By Jasper Lipton
The knit blazer is a blend of several worlds, and it’s a garment that you’ll find everywhere from Zara to Barneys. It gives a look similar to the American varsity jacket - but its connotations are less juvenile, and its utility spans more situations. It is, these days, rarely out of place. At Pitti Uomo, the knit blazer is nearly as ubiquitous as the unstructured sport coat, and it comes in a few different shapes. The simplest is essentially a cardigan with notch lapels, while others are tailored jackets done in jerseys or knits of varying thickness. Pitti being what it is, there are many instances of experimentation - but unlike the trend of ever-louder suits, the knit blazers presented are often lower-key.
Although they may be gaining in popularity, knit blazers aren’t a new trend. As one of our members recently discovered, brands like Brooks Brothers were making similar pieces - in this case cardigans with patch pockets and notch lapels - back in the sixties. This is a fairly classic example - a heavy wool knit intended to keep out the chill of an autumn evening. It’s not quite as formal as a navy blazer, but the subdued color and thick fabric keep it from appearing slovenly.
In addition to the jackets that are obviously knit, there are other makers at Pitti that strike a blend - and offer a more youthful silhouette - such as Harris Wharf London. The jackets are completely unstructured in the classical sense, and are made to be worn over a simple shirt or even a tee. However, they have enough shape to keep the wearer looking sharp - or slouchy, should that be the aim.
It’s also an example of a brand with a background in fabric production, although there are others with a similar focus. One of the current torch bearers is knitwear brand Gray. The designer, Alfredo Argiro, was once the head of the now-disappeared knitwear brand Ballantyne. With Gray, he has turned his eye and his ingenuity towards a very English silhouette - including double-breasted shapes - combined with very Italian sensibilities; all of which are done as knits. Last summer, Gray showed light sweaters perfect for the tennis court, and this fall they have several standout pieces - among which are several knit blazers.
Alfredo is very interested in the science of knitwear. Particularly impressive is a blended, three-yarn piece (fabric shown above) that Gray has used to make a knit that, due to the thickness of the fabric, has the strong, structured shoulder of a tailored jacket - or so Alfredo hopes.
Cruciani had a similar piece on offer - a classic style that many companies will produce. Notice the sharp lapels - this particular garment is cleaner in the front but sports a ribbed hem in the back.
It’s not solely Italian companies. Perennial Aran favorite Inis Meain releases their Pub Jacket every season in weather-specific fabrics: linen for the warmer months, wool-blends for the cooler seasons. Unlike the Cruciani model above, the Pub Jacket sports a higher number of buttons, and is more obviously a cardigan.
Japanese brands such as D by D have their own take on the same idea, as you can see below. This particular example, a heavy cable-knit, has a more obvious provenance than most of its contemporaries - a heavy lapel and throat-latch, in particular, are uncommon details.
It’s not solely classic brands who produce the knit blazers. Others, like Transit Uomo - who show at Pitti - and even Label Under Construction, which you can find nearby at PN/P Firenze, make less traditional models. Transit also has manufacturing roots, and Label Under Construction offers some of the most interesting fabrics in the industry - and the prices to match.
Perhaps the glut of options at this particular show is due to a a natural extension of what has become a definitively Italian style - thanks in no small part to the images that come from Pitti. Eventually, you can’t make your tailored jackets any softer than they are, and so you move to knits. That’s a bit reductive, of course, and may also be putting the cart before the horse, but the current pieces fulfill similar roles. Few of the peacocks at Pitti are wearing knit blazers, but while walking around Florence you’ll see men wearing them over a shirt, both with tie and without. Purists may howl, but given our current proclivity towards casual wear in all situations, a knit blazer offers the kind of ageless go-anywhere office-to-restaurant flexibility that many consumers are looking for.
If you’re considering a more modern take on the knit blazer, my advice is to skew towards the more substantial pieces. They don’t have to be heavy woolens, but shirt-thin jersey pieces can look cheap and rumpled in the wrong places. It is, after all, a knit - and it’s usually intended to be worn as outerwear. You’ll find that a piece with substance will last you a good while.
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