Flecked Sweaters for Fall

I don’t know if it’s too early to talk about knitwear, but I’ve been thinking about flecked sweaters a lot lately. Sometimes these are called speckled sweaters, sometimes Donegal sweaters, and sometimes even tweed sweaters. Not because they’re actually from Donegal (a county in Ireland), but because the irregular flecks of color on these yarns are reminiscent of the region’s hallmark tweeds.

The nice thing about flecked sweaters is that they can add a bit of visual interest where a solid knit might be too boring. I find this useful when wearing a sweater alone (over a shirt, but without a jacket). There’s just something about a very smooth, plain-colored merino, worn with wool or cotton trousers, that can sometimes feel a bit too uninspired (though, they do work well underneath tailored sport coats).

There are a number of brands with flecked sweaters this fall. At the top of the price pyramid end is Inis Meain, who makes them in a pure cashmere and wool-cashmere blend. Those are available at A Suitable Wardrobe, Barneys New York, Manufactum, and Frans Boone. Inis Meain makes some of my favorite knitwear in the world, and I find their quality to be unsurpassed, but their popularity in Japan and Europe has made them very expensive. If you’re not deterred by the price, Barney’s also has a few half zip sweaters by Fioroni worth considering.

For something a bit more affordable, check out these options by Drumohr, Billy Reid, Saturdays Surf NYC, APC, and Orvis. J Crew also has something on sale through their Wallace & Barnes line, and an extra 25% can be taken off at the moment with the checkout code FALLSTYLE. Perhaps most promising are these Howlin’ by Morrison Shetlands, which come in light grey, charcoal, and red (I really dig the light grey, personally). 

There’s also a range of Irish makers, none of whom I have any direct experience with. If you’re open to giving them a try, a quick Google search will reveal a number of retailers. Maybe start with Aran Sweater Market, Aran Sweater Shop, and Magee. This seller on eBay also has a range of intriguing options starting at $70.

Most affordable of all is J Crew’s mainline. They’ve done a number of these sweaters in the past and you can still find many of them floating around on eBay. J Crew’s knits, from my experience, stretch out pretty easily, but if the price is right, they can be a good buy. This one, for example, is available for $30 (the cut looks pretty boxy though). Mr. Porter also has this blue version brand new for $90. That’ll probably make it to their end-of-season sale, where it’ll be discounted by 50-70%. 

Proper Garment Care
Buying high quality garments, with the assumption that they’re built to last, only means something if you know how to take proper care of your clothes. Stuffing them into overcrowded closets or sending them off to bad dry cleaners will shorten their life considerably. Fortunately, taking care of your clothes doesn’t require much work. You can accomplish it with just a few minutes a day.
For suits and sport coats, dry cleaning twice a year should be sufficient for anything that’s only worn once or twice a week. Sending it in more often than that will shorten the life and ruin the look of a jacket. That’s because most dry cleaners use harsh chemicals and give hard pressings. You can, of course, use a high-quality cleaner that doesn’t employ such methods, but those will cost you more money.
For every day care, brush the dirt out with a soft bristled garment brush. This will prevent them from getting deep into the fabric, where friction can damage the fibers. It’ll also knock out any food bits that may attract moths. You can buy garment brushes from Kent, though sometimes slightly imperfect ones can be had for a bit cheaper on eBay. For something truly nice, Linkson Jack has some brushes backed with oxhorn.
To begin brushing, wipe down any large, unfinished wooden table, and lay your garment down on the surface. A polished table may be too slippery, so if you only have one of those, put your garment on a blanket or strip of felt so it won’t slide about. If this doesn’t work, you can also brush your garment while it’s on a hanger (though I find it’s harder to really bring some pressure to bear on the brush this way). While brushing, use short flicks of the wrist and always brush in the same direction. Never, ever scrub. You can first brush against the nap to remove any dirt, and then down the nap for a smooth finish. Some people even recommend dampening the brush with some water first for a bit of a freshening up, though I’ve never found the need to do this.
For wrinkles, you can let your jackets hang for a day or two. Heavy wools and linens should naturally relax over time. If you still need to sharpen them up, try using a garment steamer, but be careful to stay away from the seams and don’t go too wild with the device. Otherwise, you can ruin the stitching and take out the shape. Afterwards, hang your jacket on a hanger with flared shoulders. The Hanger Project makes the nicest ones I know of. The width and curvature of their shoulders most closely imitate a man’s natural shoulders, which is what you want. If you can’t afford them, however, Wooden Hanger USA sells some very nice options starting at $7.
If your jackets are finely constructed, you may also want to send them in for a hand press once a year or so. This will help restore their shape, which is often what gives a suit its flattering silhouette. Note, a hand press is different from a machine press. Most places will offer the second, even if they advertise it as the first. Machine presses take shape out; hand presses put shape in. If you can’t find someone in your area who can give you this service, you can send your jackets to Rave Fabricare.
For trousers, I recommend a similar treatment. Wools and linens go to the dry cleaner, though perhaps a bit more frequently than jackets since they tend to get dirty quicker. Still, we’re only talking about three or four times a year. You can brush out most of the dirt each day with a garment brush. Casual cotton chinos can be machine washed, though I also send my nicer, dressier cotton trousers to the dry cleaner. That includes dress chinos, moleskins, and corduroys. 
For sweaters, some cotton sweatshirts can be machine washed, but most sweaters will be better served by an at-home hand wash. This is a rather simple process, and Jesse covered the how-to two years ago in this post.
For shirts, pre-treat any stained collars and cuffs with Octagon Bar Soap. Soak your shirt in some water, rub the soap in, and scrub with a fingernail brush. Repeat until you see the dirt rings start fading. Then roll up your wet, soapy shirt and leave it overnight in a plastic bag so that it remains moist. The next day, just launder as usual. Alex Kabbaz, one of America’s best custom shirt makers, recommends Tide’s Unscented Original. I use Ecover, and mix in some Oxiclean if my shirts are extra dirty (as per Jesse’s recommendation). To protect the mother of pearl buttons, I sometimes button my shirts and turn them inside out.
For machine washes, you should always try to use the cold water, gentle cycle, but if you really need to treat stains, hot water for whites and warm water for light colors is often acceptable. Dark colors, however, should always be washed with cold water. After the wash, I strongly recommend hang drying. Machine dryers can take the humidity out of your fabrics, leaving them dull and brittle, which will eventually give them a premature worn-out appearance.
As always, make sure you always consult your garment’s care label for more instructions. They’ll usually at least tell you the bare minimum you have to adhere to.
(Photo from The Trad) 

Proper Garment Care

Buying high quality garments, with the assumption that they’re built to last, only means something if you know how to take proper care of your clothes. Stuffing them into overcrowded closets or sending them off to bad dry cleaners will shorten their life considerably. Fortunately, taking care of your clothes doesn’t require much work. You can accomplish it with just a few minutes a day.

For suits and sport coats, dry cleaning twice a year should be sufficient for anything that’s only worn once or twice a week. Sending it in more often than that will shorten the life and ruin the look of a jacket. That’s because most dry cleaners use harsh chemicals and give hard pressings. You can, of course, use a high-quality cleaner that doesn’t employ such methods, but those will cost you more money.

For every day care, brush the dirt out with a soft bristled garment brush. This will prevent them from getting deep into the fabric, where friction can damage the fibers. It’ll also knock out any food bits that may attract moths. You can buy garment brushes from Kent, though sometimes slightly imperfect ones can be had for a bit cheaper on eBay. For something truly nice, Linkson Jack has some brushes backed with oxhorn.

To begin brushing, wipe down any large, unfinished wooden table, and lay your garment down on the surface. A polished table may be too slippery, so if you only have one of those, put your garment on a blanket or strip of felt so it won’t slide about. If this doesn’t work, you can also brush your garment while it’s on a hanger (though I find it’s harder to really bring some pressure to bear on the brush this way). While brushing, use short flicks of the wrist and always brush in the same direction. Never, ever scrub. You can first brush against the nap to remove any dirt, and then down the nap for a smooth finish. Some people even recommend dampening the brush with some water first for a bit of a freshening up, though I’ve never found the need to do this.

For wrinkles, you can let your jackets hang for a day or two. Heavy wools and linens should naturally relax over time. If you still need to sharpen them up, try using a garment steamer, but be careful to stay away from the seams and don’t go too wild with the device. Otherwise, you can ruin the stitching and take out the shape. Afterwards, hang your jacket on a hanger with flared shoulders. The Hanger Project makes the nicest ones I know of. The width and curvature of their shoulders most closely imitate a man’s natural shoulders, which is what you want. If you can’t afford them, however, Wooden Hanger USA sells some very nice options starting at $7.

If your jackets are finely constructed, you may also want to send them in for a hand press once a year or so. This will help restore their shape, which is often what gives a suit its flattering silhouette. Note, a hand press is different from a machine press. Most places will offer the second, even if they advertise it as the first. Machine presses take shape out; hand presses put shape in. If you can’t find someone in your area who can give you this service, you can send your jackets to Rave Fabricare.

For trousers, I recommend a similar treatment. Wools and linens go to the dry cleaner, though perhaps a bit more frequently than jackets since they tend to get dirty quicker. Still, we’re only talking about three or four times a year. You can brush out most of the dirt each day with a garment brush. Casual cotton chinos can be machine washed, though I also send my nicer, dressier cotton trousers to the dry cleaner. That includes dress chinos, moleskins, and corduroys. 

For sweaters, some cotton sweatshirts can be machine washed, but most sweaters will be better served by an at-home hand wash. This is a rather simple process, and Jesse covered the how-to two years ago in this post.

For shirts, pre-treat any stained collars and cuffs with Octagon Bar Soap. Soak your shirt in some water, rub the soap in, and scrub with a fingernail brush. Repeat until you see the dirt rings start fading. Then roll up your wet, soapy shirt and leave it overnight in a plastic bag so that it remains moist. The next day, just launder as usual. Alex Kabbaz, one of America’s best custom shirt makers, recommends Tide’s Unscented Original. I use Ecover, and mix in some Oxiclean if my shirts are extra dirty (as per Jesse’s recommendation). To protect the mother of pearl buttons, I sometimes button my shirts and turn them inside out.

For machine washes, you should always try to use the cold water, gentle cycle, but if you really need to treat stains, hot water for whites and warm water for light colors is often acceptable. Dark colors, however, should always be washed with cold water. After the wash, I strongly recommend hang drying. Machine dryers can take the humidity out of your fabrics, leaving them dull and brittle, which will eventually give them a premature worn-out appearance.

As always, make sure you always consult your garment’s care label for more instructions. They’ll usually at least tell you the bare minimum you have to adhere to.

(Photo from The Trad

Linen Sweaters

Linen sweaters can be very useful in the fall. They add an extra layer of protection without wearing too warm, making them perfect for days that range from chilly to cool. Cotton sweaters do this as well, of course, but every cotton sweater I’ve owned has lost its shape too easily. The body and sleeves bag after a while, cuffs lose their elasticity, and wrinkles get set into the elbows. Fine for sweatshirts, but less ideal if you want something dressier.  

That leaves linen, which I’ve been wearing on weekends. The Bay Area’s weather has this annoying tendency to not be so chilly in the afternoon that you’d need a sweater, but as soon as nightfall comes, you quickly wish you had one. So I’ve been wearing my linen sweater on days like these, which has kept me comfortable in both the afternoons and evenings.

In addition, I’ve found that linen can add a bit of texture to an otherwise unremarkable ensemble. For example, in the photo above, I have my brown leather jacket, light blue cotton shirt, and grey flannel trousers. Put together, there’s perhaps too much reliance on solid colors, but once you add the rougher texture of a linen sweater, you add a little subtle variation where there needs to be. (Granted, my own pictures don’t show this texture off very well, but the last image, taken from A Suitable Wardrobe, does).

Unfortunately, there aren’t many places that make, or even sell, linen sweaters. The best I know of is Inis Meain. Where you’d think linen can bag over time, Inis Meain’s version holds up just as good as the best merinos and lambswools. You can buy one from A Suitable Wardrobe. In the past, they’ve also manufactured them for Ben Silver and JL Powell, but those retailers are not selling them at the moment. For something more affordable, check Brooks Brothers, Land’s End, and Club Monaco. Those are unfortunately linen-cotton blends, which makes me suspect they won’t hold their shape as well over time, but on the upside, they’re also a fraction of the price. You can also find linen-cotton blend sweaters at Ralph Lauren, though they don’t seem to stock any recommendable ones this season. Ebay may have some from previous years, but you’ll want to avoid the flimsy, loosely knit, baggy variety. A discerning eye and some patience should land you something good. 

Q and Answer: Can I Alter a Sweater?
Hayden asks: Can you alter a sweater? Looking at getting a cashmere sweater on eBay but the pictures make it look kind of full in the stomach area. Thanks for your time.
You generally can. Most wool, cashmere, and natural fiber knits can be altered in order to give a better fit. This includes “fine knits” (small stitched, machine-made items) and knits of medium and heavier weight yarns. Synthetic and wool-synthetic blends, on the other hand, often don’t lend themselves easily to the re-knitting process. 
Typical alterations include shortening the sleeves, hems, and turtlenecks. This is done by going in and removing a section of the fabric, then grafting the pieces together stitch by stitch. To imagine how this is done, imagine a knitter working like a jeweler, “re-setting” each stitch carefully one-by-one. In the end, the item looks just like it did originally, with sleeves and hems retaining the same cuffs and finished edges. The only difference is that the measurements are made to the correct lengths. 
When items need to be made smaller overall or taken in at the stomach, it’s best to have a tailor pin the item for alteration, as if they were going to do a regular sewn alteration. The pinning starts at the top by picking up the shoulders and sleeve caps, then goes to the body along the side seams. The alteration is then done by serging, which is a three or four thread machine-made seam that secures the fabric. The process isn’t too unlike how you would take in the excess fabric on a baggy shirt. 
Of course, the world is full of different knits. Occasionally, items are not good candidates for alteration. These can include ones with emblems, beading, pockets, or other such items at the places were alteration needs to take place. Some machine-sewn seams are also unique and cannot be duplicated. Additionally, if you have a knit made of tubular construction, you can have the sleeves, hems, and turtlenecks shortened, but the knitter will have to open up the garment and create side seams if you need it to be taken in through the body and/ or sleeves. You may also be looking at a more expensive job if the knit is made of smaller stitches, or if there are patterns (either in stitch or color) that the knitter has to work with. Given this, whether you can alter a particular knit is really something that should be decided on a case-to-case basis. 
These days, I buy many of my solid-colored, basic knits the way I buy my shirts. I make sure it fits well at the chest, shoulders, and sleeves, and then I figure I can take in the sides for about $14 at my tailor’s. Of course, those other areas can be altered as well (just as they can on a shirt), if you need them to, but it just adds to the cost.
As you can guess, the quality of this work greatly depends on the experience and skill of the tailor you’re working with. To find a good knit alterations tailor, contact a high-end men’s clothing store that has an alterations department. Ask who they recommend for these services. If you find someone who does reknitting on their own, ask for references to stores they provide services to, and check those references. You may also want to send in your lower-quality knits in first, so that you can examine the quality of their work. It may take more effort to find someone who specializes in knits, but when you do, they can help you transform those baggy sweaters into perfectly-fitting ones. 
(Photo by Voxsartoria)

Q and Answer: Can I Alter a Sweater?

Hayden asks: Can you alter a sweater? Looking at getting a cashmere sweater on eBay but the pictures make it look kind of full in the stomach area. Thanks for your time.

You generally can. Most wool, cashmere, and natural fiber knits can be altered in order to give a better fit. This includes “fine knits” (small stitched, machine-made items) and knits of medium and heavier weight yarns. Synthetic and wool-synthetic blends, on the other hand, often don’t lend themselves easily to the re-knitting process. 

Typical alterations include shortening the sleeves, hems, and turtlenecks. This is done by going in and removing a section of the fabric, then grafting the pieces together stitch by stitch. To imagine how this is done, imagine a knitter working like a jeweler, “re-setting” each stitch carefully one-by-one. In the end, the item looks just like it did originally, with sleeves and hems retaining the same cuffs and finished edges. The only difference is that the measurements are made to the correct lengths. 

When items need to be made smaller overall or taken in at the stomach, it’s best to have a tailor pin the item for alteration, as if they were going to do a regular sewn alteration. The pinning starts at the top by picking up the shoulders and sleeve caps, then goes to the body along the side seams. The alteration is then done by serging, which is a three or four thread machine-made seam that secures the fabric. The process isn’t too unlike how you would take in the excess fabric on a baggy shirt. 

Of course, the world is full of different knits. Occasionally, items are not good candidates for alteration. These can include ones with emblems, beading, pockets, or other such items at the places were alteration needs to take place. Some machine-sewn seams are also unique and cannot be duplicated. Additionally, if you have a knit made of tubular construction, you can have the sleeves, hems, and turtlenecks shortened, but the knitter will have to open up the garment and create side seams if you need it to be taken in through the body and/ or sleeves. You may also be looking at a more expensive job if the knit is made of smaller stitches, or if there are patterns (either in stitch or color) that the knitter has to work with. Given this, whether you can alter a particular knit is really something that should be decided on a case-to-case basis. 

These days, I buy many of my solid-colored, basic knits the way I buy my shirts. I make sure it fits well at the chest, shoulders, and sleeves, and then I figure I can take in the sides for about $14 at my tailor’s. Of course, those other areas can be altered as well (just as they can on a shirt), if you need them to, but it just adds to the cost.

As you can guess, the quality of this work greatly depends on the experience and skill of the tailor you’re working with. To find a good knit alterations tailor, contact a high-end men’s clothing store that has an alterations department. Ask who they recommend for these services. If you find someone who does reknitting on their own, ask for references to stores they provide services to, and check those references. You may also want to send in your lower-quality knits in first, so that you can examine the quality of their work. It may take more effort to find someone who specializes in knits, but when you do, they can help you transform those baggy sweaters into perfectly-fitting ones. 

(Photo by Voxsartoria)

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.