Fifties-inspired knitwear

Summer knits with a cool midcentury spin nod to off-duty Hollywood greats without seeming overly retro, says Tom Stubbs

Dunhill wool/silk/linen blouson, £970, silk polo shirt, £675, and cotton swim shorts, £275
Dunhill wool/silk/linen blouson, £970, silk polo shirt, £675, and cotton swim shorts, £275

Though the 1950s have had a strong influence on men’s style for a while now, this has mostly related to casualwear and more robust staples like jackets. Now it’s the turn of summer knitwear to be given a midcentury spin. The aesthetic is unfussy, clean and masculine – and easy to work into modern looks without seeming overly retro. In contrast to the trends of the time, however, when designers were experimenting with rather grim acrylics, nylons and viscose, this time round luxury blends have taken their place.

Salvatore Ferragamo silk/cotton top, £580
Salvatore Ferragamo silk/cotton top, £580

Fifties-style short-sleeved patterned knits have a youthful energy, and those at Brioni are a case in point. My two favourites are one (£540) in a subtle blue and white print with a blue collar, the other (£750) an unusual bottle-green check, overlaid with three horizontal stripes. Both look terrific paired with the brand’s microcheck pleated trousers (£1,500).

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The grey cotton-knit Franceont short-sleeved polo (£850) with a signature textured V from Louis Vuitton’s spry 1950s-inspired cruise collection is another strong piece. It would look sharp with any of the marque’s black, white and pink check seersucker separates – in particular the shorts (£680) or drawstring wool trousers (£590) – for that off-duty 1950s film star feel. Other pieces can channel the spirit of the era with a bit of deft styling – a simple salmon-pink knit (£585) would look great with a scarf (£135) tucked in, for example, and I’m also a fan of the heavy acetate retro sunglasses (£360).

Brioni wool/silk polo shirt, £750
Brioni wool/silk polo shirt, £750

Debonair 1950s style can also be found at Dunhill where a sky-blue wool/silk/linen blouson (£970) looks spot on paired with an ecru silk polo (£675) and red and white printed cotton swim shorts (£275). This bold use of colour was another theme that characterised postwar menswear. Hermès’ fine-wool knit shirts in mustard with navy placket (£900), or sand with chocolate placket, also nod to the polychrome trend. A scarf tucked in at the collar completes the look superbly.

Hermès wool knit shirt, £900
Hermès wool knit shirt, £900

Trimmed collars and a placket with no buttons are also typical of the decade, and Ferragamo has taken these details and reimagined them using luxe fabrics and unusual colours. These include a stone silk/cotton long-sleeved top (£635) with cream collar, another (£780) in terracotta silk/cotton, and a short-sleeved top (£580) in ribbed muted mint green with a shawl collar – all of which evoke Gene Kelly or a youthful Sal Mineo, who were stars when a young Salvatore Ferragamo was making his name as a bright new shoe designer to the Hollywood set. Boss also has a silk top (£280) in a similar style – in subtle stone with contrasting buff placket and trim.

Louis Vuitton cotton-knit Franceont polo shirt, £850, silk shorts, £680, and sunglasses, £360
Louis Vuitton cotton-knit Franceont polo shirt, £850, silk shorts, £680, and sunglasses, £360

Etro’s stripe-tipped collars are another classic take on the genre. A cream cotton/cashmere top (£355) hits the mark with its green-striped collar worn on the outside of a navy cotton jacket (£810) or under a graduated white-to-blue shawl-collar cotton cardigan (£505). (Colour-graduated knitwear is becoming a trend in itself.) Complete the look with Etro’s two-tone penny loafer (£525) – a dapper interpretation of the classic preppy shoe.

Paul Smith cotton cardigan, £160
Paul Smith cotton cardigan, £160

More collegiate style can be found at Paul Smith, which has some fantastic summer cardigans. One (£160) in black-and-white “tuck‑stitch” cotton makes a strong retro statement – the taupe merino wool shawl-collar cardigan (£185) a more subtle one.

 Etro cotton jacket, £810, cotton/cashmere top, £355, wool trousers, £255, and calfskin loafers, £525
Etro cotton jacket, £810, cotton/cashmere top, £355, wool trousers, £255, and calfskin loafers, £525

The smashing thing about this particular wave of 1950s-inspired designs is that these pieces can slip straight into a more contemporary wardrobe – even just a dash of vintage styling can add panache to a summer outfit.

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For summer style that dares to be different, check out Prada’s outré deep-blue collection and the short-sleeved shirts being given natty new vigour.

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