June 17, 2009

Perennial favourite: lightweight knits

Whether it’s July or January, twenty above or a bone jarring twenty below, one of the first wardrobe staples I reach for is lightweight knits. While there is undeniably something cozy – one might say akin to a bear hug – about slipping on a heavy, hefty-duty winter sweater, on my petite frame I often find that I look little more than a head trying to clamour its way out from a quicksand pit of wool. While everyone (who lives in a climate that gets near or below freezing) should own an Alpine worthy sweater or two, for most of the year there tends to be more practicality – and I’d be willing to bet more variety – when it comes to the beautiful world of lightweight knits.

{In this strikingly pretty black and white photo from the 50s, a group of gorgeous ladies wear a wide selection of elegant, evening appropriate lightweight knitwear. Via Myvintagevogue’s Flickr stream.}

A lightweight knit is exactly what it sounds like, a woven garment composed of light, generally soft, flexible material (such as cashmere, cotton, wool, silk or linen) that can be fashioned into virtually any style or cut. While there are items such as knit skirts and dresses on the market, this post focuses on lightweight tops such as sweaters and cardigans.

To my mind there is something about delicate, often feminine sweaters and knit tops that instantly invokes vintage styles of the past. A sort of Sandra Dee, girl-next-door meets alluring secretary-slash-bombshell aesthetic. Lightweight knits often sit close to the body, embracing – but not suffocating – the wearer’s curves, thus making them subtly, sweetly sexy.

Throughout the forties and fifties some Hollywood starlets such as Jane Russell, Marylyn Monroe and Lana Turner became so well-known for wearing especially skin-tight, thin knits that the term “sweater girls” arose to describe those women who opted to accentuate what nature gave them with the help of lightweight, form fitting cardigans and sweaters (this buxom look was sometimes aided by “bullet” style bras of the era).

{Actress Mamie Van Doren wears a form fitting sweater as she chats away in this black and white photo, that would definitely garnered her the title of “sweater girl”. Photo from phheww’s Flickr stream. }

Pinup art of the mid-twentieth century was ripe with pretty, generally scantily clad gals in all-but-painted-on sweaters as well, which only helped to boast the sensuality of this seemingly simple fashion basic. For many women though the idea was not to emulate the ultra skin-tight looks of the silver screen, but instead to use thin knits as an extremely versatile wardrobe staple.

{“Miss Sweater Girl” by pin-up artist Peter Driben, 1950. Image via lacasahassel.net}

Paired with everything from blue jeans to full length evening skirts, over top of bathing suits or atop a cotton blouse, lightweight knits offered the wearer an item that could just as easily stand alone as it could be used as a pretty and practical layering piece. It is this jack-of-all-trades element that has made lightweight knitwear an endearing favourite to this day.

Obtaining a vintage inspired (or straight from the source, if you’re fortunate enough to come across vintage knitwear) sweater look is quite simple really. Look for knit pieces that that fit close to the body, have timeless cuts (such as a slightly tapered waist and round or slightly scooped neckline), and that never appear oversized or “sloppy”. Fit and cut are imperative to pulling off the sort of sweater or knit top style the instantly invokes thoughts of 1940s or 50s.

{What was this smiling woman thinking as she leaned against that beautiful car? Perhaps she was relishing how wonderful she looked in her short sleeved sweater and plaid skirt combo :).Photo care of anyjazz65’s Flickr stream.}

I personally adore thin sweaters and cardigans and have many of them in an array of colours, from Kelly green to violet, dusty coral to jet black. I toss them over dresses, camisoles, blouses and t-shirts, never tiring of the many ways these cozy, lovely sweaters can be dressed up or down, as the occasion warrants.

Always on the prowl for more delightful lightweight knits to ad to my closet – or at least admire longingly from afar – I’ve gathered together ten of these fantastic tops – each one of which I feel has a sweetly wonderful vintage feel to it – that I hope strikes a chord with fellow sweater girls everywhere.

{I swooned in my seat the moment I first saw this absolutely gorgeous, navy blue, button front cardigan. From the charming bow to thin band of white around the hem and wrists, this is the sort of top would be worn day-in and day-out if it resided in my wardrobe. £40.00 (UK pounds) from Monsoon.}

{This ivory hued, short cap sleeved, crochet top with scalloped hem and tie waist would make for the perfect top to wear out on a summer picnic or trip to the flea market. $18.99US from Charlotte Russe.}

{Bright as a tomato and just as tasty, this stylish knit bolero would make a marvelous topper for sleeveless dresses, halter tops, and t-shirts alike. $36.00US from Pin Up Girl Clothing.}

{This black and white polka dot knit top, complete with cinched sweet heart necklines, is absolutely wonderful! I love the mid-arm sleeve length and generously – but not 60s mod sized – proportioned dots. Currently on sale for $49.99US (down from $68.00) from Urban Outfitters.}

{Pretty as a cream hued rose, this delicate knit sweater with subtly puffed sleeves would work extremely well year-round as the sort of go-to staple one can never have too many of. €34.95 (Euro) from Vero Moda.}

{Absolutely perfect for the warmer months, this adorable red and white stripped cotton/spandex knit top comes adorned with a lovely little bow and would make for a fantastic piece to wear while at the beach, the backyard – anywhere! $29.99CND from Sears (Canada).}

{Embellished with not one, but two, lovely satin bows, this mustard hued short sleeved knit top surely stands to brighten up any day with its sunshine like shade. $29.00US from Forever 21.}

{Something about the soothing colour of oatmeal brown always conjures up thoughts of 1930s clothing for me. A neutral shade, the hue of this scoop neck, pocketed sweater would pair well with everything from peach to coffee, raspberry to mint green. £35.00 (Euro) from La Redoute.}

{I can close my eyes and practically sense how elegantly lovely this cropped, satin lined, fuchsia hued sweater must feel on one's skin. Sophisticated and ageless, I’d wear this beautiful rose button adored any chance I got! £35.00 (UK pounds) from Laura Ashley.}

{Available in four colours (white, grey, black and fairly light green called “turf”) this ribbed but still lightweight sweater with three button detailing at the neck is named for one of the most famous pin-ups of all time, Bette Paige. $33.68 CND from Overstock.com.}

These are but a smattering of the incredible – and relatively budget-friendly – lightweight knits I’ve encountered recently. Because fine knits can be worn year-round they have the added bonus of being readily available at a wide range of price points and in a diverse number of cuts, styles (don’t forget about twin sets) and colours.

As well as the sources in this post, I also recommend shops such as Old Navy, Banana Republic, Dorothy Perkins, Suzy Shier, Jacob, Smart Set, and of course etsy as good places to find an array of modern knits (or in the case of etsy, actual retro or vintage knitwear) that can easily and seamlessly work their way into your favourite vintage looks. As I admire each of the ten knits above and I can effortlessly imagine weaving them into my wardrobe, which is exactly the element that makes these kinds of pieces so amazingly useful to keep on hand.


  1. My fave is that cute Charlotte Russe. A light weight knit is also good to absorb and hide a little sweat ;D

  2. well im a cardi nut so i have tons and always think i need another so i totally agree and loved seeing this pretty pics!

  3. @ Sher, isn't it adorable!! (And so well priced to boot!)

    @ Elena, three cheers for cardi nuts! :D I agree, you can never have to many, especially if you live in a climate that is anything but picturesquely tropical all year.

    @ Maggi, I think it's terrific, too! (The grey one in particular caught my eye.)

    Thank you very much for your lovely comments, vintage dears!!!

    Hugs & happy Wednesday wishes to you all,
    ♥ Jessica

  4. Number one please!!

    Love your post and pictures. xx

  5. Thanks for this post!! I've had my eye out for a red bolero to go with my new dress!

  6. Cool post. Great photos. I've always loved seeing women wear these.

  7. @ Moonspinner, thank you very much! I think you and I have both been bitten the by "posts full of lovely photos" bug! :) I always feel like a kid in a candy store running around the internet gathering up beautiful photos to use in my posts, don't you?

    @ MaryDeluxe, you're very welcome, hon! Super happy to have helped you on your red bolero hunt.

    @ Keith, thank you! Luckily cardigans seem to have weathered the "trend storms" and outlived a lot of styles that have come and gone, so you shouldn't see a decline in sweater gals anytime soon! ;)

    @ Stéphanie, thank you so much! I just clicked through to your own blog and am absolutely enchanted! (To anyone else reading this, be sure to visit her site too, it's full of vintage and retro loveliness.)

    Many thanks everyone, for your terrific comments! I wish you each a fabulous Friday!!
    ♥ Jessica

  8. sweaters, glorious sweaters! I'm a big fan of 50s cardigans...they're cut so perfectly to show off the right parts of a woman...sweater girls foreva!

  9. Hi LGotHF, thank you for your lovely comment. I couldn't agree more, sweater girls foreva! :)

    Wishing you a gorgeous Friday,
    ♥ Jessica

  10. i couldn't agree more! they are the item i have the most variations of in my closet. you can never have too many!

  11. Ciao MissRedLips, it's awesome that we share a mutual love of these adorable/sophisticated sweaters :)

    Big hugs & oodles of thanks for each and every one of your wonderful comments.

    ♥ Jessica