Last January, as Eric Jennings, the men's fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, watched the models amble down the Fall 2012 runways, he realized he had seen a lot of great crew-neck sweaters at houses like Jil Sander and Prada, and he should buy them for Saks.
"It was a very quick change," he said. "One season from V-neck to crew neck."
Then he realized something else. Like many stylish men, he had accumulated a closet full of V-neck sweaters. And, he joked, "Suddenly I didn't want to be seen anywhere in a V-neck."
Crew-neck sweaters could be spotted all over this week's New York fashion shows - that is, on men in the audience. And this fall, the stores are chockablock with crew necks, from inexpensive to costly, from solid-colored to patterned, from cashmere and fine-gauge merino to chunky Shetland wool.
This is not just a change in style. The crew neck is a shift in gears. Though almost twins, separated by little more than a couple of grams of wool, the V-neck and crew neck are as different as uptown and down. The plunging neckline of the V-neck is tailor-made for wearing with a dress shirt, its appeal in its jaunty Continental propriety. But worn in any other way, it doesn't work very well. Not with a T-shirt, not with a V-shirt and not with nothing at all underneath - unless it's 1967 and your name is Alain Delon.
By contrast, the crew neck has always been aligned with the T-shirt, sharing its flexible, utilitarian American profile, but also its unpolished feel. For more than 50 years, come September and school, young men have traded in the tees of summer for this scratchy winter cousin, acceptable only in casual circumstances.
But as is clear, considering this year's trimly cut and stylish crew necks, that has changed. Today's crew neck can be worn with a T-shirt and jeans or a dress shirt and trousers. A well-cut crew in a polished fabric can go to work, go out for drinks or dinner after, even out to a club, without ever showing a wrinkle.
There are plenty of options to choose from. The crew necks at J. Crew, Uniqlo, Brooks Brothers and Club Monaco are standouts and good values. Up the price scale, go straight to Martin Margiela: he all but reinvented the style.
It turns out, though, that the crew necks spotted all over Fashion Week were not so new after all. For years the style has been a staple for men in fashion. (Think of Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, who seldom seems to wear anything else.)
"It's my everyday uniform," said Alex Badia, the men's wear editor of Women's Wear Daily. "It's the perfect basic. It's great on its own or under a blazer. When I go out to dinner with friends in fashion, I can guarantee you that half of them will show up in a crew neck."
Perhaps, with all that versatility, all that desirability and its sudden arrival in stores, the crew-neck sweater should be considered the iPhone 5 of fashion. (NYT)