The Knit Henley is the Perfect Summer Evening Layer

The go-to winter base layer also makes a comfortable (and sharp) summer outer layer.
knit henley with shorts summer with dog
Knit henley: Goodthreads, $13 / Stretch chino shorts: Abercrombie & Fitch, $34

Your definition of the ideal summer night – and what kind of clothes the circumstances call for – can vary wildly depending on where you are. 

You could be throwing on another layer when that sudden evening chill hits as you walk back from the beach barefoot, salty, and sunburned. Or you might be shedding a layer as you warm up by the campfire with your partner after watching the sun sink down behind the mountains. Maybe you want some light insurance from the milder summer elements while cruising back to the marina on the lakes, or navigating the rough terrain in your Jeep with the top down. Maybe you’re not even out in nature – but you’re cozy in your favorite summer short sleeve kicking the end of another long day at home with a good glass of whiskey.

What all of these perfect summer nights have in common is that they’re all made a little more comfortable – and stylish – with the added light layer of a knit henley. Sure, the knit henley is often seen as a light winter base layer – but it also works great as a heavy summer layer, making it one of the most versatile all-purpose mainstays of your closet. As you’ll see, the knit henley is truly a chameleon that handsomely complements any casual look, no matter what your summer night may bring. 

summer outfit men henley gray shorts sneakers sunset
Knit henley: Abercrombie & Fitch, $23 / 7″ shorts: Goodthreads, $25

Think of it as a more robust alternative to the v-neck or crew neck; definitely a step up from a t-shirt, but without pushing business casual like, say, a collared polo. Lighter than a sweater but it can just as easily be pulled on for a little extra insulation, with many woolen or knit varieties even providing a degree of protection against moisture. It’s no wonder the henley has become the de facto base layer for construction workers, lumberjacks, and dockmen – and utility aside, it just looks rugged as all get out.   

waffle henley texture

How To Wear It

Dressed Down

Wear your knit henley with button ups, jeans, chinos, or shorts. Keep it casual – don’t button it up all the way; leave the top button or two undone. And lean in even more to the rugged muss of the henley by hiking up the sleeves – or if you’re wearing a shirt over it, roll up the outer sleeves, exposing some of the henley sleeves underneath (whether you roll those up too or not).

Don’t worry too much about being perfect here – after all, there’s an inherently slapdash charm to the henley, down to the asymmetry of the way the partially unbuttoned placket will naturally fold over. 

black knit henley with shorts
Knit henley: Goodthreads, $13 / Stretch chino shorts: Abercrombie & Fitch, $34 / Sneakers (Similar): Vans, $60

Although the henley feels quintessentially American and workmanlike, let’s not forget that it can also be dressed up a bit too, especially given its preppy English origins (in fact, henleys were born in a town called Henley-on-Thames where they were first sported by crew teams in the 19th century). 

knit henley over collard shirt
Faded navy henley: Goodthreads, $13 / Linen shirt: J.Crew Factory, $20

Dressed Up

Lately, the henley has indeed enjoyed “upper-crust” status as a go-to among fashion tastemakers and Hollywood stylists (GQ has seemingly featured the henley even more on its covers and in its spreads in recent years, ever since 2010’s “No Collar, No Problem”). So try pairing it with dressier trousers; layer it with a suave field jacket, or even a light blazer.

The knit henley will add a rugged edge to nearly any outfit that might be too preppy on its own. But remain mindful and intentional; don’t forget to pay attention to fit, and never leave all the buttons undone, especially if it drops the neckline below the nipples. There’s a balance to be struck here: a proper fit – and not revealing too much man-cleavage – is what keeps knit henleys from veering dangerously close to resembling the undergarments of a toothless old prospector.

More Options

jcrew henley
J.Crew, $21
huckberry henley
Huckberry, $118
schott sweater
Schott, $80
everlane henley
Everlane, $42
bonobos henley
Bonobos, $68
cream knit henley
Knit Henley
7″ Stretch Chino Short
Canvas Sneakers
Digital Watch
No-Show Socks
Monkey Shoulder Scotch
Pyung Kim

In addition to being an avid Primer reader, Pyung Kim is a Los-Angeles based writer / filmmaker who firmly believes that clothes and fit make the man.