The Sweater vs. the Sweatshirt: Two Fall Favorites

By: Orvis Staff

Crisp autumn breezes, the crunch of leaves underfoot, and the rich, oaky scent of wood smoke wafting through the air—these are telltale signs it’s time to trade those lightweight T-shirts for the embrace of warm, woolen sweaters and comfortable sweatshirts. When you’re spending your days cheering on your favorite college football team, in the orchard picking apples, chopping wood for the coming winter, or tucked inside your office, autumn summons a sense of warmth and coziness. Whether your tastes run to a thick lambswool pullover, or a soft cotton sweatshirt, each offers warmth and comfort in chilly weather; let’s take a look at these two cherished fall favorites.

History of the Sweater

A humble yet smart clothing staple, the wool sweater dates as far back as 230 to 390 A.D. These were simple, hand-knit shirts or tunics. In 15th century England, the garment we’ve become more familiar with was most often crafted by the wives of fishermen and sailors. Constructed from wool, which retains its natural oil, sweaters protected against the cold weather and the damp climes of the English Channel isles of Guernsey and Jersey, hence the name “jersey,” which quickly caught on throughout the rest of Europe. In the 1890s American athletes adopted the heavy pullovers and called them sweaters, wearing them before and after athletic events for protection from the cold. In an ironic twist, the garments worn by most professional athletes now are called jerseys.

Sweater styles and stitches come with an antiquity all their own. The beloved cardigan sweater was popularized by British Army officer James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan who famously led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. The Aran is a traditionally off-white wool sweater with beautifully and carefully constructed stitches. It has a rich legacy carried down from the three Aran Islands in Ireland: Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer. Several of the stitches used in the Aran sweater echo Celtic art. The favorite “cable stitch” of an Aran sweater depicts fishermen’s ropes and represents good weather at sea. The “diamond stitch” symbolizes the small, neat fields of the islands, and the “Irish moss stitch” is symbolic of abundance and growth.

Sophisticated Sweaters

If you’re wondering whether sweaters are appropriate business casual attire, the answer is yes: a sumptuous cashmere cardigan layered over your favorite blouse is perfect for an afternoon in the office, yet still stylish and understated. Whether it’s a chunky wool cable-knit crewneck on a frosty winter’s day or a luxurious Merino pullover paired with slim-fit jeans and ballet flats for a quick bite to eat in town, these timeless knitted pieces give you endless options. Sweaters remain chic and make the perfect companion layers in your fall and winter wardrobe.

The Iconic Sweatshirt

The sturdy sweatshirt, which dates back to the 1930s, was a drab, gray, functional affair that athletes wore while training. And as its name suggests, it was used not only to absorb sweat during exercise but to induce the same. How times have changed. While still heavily influenced by sports, the sweatshirt has cemented its place not only in sports culture but as a staple in fashion culture as well.

Nothing harkens the start of football season like pulling on a favorite, thick cotton sweatshirt emblazoned with your college alma mater logo. Memories of tossing the ball back and forth on the front lawn with dad, lazy days spent lounging around the house, or grabbing your favorite sweatshirt before heading out to the movies with friends—are all wrapped up in this soft cotton classic.

Modern Sweatshirts: from Functional to Fun

There’s more to this simple garment than meets the eye. Crewneck, zippered, or hooded, sweatshirts provide warmth and an effortless style to your fall wardrobe. If you’re looking for a way to dress up your sweatshirts, consider adding a patterned scarf over a solid sweatshirt and pair it with slim-fit jeans for a sleek yet fun look. Taking your sweatshirt from “ho-hum” to “oh wow” is a breeze with the simple addition of a statement necklace and heeled shoes or boots. A sweatshirt layered over a collared, button-down blouse and paired with a pencil skirt is smart enough to wear to the office.

Whether you prefer the luxury of a classic cashmere turtleneck sweater or the classic, relaxed feel of a sweatshirt to help ward off the chill on these cool fall days, you have myriad options to add both understated elegance and chic comfort to your fall wardrobe.

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