Safe or Smokin': The twinset, then and now

A smokin' twinset sounds like an oxymoron, given its decades-long rep as the supreme safe style. But wait. Could you use a versatile, three-season piece that works with nearly every bottom you own? A pulled-together look you don't have to overthink?

Thanks to stylists, women fear matchy-matchy more than an anaconda hiding behind the drywall.  But lately I've admired soignée women in either coordinating or tonal sweaters. Time to ditch a notion obsolete as sweater guards and reconsider the twinset.

I've stowed mine in a snap-lid for a few years, but this fall, I'm going to wear it to bits. It's more comfortable and cozier than a shirt and jacket.

Detailing the difference

The new twinset shares its double layer with the original, born sometime in the '30s, but has a more current attitude.

Above left, an anonymous woman now memorialized in the Wikipedia entry on twinsets, in a classic style, bitsy earrings and a prim pearl pendant: a lovely woman looking safe as green beans.

Right, a witty wool/cashmere twinset from Eric Bompard's summer 2018 line. Granted, styled to highlight its Cap Ferrat chic, but even if you cover the model's sunnies, what a difference!

Put woman on left in twinset on right, lend her some adult-sized jewellery, and she's sidling up to smokin'.

You can still wear the classic; check the Queen in her cashmere (probably Scottish), kilt (Balmoral Royal tartan) and pearls, below left. The modern twinset at right, on Michelle Obama, is less covered, more fluid, and accessorized with a contemporary necklace. 

Finding the fresh

Start at the top to tune your eye. Definitely elevated to star status: Paco Rabanne'sVogue suggested wearing an after-dark skirt with a twinset for day, like this:

If you have a twinset that tends toward safe, try it with an offbeat skirt—not necessarily metallic panels like the Rabanne above, but perhaps a print or brocade. Or with trousers in hot mustard: subdued no longer. Add trainers, brogues, or block-heeled mules.

 Plush twins

Cashmere is still supreme in conveying luxury, especially in a gorgeous colour. Eric Bompard's extrafine cashmere allows layering without ruglike weight, and offer choices beyond the classic crew-neck cardi (though they carry them, too).

Left: Extrafine V-Neck cardi in autumn white, €229, 17 and
Right: Extrafine short sleeved v-neck , €133, 33
(Because I don't suit ivory tones, I tend to give them short shrift, and shouldn't; the colour is sublime on those who can wear it.)

I especially like the idea of playing with scale and colour, such as the a wider-cut Loose V-Neck Cardigan,  € 225, which can be paired with their Loose Crew Neck Pullover (short-sleeved model), € 150, in a different colour: fraternal twins.

The classic twinset was designed to hit and emphasize the waist. If that's your not your sweet spot, look for longer-lined pieces. Brora are known for subtle, unusual colours like "Elephant"; below, a gauzy tank and longline shawl cardigan (£298):

Madonna, those pieces are pricey! If you want cashmere, bookmark them and sign up for those sale notices. It's still gonna hurt, but you know what a false economy cheap cashmere is.

When twins lighten up 

If you can't wear wool, or it's too warm for your climate, other fibres perform well.

Talbot's seem to have regained their senses after a foray into high-girlyland. Pearl flick to Rachel, who sent me the link because she just bought this for a cruise. The viscose/poly open-front cardi is $US 67 (sale price), the shell, $US 34 (sale price). The two washable pieces come in Misses, Petite, Woman and Woman Petite. 

This can be smokin' with jeans and a bootie, but you could wear it to a meeting, too.

Garnet Hill carry an organic cotton silk-banded knit cardigan and (sold separately), a matching trimmed tank; shown, Spiced Plum. Price for both is about $US 165.

Choose a cotton twinset carefully, because it can look bulky in heavier gauges. A knitter might make her own. This arrowhead lace twinset pattern for a herringbone-stitch shell and cardi is by Ann McCauley, as featured on Ravelry:

J. Crew always slip a twin or two into their sweater collection; the hand-washable embroidered Jackie cardigan is anything but stuffy in tart pink embroidery on navy, (price, $150), and coordinates with the Jackie shell. Sizes up to 3x, thank you J. Crew. Finally.

Maybe "smokin'" is a reach for the classic Queen-style twinset, but calm coordination is its own particular, polished pleasure.  Long may they reign, but just like the royals, a little modernization lends new interest.


JohnInWI said…
Enjoyed this post. Twin sets are part of my "uniform". I favor a shorter sweater, like the J. Crew, on my petite frame. Embroidered, beaded or solid, in a beautiful color, worn with a scarf. And jeans, always jeans. A dressy/casual vibe, that's me! -Lily
Duchesse said…
Lily: A twinset with jeans is one of my favourite looks... or with slim trousers. Such a calm, low-key elegance.
Wendy said…
I do love the look of a twin set, but you’re so right, it can feel and look too “safe”. I was searching unsuccessfully on the You Look Fab blog for a beautiful one the author, Angie, wears. If I remember correctly, it was two coordinated pieces in bright colors, but each in a different print. An interesting twin set in brights is hard to find these days, but such a quick and easy way to a pulled together outfit!

Laura J said…
Twinsets are so versitile! And your ideas here are very helpful. Twinset/jean outfit was a travel uniform for years. Comfy but also tidy and exuding s certain confidence
Duchesse said…
Lily: P.S., That embroidered one at J. Crew comes in several colourways ;)

Wendy: J. Crew alway have some brights- and if you're feeling spendy, so do Bompard.

Laura Jantek: One of my friends swears her twinset and skirt is her secret weapon for an upgrade. I don't know if that's it but her hit record is astonishing.

Jane in London said…
I believe Her Majesty gets her knitwear from Pringle of Scotland, if anyone wants to copy her closely lol!

Twinsets can look fab teamed with a very informal 'bottom half'. I wear one (complete with pearls) with skinny jeans tucked into long boots.

When wearing this combo, I always have the door opened for me by doormen at the smarter shops - but they don't usually bother if I'm wearing jeans with an ordinary sweater.

I think we Brits are hardwired to respect the twinset (though I notice it also works in Paris).

Duchesse said…
Jane: Pringle do hold a Royal Warrant! They are offering some very cool twinset styles, a twist on their traditional styles:

I enjoyed the "get doors opened" comment and certainly agree with keeping the bottom half informal, or if not, the twinset should have a modern twist, like the Bompard one.

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