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Why the Half-Zip is Getting a Second Glance

Call it a quarter-zip. Call it a half-zip. Whatever you call it, these pullovers with stiff, mandarin-style high necks and a zipper closure down part of the chest have never quite leapt past their modern-day utilitarian role. In fleece or a knit fabrication, it’s an easily layered garment that doesn’t quite have the cool appeal of a cardigan, V-neck sweater, or sweatshirt. With tech features, any of your neighbours could easily sport one to stay warm, dry, and visible as they go for a morning run around the block. And, unlike pleated trousers or bulky runners, this is a “dad” trend your own father probably still wears – so the nostalgia factor is lost. All in all, quarter- and half-zips have never been cool – not even in an ironic sense – but do their job reasonably well.

However, its reputation appears to be evolving, as evidenced by its presence in recent runway presentations and a new slew of silhouette.

Polo Ralph Lauren
Polo Ralph Lauren

Why the Half-Zip and Why Now? 

Chalk it up to the perfect confluence of factors – some practical and others trend driven. Centred around sustainability and getting rid of excess, layering and adaptability have merged into the minimalist menswear movement, and here, the half-zip sits precisely as a mid-layer that can be worn over a T-shirt or any shirt. Compounding to this last point, fleece as a status signifier in corporate environments – and, let’s be real, it’s a Patagonia fleece, or else you’re just a cheap try-hard – has surged over the past few years, to the point the “Midtown Uniform” of finance dudes and tech bros has evolved into a meme. Ultimately, it’s a smart casual staple with some preppy appeal that every exec and management-wannabe sports to fit in.


On the other hand, the half-zip is yet another extension of the tech features trend and also of “dad” fashion, although not for the same reasons. There’s a strange amount of comfort and familiarity in “dad” styles, and the latest interpretations of half-zips capitalise on this with oversized fits and warm-for-its-weight fleece. As well, beyond the strict athletic gear sported for marathon training, fleece is one of those deceptively techy materials: Even casual versions pair surprising insulation with moisture-wicking features and a cut specifically made for movement.


What’s Different  

The “new” half-zip diverges down multiple paths from its stodgy predecessor:


The Reworked Classic  

Something’s just different. A knit or fleece forms the foundation, but from here, little details differentiate it from the expected. For one, the typical quarter- or half-zip features a streamlined yet boxy cut that doesn’t sit right next to the skin, allowing for easy layering. The updates, however, treat it like a separate entity that, yes, could be worn as a layer but isn’t out of place as a standalone shirt. 

On one hand, streetwear fits have broken up this structure. You’ll come across cropped quarter-zips, as well as oversized, baggy ones that engulf most of the torso and resemble anoraks with a defined hem. Further breaking down boundaries, the mandarin high collar occasionally gets traded in for a point collar – giving off polo shirt hybrid vibes – or taking cues from activewear, the fine knit material sits closer to the skin, essentially functioning as a lightweight sweater you could wear under a trucker jacket or bomber.


Into Patterned Territory 

Stripes, camo, and colour-blocking – it’s all up for grabs. Perhaps making the strongest impression, Balenciaga’s rugby-striped combinations with pops of neon play on its retro appeal while pulling it clearly out of the staple brigade. It’s bright and meant to make a statement, no matter if it’s worn strictly as a shirt or as a pullover. In these instances, the garment itself is constructed out of a sportier-looking material – think nylon, polyester, or spandex – and veers very closely toward shell suit territory.


The Track Suit Version 

On the subject of shell suits, the trend itself hasn’t gone that far back in time. Yet, as all-over patterned efforts from Gucci and Burberry show, the 2000s are now up for grabs – as is the era’s tacky-for-the-sake-of-tacky chav culture. Within those boundaries, half-zips emerge as a reworking of the track suit. Yet, to some degree, we experienced it a couple of years ago with the whole post-Soviet revival, but while that stayed somewhat traditional – and, in many regards, was an ode to the status symbol Adidas played in ‘90s Eastern Europe – the new version alludes more to the knockoff Burberry checks that were everywhere in the mid-2000s. Zip ankles, though, have been replaced with streamlined jogger bottoms, and a full-zip tops get swiped out for a half- or quarter-zip pullover.


Totally Textured  

The smooth performance fabrics we’ve seen on fleece and knit half-zips get a bit boring. Now that we’re expecting more from both our sweaters and active garments, it’s not unusual to see chunky, mohair, or shearling-like textures for an obvious tactile element. These garments have traditionally been about blending in and staying warm outdoors or in a too-cold office, but the extra texture directly calls attention to the fact you’re putting something on to do just that. 

Now that the half zip is making a comeback, you can save on a range of stylish men's half zip sweaters with a Debenhams discount code and find on trend, affordable menswear online.

Ivan Yaskey

Philadelphia’s streetwear scenes and working as a copywriter for a Boston-based menswear brand sparked Ivan's passion for fashion and style more than a decade ago.

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