Facebook Twitter



From family get-togethers and parties to the onset of truly wintry weather, there are many holiday reasons to get warm and fuzzy.

That's warm and fuzzy as in super-bright orange or yellow mohair pullovers, hooded cotton tunics, handsome cardigans in forest greens or deep burgundies, and hand-knit crew necks in rich golds and blues reminiscent of Mideastern tapestries.This season, men and women have a lot to choose from in the sweater department as a more relaxed look comes into fashion after years of uptight shoulder pads and far more structured designs.

And, after all, what could be more relaxed than a sweater?

For, men fashions are "keying into the classically inspired wardrobe, but in a more casual look," says Tom Julian, associate director of the Men's Fashion Association, a fashion forecasting group in New York. "It's a decade in which inconspicuous consumption is in."

What inconspicuous consumption means is men getting away with more sweaters (but interesting ones) and fewer jackets. Julian describes it as the comfortable-but-classic "William Hurt look" from Anne Tyler's book and movie "The Accidental Tourist."

However, added to Hurt's slouchy sweater-and-pants wardrobe are brighter, richer colors inspired by both the environmental movement and by the Mideast. For example, Jantzen sweaters evoke images of exotic tapestries, while designer Henry Grethel's sweater line includes falling leaf patterns as well as a "tribal story" featuring deep, earthy tones worked with white.

Favored hues for men include natural "vegetable colors" such as zucchini, squash, pumpkin and olive, says Edward Steinberg, president of J.S. Edwards of Baltimore. But brights such as teal and red are also popular.

For the most part, sweater shapes have stayed traditional - cardigans, crew-necks, turtle necks. What's new is detailing, says Shelley Wexler, vice president of men's design for Liz Claiborne. (However, sweaters - some with three buttons at the neck - worn under suits for both men and women are gaining popularity, she says.)

Men no longer need to rely on neckties to make fashion statements, as this year's sweaters have become conversation pieces, Steinberg says. "It's the most exciting year ever for men's sweaters. Last year and the year before, you began to see leather treatments (details) in sweaters. Now there are sweaters with little bits of chenille, sweaters with different textures, thicknesses, weaves, appliques."

Hand-knit sweaters, of course, are in demand, with designers such as Coogi of Australia offering sweaters from $250 to $275 that are "almost like masterpieces," Steinberg says. "They can put 15 different colors in one sweater."

But for men who don't want to spend quite as much, there are plenty of machine-made sweaters in cotton and cotton blends, Julian says. "I've seen Giorgio Armani sweaters with wonderful detailing for four digits, but there are also sweaters with chenille detailing at Sears for $40."

Liz Claiborne for men offers machine-made sweaters "that look like hand-knits with the luxury appeal, but are in the realm of normal price range," Wexler says. What's interesting about these sweaters are the yarns: anything from boucle to chenille, she says.

And, "if we're talking investment, cottons are probably better," Julian says. "Unless it's a very fine gauge wool, it'll probably be worn only six months at most out of the year." For shoppers with an eye toward price, hand-framed sweaters (the body of these sweaters is machine-made and the sleeves, neck and ribbing are hand-knit) are also good buys, he says.

Women's sweaters are equally diverse this year, says Linda Scherr, co-owner of Rococo of Baltimore. "It's the best year for sweaters we've had in five years. Everyone wants long, over-size sweaters for stirrup pants."

Comfort and casual are the operative words as the "big over little" look comes into its own. Thigh-long, hooded sweaters, drawstring tunics made of soft cottons and knits are everywhere. And many of the tunics, some with drop shoulders and big pockets, are made in chenille - and "chenille is definitely a very leisure feeling," says Janet Koehn, fashion director for women's and menswear at Spiegel Inc.

"This style looks good on virtually everyone. If you're a little bit thick in the waist, it kind of covers it up. If you're thin, it makes you look thinner and taller. And obviously, it's a great look for juniors," says Jan Flora, publicist for J.C. Penney Co.

The same detailing that is popular in adult sweaters is showing up in children's: Bubble and Squeak offers a line with Aztec designs and silver detailing on the buttons for boys from $45 to $60. In the $85 to $90 range, Marisa Christina Bambina has brightly colored ramie cottons hand knit with holiday designs.