While the two terms are often confused for each other, they’re actually about as different as you can get. So, what’s the difference between a crew neck and a sweatshirt?
A “crew neck” is a rounded, collarless neckline you can find on a variety of tops including T-shirts, cardigans, and sweatshirts. A “sweatshirt” is a buttonless, pullover garment that is usually made from thick cotton.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
What Is A Sweatshirt?
A sweatshirt is a typically loose-fitting, collarless pullover garment, usually made from thick cotton. The traditionally baggy fit and the rugged texture of the fabric give it an instantly casual aesthetic.
Sweatshirts may or may not be hooded.
While the term “sweatshirt” usually refers to this specific form, it’s often used to refer to other similar items such as cardigans which are similar but are open-fronted.
The sweatshirt first grew popular in the mid 20th century. It quickly became the garment of choice for US schools and universities to display their slogans.
Given the often cheap production, they became a widely used advertising tool for companies and organizations to display their logos, slogans, and catchphrases.
Importantly, sweatshirts can come with a variety of different necklines, but the crew neck neckline is especially common.
This is why the terms “crew neck” and “sweatshirt” are often confused with each other.
However, it’s essential not to ignore the fact that sweatshirts can come with different necklines including V-necks and round necks.
What Is A Crew Neck?
Unlike sweatshirts, “crew neck” is a term used to refer to a round, collarless neckline. This neckline can be included in a variety of different tops including T-shirts, cardigans, and long-sleeved tops.
Importantly, sweatshirts can also have crew necks. These are called “crew neck sweatshirts”.
In fact, it’s incredibly common to find crew neck sweatshirts and it’s one of the main reasons why the two terms are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably.
Crew necks were actually first used in T-shirts dating back to the early 19th century.
Crew neck items got their name from the fact that rounded, collarless shirts and sweaters were often worn by rowers in the early 20th century. As the decades went on they became more and more commonly worn in mainstream culture.
Crew neck shirts and sweaters are now popular around the globe given their subtlety and suitability for layering.
But what are the main alternatives?
“Crew necks” should more appropriately be compared to other types of neckline and not with “sweatshirts”.
In other words, compare apples with apples and not apples with oranges.
Other types of necklines include the following:
- V-neck: A neckline with straight sides that meet to form a V-shape
- Round neck: A similar shape to the crew neck but are more rounded and sit lower down the neck
- Scoop neck: A deep and curved neckline that sits low down on the chest
- Mock neck: A high and rounded collar that reaches partially up the neck without folding over as a turtleneck would
Types Of Crew Neck Tops
Here are some items other than the sweatshirt which often do come with crew neck necklines.
Crew neck T-shirts are extremely common. In fact, they’re arguably just as common as crew neck sweaters.
They’re great for layering under other items such as unbuttoned shirts, jackets, cardigans, and even blazers.
They have an immediately casual feel to them and have become a staple of modern casual attire.
Unlike V-necks and scoop necks, crew neck T-shirts are ideal for those that want a summer-ready item that doesn’t expose too much of the chest.
In addition, crew neck T-shirts (as well as most crew neck items in general) work well in people with slim or narrow faces. The curvature of the neckline adds balance and contrast.
While it could be argued that cardigans are simply “open sweatshirts”, most would say this was incorrect.
Cardigans are typically knitted, open-fronted, and buttoned.
This gives you a lot more versatility than a simple sweatshirt as you have the option of leaving it open if you wanted.
The important point here is that cardigans can have crew necks too.
While it’s much more common to find them with V-necks, the crew neck cardigan is still not uncommon and would give you the same benefits as other crew neck items would.
While the term “long-sleeve top” is frustratingly vague, what it usually refers to is simply a long-sleeved T-shirt.
In other words, a top made from a typical T-shirt material (eg. cotton or cotton-polyester blends) but is long-sleeved.
Like T-shirts, they do not have buttons or collars.
Long-sleeved tops are also very commonly found in crew necks and are ideal for smart-casual settings where a simple T-shirt wouldn’t be enough.
They’re also a good option if the weather isn’t quite warm enough for a lone T-shirt and you don’t want to bother with layering over one.
Types Of Sweatshirts
Here are some variations of the more traditional loose-fitting, thick-cotton, pullover, buttonless sweatshirt you’re most likely to find.
This is the most important variation of the sweatshirt to know about.
It’s common to find sweatshirts with hoods. They can still be called “sweatshirts” because they’re loose-fitting, thick, often made from cotton, and in pullover form.
But they have the simple addition of a hood.
Here’s an example of a hooded sweatshirt on Amazon:
The hood does make it look more casual, but it gives you the obvious benefit of protection against the wind and rain.
Zipped sweatshirts do have the common features of traditional sweatshirts – thick cotton and a loose fit.
However, unlike your average sweatshirt, they aren’t (always) open-fronted. They come with a zip so that you’re free to unzip whenever you feel like it.
They’re similar to cardigans in this respect.
However, cardigans are usually buttoned and not zipped. In addition, cardigans are usually made from a knit fabric and not the more casual thick cotton that sweatshirts are usually made from.
Zipped sweatshirts are great for layering over T-shirts.
Here’s an example of one on Amazon:
Polo sweatshirts are arguably the toughest type to truly call a “sweatshirt”, pushing the boundaries of the definition right to the very edges.
They’ll be made from thick cotton, have long sleeves, and will have a pretty loose fit, much like your average sweatshirt.
However, unlike a traditional sweatshirt, they’ll come with a polo collar. In other words, a collar with a placket neckline and usually two or three buttons.
Whether or not you choose to call it a real sweatshirt is up for debate. Just know that this term does exist so you know how to identify it when you see one.
There you have it. Hopefully, everything you need to know to clear up the confusion between these poorly understood terms.
“Crew neck” and “sweatshirt” are two terms that should never be used interchangeably.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.