Knitting Daily conducted a survey a while back that asked, "What do men want in a sweater?" To quote from the results:
The Perfect Men's Sweater is a long-sleeved pullover (80%), without a hood (64%). It is dark in color (90%), preferably solid blue (82%). It has minimal texture (68%), although something subtle, such as a bit of ribbing, is acceptable (58%).
Apparently, Tara Jon Manning did not read this survey before published her book Men in Knits, which is subtitled Sweaters to Knit that He WILL Wear.
Let me say first that the book is chock full of lovely sweaters. Lovely textured sweaters. Lovely colorful sweaters. And vests. And cardigans. I would love to knit any of these sweaters. They are gorgeous and interesting and fun.
What I had trouble imagining was any man I know wearing them. So I decided to conduct my own unscientific survey by asking a few men to do the following: peruse the patterns and mark any that 1) you would consider buying for yourself, or 2) you would wear if someone gave it to you. (Oddly enough, I had to assure some of these men that participation in the survey would not lead to their receiving any handknit items from me.)
Male #1 was my SO (who sadly is not destined to ever receive a sweater from me because of the curse of the boyfriend sweater, but I think a vest may be in his future). SO is from a blue collar background but is well read and kind of artsy fartsy, especially regarding color and texture, and is closing in on 60. He marked a surprisingly variety of items, eight in all, including pullovers, cardigans, and vests. I was a little surprised and wondering if my premise was ill founded.
Male #2 was a co-worker, formerly in the military, very Republican (but hates GW), and a history buff in his 50's. He picked only two items, a surprisingly busy Aran cardigan and a pullover with colorwork. He also admitted that he rarely wears sweaters.
Male #3 was another co-worker, a newly minted AARP member, rather red in the neck but kind to animals (he once twisted his ankle rescuing a turtle from becoming road kill). He also does not wear sweaters much, but picked three items, two of them busy Arans.
Male #4 was yet another co-worker, yet another non-sweater wearing middle aged guy but left leaning and very left brained. He picked three items, one of which was a busy Aran.
Males #5 and #6 were supposed to be my son and son-in-law, both of whom escaped before I could corner them, but my daughter offered to pick for them, assured she would know what they would wear. She picked nothing.
So. What conclusions could one draw from my survey? I think if the knitter is inclined to stray from the results of the Knitting Daily survey, an Aran sweater is a safe bet, unless the recipient is under 30.
Or do what I do: Ask before knitting.