The sweatshirt lowdown

One of the simplest, yet most iconic, of all garments is the white t-shirt. Ah, but I’ve already done a post on that, so let’s go to another piece that is right up with it: The sweatshirt. A casual, loose-fitting sweater, usually in a thick cotton. The origins are most likely in the realms of sportswear, or rather before and after sports wear.

To me, there are a couple of things that must be there for it to be a proper sweatshirt.

  1. Ribbed, elasticated cuffs, neck and bottom hem.
  2. The V-shaped design below the neck.
  3. A clean look, without huge graphics or obvious logos (this really goes for almost everything I wear).

If they’re not there, it’s not a sweatshirt, only a sweater.

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I did read somewhere that the V-shaped piece at the neck was supposed to be in a sweat-absorbent fabric to catch that pesky throat-sweat on it’s way down the chest. Plausible? Hard to say, though it at least gives the design a reason other than it being a mere design element.

You might think that this limits the scope of design somewhat, but in reality almost everyone does a variation of it, every season, and always has. It’s a staple indeed, and as staples go there is quite a bit of improvising going on.

So I’ve picked out four sweatshirts from my own collection for a short review.

Pike Brothers PT-sweater

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The closest to what must be the original sweatshirt design is this PT sweater from Pike Brothers. Based on a design from the 1920’s, the PT is short for Physical Training, a clear nod back to the origin on the sports field. If it’s the Steve McQueen look you’re after, this is it.

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Properly long ribbed and elasticated cuffs, which either allow you to fold them double, or adjust the length of the arm if you have long arms. The fabric is a dense, closely woven cotton.

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The V-neck design is properly done, with  V-shaped piece of fabric sewn in place, ensuring the design rule is fulfilled. The neck itself has a nice rolled edge, again using the utility as a design element. All the seams are properly sewn to ensure it stands up to hard use.

As far as sweatshirts go it’s not a pretty piece for dressing up nice, it’s rugged and true to the origins. From the perspective of the design brief, Pike Brothers got this one dead right.

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This is one of my two favorite sweatshirts and I recommend it a lot, especially considering it’s a great combination of a classic look and very decent value for money.

The fabric is stated as 100% cotton. Made in Portugal.

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Ace Rivington

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Next to offer up an example of someone taking the original design, rethinking it and coming up with a sweatshirt that becomes their own design. This sweatshirt is the first offering from new American brand Ace Rivington and very nice it is indeed.

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I was intrigued by their use of what they describe as a “Homespun French Terry” as the main fabric of the sweater. It’s a nicely woven, quite airy fabric, excellent for layering, and also with some character, brushed on the inside for comfort. The ribbed pieces are contrasting and include some lycra to ensure they stay springy.

The V-design has also been done properly on this one, again in a contrasting colour. The neckline is well-strengthened, which bodes well for the longevity of the sweatshirt.

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This is the second of my two favourites and considering the very reasonable price for a garment made in the USA, I reckon Ace Rivington are onto a good thing here.

The fabric is stated as 90% cotton and 10% polyester. Made in the USA.

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SuperDry

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Next up comes one that will have the purists raising their eyebrows (and I confess, this one belongs to my son), a sweatshirt from British SuperDry. And, it’s not bad at all.

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The V-neck design is there, though not quite according to Accepted Sweatshirt Specification. Whereas the Pike Brothers actually remove the triangle, SuperDry have sewn theirs over. It looks very nice, but it just ain’t proper. The neckline is good though, and it has extra strengthening on the inside, which is a nice feature.

The fabric is a fluffier variant of the woven cotton. Brushed and super-comfy on the inside. The ribbed wrists are there, though not as long as Pike Brothers, as is the ribbed edge along the bottom. SuperDry have their own little twist up their sleeve though, or rather up the sides. Given that they cater for the younger wearer with a slimmer shape, they have put an elasticated panel on each side, to ensure the sweatshirt sits nice and tight. It does look good.

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As is the way of SuperDry though, they add a contrasting chest logo and their trademark orange tab on the right wrist. This will no doubt put some people off, and while you could snip off the orange tab, trying to remove the embroidered logo on the chest will likely ruin the fabric.

Oh, something I didn’t notice until I saw the photos of me wearing it: The huge (and I mean unusually and unnecessarily large) logo on the inside does make for a not very attractive stitching on the back. Was the huge logo on the inside actually worth this? I would say no.

The fabric is stated as 50% cotton and 50% polyester. Made in Turkey.

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Carhartt WIP

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From the hipster WIP arm of American workwear stallwart Carhartt comes a variant that to me sort of combines Pike Brothers with SuperDry. It has the properly executed V-neck detail of the Pike Brothers and the super-comfy brushed cotton fabric and inappropriate embroidered logo of the SuperDry.

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Carharrt have their own little variant going on though in that this one has raglan-style shoulders. Notice how the top shoulder goes all the way up to the neckline? Raglan.P1050730

The neckline is proper though, as are the ribbed and elasticated bits. Not a bad sweatshirt at all, though I sort of wish they’d not do the logos.

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I think I’ve only worn this one twice since buying it, and had quite forgotten I had it until I went to dig out some examples to right about. It’s not a bad sweatshirt, but it’s maybe just a bit bland?

The fabric is stated as 58% cotton and 42% polyester. Made in Greece.

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Paul Smith Jeans

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To end with an example of how everyone is at it, I have a sweatshirt by Paul Smith from a couple of seasons back. Given it’s purple colour and printed graphics, it might not immediately spring to mind that it’s another sweatshirt, but take in elasticated openings and general shape and it’s clear where the influence comes from.

Ok, it doesn’t have the V-design in the neck, which strips it further down to a basic no-nonsense design. The fabric is similar, though slightly lighter weight cotton fabric to Pike Brothers.

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The graphic design is naturally a matter of taste.

The fabric is stated as 100% organic cotton, which is nice. Made in Greece.

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In closing I’d like to make three comments: Yes, you are now intimately familiar with a certain view of my house. Yes, I know I used two different Paul Smith sweatshirts. And finally, yes, I am overdue a haircut! The shame of it!

2 Responses to “The sweatshirt lowdown”

  1. Brandon

    Great article – there are a lot of classic sweatshirt type articles out there, but few with firsthand experience of different sweatshirts from the author themselves; keep it up!

    Coincidentally I just bought one after an extensive search for my ideal version from National Athletic Goods. Made in Canada and sub $140. They’re fleece instead of terry which gives the sweatshirt a tighter weave feel for sure. I highly recommend the brand as a whole. For reference, (though I didn’t purchase from Unionmade) here’s my ‘classic grey sweatshirt:’ http://unionmadegoods.com/product/national-athletic-goods-double-v-warm-up-in-granite/

    (I don’t think I’ll be working out in it, though, haha)

    I’ve been enjoying your stuff here and on Instagram since I found you through your Thoroughstitch review. Thanks for the great content, WDD.

    Reply

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