When guys come to me for style advice and ask about hoodies or athletic wear, my first inclination is to just say “no”.
Really, it's just a whole lot easier to recommend that a novice style guy steers clear of hoodies and sweatshirts than it is to have a lengthy conversation about how to wear them successfully.
It's sort of the way you wouldn't give a teenage driver tips on how to roll through stop signs or blast through a yellow traffic light their first time behind the wheel.
But that really isn't a fair way to deal with the topic as these items can have their place in a man's casual wardrobe.
They just have to be implemented properly.
And since we have the luxury of communicating via print, let me take the necessary time to express my opinions and provide you with examples.
Why guys like sweatshirts
Everyone knows that as a general rule, hoodies and sweatshirts are essentially a criminal offense in the world of menswear.
But again and again, I get the same questions regarding exactly how, not if, one can include these athletic items into a respectable wardrobe.
So instead of railing against the everyman's favorite wardrobe item, I motion to embrace the inevitable and learn how to cleverly incorporate them into your wardrobes.
But first, why exactly do guys like sweatshirts so much?
Sweatshirts are familiar
Reinventing your style can be a daunting task.
So it's better to take small steps toward the end goal rather than to remain stagnant.
And it's a hell of a lot easier to upgrade an item of clothing that's already in your wardrobe than it is to transition to an entirely different style.
If you're anything like me (and every guy I've ever known), you've been wearing hoodies and sweatshirts for as long as you can remember.
You may have even had your “good” hoodies that you reserved for parties on the weekend. *hangs head in shame*
So rather than taking the leap from that baggy sports hoodie to a silk and cashmere v-neck sweater, take a baby step by upgrading to a fitted hoodie.
It'll be a huge style improvement, but will also look perfectly at home in your daily life.
Sweatshirts are comfortable
Most guys put comfort before fashion and I, too, make it a point to avoid uncomfortable clothes, no matter how good they may look.
This is a non-issue with sweatshirts as there's no denying that a 100% cotton crew neck is going to be as comfortable as pajamas.
The preference makes perfect sense because men are physical by nature.
We resist clothing that inhibits our movement, causes us to overheat, or is too delicate to withstand normal abuse.
I've been randomly asked countless times “can you move this for me?” or “can you reach that shelf?”.
It would be silly to have to decline the request to help another because of excessively restrictive or fussy clothing.
Sweatshirts are affordable (usually)
With the exception of some high-end streetwear brands, most sweatshirts can be purchased in the $20 to $50 range, and will last as long as you care to own them.
This inherent affordability can help you get the intended use out of your items, leading to a more minimalist and effective wardrobe.
Items with excessively high price tags can make the owner hesitant to break that piece out for routine wear, but instead, reserve it for special occasions.
That's fine if you have a suitable event every other week, but for the rest of us, these expensive items may end up getting annual wear at best.
That is the definition of high cost per wear.
Sweatshirts are laid back
Most men aren't huge fans of peacocking.
For the general populace, wearing appropriate items and meshing with the business or leisure environment are more important goals than being the center of attention.
Most of us have very casual work environments and social lives.
I don't know about you, but I've never worn a tux (other than to my prom) and I don't get invited to five course dinner parties.
So laid-back pieces like the sweatshirt reflect our daily lives.
If properly chosen, sweatshirts can definitely make you look put together while still being relaxed enough to grab a beer with the fellas.
Styles of sweatshirts
Everyone's favorite casual wardrobe item, the hoodie can be extremely versatile, or a style disaster, depending on what you choose.
I actually refused to wear hoodies for quite a while. I see shunning hooded sweatshirts as a step along the way of becoming a more appropriately dressed man.
But once you get the hang of looking good on a daily basis, I don't think there's any harm in bringing back an old favorite.
For me, donning a hoodie helps make me appear more approachable and I don't get the disapproving looks from old friends or hear “you've changed, man” nearly as often.
I didn't see these very frequently, even just a few years ago.
But with the popularity of shawl-neck cardigans, the styles are starting to merge.
And I'm a fan!
Seriously, this is a good stepping stone for guys looking to up their style game, without making a drastic leap.
With the shawl-neck sweatshirt, you get all the comfort and familiarity of your old hoodies, but to the average passerby, you're wearing a smart sweater.
It's a win-win.
Recommended Shawl-neck Sweatshirts
Classic crew neck
Originally born as an alternative to itchy wool athletic jerseys, the cotton sweatshirt has become a casual wardrobe staple, thanks to cool guys like Steve McQueen.
The wrong sweatshirt can make you look like an awkward teenager, while the right pick will make you look like an accomplished man enjoying a little leisure time.
Recommended Crew Neck Sweatshirts
Sweatshirts (especially the hooded variety) are usually associated with criminals, slackers, and those not yet old enough to operate a motor vehicle.
Rather than discard sweatshirts altogether, we just need to take away the offending aspects – namely immature design and incorrect sizing.
Nothing says, “I couldn't care less about my appearance” than a massive logo on the front of a hoodie.
Luckily, there are tons of grown up options out there.
If you aren't exactly sure what makes a sweatshirt more grown up or are just starting out on your road to building a better wardrobe, you can't go wrong with solid colors.
Marled or heather fabric (like my shawl neck), a stripe across the chest or arm, or color blocked (different color body and sleeves) sweatshirts would also be a good place to start.
But err on the minimal side if you want the item to appear more sophisticated.
For a retro aesthetic, consider white details such as drawstrings and zippers like my hoodie above. It has a 1980's athletic wear vibe to it.
If you were to consider my height (6'2″), weight (185 lbs), and muscular development, I'm sure you'd guess that I'm wearing at least a large in most sweatshirts and hoodies.
The blue hoodie I'm wearing above is a MEDIUM from Old Navy, the navy crew neck is an H&M MEDIUM, and the gray shawl neck sweatshirt is a SMALL from J.Crew.
“Holy shit, you're tiny!”
I can hear it now.
But the truth is, I'm usually one of the bigger guys in most situations.
When shopping for clothes, I don't go with what size I think I should wear. I try on shirts until I find one that's too small and then size up one.
I highly recommend you follow this approach when buying casual clothes.
Formal attire is a little different, as it's purchased by actual measurements versus the standard small, medium, and large.
The standard for sweatshirts and hoodies is 100% cotton, but I've found that a blend of around 40% polyester or other synthetic is tremendously useful in helping the garment maintain its original size and shape.
As mentioned above, we buy sweatshirts and hoodies because they're non-fussy clothing items and who wants to have to air dry and iron their hoodies?
How to wear
For the style-conscious man, the goal of casually wearing a sweatshirt isn't to appear to be on your way to the gym or recovering from a bad breakup.
It's to blend the comfort and familiar aesthetics of active wear with an otherwise refined and put-together look.
Keep other elements understated:
- Classic sneakers or retro trainers will look more natural than new fangled running shoes.
- Dark or subtly washed jeans are better than excessively destroyed, stitched, and patched designer jeans.
- Keep color palates and patterns neutral for best results.
- Make sure your grooming is on point to avoid the “hung-over run to McDonald's” look.
- Add personality with accessories like watches and bands, bracelets, and sunglasses.
Don't go overboard
My intent isn't to help you justify to continue to wear sloppy sweatshirts, ratty jeans, and running shoes (if that's what you're currently doing).
It's to let you know that despite what some men's style purists may say, it's perfectly fine to wear sweatshirts and hoodies if the situation calls for it.
If you work in a formal office environment requiring you to look your best for clients, there's no point in trying to pass a North Face fleece as outerwear.
If, however, you're a blue collar guy and want to be comfortable on the weekends, you can absolutely include familiar items in your wardrobe.
Just remember to keep the style sophisticated, the fit right, and the rest of the look sharp. Then you can keep your beloved sweatshirts in rotation without sacrificing style.
All the best,