February is an opportune time to stock up on discounted sweaters, coats and jackets, according to Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.com. Sweaters are fashion essentials you can wear with jeans or leggings or dress up for important video meetings and for special occasions like a Valentine’s Day date — they pair nicely with blazers, dresses, skirts and trousers.
SKIP AHEAD Best women’s sweaters
And unlike the shortage of Lysol and toilet paper in 2020, there isn’t a scarcity of stylish sweaters across various price points. A plethora of designers and retailers currently offer sweaters in a wide variety of colorways and cuts like mock and crewneck. Shopping reader-favorite retailers especially stock up plenty of options — think Nordstrom, Macy’s, Amazon, Walmart and Target. You can also find higher-end sweaters at Net-a-Porter, Moda Operandi, Shopbop, Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue, luxury stores carrying healthy blends of established and emerging design talent. To help simplify your sweater shopping, we consulted fashion experts on how to shop for — and take care of — your knitwear in 2021.
Good cashmere is delicate and as soft as silk.
Victor Li, fashion designer
What is the best fabric for sweaters?
Here are the seven best fabrics and blends the fashion pros say you’re most likely to come across while shopping for sweaters.
Sweaters made with natural materials
While you shop, you’ll find these four materials in both organic and recyclable variations.
- Wool: 100-percent wool sweaters get a bad rep for being itchy, and Christian Juul Nielsen, creative director of contemporary womenswear brands AKNVAS and Herve Leger, suggested an easy fix to “make the wool a lot softer and lighter:” Opt for wool sweaters blended with at least 20 percent polyamide, a synthetic material often found in activewear in the form of nylon.
- Cashmere: According to designer Victor Li, “good cashmere is delicate and as soft as silk.” The New York-based designer calls the luxury fabric “one of the finest types of wool” because it helps regulate body temperature, and “recycles back into the environment much faster compared to synthetic materials.”
- Cotton: “If you get warm easily, then look for a high percentage of cotton in the blend,” noted Nielsen. Hannah Franco, former Athleta design director and co-founder of sustainable fashion brand époque évolution, is a fan of organic cotton knitwear for year-round wear. She recommended it for those dealing with sensitive skin because “the material is super soft, breathable, mid-weight and easily washable.” The only caveat with 100-percent cotton is that it loses its shape easily. To remedy the issue, you can opt for cotton blended with merino wool, nylon or polyester to help retain its shape, explained Joanne Steinbauer, the senior director of product at outdoor lifestyle clothing retailer and sweater purveyor Royal Robbins.
- Merino wool: Franco also noted sweaters made from 100-percent merino wool are “hard to beat” since the fabric “naturally inhibits odor so you can wear it again and again, and it’s thermoregulating to keep you cool in summer and warm in winter.” Keep in mind that 100-percent merino wool sweaters cost more than sweaters comprising merino wool blended with cotton, nylon or polyester, noted Steinbauer.
Sweaters made from synthetic materials
While you shop, you’ll come across recyclable variations of these materials but not organic options.
- Polyester or polyester blend: You can usually find sweaters made of a polyester-blend rather than 100-percent polyester — both types of polyester help sweaters retain their shape and wick moisture, noted Steinbauer.
- Nylon: Like polyester, nylon is typically blended with another fabric, explained Steinbauer, although some novelty yarns can offer up 100-percent nylon.
- Acrylic: Compared to the first six fabrics on this list, acrylic is the most affordable and gaining increasing popularity, noted Steinbauer, adding that it helps sweaters retain their shape and usually pills less than other materials.
Best women’s sweaters to consider shopping
With the above guidance in mind, along with an understanding of Shopping reader-favorite brands that make highly-rated products, we put together this quick list of six standout women’s sweaters.
Best affordable sweater: Amazon Essentials
Amazon Essentials, the retailer’s in-house clothing line, created this top-rated sweater in 29 colorways and prints like Black, Blue Heather and Red Heart, the latter a tan sweater with a dozen red hearts on the front. It sports a flattering v-neckline and features ribbed detailing along the collar, cuffs and hem. The sweater also qualifies for Prime Wardrobe, Amazon’s program allowing you to try on clothes at home for up to seven days before you complete your purchase.
Best cashmere sweater: Everlane
Shopping readers are fans of Everlane, a retailer known for creating well-made elevated basics like this top-rated sweater. The effortlessly cool crewneck looks like waffle knit and is made from more than 90 percent recycled cashmere, according to the brand. Typically you’ll need to have cashmere professionally laundered, but this sweater is relatively easy to clean — just throw it into your washing machine on a gentle cycle. Choose from two neutral colors: Bone, a cream and Black.
Best fair isle sweater: L.L. Bean
Unlike other sweaters on this list, L.L. Bean’s top-rated knitwear is available in both regular and petite sizes. It also looks like bulkier ragg wool, which is known for its two-tone appearance, but instead is made from lightweight cotton. Although fair isle prints can sometimes look overwhelming and cluttered, L.L. Bean’s version sports the chic print along the mock neckline rather than taking up most of the sweater.
Best turtleneck sweater: Uniqlo
Uniqlo created a clean and classic, 100-percent cashmere turtleneck sweater. Currently, the highly-rated top is on sale and has diverse sizing: XXS to XXL. It’s also available in ten colors, including Pink, Wine and Beige, which looks more like caramel than a light beige. However, unlike the Everlane sweater, you’ll need to commit to having it professionally dry cleaned. If that’s not an issue for you, consider stocking up and gifting your Valentine while the Uniqlo sweaters are still on sale.
Best crewneck sweater: Gap
You can easily rock this pretty cream and pink sweater on casual Fridays and even a laidback Valentine’s Day at home with your partner. It’s made from 30 percent wool and 70 percent acrylic so it’s less likely to pill. The relaxed fit sweater hits at your hips, so you’re unable to rock it as an oversized dress, but consider pairing it with a pair of boyfriend jeans for a laid-back feel.
Best splurge sweater: La Lingne
If you’re into stripes, consider La Lingne, an American women’s clothing line known for its array of striped sweaters and popularity among the fashion set — two former Vogue editors co-founded the brand. The navy and tan striped Marin sweater is made from a cashmere and wool blend to help keep you warm and toasty. It also sports a slightly looser fit, along with ribbed cuffs and a rolled neckline for a faux turtleneck effect.
How should a sweater fit a woman?
The fashion experts we consulted agree: Oversized and fitted sweaters are both great options, but at the end of the day, the best fitting sweater is up to you. That being said, Nielsen and Franco noted oversized sweaters are in style, and nailing the correct fit of your garment is essential if your goal aligns with the current trend.
“If you buy a fitted sweater, then stick to your size as a fitted sweater sized up will make you look frumpy,” he said. Franco added you can pick your usual size when donning an oversized sweater and size up if you’re layering or prefer a looser fit and want to feel comfy.
Nielsen is partial to effortless and cool oversized turtlenecks for Zoom meetings. If you’re heading into the office or have a meeting, he proposed rocking a fitted top underneath “in case you take it off to underline the statement of oversized.” Additionally, he mentioned the importance of sporting an oversized sweater that is draping on you. “If you have a regular shirt underneath, you may look larger as it fills out the sweater,” he said. A quick styling trick from Nielsen is to tuck the sweater rib hem into the front of your pants to elongate the appearance of your legs and make your sweater puffier.
How to take care of your sweaters
Avoid hanging your sweaters. Doing so stretches out the fabric’s length and the hangars can cause indents in the shoulders and distort their shape, explained Steinbauer. Instead, fold your sweaters, other fashion experts told us.
James Joun, co-founder of laundry and dry cleaning service Rinse, advised hand washing your sweaters in cool water with gentle laundry detergent. You can try Tide Gentle and Free detergent or splurge on Franco’s recommendation: The Laundress, a line of gentle and PH-neutral detergents made from non-toxic, biodegradable and allergen-free ingredients. The company has various detergents for fabrics like cashmere and wool or denim. Joun added to avoid hang drying sweaters, which can stretch out the material when it's wet; instead, flat dry on a mesh rack.
If you’re willing and able to, then Joun also suggested showing your knitwear “a little TLC” by bringing them to a professional cleaning service at the end of the season to get rid of any lingering odors or stubborn stains before storing your sweaters n linen bins lined with acid-free tissue. “The tissue will prevent any dust or dampness from reaching your clothing so your sweater will still look great for the next wear,” he explained.