Shetland Sweaters for Fall

There was some confusion after my post yesterday on Shaggy Dogs, where some readers were unsure what’s the difference between Shaggys and what’s commonly referred to as “Shetland sweaters.” Simply: Shaggy Dogs are just one of the many types of Shetlands that exist, and not all Shetlands are shaggy.

What’s a Shetland Sweater?

Shetlands get their name from the Shetland Islands, which are located halfway to Norway off the north coast of Scotland. Due to the region’s harsh conditions, the sheep there produce a sturdy, lightweight, long staple wool fiber, which is typically plucked instead of shorn. This wool is made into a very sturdy fabric, which is then turned into garments. Woven Shetlands are relatively rare, and when you see them, they’re usually in sport coats. Much more common are knitted fabrics, which are used for sweaters.

Shetland sweaters were originally made by peasant women on the islands, and came with a strong, smoked herring smell because of the way the wool would absorb domestic odors. It’s said that on damp days, the smell would become unbearable. These early sweaters were often knitted with distinctive patterns that were developed on the island over a period of centuries, but over time, they mainly came in one of four forms: plain, cabled, Fair Isle, or brushed (J. Press invented the hairy, brushed version, and they called it their “Shaggy Dog”). Thus, the term “Shetland sweater” – while formally referring to a very specific knit – now simply just means any sweater that’s made from that hardy, slightly itchy Shetland wool (brushed or not).

Where To Get A Good, Plain-Knit Shetland

Shaggys are certainly distinctive, but almost anyone with a classic sense of dress can wear a plain-knit Shetland. I particularly like mine with chinos or corduroys, and layer them over thick oxford-cloth button-down shirts. They’re more casual than your typical merino or cashmere sweater (the kind you find in almost any store), but dressy enough to wear underneath a sport coat. Plus, I think guys just look awesome in them. Evidence is above.

If you’re looking for a plain version, let me recommend who I think sells the best: O’Connell’s. They’re expensive at $165 (and never go on sale), but they’re the Goldilocks of Shetlands. Not as thick as Bill’s Khakis, and not as thin as Brooks Brothers’, they’re just right. The Andover Shop also has something similar, but I favor O’Connell’s saddle shoulder design. If you get one, I recommend sizing up from your sport coat size. They should also be restocking on sizes in a couple of weeks, and getting in a few new colors.

Other good, traditional Shetlands can be found at Cable Car Clothiers and Ben Silver, while slimmer interpretations can be had through Howlin’ of Morrison, Albam, and Norse Projects. There’s also Harley of Scotland (available through Bahles and Neighbour), Peter Blance, and Fisherman Out of Ireland, but I have no firsthand experience with those. Made-to-measure versions can be bought through Spirit of Shetland. If you go custom just remember: it’s better to err on the size of full than small, as you can slim a sweater down, but you can’t add material where there isn’t any.

(Photos via Heavy Tweed Jacket)

The Chunky Turtleneck

A friend of mine recently asked me if I knew of a good source for chunky turtlenecks, which reminded of how much I like wearing mine. The one I bought is a cream-colored cable knit with a thickly ribbed, fold down collar. I think it pairs well with heavy outerwear pieces, such as duffle coats, waxed cotton jackets, and pea coats. Ideally, you would wear it when it’s bitterly cold outside, so that it’s more of a functional garment than just a fashion piece.

The best chunky turtleneck I know of is made by Inis Meain, a traditional knitwear maker based on one of the Aran Islands outside the coast of Ireland. Their sweaters are exceptional, but admittedly also very expensive. You can purchase one of their Aran turtleneck designs from Axel’s. For other options in this price tier, consider the offerings by Malo, Sandro, and E. Tautz. Note that Barney’s and Mr. Porter will hold 75%+ off sales at the end of the season (though, that’ll still leave many of those pieces in the “very-expensive” range).

For something more affordable, there’s S.E.H. Kelly’s moss-stitch knit and Ralph Lauren’s cable knit (the latter of the two is having a pretty big sale right now, incidentally, but unfortunately not on that sweater). Fisherman Out of Ireland also has a cabled and ribbed turtleneck available for $150, which you can buy from them through email. I’ve never handled any of their products, but reviews online seem to be good.

Finally, for lack of a better descriptor, there are slightly more rugged options that stay true to the sweater’s workwear origins. Orvis, North Sea Clothing Company, Nigel Cabourn, Aero Leathers, What Price Glory, and Freeman’s Sporting Club may have better bets if you’re likely to wear your turtleneck with things such as jeans and workwear jackets.

A word of caution before you proceed: though Tom Junod once had a great article in GQ about how his father religiously believed that turtlenecks were the most flattering thing a man can wear, I think they really should only be worn by men with defined jawlines. It doesn’t have to be model-esque, but a man with a weak jawline or flabby chin will only look worse when a turtleneck covers up whatever little definition he has. Best to be honest with yourself before you splurge on an expensive sweater.