.

Once the preserve of academics and the elderly, now acclaimed singer Harry Styles and actress Emma Corrin lead the fashion set in wearing them.

There are three core types, starting with the bookish ones - short and fitted tanks in lairy Fair Isle and Argyle patterns. From the catwalk, Chloe’s sumptuous sunrise-inspired cashmere comes in at £905, while on the high street Albaray’s £40 design lands on just the right side of a bus seat moquette.

You’ll spot this category of sweater vest on creative types (or anyone who enjoys vivid pattern and colour) and the styles out there span animal motifs, weather patterns and fruits. It’s a cut that looks particularly good as part of a 1970s silhouette, with wide-leg trousers and block heels.

Gigi Hadid - AKGS
Gigi Hadid - AKGS

Next are the sleek, longline ones. Similar to tunics, try out the relaxed aran knits and side-tie tabards from British brand Thought, or go luxe in a sleeveless Prada cricket jumper with a plunging V neckline. This cut drops just off the shoulders and serves to smooth over a billowing shirt with pretty sleeves.

Finally, there are the minimalist polo toppers. Some (mostly 19-year-old supermodels) go for a cropped incarnation of this, contrasting the high hem with the high neck. The grown ups meanwhile, may prefer to try something like Cefinn’s stepped hem sweater vest for more flattering proportions.

Samantha Cameron, the Cefinn designer, tells me she is firmly rooted in this vest-wearing camp. Her ‘Janice’ knit is a bestseller for the label, gathering a 500-strong waiting list before selling out. It now comes in 12 colours and is best matched to a pattern on a dress.

 guest wears denim dress with pattern, Celine bag outside Huishan Zhang during London Fashion Week September 2022 on September 17, 2022 in London, England - Getty Images Europe
guest wears denim dress with pattern, Celine bag outside Huishan Zhang during London Fashion Week September 2022 on September 17, 2022 in London, England - Getty Images Europe

“It layers brilliantly,” Cameron says, “without hiding a pretty sleeve and it is less bulky than a cardigan when worn under a blazer or jacket on chillier days.”

When the weather eventually warms up a bit, she’ll peel off the coats but carry on wearing the vest rather than heavier knits. “They are the ultimate transeasonal wardrobe heroes,” she says.

How to determine which type of sweater vest is right for you

Take this short quiz:

1. Are you a dresses or a trousers person?

For the former, pick a looser vest style. Trousers and fitted tanks mix best.

2. Are you short or tall?

Tunic styles will give the illusion of a longer body and shorter legs, the tank vest the opposite.

3. What’s your bust measurement?

Bear in mind that an elaborate intarsia [patterned] tank will always end up looking warped across a fuller chest.

Compute all of this, and you should calculate that a knitted vest is the most useful piece you’ll ever buy for your cold-weather wardrobe.

I bought one in the sales; a button-fronted, grandad-ish knit pictured below from the Parisian brand Soeur (£75, selfridges.com). The V-neck is flattering, the teal-grey colour uplifting against January blues.

Looking back at winters past, I now can’t remember what I wore instead. Surely that’s the ultimate sign of a brilliant classic that’s come in from the cold?

Our top picks

There's a sweater vest to suit any and all styles. Here are some of our favourites...

Left to right: Fairisle tank, £40, albaray.co.uk; Buttoned vest, £75, Soeur at selfridges.com
Left to right: Fairisle tank, £40, albaray.co.uk; Buttoned vest, £75, Soeur at selfridges.com

Left to right: Fairisle tank, £40, albaray.co.uk; Buttoned vest, £75, Soeur at selfridges.com

Left to right: Ribbed knitted vest, £25, marksandspencer.com; Knitted V neck, £34, next.co.uk
Left to right: Ribbed knitted vest, £25, marksandspencer.com; Knitted V neck, £34, next.co.uk

Left to right: Ribbed knitted vest, £25, marksandspencer.com; Knitted V neck, £34, next.co.uk

Left to right: Janice vest, £140, cefinn.com; Striped vest, £391, Wales Bonner at Net-A-Porter.com (R)
Left to right: Janice vest, £140, cefinn.com; Striped vest, £391, Wales Bonner at Net-A-Porter.com (R)

Left to right: Janice vest, £140, cefinn.com; Striped vest, £391, Wales Bonner at Net-A-Porter.com