Knit Wit: Testing the Graphic Knitwear Trend

One editor takes a new crop of Bill-Cosby-approved sweaters to the streets.

graphic-knitwear-trendIllustration by Kirsten Ulve

Over the past few seasons, designers have been laying on the patterns (psychedelic dresses, paint-splattered trousers, flashy space-age tops). And now these outlandish prints have landed on sweaters, too: For their fall/winter collections, labels like Proenza Schouler and Jonathan Saunders sent oversize crew necks featuring everything from tigers to zigzags down the runway.

As a longtime fan of bold, baggy knits—yes, I’ve often shopped in the men’s department to achieve this look—I’ve been eager to test-drive the trend. But on my first shopping trip I found only a single specimen: a graphic green, yellow, and red pullover from Forever 21 that I quickly snapped up. Subsequent excursions to Barneys and Saks yielded a few more gems. “It’s still so new,” explained Tina Burgos, women’s-wear buyer for the websites Karmaloop and Miss KL. “We’ll see variations in the spring, and more next fall.” For once, it seems, I’m ahead of a trend.

I debuted my Forever 21 sweater at work, pairing it with black skinny jeans to give the outfit some balance. “It’s very, uh, Cosby?” senior editor Rachel Slade offered. Later that week I pressed on, sporting a baggy, colorful Missoni number that once belonged to my grandfather. The reception? Crickets. Finally, taking a cue from the catwalks, I paired a tribal-patterned crew neck from Karmaloop with a black dress, tights, and heeled clog boots. It was a surprisingly smart ensemble—the snicker from our editor in chief notwithstanding.

Of course, with all the bright prints popping up on racks, it can be tempting to go wild. So for my next experiment, I decided to ignore Burgos’s advice to take it easy when it comes to mixing patterns and donned a leaf-printed vintage sweater from Artifaktori, graffiti-esque floral pants, and lace-up wedges to a Boston College football tailgate. I was feeling pretty fashion-forward—that is, until I noticed I was getting a little too much attention (and not the good kind). “You could work the sweater,” one pal remarked, “but those pants….”

So now I have a strategy for unleashing my Cosby-chic knits onto the world: Wear them with something so ridiculous that people think the sweater just might work.