The first time I watched Love Story, I cried so hard I woke up swollen. If you’re willing to brave the tears, it’s worth a watch just for the outfits: a dazzling cocktail of “prep-school student” and “quirky third-period art teacher.” I happen to be named after the film’s leading lady Ali MacGraw, so maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that my personal style is equal parts loafers, a million antique necklaces, turtlenecks, silky dresses worn over pants, and—the crowning jewel—Ralph Lauren sweaters. Nothing screams all-American prep like Ralph! But the chunkier knits skew delightfully bohemian, more western than northeastern. They’re absolutely perfect, and I sort of hoard them. My growing collection feels like a safe investment–I figure, if as they’ve stayed looking this good for this long, RL knits are probably timeless.
The first thing you need to know about shopping for good ol’ Ralph is that there are a million lines under his brand umbrella. There’s Polo Ralph Lauren, where the colors are brighter and the prices are lower. There’s Ralph Lauren Collection, which is probably designed for Diane Keaton or A Very Fancy Lady With a Second Home in Aspen. There’s Double RL, a collection of luxe pieces to visually simulate wild west living in the comfort of a city near you. And then there’s Lauren Ralph Lauren, for a more literal take on workplace-appropriate blazers.
The second thing you need to know is that the best place to find Ralph Lauren sweaters is eBay (I’m blowing up my spot—you can thank me later). The chunky knit blanket sweaters (not the classic cable knits, or bear motif cashmeres) retail for around $700 but similar vintage ones are on eBay for just around $100 (with the low end being $50 and the high end being $300 for something truly spectacular). Not only am I saving money, but I’m getting something that feels one-of-a-kind while also shopping sustainably, my only 2020 resolution I’m determined to stick to.
The first one I bought was a shawl-collared blardigan (something between a blazer and a cardigan) that feels as cozy as a Sedona campfire smells. The team I worked with on this shoot loved it so much they took it off my body and styled it with a black button down. On a brisk fall day, the wool is thick enough to wear as outerwear, but I often take advantage of its roominess and wear it over another sweater and under a coat for double the warmth in the winter. Other similar silhouettes available currently are this red guy, and this belted pastel patchwork one that’s a little pricier. Or, get the exact same one I have—someone just listed it.
After that successful purchase, I branched out into a special category of sweaters called “Is It a Cardigan or a Shirt?” I have a sweater pretty much identical to this fair isle gem in the dusty greens and browns of a Santa Fe dreamscape. You know how sometimes the buttons on cardigans aren’t exactly in the right places to wear it as a shirt? Well I can wear this one buttoned up and tucked into slouchy Isabel Marant khakis, or open over a cream turtleneck and flare jeans. Choose your own adventure!
The same concept plus an extra yard of knit gives you a sweater that could be a cardigan, or a coat, or a dress. I like to wear it the sartorial mullet way: halfway buttoned over a pair of pants. Here’s mine, a cabin in the Nordic forest if said cabin were a cashmere funnel-neck duster, and a second option that isn’t quite as long but gives the same effect for less.
There are a million other options, too! This wearable tapestry of many mallards is amazing, and if someone doesn’t buy it quickly I’m going to. Here’s a soft looking pullover for those unafraid of a little color. I love the idea of a ballerina-esque bolero over a turtleneck. Or nix the extra layer and go straight for the turt: this offspring of the Swiss flag and a cup of hot cocoa, specifically. Or a swingy mock neck in all the best browns.
And, I know you came here for sweaters, but I implore you to please consider their knitwear cousin: PONCHOS. All of the chunky warmth of a sweater, none of the arm holes. Wiggle to your wrists’ delight! Have I sold you yet?
Of course, we’re shopping on eBay, and therefore there are a few little quirks. A good place to start is searching “Ralph Lauren blanket sweater,” and then sprinkle in keywords like “vintage” “Aztec,” “fair isle,” and “cardigan.” Each configuration spits out a different mishmash of sweaters to sort through, and the really good ones are often hiding on page four or five. The selection varies from month to month, and so will the prices (to that point, there are equally great sweaters available on Etsy, but they’re more consistently expensive). Some you’ll have to bid on, and some you can buy right away. Some might show signs of wear, in which case you’ll sometimes need to give them a quick at-home makeover before they hit the streets. Stay patient and stick with it, though–you might end up with something you’ll love for many years to come. Let’s keep this between us, shall we?
Feature photos via Getty Images.