Getting and spending: Sweater-knit tanks, considered

Jane in London and I seem to notice certain trends around the same time. 

She wrote, "I have, for some months now, been a bit fascinated by a fashion garment that seems to be everywhere. It is variously described as 'vest', 'pullover' and (by our German cousins) 'pullunder'.

Most of the women who frequent the Passage will be no stranger to the sleeveless pullover, of course. We all wore those clingy striped ones in the '70s, and then plain lambswool ones were just the thing in the early '80s to wear with our Lady Di shirts and pearls! 

But the new breed is much looser in both fit and attitude, is longer and usually has a hi-lo hem...

I  have not taken the plunge...  my problem is that I really like the look of these pullovers, but my imagination starts to fail me once I've got past 'it would look great over a crisp white shirt'."

The vests are especially useful for transitional wear (or travel), and can live happily with trousers, skirts, even dresses—but they need to be handled with a little thought, because even the more fitted ones add some width. Let's window-shop!


The cut of these is straight and neat, often v-necked, and to the waist or just below. Exapmle below: An alpaca/cashmere tank (now s/o) by Eric Bompard, which I have shown before, worn with a fine rollneck beneath. Sale price, $CDN 216. Is that Kristin Scott Thomas?  

Photo: Eric Bompard

Some women will conclude that the layers add unwanted bulk, and if so, what are other options? I'd wear it with a stretchy layering tee like those sold by Adea: soft, pretty and not as warm:

Photo: Adea

Brora always make a sleeveless option; this year's Fair Isle tank, which was on sale for £209, is shown two ways, with a simple white longsleeved tee, and a piecrust blouse. Guess which one I don't recommend!

Photos: Brora

The Lady Di piecrust is a girlish, sweet look; Jane said that kind of dressing on grown women has been called "fossilized Diana".

Classic vest with long shirt

A classic v-neck vest catches up to the times when paired with a long shirt. The beige and orange-striped cotton/alpaca piece is by Cos; price, $US 99. Note also the cropped trouser. If reaching for of-the-moment the whole thing has to hang together.

Photo: Cos

If that shirt length would swamp you, think about what it would look like if you (mentally) cut off about half of the bottom, and see whether that proportion is better. These overshirts are everywhere, and not all are this long.


The new-gen vests are boxier and as Jane said, looser in fit and attitude.

Jane mentioned that she was hoping to find one that's not jolly expensive; a good source is Cos. I found many possibilities there, made with a good percentage of natural fibres, and washable. 

Photos: Cos

Left: Cos off-white cotton-wool textured rollneck vest; price $US 99. Though shown on its own, you could wear it with the Adea tee. (Check the side view and you'll see there's plenty of room.) 

Right: Cos long tabard vest also in beige (or black) wool/cotton; price $US 115. The ensemble shows another styling tip: a tonal palette reduces the widening effect.  

Try a short(ish) sleeve

Photo: Arket

Arket's pink knitted poly/alpaca/wool vest winks at spring;  I wanted to show a knit vest worn over a short-sleeved tee, but not one of those skimpy cap sleeves. Price, $US 79.

What's your trend tolerance?

If you like somewhat fitted clothes and don't view a knit vest as a trend you'll donate in a year, the classic in a quality pure-fibre textile will give faithful service.

If you prefer decontractée cuts, take your contemporary model home (if you can return it), and try it with several bottoms, always wise when working with a new proportion.

I did not take my advice.

Duchesse's poor in-vestment

Late last fall, when we could still travel, I bought a contemporary vest in black cotton knit. It reached just below my waist and had an exaggerated shoulder, almost a flange. Though not usually drawn to vests,  I was about to travel for several weeks, and wanted changes that fit in a carry-on. In the boutique, I felt decidedly 'updated'.  

On the trip, I wore it a few times over a thin-striped tee. It felt like someone else's clothing, maybe a Berlin architect's. I told Jane I'd to give mine another go, and so I did, and concluded that it was too short and wide. A trend has to fit physically and psychically.

Jane jumps in

Last week, Jane e-mailed to say she had taken the plunge, buying (with reservations) this H&M poly/acrylic/wool ribbed-knit version. This is a case when a low-cost (about $CDN 35) but spot-on design could make sense: trying out a trend. (Also sold in black and light taupe.)


Photo: H&M

Now, of course, I see them everywhere—and though I just donated my first try, I'm still intrigued. 

Warm thanks to Jane for her question and observations; we'd like to hear what you think, too.



Ms. Liz said…
I also have been eyeing this look, so much so that I was thinking of knitting one for myself as a pandemic project. (Though by the time I finish it we might be into the next pandemic...). I like the look and I think the garment could be useful so I get more wear out of my shirts. I like the idea of wearing one over a t shirt. Of course, proportion is everything and wish I could try a few on to get an idea what it would look like on me.
Unknown said…
"Fossilized Diana" made me snort. That's Not My Age blog post has featured these tops recently calling them tank tops. Of course out terminologies and those of the Brits are often different. I knitted one many years ago and was very happy for the warmth and the colour pizzazz it added to my outfit each day. I still have it and it looks like new but I can't wear it because I have grown and it has not. I've recently been wishing for one because this cold weather is really bone chilling and, in my book, wool is the only thing to keep me truly warm. I do have a nice Burda pattern for something similar so I may get out the sewing machine rather than the knitting needles. P
Leslie M said…
It occurs to me that this is the perfect solution for covering beloved T-shirts and blouses with small stains or mended holes in the front. 😉
Barbara said…
I have three cashmere v-neck vests with shell buttons. Pale pink, taupe and grape. Bought over 30 years ago at Lord & Taylor's post-Christmas sale. They are great to layer when you need a little more warmth, but they add no bulk in the sleeves. Perfect for under a blazer.
Jane in London said…
Thank you so much for taking up this topic, Duchesse! Wise observations, as always. What a shame your recent foray into vest ownership did not end well, but perhaps you'll find a more lovable version once we can all shop freely again.

Building on your ideas, I have been happily wearing my new vest in a variety of combos. I find that the neckline is just right for wearing a scarf, too, which is a bonus.

@unknown - Sadly, I cannot take any personal credit for the term "fossilised Diana";) It was coined by the witty social observer and author Victoria Mather.

Jane in London

Francie Newcomb said…
I love these vests for the warmth, and liked the Cos styling to make it look updated, with long shirt and cropped trousers; will try this look with a silk vest my mother gave me 30 years ago! (She called it a "weskit," or maybe a "waistcoat."). It probably won't work, because it's not loose and doesn't have a hi-lo hem. I love your humor, Duchesse-- "fossilized Diana" and "like someone else's, maybe a Berlin architect." So funny!
JohnInWI said…
I was watching a zoom debate for a local judiciary race Monday night. One of the candidates was wearing a sweater vest with too tight armholes. Her underlayer was bunching up. Not a good look. I still voted for her, a single mother with an interesting life history. As usual, fit is key. Lily, not John
Duchesse said…
Ms Liz: You might extrapolate from the sleeved-sweater length that looks best on you, and think about whether a tee or shirt extending below the tank's hem would be something you would wear.

Unknown: Good idea, could sew one in a knit fabric.

Leslie M: Sure! Another idea for small holes is visible mending. I can get lost for hours on the visible mending sites.

Barbara: I had two like that, butI outgrew them!

Jane in London: I had fun collaborating with you! Glad you are getting good wear from yours, and your search helped me parse what I need to do to wear one.

Francie: I like to look at Cos and Arket to see, as my mother would say, "what they are wearing". Often i can tweak what I already have to look more current. A weskit (aka jerkin) is usually fitted and has a buttoned front closure, like a man's vest in a three-piece suit.

Lily: The problem with knits is you do not feel the fit issue, and the camera is unforgiving. Good for you for separating image from ability.

Mardel said…
I do like the idea of these things, and have had iterations of them: the closely fitting vests, loose vest-like dusters, even earlier versions of the boxy vest or sleeveless pullover. I still have some variations on the theme, even if not the current iteration. I may indulge as they add warmth without the dreaded multiplying of layers on my arms. But they do seem to need to be carefully considered and I am not leaping into anything at the moment.
Sam said…
Duchesse & followers,
Excited to find & share a great blog by an older Englishwoman examining her collection of vintage silk scarves.
She shares the history of her scarves, both as design and fashion objects and their personal memories and associations for her. As so many of us in the Passage know, we value our things for the second reason every bit as much as the first.

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