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Shetland sweaters were originally made by peasant women on the islands, and came with a strong, smoked herring smell because of the way the wool would absorb domestic odors.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)

Expensive Things: Not Getting Any Cheaper
For years I’ve put off buying one of J. Press’s “Shaggy Dog” shetland sweaters—the fuzzed, Scotland-made wool crewneck that’s a winter standard at Press, that most glacial of men’s stores. I first handled one in the D.C. Press store in 2006 (I think; that’s when I discovered we had a J. Press here), and even bought one as a gift, but always figured I’d pick one up for myself when I had a little extra cash or when sale season hit.
In the meantime I’ve recommended the sweaters as an unassailable classic—made well and in the traditional country of manufacture, resistant to both chilly fall breezes and trends, even a good value at $165. Well, $165 in 2010. $165 in 2009, too. In 2013? $230. You can pay another $15 for the York Street version, although it’s not immediately clear what that buys you.
Clothing prices are significantly outpacing inflation, with men’s clothing leading the way. Anecdotally, I’ve heard this attributed to raw material price increases (e.g., cotton and wool) and the scarcity and increasing expense of quality manufacturing. The takeaway here isn’t necessarily “buy more now”; it’s risky if not foolish to treat clothing as you would treat a financial investment, although thoughtful consideration of how much value you get out of your clothing can help determine what’s affordable for you. The truth, though, is that what’s not affordable for you now is not rushing to become affordable for you in the near future.
-Pete

Expensive Things: Not Getting Any Cheaper

For years I’ve put off buying one of J. Press’s “Shaggy Dog” shetland sweaters—the fuzzed, Scotland-made wool crewneck that’s a winter standard at Press, that most glacial of men’s stores. I first handled one in the D.C. Press store in 2006 (I think; that’s when I discovered we had a J. Press here), and even bought one as a gift, but always figured I’d pick one up for myself when I had a little extra cash or when sale season hit.

In the meantime I’ve recommended the sweaters as an unassailable classic—made well and in the traditional country of manufacture, resistant to both chilly fall breezes and trends, even a good value at $165. Well, $165 in 2010. $165 in 2009, too. In 2013? $230. You can pay another $15 for the York Street version, although it’s not immediately clear what that buys you.

Clothing prices are significantly outpacing inflation, with men’s clothing leading the way. Anecdotally, I’ve heard this attributed to raw material price increases (e.g., cotton and wool) and the scarcity and increasing expense of quality manufacturing. The takeaway here isn’t necessarily “buy more now”; it’s risky if not foolish to treat clothing as you would treat a financial investment, although thoughtful consideration of how much value you get out of your clothing can help determine what’s affordable for you. The truth, though, is that what’s not affordable for you now is not rushing to become affordable for you in the near future.

-Pete

J Press and La Portegna Sales

Some nice sales happening right now at J Press and La Portegna.

For J Press, there’s a “Spend More, Save More” event, where you can knock $50 off any purchase over $250, $100 off any purchase over $500, or $250 off any purchase over $1000. This can be combined with other sale offers. Their third-party lines, for example, have been discounted by up to 60%. That includes Barbour jackets (e.g. Beaufort for $275) and Eastland’s Made in Maine shoes (e.g. nubuck ankle boot for $220). With some clever combining, you can also lower the Shaggy Dog sweaters in sale section (though available stock is pretty limited). 

Additionally, La Portegna is having a sale on select items. They specialize in travel accessories, but really, much of what they sell can be used for everyday purposes as well. Their canvas laptop bag, for example, is as good for bringing stuff on a flight as it is for carrying things to a cafe. Those start at $150 once you apply the checkout code SUMMER, which knocks an additional 10% off your total purchase price. 

A Simple Summer Look
I love this Apparel Arts illustration. I found it last year on an online men’s clothing forum, and put it in my head to try to find similar pieces. Unfortunately, by the time I did, summer had already passed. This year, however, I’ll be wearing this on more than a few occasions once the weather gets hot (though, I’ll probably leave the ascot and pipe to more dashing men).
The great thing about this is how stylish it looks with just a few simple pieces. To get something like this for yourself, consider this long-sleeved polo from Kent Wang. Though not technically the same as what you see above, I think long sleeves rolled up look better than short ones. I also find that long sleeved polos have the advantage of being able to do double duty underneath sport coats. They show the bit of requisite shirt cuff underneath the jacket sleeve, and ensure that no bare wrists will be exposed when you move your arms. If you want something sportier, however, Kent has a number of short sleeve options as well.
The upside to Kent’s polos is that they have a few “button up shirt details” that make them look a bit smarter than your average tennis shirt. The collar band, for example, is reinforced, so the collar doesn’t flop down and lay flat against your shoulder (like you’d see on most polos). The downside, however, is that they fit very slim and the sleeves can be a bit tight. Kent has measurements posted though, and he accepts returns.
For other options, Jesse has recommended Lands’ End. I also really like this new polo at The Armoury, which I believe was made for them by Ascot Chang. To order one, you’ll have to call or email their store (expect the price to be higher than either Kent’s or Lands’ End).
Tan trousers are harder to find. For mine, I bought a pair of flannel ones from Howard Yount, but they’re sold out now and won’t be restocking until fall. Flannel has a bit of richness and mottling that’ll help keep this from looking like a Best Buy employee uniform. You can find something similar at the moment at O’Connell’s and J Press, the second of which is having a sale right now. And though they’re not tan, these Pantas look fantastic. Their prices aren’t cheap, but their pants are some of the highest quality you’ll find in the ready-to-wear market.  
Finally, for the creped-soled shoes, consider some of the options I mentioned a few weeks ago. I think pair of sueded, dark brown chukkas with rubber crepe soles here would look great.

A Simple Summer Look

I love this Apparel Arts illustration. I found it last year on an online men’s clothing forum, and put it in my head to try to find similar pieces. Unfortunately, by the time I did, summer had already passed. This year, however, I’ll be wearing this on more than a few occasions once the weather gets hot (though, I’ll probably leave the ascot and pipe to more dashing men).

The great thing about this is how stylish it looks with just a few simple pieces. To get something like this for yourself, consider this long-sleeved polo from Kent Wang. Though not technically the same as what you see above, I think long sleeves rolled up look better than short ones. I also find that long sleeved polos have the advantage of being able to do double duty underneath sport coats. They show the bit of requisite shirt cuff underneath the jacket sleeve, and ensure that no bare wrists will be exposed when you move your arms. If you want something sportier, however, Kent has a number of short sleeve options as well.

The upside to Kent’s polos is that they have a few “button up shirt details” that make them look a bit smarter than your average tennis shirt. The collar band, for example, is reinforced, so the collar doesn’t flop down and lay flat against your shoulder (like you’d see on most polos). The downside, however, is that they fit very slim and the sleeves can be a bit tight. Kent has measurements posted though, and he accepts returns.

For other options, Jesse has recommended Lands’ End. I also really like this new polo at The Armoury, which I believe was made for them by Ascot Chang. To order one, you’ll have to call or email their store (expect the price to be higher than either Kent’s or Lands’ End).

Tan trousers are harder to find. For mine, I bought a pair of flannel ones from Howard Yount, but they’re sold out now and won’t be restocking until fall. Flannel has a bit of richness and mottling that’ll help keep this from looking like a Best Buy employee uniform. You can find something similar at the moment at O’Connell’s and J Press, the second of which is having a sale right now. And though they’re not tan, these Pantas look fantastic. Their prices aren’t cheap, but their pants are some of the highest quality you’ll find in the ready-to-wear market.  

Finally, for the creped-soled shoes, consider some of the options I mentioned a few weeks ago. I think pair of sueded, dark brown chukkas with rubber crepe soles here would look great.

It’s On Sale: J Press Grenadines

J Press has been having a 25%-off sale for a while now, but they just put up a new four-day “flash sale” code. Get an extra 10% off by punching in EXTRA10 at checkout. The code works on a number of items, including the grenadine neckties you see here

The shipping charge is about $15, which negates some of the savings. For comparison, know that Drake’s and EG Cappelli grenadines run between $125 to $150 at full retail, but sometimes can be had for about $90 on sale. More affordably, Sam Hober’s are $80, Kent Wang’s are $75, Knottery’s are $55, and Chipp2’s are $49.50. The last four almost never go on sale, so you should expect the full price to be standard. 

Two Sample Sales
For our readers in New York City, J Press is holding a sample sale starting today until May 10th. The event is being held at the 29th floor of 530 7th Avenue and doors are open from 11am until 6pm. 
Unfortunately, there aren’t any Shaggy Dog sweaters available (bummer) but a friend of mine who went reports seeing ties for $15 (including the knit ones you see above), shirts for $35-45, and sport coats and pants being discounted by 70%. 
Speaking of sample sales, Ovadia & Sons will also be holding a sample sale next week. Theirs will be on Friday, May 17th from 9am until 4pm, and Sunday, May 19th from 11am until 5pm (two days only). The event will be held at 155 Wooster Street, Suite 4R in New York City. 

Two Sample Sales

For our readers in New York City, J Press is holding a sample sale starting today until May 10th. The event is being held at the 29th floor of 530 7th Avenue and doors are open from 11am until 6pm. 

Unfortunately, there aren’t any Shaggy Dog sweaters available (bummer) but a friend of mine who went reports seeing ties for $15 (including the knit ones you see above), shirts for $35-45, and sport coats and pants being discounted by 70%. 

Speaking of sample sales, Ovadia & Sons will also be holding a sample sale next week. Theirs will be on Friday, May 17th from 9am until 4pm, and Sunday, May 19th from 11am until 5pm (two days only). The event will be held at 155 Wooster Street, Suite 4R in New York City. 

We Got it for Free: The Tie Bar’s Grenafaux
The Tie Bar recently released a line of solid-colored, textures silk neckties that vaguely resemble grenadines. These aren’t true grenadines; they just somewhat look like them from a few feet away. Curious about the quality, I contacted Greg Shugar, one of the co-founders of the company, to see if he would be interested in sending me one for review. It arrived last month and I’ve worn it a few times since.
The tie is better than what one might expect. It compares well to the mass-manufactured neckties you might find in a department store – the Perry Ellises, Tommy Hilfigers, Calvin Kleins, and the like. To be sure, I don’t think any of these brands make particularly nice ties, but I appreciate that The Tie Bar has a bit more honest pricing - $15 for such a tie, rather than $50 in a department store, regularly discounted to $35, then $25, then $20, in hopes that customers think they’re getting a steal.
Obviously, a $15 tie will have its limitations. The grenafaux they sent me lacks the body on a truly, well-made tie, and the fabric has a slight sheen to it. It’s a bit light and flimsy, and not particularly enjoyable to knot. On the upside, the interlining is a wool-poly blend, which isn’t as ideal as a pure wool interlining, but at least it dimples better than a tie lined with polyester, and the wrinkles fall out a bit more easily at the end of the day.
It’s become a bit of a cliché, but I strongly believe in the “buy less, buy better” philosophy. Better one tie from EG Cappelli than three from Brooks Brothers, and better one from Brooks Brothers than three from Alfani. Men don’t need as much clothing as they think do, and if they traded many of their purchases for nicer things, I think they’d be left more satisfied. The most affordable grenadines I know of are from Chipp2 ($47.50) and The Knottery ($55). After that, there’s Kent Wang ($75), Sam Hober ($80), J Press ($90), Henry Carter ($100), Drake’s, Vanda, and EG Cappelli (~$120). I would feel more comfortable recommending any of these - or even a non-grenadine from a mid-tier maker - over The Tie Bar.
At the same time, I remember there was once a point in my life when I couldn’t afford a $50 necktie. It wasn’t that I was being stingy; it’s just that all my money went to rent, food, and my education. For people who on a truly tight budget, but still wish to dress well, I think The Tie Bar’s grenafux ties are an option. They’re not the best ties in the world, but I couldn’t say someone would look terrible for wearing one. As you can see above, it does indeed kind of look like a grenadine, and The Thrifty Gent wore one a few weeks ago and still looked pretty sharp. Plus, if you needed to skimp on your wardrobe, it would better to cut out $50 from your necktie wardrobe than, say, footwear. There, $50 could mean the difference between full-grain leather shoes and corrected grain, the latter of which you should never buy.
My standard recommendation for affordable neckties remains the same: Land’s End and Brooks Brothers once they hit their sales. They usually discount stuff to under $40 a few times a season. If you can’t afford those, try thrift stores or eBay. If you don’t have the time, however, then consider The Tie Bar’s grenafaux. I still believe people should buy the best they can afford – as they’ll be happier in the long run – but the same can be said about buying what you can afford, and not spending outside of your means. 
(Pictured above, from left to right: The Tie Bar’s grenafaux, Drake’s navy grenadine, E.G. Cappelli blue grenadine)

We Got it for Free: The Tie Bar’s Grenafaux

The Tie Bar recently released a line of solid-colored, textures silk neckties that vaguely resemble grenadines. These aren’t true grenadines; they just somewhat look like them from a few feet away. Curious about the quality, I contacted Greg Shugar, one of the co-founders of the company, to see if he would be interested in sending me one for review. It arrived last month and I’ve worn it a few times since.

The tie is better than what one might expect. It compares well to the mass-manufactured neckties you might find in a department store – the Perry Ellises, Tommy Hilfigers, Calvin Kleins, and the like. To be sure, I don’t think any of these brands make particularly nice ties, but I appreciate that The Tie Bar has a bit more honest pricing - $15 for such a tie, rather than $50 in a department store, regularly discounted to $35, then $25, then $20, in hopes that customers think they’re getting a steal.

Obviously, a $15 tie will have its limitations. The grenafaux they sent me lacks the body on a truly, well-made tie, and the fabric has a slight sheen to it. It’s a bit light and flimsy, and not particularly enjoyable to knot. On the upside, the interlining is a wool-poly blend, which isn’t as ideal as a pure wool interlining, but at least it dimples better than a tie lined with polyester, and the wrinkles fall out a bit more easily at the end of the day.

It’s become a bit of a cliché, but I strongly believe in the “buy less, buy better” philosophy. Better one tie from EG Cappelli than three from Brooks Brothers, and better one from Brooks Brothers than three from Alfani. Men don’t need as much clothing as they think do, and if they traded many of their purchases for nicer things, I think they’d be left more satisfied. The most affordable grenadines I know of are from Chipp2 ($47.50) and The Knottery ($55). After that, there’s Kent Wang ($75), Sam Hober ($80), J Press ($90), Henry Carter ($100), Drake’s, Vanda, and EG Cappelli (~$120). I would feel more comfortable recommending any of these - or even a non-grenadine from a mid-tier maker - over The Tie Bar.

At the same time, I remember there was once a point in my life when I couldn’t afford a $50 necktie. It wasn’t that I was being stingy; it’s just that all my money went to rent, food, and my education. For people who on a truly tight budget, but still wish to dress well, I think The Tie Bar’s grenafux ties are an option. They’re not the best ties in the world, but I couldn’t say someone would look terrible for wearing one. As you can see above, it does indeed kind of look like a grenadine, and The Thrifty Gent wore one a few weeks ago and still looked pretty sharp. Plus, if you needed to skimp on your wardrobe, it would better to cut out $50 from your necktie wardrobe than, say, footwear. There, $50 could mean the difference between full-grain leather shoes and corrected grain, the latter of which you should never buy.

My standard recommendation for affordable neckties remains the same: Land’s End and Brooks Brothers once they hit their sales. They usually discount stuff to under $40 a few times a season. If you can’t afford those, try thrift stores or eBay. If you don’t have the time, however, then consider The Tie Bar’s grenafaux. I still believe people should buy the best they can afford – as they’ll be happier in the long run – but the same can be said about buying what you can afford, and not spending outside of your means. 

(Pictured above, from left to right: The Tie Bar’s grenafaux, Drake’s navy grenadine, E.G. Cappelli blue grenadine)

Rugby’s Brushed Shetlands

Ralph Lauren announced last week that they plan to discontinue Rugby after this season. I admit many of Rugby’s offerings were a bit overstylized for my taste, but one thing I’ll miss is their affordable brushed Shetland sweaters. The original brushed Shetlands were invented by Irving Press of J. Press fame. At the time, Mr. Press had a close relationship with the principal of Drumohr, one of the more renowned knitwear manufacturers in Scotland, and together, they devised a way to make J. Press’ Shetlands more distinctive by brushing them until they achieved the kind of slightly hairy look you see above. Charming, comfortable, and infinitely stylish, these are wonderful sweaters to wear on lazy days when you don’t want to iron a shirt and put on a necktie.

Rugby’s brushed Shetlands retail for about $100, which isn’t exactly “cheap.” They do, however, often go on sale. In fact, right now they’re $70, with an additional 20% off if you use the check out code INSIDERFALL (the sale ends today). They fit slim, though not enough to size up, and feature sueded leather elbow patches. I haven’t tried myself, but I imagine you can take those patches off with a seam ripper if they’re not to your liking.

Other brushed Shetlands on the market include, of course, J. Press’ original, which is made a bit nicer and denser than Rugby’s. It retails for considerably more at $195, but sometimes you can catch them off-season for about $108. They’re currently about $150 with the coupon code PSNOV12. For other sources still, there’s Edifice at Present London and Drake’s. If you’re willing to order from Japan, there are also sellers stocking Peter Blance and John Tulloch. You may need to use a Japanese proxy for those, however.

Still, as you can see, while all these are nice, none of them are as affordable as the ~$50 version from Rugby. I’ve always thought these were a nice way for people to score a charming sweater without breaking the bank. They will be missed. 

(Photos by Billax)

Shetland Sweaters for Fall

I have mixed feelings about Shetland sweaters. On the one hand, they’re itchy, scratchy, and not the most refined looking of knits. They neither have the softness of cashmere nor the smoothness of merino. On the other hand, that’s what makes them charming. As one member at Ask Andy once unironically (but hilariously), put it, “merino is too ‘metrosexual.’” A rather ridiculous statement, but point taken – these are not fashionable sweaters; they’re frumpy.

But sometimes a little frumpy is good. With a pair of dark green, wide-wale corduroys and reddish-brown shell cordovan tassel loafers, what could be more appropriate than a navy or mid-grey Shetland wool sweater? It has a classic American-trad/ schoolboy charm. To protect yourself from the scratchiness, you can layer it over an oxford cloth button down shirt. Those are the kind that belong underneath these sweaters anyway.

There are a number of places to pick up a Shetland. The best are from O’Connell’s and The Andover Shop. I slightly favor O’Connell’s because it has the more traditional form of a saddle shoulder, but both are top notch in terms of quality. There are other good Scottish ones at Cable Car Clothiers and Ben Silver, as well as an American made Shetland from Bill’s Khakis, which you can read more about at Ivy Style

For something more affordable, consider LL Bean and Brooks Brothers. If you’re an unusual size and need something custom made, try Spirit of Shetland. They’ll knit you a custom Shetland if you tell them the chest size your best fitting sweater. Like with most MTM clothing, I advise erring on the side of fullness rather than slimness. Remember that you can always wear a sweater if it’s slightly full (these are meant to be a bit frumpy anyway), but you’ll never wear a sweater if it’s too tight.

Should you pick one of these up and find that they’re too itchy, consider brushed Shetlands, which have that charming uneven loft that J Press made famous. There are also lambswool sweaters. They look similar to Shetlands in that they’re more textured than merino and harder wearing than cashmere, but they’re not as itchy. You may still need to layer them over a shirt, but at least your loved ones won’t be afraid to hug you. 

Madras Shirts for Summer

I love madras - the colorful, airy fabric named after the Indian city from which it originally came. The stuff is lightweight and very breathable, which means it makes for the perfect summer shirt. Madras shirts are a wonderful accompaniment to trousers or suits made from cotton or linen, and of course should be worn with summer appropriate footwear, such as loafers or suede bucks. Unfortunately, good madras shirts are hard to find these days, and not because all the new stuff is colorfast, instead of bleeding and fading easily like the ones from yesteryear (for that truly dégagé look). Rather, it’s because most don’t fit me well or they lack the design details I want. 

My solution has been to get ones custom made. You can buy madras fabrics online through Atlantis Fabrics. They have two web pages - here and here - dedicated to them, and many are just $6 a yard. Given that the average sized man only needs about two yards per shirt, that’s just $12 for materials.

You can also check fabric stores to see if they have anything suitable. Above are some swatches from Rosen & Chadick, a fabric shop in Manhattan. Though they’re in New York City, they’re more than happy to send out fabric swatches for free. After you’ve figured out what you want, you can call them and pay for your order with a credit card. Most selections are $15 a yard. 

Once you have your fabrics, you’ll need to find a shirtmaker who is willing to take them from you. If you don’t have someone local you can go to, I recommend Cottonwork. They can custom make something to your body measurements or, if you’re hesitant about the process, they can copy any existing shirt you have. Just send them your best fitting shirt along with any notes about things you’d like tweaked (if any). They charge about $45 per shirt if you’re supplying the fabrics. 

If you’re reluctant to go the custom route, there are a bunch of ready-to-wear companies you can consider, such as O’Connell’s, J PressBrooks Brothers, and Dann Online. Some of these will fit quite full, such as the ones at Dann Online, while others can be very slim, such as Brooks’ Extra Slim Fits. 

You can also check out Gant Rugger and Ralph Lauren. Gant Rugger’s shirts are very slim and mostly meant to be worn untucked, while Ralph Lauren has the fuller ”Classic Fit” and slimmer “Custom Fit.” Finally, for something cheaper, try J Crew. In the past, they offered disappointingly drab designs, but this season’s are pleasantly colorful (as madras should be). If you wait till the end of the season, you can easily find their madras shirts discounted by 40-50%. 

(Cottonwork will be a Put This On advertiser next month, but our advertising and editorial processes are separate. - Jesse)