Reader Request: Finding Fun and Warm Winter Tops

This suggestion came from Eternal*Voyageur:

I would love suggestions for finding warm winter tops / knits. Most of the stuff is sooo boring: either simple figure-hugging long-sleeved blouses, or knits that are either shapeless or again body-hugging.

When I graduated from college, I had a vast collection of long-sleeved t-shirts. I was so self-conscious about my body’s shape that I shied away from layering, assuming that adding more garments to my outfits would automatically add more bulk to my frame. Since then, I’ve learned to layer without lumps and also discovered that my own favorite cold-weather looks are generally layered: Jacket or cardigan, inner layer, scarf, skirt, tights, boots. Most of my winter tops aren’t terribly exciting on their own because they’re meant to be part of a group! But I do have some ideas and tips for finding eye-catching, cozy winter tops.

Prints and patterns

There are loads of beautifully constructed, cleverly designed, solid colored winter tops out there. But if your aim is to be fun, funky, and unusual, going for prints and patterns can be a fabulous shortcut. Simple spots and stripes have more movement and interest than many solids, and the more varied or quirky the pattern the more fun it may be to wear. This skull-print sweater – a generous gift from gorgeous Sheila – is a definite conversation starter, and ever so warm and cozy.

Distinctive sources

You can TRY the Gap for fun, warm winter tops. And sometimes you’ll totally score. But if you’re looking for something a bit more inspired, steer clear of vendors who focus on solids, basics, and classics. Desigual, Anthropologie, Sundance, Prairie Underground, Boden, and of course Etsy, Fab.com, and your own local artisans are all good bets for interesting and unusual clothing, including winter tops. The top pictured above was bought in San Francisco from local designer Gr.dano.

Fabulous fibers

Many of the world’s tops are made from cotton. I love cotton. It’s soft, washable, and easy to wear. But it’s NOT the warmest of fibers. When scouting out winter tops, keep an eye on fiber content. Silk – especially in knits – does a marvelous job of trapping body heat. Wool – the fiber from which the blue sweater above is made – is a winter standby. Cashmere is heavenly if you can afford it. Relying on cotton or flimsy manmade fibers can bite you in the butt, warmth-wise.

Thrift!

If part of what bores you is the prospect of wearing the same Target sweater that half your friends are wearing, consider thrifting. First off, older goods are often heavier, better constructed, and sturdier than newer, and that goes especially for blazers, coats, and sweaters. So thrifting for wintry garments is a good bet. And, of course, by buying used you have a better chance of snapping up a unique item, like this past-season argyle sweater I nabbed for $3.

What other tips would you offer for finding fun and warm winter tops? Any other brands to recommend? Fibers you love? Thrift tips? Tell us!

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  • Danielle

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing

  • Eliza

    I get a lot of my clothing from thrift stores, but I’ve also had luck with Peruvian Connection. Most of their knits are way out of my budget, and they can be a bit boxy, but they always seem to have one or two with more afordable prices and better sillouettes.

    I also keep an eye out for Eileen Fisher on ebay and thrift shops, since they tend to have interesting textures.

    If there’s a designer consignment shop in your area, you can sometimes find better tops there (especially cashmere) than at the thrift store.

  • http://tutusandtinyhats.wordpress.com Laura (dusty_rose)

    Great ideas, and I love love love the skull sweater and the stripey top!

  • Sonja

    So this might be a bit ambitious, but for people who are really serious about this – knit a sweater o have someone make it for you. Someone who has never entered the world of Ravelry – a members only website collecting information about all available patterns for knitting and crochet – would never believe the huge quantity of things that are possible. Name a style or personal interest, may you be an elf, a goth or a trekkie (or whatever), there is the right sweater (or any kind of garment) for you. And if you find a real expert at this, they can even make a pattern according to your wishes.
    The drawbacks – this is time-consuming and/or expensive, depending on your skills (or lack thereof) and the fibers that you want to use. For me it has also proven problematic that you cannot try on things before making them, an I have ended up giving away almost anything that I made for myself because finally it didn’t look as good as I thought.
    But it is certainly a possibility, especially for those who have a knitting mom or granny (or dad or uncle…).

  • cecelia

    Any ideas for how to wear short-sleeved sweaters and cardigans? I picked a couple up and am stumped (they look silly with a turtleneck underneath, and aren’t warm enough on their own).

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Hmm. The short-sleeved sweaters will work as layers under blazers, jackets, and even a few heavier cardigans and that’s how I’d typically style them.

      Short-sleeved cardigans are tougher. I’ve seen them work with long-sleeved tees layered beneath, but that look can be tricky. They might actually work as a double-layer: Blazer, s/s cardi, tee or tank. The J.Crew catalog shows a lot of layered looks like this that look warm and eye-catching. Otherwise, those short-sleeved cardis might need to wait until warm weather comes back around!

      • http://jackieregales.com Jackie

        I have two short-sleeved cardigans I love, and I’m thinking of trying them out like this–buttoned up over a tee-shirt, then with a jacket or heavier cardigan over it all. I figure this way, the SS cardigans are functioning like vests in the look.

        • http://butaneanvil.blogspot.ca/ Amber of Butane Anvil

          I’d try them overtop of a button-down shirt / blouse which has pretty cuff detailing or bell sleeves, or sleeve embroidery or some such.

          Sally, I positively swoon over that blue wool bolero!

      • cecelia

        Sadly, mine are too bulky to wear as an under-layer. Think more like fisherman sweaters, but with short sleeves.

  • http://allonsee.wordpress.com Heather

    ((headdesk)) please quit torturing me with the black and white shirt!!!!!!!! EVERY SINGLE TIME I SEE IT I COVET IT!!!! :)

    For long sleeve warmth, in the end I focus on how much time I spend indoors and it is boring but I usually end up in whatever Target sweater is on the front corner of the floor at Target. :)

  • Celeloriel

    Many of the recommended suggestions won’t work for plus-size women (the day Anthropologie makes a sweater in my size is the day my credit card melts from frequent use). I recommend at least taking a pass through the old stand-by of Lane Bryant (you might get lucky), and checking out Eloquii (the Limited’s online plus size store), Torrid, and IGIGI, though they run more towards evening wear – you might get lucky. :)

  • http://ticka-spoonfullofsugar.blogspot.com/ Shanticka

    Old Navy is my “go-to” spot for cute winter appropriate tops. I usually purchase a sweater tunic or a short sweater dress, and wear it as a top. I also love layering their sweaters. One thing I recently started doing is wearing crop sweaters & wearing a tank underneath

  • Aging fashionista

    I agree with Sal about layering, and also that it seems to make my winter wardrobe seem borrrringg…I like the dirt top you have shown. Having finally gotten comfortable with legging like looks I am on the lookout for longer tops (or short dresses) and having a hard time find them thins year.

  • Aging fashionista

    Oops I meant the first top not the dirt top, %#@& auto spellcheck!

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  • jennifer

    I just discovered your blog last night and today am going through various posts. I gotta say… dang woman, you own some boots! : )

  • Susan

    In the fall Orla Kiely had some “fast fashion” items at Uniqlo in playful prints. Now she has a line of their heat tech clothing that looks great for layering.

    http://www.uniqlo.com/us/womens-clothing/collections/orlakiely-heattech