It’s On Sale: John Smedley Knitwear

Basic John Smedley v-necks and cardigans are on sale for 60% off right now at StyleGun. Once you discount for European taxes, that puts the v-necks at about $93 and cardigans at $110. Expensive, but these really are very well-made knits. I bought my first John Smedley sweater about seventeen years ago, and it’s held its shape and color beautifully. You can’t say that about many other brands out there. Colors right now include your basic navy, grey, and browns, which don’t go on sale at John Smedley’s website (they only discount seasonal colors). 

The v-neck model on sale is their Bobby, which has somewhat of a small v-neck opening, making the neckline a bit higher. I personally favor this style, but some like the more traditional, lower neckline. It’s designed to wear a bit fitted so that you can wear underneath a sport coat. You can find measurements for it on Mr. Porter’s site, under their “size & fit” tab.

The cardigan is their Bryn model, which is also quite fitted. Unfortunately, Mr. Porter doesn’t have measurements for that, but I would take whatever size you’re in for the Bryn as you would for the Bobby. 

Thoughts on Buying Good Sweaters
The best time to purchase sweaters is at the end of the season, when the fall/ winter stock gets discounted by fifty percent or more. The best time to shop for sweaters, however, is now, so that you can give yourself a few months time to figure out what you want and not be rushed into impulse buys come January. So, if you’re out browsing for sweaters, I’d suggest the following:
Low- to mid-tier purchases: If your budget is limited, I recommend aiming for sweaters made out of lambswool, Shetland, or merino wools. The first two, all things being equal, are harder-wearing. I also think they can often have more visual depth in their texture and color than most, lower-end merinos, which can be useful if you want to wear the sweater without a jacket. The sweater pictured above really shows off the nice lofty nap on lambswool, I think. 
High-end purchases: If your budget is over $350 or so, consider cashmere. The problem with cashmere below this mark – at least at full retail prices – is that they’re often poorly made. Cashmere is expensive, so when a company is selling a cashmere sweater for under $350 or so, it means they’ve likely skimped on the construction. That can mean shorter fibers used for the yarns, which will result in more breakages and pilling, or thin, loosely knitted fabrics, which will lose their shape over time. Better, I think, to stick to lambswool, Shetlands, and merinos, rather than be tricked into the allure of “cheap” cashmere.
Checking for quality: It’s difficult to determine a sweater’s true quality without having actually owned it for a few years. Nothing can substitute for experience. There are a few things, however, that you can do to make an educated guess. On cashmere, try rubbing the fabric between your fingers for a bit, and see if a light, oily residue has been left on your hands. If there is, that means the fabric was treated with a kind of emulsion, and is probably of low quality. On everything else, see if the sweater has been knitted densely, and check the elasticity of the collars and cuffs. It’s difficult to convey online exactly what level of quality to look for – which is why I think you should browse the inventory at a high-end store – but generally, if you think the sweater might lose its shape easily, it probably will.
Altering knits: Ideally, you should buy something that fits perfectly off-the-rack, but some knits can be altered if you have a good alterationist. On sweaters with side seams, I’ve found it’s easy to take in the body without too much trouble. You can read my post on knit alterations here.
Getting rid of pills: Every sweater, no matter what the quality, will pill to some degree. The question is just how much and how quickly. To take care of pills, I recommend using a sweater shaver. I use this one and it works decently well, though there are probably better ones on the market.
Where to buy: I can’t give a full list of every place that stocks good sweaters, but I can make a few suggestions based off of my experiences. On the high end, I really like Inis Meain, Drumohr, Drake’s, John Smedley, and William Lockie (the last of which you can buy through Heather Wallace). For more affordable purchases, I’ve had good experiences with Brooks Brothers, Club Monaco, and Howard Yount. The first two often do significant mark-downs throughout the season, which is when I think you should buy. Club Monaco also gives students an extra 20% off if they can show a student ID in-store or give a university email address online. I’ve picked up their basic v-neck sweaters before for about $45, and find them to be of a good value. 

Thoughts on Buying Good Sweaters

The best time to purchase sweaters is at the end of the season, when the fall/ winter stock gets discounted by fifty percent or more. The best time to shop for sweaters, however, is now, so that you can give yourself a few months time to figure out what you want and not be rushed into impulse buys come January. So, if you’re out browsing for sweaters, I’d suggest the following:

Low- to mid-tier purchases: If your budget is limited, I recommend aiming for sweaters made out of lambswool, Shetland, or merino wools. The first two, all things being equal, are harder-wearing. I also think they can often have more visual depth in their texture and color than most, lower-end merinos, which can be useful if you want to wear the sweater without a jacket. The sweater pictured above really shows off the nice lofty nap on lambswool, I think. 

High-end purchases: If your budget is over $350 or so, consider cashmere. The problem with cashmere below this mark – at least at full retail prices – is that they’re often poorly made. Cashmere is expensive, so when a company is selling a cashmere sweater for under $350 or so, it means they’ve likely skimped on the construction. That can mean shorter fibers used for the yarns, which will result in more breakages and pilling, or thin, loosely knitted fabrics, which will lose their shape over time. Better, I think, to stick to lambswool, Shetlands, and merinos, rather than be tricked into the allure of “cheap” cashmere.

Checking for quality: It’s difficult to determine a sweater’s true quality without having actually owned it for a few years. Nothing can substitute for experience. There are a few things, however, that you can do to make an educated guess. On cashmere, try rubbing the fabric between your fingers for a bit, and see if a light, oily residue has been left on your hands. If there is, that means the fabric was treated with a kind of emulsion, and is probably of low quality. On everything else, see if the sweater has been knitted densely, and check the elasticity of the collars and cuffs. It’s difficult to convey online exactly what level of quality to look for – which is why I think you should browse the inventory at a high-end store – but generally, if you think the sweater might lose its shape easily, it probably will.

Altering knits: Ideally, you should buy something that fits perfectly off-the-rack, but some knits can be altered if you have a good alterationist. On sweaters with side seams, I’ve found it’s easy to take in the body without too much trouble. You can read my post on knit alterations here.

Getting rid of pills: Every sweater, no matter what the quality, will pill to some degree. The question is just how much and how quickly. To take care of pills, I recommend using a sweater shaver. I use this one and it works decently well, though there are probably better ones on the market.

Where to buy: I can’t give a full list of every place that stocks good sweaters, but I can make a few suggestions based off of my experiences. On the high end, I really like Inis Meain, DrumohrDrake’sJohn Smedley, and William Lockie (the last of which you can buy through Heather Wallace). For more affordable purchases, I’ve had good experiences with Brooks Brothers, Club Monaco, and Howard Yount. The first two often do significant mark-downs throughout the season, which is when I think you should buy. Club Monaco also gives students an extra 20% off if they can show a student ID in-store or give a university email address online. I’ve picked up their basic v-neck sweaters before for about $45, and find them to be of a good value. 

It’s On Sale: John Smedley 

John Smedley is having their end-of-the-season sale. Sweaters are 50% off and begin at $90. They’re a bit expensive, to be sure, but the company makes really wonderful knits. The raw wool is all sourced in New Zealand and then dyed by Zegna. The rest of the work is done in-house by John Smedley in Derbyshire, England. This includes spinning out the yarn, creating the panels, and knitting the final product. The wool is said to be processed through their local spring water, which supposedly gives the fabrics a superior handle. I’m not sure I completely buy that theory, but their garments do feel very nice and last a long time. I bought my first John Smedley sweater over ten years ago and it still looks great today. 

Mr. Porter, one of my favorite online stores, just did a second round of reductions in their sale section. There’s some nice stuff by Ralph Lauren, John Smedley, Incotex, and Turnbull & Asser left, though most of the really great stuff got cleared out in their first round of deductions (two Drakes ties for yours truly). Take a browse if you have time

(hat tip to Doc Hu for the notice)

The Five Days of Summer Series, Part III: Polo Shirts

Aside from maybe chinos, there are few things more quintessential to summer style than polos. It was invented in 1933 by legendary tennis player Rene Lacoste when he found the regulation dress code - stiff, long sleeved shirts with ties and white flannel pants - too cumbersome and uncomfortable. Thus, inspired by the wool-knit jerseys worn by polo players, Lacoste came up with short-sleeved, soft-collared, pique cotton pullover that we’re all familiar with. Though its origins may be sportswear, it’s now a staple of casual summer style, and currently enjoying a bit of a revival as young men begin to ditch their scrappy faux-vintage t-shirts in favor of sharper looks. 

As with everything, the key to pulling off a polo is getting the right fit. Look for ones that are slightly trimmer in the body, with sleeves that hit around the middle of your bicep. You can have the lengths be long or short, but if they hang below your hips, you’ll have to tuck them in. There are a good number of companies that provide these features, so let’s review some. 

By far, the most unique offering I’ve come across is from Polosophy, an Italian label that makes bespoke polos. The company has taken advantage of the two biggest trends in menswear - the long-term move towards casualwear, and the recent resurgence in custom clothing. The result is a casual polo with all the rich elegant details you would find in a custom button-up shirt. Here, the client chooses the color of the polo, type of collar and cuffs, and then decides whether he wants a monogram. Everything is cut from a custom paper pattern made from your measurements. The polos come with mother-of-pearl buttons, sewn on with chicken foot stitching (a hand-tailoring detail I’ve written about here), and linen detailing on the placket. There is also a structured and reinforced collarband, making the polo’s collar behave much more like one you would find on a woven shirt. The price is expensive, as you can imagine. Short sleeves start around $250; long sleeves start around $300. If you’re in Europe, there is a five-shirt minimum, and they’ll send a tailor to you to get your measurements. If you catch them on one of their tours, however, you can meet them at a hotel and only need to meet a three-shirt minimum. 

Of course, few people can afford bespoke polos, so let’s talk about some off-the-rack options. The first is by one of my favorite companies, John Smedley. These polos are made from Sea Island cotton, which is a “long staple” fiber. This means that each fiber measures around 2 inches long, which allows them to be woven with fewer bonds. As a result, the final fabric has an incredibly smooth, silky, luxurious hand, as well as incredible strength (as there are fewer “weak points” where the fibers are bonded together). The cotton also has a natural brilliant whiteness when it’s raw. This allows it to be dyed in richer, clear colors, as well as forgo harsh bleaching, thus allowing the colors to stay colorfast. In terms of quality, John Smedley polos are some of the best you can get. They come in traditional and slim fits, and feature one of Smedley’s three polo collar designs. Check them out at their website. 

For other great, high-quality polos, consider Moncler. Their company website doesn’t seem to feature them, but I really like the ones that Bergdorf Goodman is carrying. Sunspel is also really nice. They come in different fabrics, such as pique cotton (the traditional fabric you find on polos) and jersey cotton (a more “t-shirt” material). They also have polos in their Riveria fabric, which is similar to the traditional pique cotton, but in a more open weave (an advantage for hot days that I’ve written about). Additionally, there is Gant, which also come in pique or jersey cotton. The main line is a bit more traditionally cut, while the Rugger line is trimmer. Unfortunately, their webstore won’t ship to the US, but if you see something you like, call one of their stores in New York or Connecticut and they’ll ship it out to you. 

If the options above are too expensive for you, try Uniqlo. Be warned, however, that they’re made of a mix of cotton and polyester. Polyester doesn’t breathe, so you’ll be sweating more in these. I’m really not a fan of the fabric, so they come with a very reserved “recommendation.” You can order one of Uniqlo’s polos by calling their New York store. 

Another very affordable option is Benjamin Bixby’s. Since the company folded, some of their clothes have been popping up at various venues. These fit very slim, so you should size up. You can find them on eBay if you do a search.

Finally, we come to Kent Wang. I was curious about Kent’s polos a few weeks ago, so I inquired about it. He was nice enough to send me one as a gift, and I received it last week. This is easily my favorite of the bunch. The real upside here is the reinforced spread collar. This means there is a collarband with two layers of self-fabric, making it the collar behave much more like one on a woven shirt (a detail that we saw earlier on the Polosophy design). In other words, the collar stands up more, instead of laying close to the collarbone. The spread collar design also gives the polo a lot more panache. I’ve taken a photo of Kent Wang’s spread collar and posted it next to a Bixby collar, which is much more traditional. You can really see the difference in collar shapes there. If you decided to get Kent’s polo, I recommend sizing up; these fit very slim. 

For more readings about polos, check out these great features by Dapper Demeanor and Men of Habit