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Shetland sweaters were originally made by peasant women on the islands, and came with a strong, smoked herring smell because of the way the wool would absorb domestic odors.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

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)