As the weather gets cooler, it's time to take a look at our sweater options.
Here's one that doesn't always get treated as a fashion piece, but that can work well for men in the market for a sweater that is functional, sporty and casual:
The half-zip sweater.
You'll see these sold under a lot of different names.
The style is relatively recent, and there are a lot of different takes on it.
But whether it's called a zippered pullover, a half-zip or half-button, a sports sweater, or something else, we're looking at the same basic garment:
- knit construction, usually tight and done in small yarns
- a short, straight-line opening between 2-8 inches long, starting at the collar
- a high, straight-sided collar without a turndown or turtleneck
Many will zip at the neck, but a others (usually dressier versions or more bulky sweaters) have buttons.
Either way you're talking about something you pull on over your head that can then be opened partway to make a frame for your face and allow a little extra ventilation.
The Half-Zip Sweater: Why to Own One
This is a garment that can serve as both a top layer and as a middle layer, under either a sports jacket or an outdoor coat.
Like most sweaters, it's a flexible layering piece. You're going to use it for both practical and stylish purposes.
On its own, the half-zip style gives you a little more framing than a plain pullover or a turtleneck. It mimics the effect of a collared dress shirt (and can layer over one as well), keeping attention high and on your face.
It's also a “convenience” style, meant to be worn comfortably and taken off easily. That makes it great for travel, especially air travel — throw one on with a shirt and a sports jacket, and then put the sports jacket overhead during the flight. You'll be warmer than you would be in just a shirt, but you've lost the bulk of the jacket, and you've got your pits and shirttails covered just in case there's some sweating during the flight.
Heavy vs. Light Weight Sweaters
You can get the half-zip style in most weights, although it's uncommon in the bulkiest, cable-knit styles of sweater.
What works best? It depends on your needs, but if you're planning on layering on top of the sweater, a lighter weight is probably the way to go.
Heavy sweaters work great as top layers — they're warm, and they give you a substantial presence. But their bulk means you're not going to be wearing much on top of them except for winter parkas and similarly voluminous garments.
A lighter sweater, made from small, lightweight yarns (cashmere and cashmere blends are popular options) gives you a little more flexibility. You can wear it on its own over nothing more than a T-shirt and have the perfect outfit for a warm fall or spring day, or you can pair it with a dress shirt and a sports jacket for multi-layered warmth.
The trick is to know what you're going to be using the sweater for. If it's a practical piece of outdoors wear and not much else, thicker is better. If you want to make it part of a layered, stylish look, go lighter.
Patterns and Colors
You don't see a lot of patterns in sweaters, apart from the occasional argyle and decorative cable-knits, and those usually aren't done in the half-zip style.
Most of your options here are going to be solid monochrome — and that's just fine. Go for something simple and restrained. Err on the side of conservative. Plain grays work well, as do earth tones and dark blues, greens, and reds.
Brighter shades are harder to layer, and a little less formal, so steer clear of those except in sweaters you plan to mostly use as an outdoors top layer. Black is also a tricky one, unless your wardrobe is already heavy on plain black and white — it's a little stark for pairing with most colors.
Zippers vs. Buttons On Half Zip Sweaters
Most of the sweaters you'll find with neck openings are going to be zippered. Buttons are harder to find, and usually have a small ribbed placket that contrasts with the texture around it.
The buttoned look is a little dressier, while the zipper style is sportier. Neither one is “right” or “wrong” — they're just slightly different feels.
There is one big advantage to a buttoning opening: it's easier to fix. Repairs on knit garments can be tricky, and it's a lot easier to sew a button back on than it is to replace a damaged zipper.
Half Zip Sweaters & Fit
It's tough to adjust a sweater, so be cautious of buying one that isn't a pretty good fit off the rack. You don't have the same easy options for taking it in or shortening/lengthening a sleeve that you do with a dress shirt.
Don't expect quite as much taper at the waist as you would with a shirt. Sweaters don't have to be shapeless, but they're never going to be crisply-defined, either, unless you're wearing one a size too small.
Your main goals are a good fit in the shoulders and the proper length in the sleeves and overall.
The point where the sleeves meet the shoulder should be right at your shoulder, not sagging over onto your bicep or scooted up toward your neck. Sleeves should be long enough to cover the cuffs of a shirt worn beneath the sweater, and the hem should be long enough to cover your belt.
Expect a little shrinking when you wash your wool sweaters, and plan accordingly (and keep them out of the dryer, unless you want a lot of shrinking!). You may need to go a size larger than you're used to if you're going to be wearing a half-zip sweater on top of other shirts and you expect it to last for several years.
Below is my video summary of the half-zip sweater: