A Very Useful Belt for Summer
As much as I enjoy the “coat and tie” look, it admittedly can look a bit too formal for certain situations. One way to soften it up is by making each of the individual elements a touch more causal. A wool sport coat can be swapped for something made from cotton or linen; wool dress trousers can be changed for chinos; and dress shoes can be put aside in favor of loafers.
You can also reach for slightly more casual accessories. The braided leather belt you see above is from Brooks Brothers. I bought it a few years ago and have found myself turning to it every summer. The tubular construction means that the leather wraps around like a tube, which gives the belt a substantial, but still soft, feel, and the 1.25” width makes it perfect to wear with chinos and casual trousers. At full price ($150), it’s a bit expensive, but like with everything at Brooks, you can expect that it’ll be discounted by 25-40% during sale seasons. When put with a tailored jacket, pair of chinos, and a boldly striped shirt like you see above, you’d be surprised by how much more casual a sport coat can seem. 
Ben Silver and Ralph Lauren also carry some nice braided leather belts, and Berg & Berg has a few really handsome options made from soft, Italian leather. For something more casual, check out these nylon and cotton options at Paul Stuart, Brooks Brothers, Ben Silver, and O’Connell’s. You can also do a search for Anderson’s belts, an Italian company that has essentially made a name for themselves off this sort of thing. Mr. Porter and The Armoury are stockists, and Trunk Clothiers has a pretty good sale going on right now with Anderson’s belts discounted as low as $30. Note that Anderson’s typically fit a bit wider at 1.5”, which may or may not be to your taste.
For something very affordable, check out Belt Outlet, who sells a number of options for under $15. You can even knock 10% off your order with the discount code belt10. 

A Very Useful Belt for Summer

As much as I enjoy the “coat and tie” look, it admittedly can look a bit too formal for certain situations. One way to soften it up is by making each of the individual elements a touch more causal. A wool sport coat can be swapped for something made from cotton or linen; wool dress trousers can be changed for chinos; and dress shoes can be put aside in favor of loafers.

You can also reach for slightly more casual accessories. The braided leather belt you see above is from Brooks Brothers. I bought it a few years ago and have found myself turning to it every summer. The tubular construction means that the leather wraps around like a tube, which gives the belt a substantial, but still soft, feel, and the 1.25” width makes it perfect to wear with chinos and casual trousers. At full price ($150), it’s a bit expensive, but like with everything at Brooks, you can expect that it’ll be discounted by 25-40% during sale seasons. When put with a tailored jacket, pair of chinos, and a boldly striped shirt like you see above, you’d be surprised by how much more casual a sport coat can seem. 

Ben Silver and Ralph Lauren also carry some nice braided leather belts, and Berg & Berg has a few really handsome options made from soft, Italian leather. For something more casual, check out these nylon and cotton options at Paul Stuart, Brooks BrothersBen Silver, and O’Connell’s. You can also do a search for Anderson’s belts, an Italian company that has essentially made a name for themselves off this sort of thing. Mr. Porter and The Armoury are stockists, and Trunk Clothiers has a pretty good sale going on right now with Anderson’s belts discounted as low as $30. Note that Anderson’s typically fit a bit wider at 1.5”, which may or may not be to your taste.

For something very affordable, check out Belt Outlet, who sells a number of options for under $15. You can even knock 10% off your order with the discount code belt10. 

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.

Madras Shirting

Readers interested in getting madras shirts for the summer may want to know that Atlantis Fabrics has a ton of new madras shirtings right now (shirting means shirt fabrics, just as suiting means suit fabrics). There’s about eight pages worth, many of which seem to scroll endlessly. 

To turn these into shirts, you’ll need to find a custom shirtmaker. If you don’t have someone local you can go to, I can recommend our advertiser Cottonwork. They’ll make a custom shirt for you according to body measurements you supply, but if you’re feeling iffy about the process, they can also copy the cut of any existing shirt you have. Just send them your best fitting shirt along with any notes about what you’d like to have tweaked (if anything). They charge about $45 per shirt if you’re supplying the fabrics. 

Atlantis’ shirtings cost about $6/ yard. You can find higher quality madras fabrics at Rosen and Chadick, but you’ll have to call in to request swatches. They charge about $15/ yard once you order. Be sure to ask how wide are the fabrics, and then ask your shirtmaker how many yards you’ll need based on a fabric of that width. You should expect to order two to three yards, depending on your size. 

Of course, good ready-to-wear madras shirts can be found in O’Connell’s Sport Shirt and New Old Stock sections. For something more affordable, check out Brooks Brothers and J Crew

Dating Brooks Brothers Shirts

I was cleaning up my very cluttered computer desktop yesterday when I came across a bunch of files I used for our Oxford Cloth Button Down Shirt series. Before I delete everything, I thought I’d post these photos, in case some of our readers might be interested in knowing how to date vintage Brooks Brothers shirts.

These are garment labels from the vintage shirts I borrowed from our friends at O’Connell’s, An Affordable Wardrobe, and Typhoid Jones. I snapped these pictures and then sent them to Brooks Brothers’ media relations department, asking if they could help me date them. The process took a while – I assume because they had to search for someone who was familiar enough with the company’s history – but after a month or two, they submitted the following images back, with the dates you see above.

Note, these dates are a bit iffy. The two blue oxford shirts you see at the end (dated 1999 and 2001) are from O’Connell’s. Ethan there tells me that he’s absolutely certain that the shirts are from the early 1990s, as that’s when they last stocked those shirts at their store. I assume he’s right, especially since the garment label for 1992 seems to be the same as the one marked for 1999. Not sure why Brooks Brothers dated those two the way they did, but the possibility of those being a mistake made me doubt how reliable the other dates were. For what it’s worth, however, the pre-1940s tag is almost certain to be reliable, as that was the detachable collar shirt and my contact at Brooks Brothers had no information about these shirts’ styles. The 1949 tag is also probably correct since that was the only oxford cloth button down without a chest pocket (a detail they added sometime in the 1950s or so). 

In any case, as iffy as these may be, here’s Brooks Brothers’ submission on how to date their shirts. This might be a potentially useful guide for folks who go thrifting often. 

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part VI: Our Recommendations
After reviewing so many companies, we thought it’d be useful to say which we recommend the most. Obviously much depends on your taste, build, and budget. The great thing about having such a varied market, however, is that there’s almost something for everyone. 
If you want something traditional, I recommend either Mercer & Sons or O’Connell’s. Mercer & Sons has a great oxford cloth that’s a bit more variegated in color and nubby in texture than the standard stuff you’d find at Brooks Brothers or J. Press. They also have a fully sized, unlined collar that gives the kind of wrinkly, carefree roll that enthusiasts find so charming. The only problem is that Mercer & Sons’ shirts fit very, very full, so you if you use them, you may have to turn to their made-to-order service. That’s where you can size the body down two and taper it further by two or four inches. To find out if this might work for you, email Mercer and ask for their shirt measurements.
The other exceptional option is O’Connell’s, who has one of the best button down collars I’ve seen. Ethan there tells me that they’re also working on a new model based on mid-century Brooks Brothers designs. That should be released sometime by the end of this year, and we’ll be certain to announce it when it does.
For something slim fitting, I really like Kamakura. They make two fits – a regular cut and a slim fit. I suspect the slim fit is just the regular cut, but with darts in the back. Admittedly, darts look a bit strange to me on an OCBD, but the body of the shirt still fits fairly well, so long as you have a slim stomach. Either way, both the regular and slim fits have great looking collars. See it worn here at Ivy Style.
You may also want to consider Brooks Brothers’ slim and extra-slim fits once they go on sale. I like Kamakura’s shirts better, but on the downside, they never go on sale. Brooks Brothers’ oxfords, on the other hand, regularly get discounted to about $50 a pop.
Conversely, if money is no object, you can check out Harry Stedman, who makes a pretty nice design from a hodgepodge of classic American details. Just note that they fit pretty slim, so if you’re a regular 36, you may want to opt for a 38 or simply a size small.  
If you want something dressy, try Ledbury. Theirs isn’t a conventional OCBD like the others we’ve covered here. The fabric is a smoother Thomas Mason cloth that’s somewhat reminiscent of Royal Oxford, and the shirt doesn’t have details such as box pleats or chest pockets. All in all, it’s just a dressier looking shirt, which can be good depending on what you’re going for. 
For something affordable, I like Land’s End’s tailored fit oxfords. Their fabric feels better than what Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas offers, and the fit isn’t as trendy. Though, depending on your style, Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas’ slimmer fits and shorter collars might work better for you. Either way, be sure to wait for sales. Lands’ End oxfords can be had for about $30 or $35, while Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas will often be sold for about $20.
Finally, if you want to get something custom made, I can recommend Cottonwork and Ascot Chang from personal experience. Cottonwork, as I’ve noted, does online made to measure, while Ascot Chang does full bespoke. The second tends to have an advantage in terms of executing an ideal fit, but the first will be considerably more affordable. Both do good work, however. You may also want to look into other custom shirtmakers, such as CEGO, Geneva, Anto, Dege & Skinner, and many others. Check StyleForum for recommendations, and perhaps acquaint yourself with the process of buying custom shirts through these posts I wrote last year. 

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part VI: Our Recommendations

After reviewing so many companies, we thought it’d be useful to say which we recommend the most. Obviously much depends on your taste, build, and budget. The great thing about having such a varied market, however, is that there’s almost something for everyone. 

If you want something traditional, I recommend either Mercer & Sons or O’Connell’s. Mercer & Sons has a great oxford cloth that’s a bit more variegated in color and nubby in texture than the standard stuff you’d find at Brooks Brothers or J. Press. They also have a fully sized, unlined collar that gives the kind of wrinkly, carefree roll that enthusiasts find so charming. The only problem is that Mercer & Sons’ shirts fit very, very full, so you if you use them, you may have to turn to their made-to-order service. That’s where you can size the body down two and taper it further by two or four inches. To find out if this might work for you, email Mercer and ask for their shirt measurements.

The other exceptional option is O’Connell’s, who has one of the best button down collars I’ve seen. Ethan there tells me that they’re also working on a new model based on mid-century Brooks Brothers designs. That should be released sometime by the end of this year, and we’ll be certain to announce it when it does.

For something slim fitting, I really like Kamakura. They make two fits – a regular cut and a slim fit. I suspect the slim fit is just the regular cut, but with darts in the back. Admittedly, darts look a bit strange to me on an OCBD, but the body of the shirt still fits fairly well, so long as you have a slim stomach. Either way, both the regular and slim fits have great looking collars. See it worn here at Ivy Style.

You may also want to consider Brooks Brothers’ slim and extra-slim fits once they go on sale. I like Kamakura’s shirts better, but on the downside, they never go on sale. Brooks Brothers’ oxfords, on the other hand, regularly get discounted to about $50 a pop.

Conversely, if money is no object, you can check out Harry Stedman, who makes a pretty nice design from a hodgepodge of classic American details. Just note that they fit pretty slim, so if you’re a regular 36, you may want to opt for a 38 or simply a size small.  

If you want something dressy, try Ledbury. Theirs isn’t a conventional OCBD like the others we’ve covered here. The fabric is a smoother Thomas Mason cloth that’s somewhat reminiscent of Royal Oxford, and the shirt doesn’t have details such as box pleats or chest pockets. All in all, it’s just a dressier looking shirt, which can be good depending on what you’re going for. 

For something affordable, I like Land’s End’s tailored fit oxfords. Their fabric feels better than what Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas offers, and the fit isn’t as trendy. Though, depending on your style, Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas’ slimmer fits and shorter collars might work better for you. Either way, be sure to wait for sales. Lands’ End oxfords can be had for about $30 or $35, while Uniqlo and Lands’ End Canvas will often be sold for about $20.

Finally, if you want to get something custom made, I can recommend Cottonwork and Ascot Chang from personal experience. Cottonwork, as I’ve noted, does online made to measure, while Ascot Chang does full bespoke. The second tends to have an advantage in terms of executing an ideal fit, but the first will be considerably more affordable. Both do good work, however. You may also want to look into other custom shirtmakers, such as CEGO, Geneva, Anto, Dege & Skinner, and many others. Check StyleForum for recommendations, and perhaps acquaint yourself with the process of buying custom shirts through these posts I wrote last year

The OCBD Shirt Series, Part III: The Reviews

For a while, Brooks Brothers used to advertise their oxford button downs as “The Most Imitated Shirt in the World.” And it’s true that there are few shirts, if any, that have been as widely copied. In that same 1926 Men’s Wear article I cited a few posts back, the author wrote about how he went a little “progressive” shop in Los Angeles and they had identical versions of Brooks Brothers’ shirt, copied stitch for stitch. When asked whether they had any left on post-holiday clearance, the clerk smiled and said: “Why those were all gone long ago. Scarcely any remained to put on sale. We get fresh shipments every month, and can scarcely keep them in stock.”

Such is the selling power of one of the most beloved shirts in classic American dress.

The shirt today is still widely copied, so much so that I don’t know how many men really associate it with Brooks Brothers anymore. Not that I necessarily think that’s a bad thing. The imitations are perhaps what make the oxford cloth button down (or OCBD for short) a living and genuine classic.

For the remainder of this series, I’ll give quick-and-dirty reviews of some thirteen or fourteen contemporary makers of OCBDs, so that readers who haven’t yet settled on a favorite can get a quick view of the landscape. Since fit is everything when it comes to clothing, I’ll post measurements of the samples I received. You can use them to compare who makes a slimmer or fuller model, but note that none of these shirts have been laundered (as they were not mine to keep), so there may be some shrinkage. The chest is measured from armpit to armpit, the shoulders from shoulder seam to shoulder seam (measured from the back of the shirt), and the length from the bottom of the collar band to the hem (also measured from the back of the shirt). The length of the collar tips is also included. The most important part of an OCBD is the collar, after all, and how well it rolls or moves is determined by many factors – the positioning of the buttons, the construction of the collar, and how long the collar tips are. I’ll talk about the first two and give measurements of the last.

Mercer & Sons

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Size: 15 x 32

Retail price: $112.50

Features: Curved chest pocket; fully unlined collar; sleeves made with an off center cuff button and no gauntlet button (like Brooks’ originals); 6-button front; box pleat at the back.

Measurements: Chest 24.75”; Waist 23”; Shoulders 18.5”; Length 32.5”; Collar tip: 9.25cm

Impressions: To the extent that there’s a shirt that closely resembles Brooks Brothers’ “Golden Age” oxfords, it would be Mercer’s. The collar is unlined and has long collar tips. The combination of these things produces a very handsome roll when the collar is worn with or without a tie. The cloth, in my opinion, is also much better than any other maker’s. It’s nubbier and there’s more variegation and depth in the color. The only problem is that it fits very, very full. Mercer however, allows you to do customizations fairly easily. You can size down two, such that a size 15 collar can go on a size 14 body. The waist can also be further reduced two or four inches if needed. This should dramatically reduce the fullness, but it will still be less slim than many of the more “fashionable” brands. Best to email Mercer and ask for specific measurements across their size range to see if doing a made-to-order can work for you. If you get something made-to-order, I may also suggest requesting a 7-button front, as this will help the shirt from gaping as the collar naturally shrinks over time.  

O’Connell’s Heavyweight Oxford

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Size: 15 x 32

Retail price: $110

Features: Curved chest pocket; lightly fused collar; box pleat at the back; 7-button front; split yoke.

Measurements: Chest 22.5”; Waist 21”; Shoulders 18.5”; Length 31”; Collar tip: 8.5cm

Impressions: Another one of my favorites. Again, the collar tips are long enough for there to be some expression, which is rarer and rarer to see nowadays from more fashionable companies. When worn, I think O’Connell’s has one of the better collars around. The fit is very traditional and classic, however. Not baggy, mind you, but classic in the real sense of the word. This is a great option for people who take the idea of classic style seriously.

J. Press

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Size: 15 x 32

Retail price: $98

Features: Flapped chest pocket; 7-button front; split yoke; box pleat at the back; collar made with a lightweight, fused interlining.

Measurements: Chest 22”; Waist 20.75”; Shoulders 18.5”; Length 31.5”; Collar tip: 8.5cm

Impressions: Just a tad slimmer than O’Connell’s. Fit is again very traditional and classic, and the collar points are long enough to produce a roll. This version is most distinguished by J. Press’ signature flapped chest pocket, which few other producers make.

Gitman Gold’s Cambridge Oxford

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Size: 15 x 32

Retail price: $135

Features: Curved chest pocket; split yoke; 7-button front; box pleat at the back; collar made with a medium weight fused interlining

Measurements: Chest 21.5”; Waist 20”; Shoulders 18.25”; Length 30”; Collar tip: 8cm

Impressions: Slightly slimmer than the aforementioned options. The collar is a bit too heavily lined for my taste, but it does look good when worn without a tie. The length of the shirt is also a bit short, which makes this harder to tuck if you’re tall. Note, Gitman has a wide line of shirts, and this is only one. You can may also want to check out Gitman Bros., Gitman Sport (blue label), and Gitman Vintage (green label). Their gold label line is Gitman Dress. 

Kamakura

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Size: 15 1/3 x 35 1/2

Retail price: $79

Features: Curved chest pocket; 7-button front; no pleats, but darted, back; off-center button cuff; collar made with a lightweight floating interlining.

Measurements: Chest 21”; Waist 19.5”; Shoulders 17.5”; Length 33”; Collar tip: 9cm

Impressions: I can see Kamakura become very, very popular soon. This fits on the slim side of classic. Not so slim that I’d feel uncomfortable recommending them, but they’re clearly made for someone with classic sensibilities in 2013. The collar is lightly lined, but the interlining is unfused, so you can get a little wrinkling when it’s worn. Nice touches for an OCBD, in my opinion, as wrinkles carry a casual, carefree, American charm. The collar buttons are also spread further apart, which bring the points closer to the lapels of a sport coat when both are worn. This is a great option for someone who likes how a traditional button down collar should look, but wants a slightly more modern fit in the body. Price is fairly affordable too. I would just recommend sizing up a little, as this size 15 1/3 shirt already fits somewhat tighter in the neck than the other options above (which were all sized 15)

Kamakura is currently available in-store in New York City, though you can call them to place orders. They’re also opening an online store within a month. Certainly a company to keep tabs on. 

Check back tomorrow for more reviews. 

December Fair Isle
December is one of the last months you can best wear Fair Isle. They’re not holiday sweaters, but there’s something holiday feeling about them, and while they look great in the fall, I think they look best in the winter. You can stretch them out to maybe about January, but past that, they start to lose their appeal.
A Fair Isle sweater, for those unfamiliar, is a type of knitwear garment that uses a distinctive geometric motif originating from the remote Fair Isle island. They were originally made from undyed wool, so they came in various shades of brown and grey, but nowadays they’re mostly recognized for their very colorful patterning. The best ones, in my opinion, still use the traditional Fair Isle knitting technique: two strands of yarn are knitted throughout an entire row, and continually intertwined on the “wrong” side of the garment. This creates an almost double-thick knit that can lend a lot of warmth.
Now, to be sure, there’s a lot of ugly Fair Isle around, but that can be said about almost anything. The key is to find one you like, and know how to wear it best. I have this tobacco, moss, and oatmeal one from Drake’s, and usually layer it underneath a coat, just so the pattern isn’t too overwhelming. You can see an example here, where I’ve paired the Drake’s sweater with a Loden coat by Aspesi. You can, of course, also wear the sweater without the extra layer, but generally, I find that the louder the pattern, the better it looks when layered underneath something more subdued.
There are plenty of places that sell Fair Isle sweaters. Traditional clothiers such as J. Press and O’Connell’s regularly stock them, as do stores on the slightly more fashionable side of classic, such as Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and Gant. You can also find a selection by Jamieson and Barbour at Oi Polloi, William Fox and Sons at Present London, and Howlin by Morrison at End Clothing. For more affordable options, turn to Land’s End and J. Crew. Both of those merchants regularly discount their stock by 30-40%, and a full array of sizes is usually still available once they hit their sales.
Finally, if you’d like one custom made, check out Spirit of Shetland and Louise Irvine. As usual with online made-to-measure garments, you want to take multiple measurements and figure out the averages before you submit your numbers. And when in doubt, err on the side of large. You can always wear something that’s just a touch too big, but you’ll never wear something that’s too small.

December Fair Isle

December is one of the last months you can best wear Fair Isle. They’re not holiday sweaters, but there’s something holiday feeling about them, and while they look great in the fall, I think they look best in the winter. You can stretch them out to maybe about January, but past that, they start to lose their appeal.

A Fair Isle sweater, for those unfamiliar, is a type of knitwear garment that uses a distinctive geometric motif originating from the remote Fair Isle island. They were originally made from undyed wool, so they came in various shades of brown and grey, but nowadays they’re mostly recognized for their very colorful patterning. The best ones, in my opinion, still use the traditional Fair Isle knitting technique: two strands of yarn are knitted throughout an entire row, and continually intertwined on the “wrong” side of the garment. This creates an almost double-thick knit that can lend a lot of warmth.

Now, to be sure, there’s a lot of ugly Fair Isle around, but that can be said about almost anything. The key is to find one you like, and know how to wear it best. I have this tobacco, moss, and oatmeal one from Drake’s, and usually layer it underneath a coat, just so the pattern isn’t too overwhelming. You can see an example here, where I’ve paired the Drake’s sweater with a Loden coat by Aspesi. You can, of course, also wear the sweater without the extra layer, but generally, I find that the louder the pattern, the better it looks when layered underneath something more subdued.

There are plenty of places that sell Fair Isle sweaters. Traditional clothiers such as J. Press and O’Connell’s regularly stock them, as do stores on the slightly more fashionable side of classic, such as Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and Gant. You can also find a selection by Jamieson and Barbour at Oi Polloi, William Fox and Sons at Present London, and Howlin by Morrison at End Clothing. For more affordable options, turn to Land’s End and J. Crew. Both of those merchants regularly discount their stock by 30-40%, and a full array of sizes is usually still available once they hit their sales.

Finally, if you’d like one custom made, check out Spirit of Shetland and Louise Irvine. As usual with online made-to-measure garments, you want to take multiple measurements and figure out the averages before you submit your numbers. And when in doubt, err on the side of large. You can always wear something that’s just a touch too big, but you’ll never wear something that’s too small.

Shawl Collar Cardigans

As legend has it, the original cardigan was invented for Lieutenant General James Brudenell, the Seventh Earl of Cardigan. He wanted a sweater that he could put on without ruining his perfectly coiffed hair. So, the front was cut open, buttons put in, and voilà – we have the cardigan sweater. How the shawl collar – a detail originally designed for the Victorian smoking jacket – got mixed in is unclear. Perhaps it’s because both were considered at-home pieces for lounge and leisure. Who knows.

In any case, shawl collar cardigans make for great autumnal sweaters. The elongated line of the collar nicely frames the face while the body of the knit keeps the wearer comfortable and warm. Today, you can get these from a number of companies, and they range from the stratospherically priced to the reasonably affordable.

I’ll start with the stratospherically priced. Even if we’re not able to afford them, they’re fun to look at (and talk about). These tend to be knitted in Scotland and made from multi-ply wool, cashmere, lambswool, or camelhair yarns. Multi-ply means that multiple plies are twisted together to form a thicker, stronger yarn. This gives the sweater more warmth and durability. The yarns are also usually made from longer animal fibers, which means there are fewer weak points that can break and result in pilling. Finally, the weaves tend to be denser and tighter, which helps ensure that the sweater will keep its shape for years to come. The result, while expensive, is something that’s incredibly chunky, plush, and warm. Wear one of these on a chilly morning and you’ll be immediately be impressed with the quality. 

You can find such cardigans at a number of traditional American clothiers. Ben Silver, O’Connell’s, Kabbaz-Kelly, and Paul Stuart have exceptionally nice ones. From Europe, there’s Drake’s, Berk, Johnstons of Elgin, and Peter Johnston. Ovadia & Sons also makes a nice, thick lambswool one that’s suitable for someone wanting a slimmer fit. All of these tend to be expensive, but some will go on sale at the end of the season. In fact, Ben Silver has some at 50% off now.

For something more affordable, check out J Crew, Rugby, Brooks Brothers, Gant, Land’s End, Orvis, and Save Khaki (one of which is on Gilt). These tend to be thinner than the ones mentioned above, and will likely have cheap, plastic buttons instead of animal horn. You can swap out the buttons yourself, however, for about $30-50. Finally, you may want to consider the options at Northern Watters, White of Hawick, and Black Sheep. I have no personal experience with their products, but nice things have been said about them across the various menswear forums. And although their websites aren’t terribly appealing, it’s important to separate out marketing hype from quality of clothing. They may just be the right middle point between the over-priced, under-delivered “fashion brands,” and the superlative, but incredibly expensive, Scottish knits. 

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)