Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: A Basic Black Sweater


This question is going to sound simple and stupid, but I assure you that I’m in dire need of help. I need a simple black sweater, preferable one that I can machine wash, that’s under $50. I always need a basic black sweater to complete an outfit, but I never have one. I have black cardigans, black tanks, black t-shirts – but the basic black sweater is nowhere to be found. I have searched high and low online, and the only one I can come up with is the Tippi sweater from J. Crew. Is it really necessary to spend that much for a simple sweater? I’d prefer one that is fitted and maybe 3/4 inch sleeve length, but at this point I’m not that picky. Can you recommend a few?

Thanks! Kacy

You lost me at “machine wash”…

But seriously, machine washing knits is NOT for the faint of heart.  It’s time consuming, not to mention dangerous.  One wrong move and your grown woman sized sweater becomes a luxurious tea cozy.  I mean, I know it can be done, but I have never attempted such a thing.

Care instructions aside, a J.CREW Tippi sweater is a great $80 investment.  (I have four; I wear them constantly.)  And it’s an especially good deal if you catch them on sale.  But if you must have something cheaper, try these:


(Boy, there is just no way to make a row of black sweaters visually appealing.)

J.Crew Factory Crewneck ($45) // Vero Moda Longsleeve Sweaters ($31) // Lord & Taylor Merino Sweater ($37) // American Eagle V-Neck Sweater ($25)

So there you go, a handful of basic black sweaters.  If it were me, I would still invest in the Tippi Sweater and take good care of it.  I also think this Neiman Marcus cashmere sweater from Last Call/eBay is a great buy at $104.



  1. k-t says:

    Kacy – also be aware that cotton sweaters, although more washable and affordable, will fade faster and look dingy. Silk, wool and even acrylic will keep their color better. Personally, if it weren't in my budget to get a good black sweater, I would put a good silk, merino or cashmere sweater on my wish list for my birthday or Christmas. L&T cashmere is usually pretty basic and not horrific in price. Lands End has good cashmere, just remember to size down at least one size. Gap and Banana Republic usually have mid-range sweaters that will tide you over. And oddly enough, I found a good black v-neck at Victoria's Secret that worked until I received a cashmere update.

    I have had good luck washing my wool and even cashmere with the French Laundress stuff on the handwash setting in my front-loader. And if you wear it over a tissue tee or even a cami, you shouldn't need to wash very often.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  2. jen says:

    i've had amazing luck with Target's sweaters. Try the Mossimo Women's Ultra Soft Scoop Neck Sweater for $18. Wash on gentle and dry on the rack, and it will last more than one season.(which is really the most you can hope for out of a sweater for less than twenty bucks!)

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  3. Kate says:

    I needed a black sweater but wanted something a little fun/funky. I bought a black dolman-sleeved sweater from Talbots on sale. It's a lovely merino wool, warm but light, and goes with everything.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  4. Lindsey says:

    The J.Crew cotton cashmere blend is machine washable. It doesn't look like they have anything in that blend for women on their regular site right now and the factory site is down until tomorrow, but it's something to keep an eye out for!

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  5. Ellie says:

    Hmm, I've been machine washing mine for a while. All my Tippis get thrown in a mesh bag, then in my washer with a couple capfuls of The Laundress wool detergent. I lay them on a drying rack and they're good to go…

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  6. Anonymous says:

    For Kacy,

    Black tends to fade quickly the more often you wash it so try to be careful with washing too much. From you question, it sounds like cardigans are out, which is why the sweater would need to be washed more than once or twice per season since you're probably not wearing it over a blouse or a T. Here's my suggestions for washing based on my experience washing sweaters in a machine. Anyway, you can wash sweaters, though if it tends to be a more delicate stitch on the sweater, you may need to be more cautious. If you are going to machine wash it, I'd suggest using the delicate cycle with either cold, cool, or nothing more than warm water. If you use hot, you might shrink the sweater. I wouldn't try running the sweater through the dryer either because you could risk shrinking the sweater in the dryer. Instead, lay the sweater flat on a towel on a table or large flat surface and air dry (this keeps shape of sweater better and should prevent the srhinking problem). This is what I've done and it's worked for me. Good luck.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  7. Mel says:

    This sweater from the limited is like on super sale right now.,default,pd.html?dwvar_5462701_colorCode=568&start=1&ppid=c1&cgid=merino-sweater

    I just bought one for myself and love it. It is a little low, so you will need a tank top.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  8. Ella says:

    I love love love Dryel for the convenience of washing but the gentleness of dry cleaning. I know I sound like a commercial, but it really is great. Someone please correct me if I'm damaging my clothes by using it, but I'm pretty sure that it's just a lighter version of dry cleaning.

    Also remember that most professional women don't need to actually launder (machine wash or dry clean) their work clothes after each wear. I always freshen them 1-2 times in between laundering. Usually I spritz the items with vodka (dries odorless on most clothes and kills bacteria, so I use it mainly under the 'pits) and then steam them. This is a hassle if you do pieces individually but not so bad if you do it weekly while watching an hour of tv.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  9. Ella says:

    Before I sound like I'm up too high on my horse… I am guilty of putting my bras in the washing machine on the lightest setting of the delicate cycle. I usually remember to rescue them from the spin dry at the end, though.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  10. Whitney says:

    As someone who is pretty wool-sensitive, I've had to shop around to find alternatives to merino for work and otherwise. I think J.Crew's Jackie Pullover is a good basic sweater. It's priced at $65 and is machine washable – mine have held up well so far with zero to minimal fading. I have it in 4 colors and wear them to work with pencil skirts and trousers.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  11. Alanna says:

    Also, don't give up on the J.Crew sweater. I've always been afraid to even go into J.Crew, because I assumed it would be too expensive. My friend took me in one time and I got the Tippi Heart Sweater on super sale (+ student discount) for $20, which is the same I would have paid for a sweater at Target (but obviously much better quality). So I would recommend haunting your local J.Crew, watching for things to go on sale.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  12. M says:

    I know DC doesn't have it, but Uniqlo is an amazing option for knits. You can get amazing merino or lambswool sweaters. My personal victory was a black cashmere V-neck sweater for less than $30 on special promotion. They have special deals and promotions, and the Japanese quality control ensures that you can wear the clothes for a while. Actually, it's a great shop for business clothes in general. So maybe try finding stuff on eBay or get some friends from NY or NJ to get it for you.

    October 11, 2012/Reply
  13. Kim says:

    I have a question on “taking good care” of sweaters. It seems like no matter what I do, mine start to pill after only a few wears. I just purchased the Tippi sweater from J.Crew and I desperately want it to last a long time. What exactly do you do to take good care of a nice sweater and what do you do when the fabric starts to pill?

    October 11, 2012/Reply
  14. Cb says:

    A bit late to the party but for basic black sweaters, try the kids section (especially school uniforms). They're often more durable. I wear a 10-12 in women and typically about a 13-14 in boys.

    October 12, 2012/Reply