This Spring, Embrace the Gangster Knit

Dress like the handsome tough guys from "The Sopranos" or a Scorsese film if you want to feel seen in the world

This Spring, Embrace the Gangster Knit
HBO
By Caroline Reilly / April 17, 2020 10:43 am

A few months ago, I had the privilege of chatting with Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson, costume design duo and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborators, about their work on his latest film, The Irishman. Among other Italian wardrobe staples like pajama separates and capo collars, we discussed the film’s knitwear. “It’s definitely like the staple of the Italian man’s wardrobe since they invented knitting machines,” explained Peterson. “And it’s also got those names, like a Gabicci,” joked Powell.

This kind of sweater is ubiquitous in Italian American cinema and culture alike, a favorite of Tony Soprano and Italian grandfathers everywhere. And we’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill half-zip (not that there isn’t a time and place for that). Rather, we are talking about a very specific kind of knitwear, the kind that conjures images of pleated trousers, penny loafers and Cuban cigars. We’re talking about short-sleeve mock-neck silk and wool blends; we’re talking about cream-colored knit polo shirts offset by white piping; we’re talking about a gangster knit.

And you don’t have to be a Made Man to incorporate this specific kind of sweater to your wardrobe. In fact, it’s my hearty recommendation that you include one or two or 10 in your spring and summer looks posthaste.

The warmer weather can be a precarious time for fashion. Rising temperatures and sweaty environments often drive us to make unsavory decisions: flip-flops, short-sleeve button-downs, cargo shorts. Too often, men lean too far into the cool and casual to beat the heat, shirking any and all regard for something tailored, put-together or dare I say tasteful.

The gangster knit is the perfect answer to this question. It provides the temperature control of a short-sleeve shirt and the casual flexibility of a tee but keeps you from looking like a hapless dad without a full-length mirror.

A gangster knit can present as styled as you want: You can pair it with jeans and a casual tennis sneaker for a laid-back spring walk through the park (or around your apartment). You can throw one on with a pair of lightweight slacks and loafers without socks for a slightly more dressed-up look (or to walk around your apartment). And if you’re feeling particularly rakish you can even opt for some accessories. When in Rome, do as the gangsters do. Add some tasteful gold jewelry — a single chain, bracelet or ring — and throw on a lightweight leather jacket for those brisker spring days.

With some help from our good friend and New York-based tailor Kamau Hosten, we’ve compiled some knits below for your perusal. I’m also going to note that if you’re considering online shopping now, I’d urge you to be responsible. Shop local if you can and consider holding off on any non-essential purchasing right now to avoid overworking an already overloaded delivery system.

If you’re looking for something budget friendly, H&M and Zara both have good options; my personal favorite is this beige ribbed mock neck that I swear to God Tony Soprano wore.

Zara Mock Neck Ribbed Sweater

For something midrange, Ben Sherman and Todd Snyder come through with some great looks that are a little bolder in palette. Ben Sherman has this great option with a snazzy full zip, and Snyder has a great range of knit polos, like this neutral brown and goldenrod option, or this honeycomb patterned polo that happens to be on sale.

Todd Snyder Horizontal Stripe Mesh Polo Sweater

Now, if you’re really looking to splurge, or to engage in some top-notch online window shopping, look no further than Tom Ford, Brioni and Missoni. What I love about this Brioni option is the subtle waffle texture; opt for the neutral cream color if you’re looking for something versatile, but the turquoise will look great with a pair of jeans or lightweight gray slacks.

It’s hard to go wrong with Tom Ford, and if you have the cash to spend on something timeless and versatile, this pointelle polo is a great option, as is this bicolor textured polo.

Finally, if you’re looking for that gangster on a Miami vacation look, try this Missoni knit polo, complete of course with their trademark Missoni flair: a neutral toned but bold leaf pattern, offset by a taupe collar.

Missoni Foliage Polo Shirt

If all else fails, vintage shopping is a great way to source these kinds of knits; Sandy and Christopher told me they ended up custom-making a lot of the numbers that appear in The Irishman.

And if you find yourself stumped stylistically or wanting for inspiration, look no further than a Sopranos rewatch, or any Scorsese film.

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