Here in our double- glazed, centrally heated world, you wouldn’t think there was a place for the chunky knit.
But then, you could say that about log burners, sheepskins, woolly throws and fake fur — and they’re all more popular than ever.
The truth is that chunky knits are the fashion equivalent of log burners. They have hygge appeal (the Danish word for life-affirming cosiness). They press the same nostalgia buttons as oilskins and corduroy jackets, and remind us of winters in log cabins, lolling about in your boyfriend’s Aran sweater — even if you never had a boyfriend with an Aran sweater, let alone a cabin.
But most of all, the appeal of chunky knits is that they make us look smaller.
This week Shane Watson reveals how wearing oversize knitwear can give the illusion of a slimmer body. Pictured, Frills: Model Yasmin Le Bon in Winser London, £199
Admittedly, there are a lot of fashion items that will make you look slimmer than a giant sweater, but still, that’s what’s behind this fashion.
Women like the ‘drowning-in-it’ feel of chunky knits; the way they make your legs look like sticks coming out of a lampshade; and the fact that their bulkiness makes us seem comparatively waiflike. We feel like Marilyn Monroe on the beach in her chunky belted wool cardigan. They make us feel secure and small. Some people will just want one to keep warm walking the dog.
Anyway, these big knits are topping the fashion charts, specifically high-necked, big-sleeved (as in ballooning, with cuffs that graze your fingertips), long-line (bottom-covering), wide-fit, slouchy, swamping sweaters.
The idea is to look like you are peeking out at the world from behind your turtleneck (you are wearing this grazing your chin), and you might be wrapped in a fat scarf, too.
The most fashion-forward designers, including Saint Laurent, are mad for polo-necks, but there’s also a limitless array of knits on the High Street, from long belted cardigans to cropped applique sweaters and even ones with strategic laddering and holes.
Anything goes, as long as it’s unmistakeably oversized.
The knit is the main event. Wear with jeans or trousers, or a lean midi skirt and boots.
BIG JUMPERS: THE RULES
- Generally, the most flattering length is crotch-grazing. Much longer and you’re into sweater dress territory.
- Avoid bulky fold-over polo-necks. Opt for turtle or funnel necks.
- Side vents will make the silhouette more forgiving, or go for ribbed wool over plain.
- Pattern is hard to pull off. Stick to colour block or plain white or navy.
At one end of the spectrum are the serious swampies: Zara has a bright-red cable-knit turtleneck (£39.99, zara.com) that finishes half way down the thigh. Less of a statement, but still chunky, is H&M’s wool-blend jumper (£34.99, hm.com), an Aran-ish knit, but crucially, only hip-grazing, so it’s easier to wear with a skirt.
The store’s shorter polo-neck jumper with ultra-wide sleeves (£34.99) ticks all the boxes if you want something on-trend, but not overwhelming.
For everyday wear, most of us will need less extreme options. Kin by John Lewis’s oversize roll-neck jumper (£69, johnlewis.com) is soft, unstructured, and totally plain (avoid anything cable or patterned if you want to wear these knits Monday to Friday) and, crucially, not too thick.
For something a bit smarter, French Connection does a blouson-sleeved black-and-white jumper (£95, french connection.com), and Winser London’s burgundy ruffle knit (£199, winserlondon.com) is equally office-friendly, worn over cropped black trousers.
The secret to staying cool is with a thin stretch top. British brand Me+Em has plenty of jersey layering pieces to wear under its slouchy box jumpers, including a chic cream-and-black Breton stripe (£149), their version of a Guernsey (£189) and a roomy polo-neck with cable sleeves (£199, all meandem.com).
Cable all over adds inches, so a bit of detail is the answer.
Realistically, you’re not going to be wearing your chunky knit for evenings out (unless it’s late fireworks), but you might be tempted by a swing-bottom sweater with fluted sleeves. It’s all about roominess at the moment.
And if you are feeling hot just thinking about these sweaters, you can always cheat. Do as the fashion insiders do and get a Me+Em icon cable knit with a detachable snood (£199).
That way, you get the best of both worlds.