Maybe overreacting to the controversy about the brand’s made-in-China 2012 Olympic uniforms, Ralph Lauren and co. went all YOU-ESS-AY YOU-ESS-AY YOU-ESS-AY on this year’s models. This shawl collar sweater will be worn for the opening ceremonies (it’s made, indeed, in USA) and is available to non-athletes for $595. WAIT A MINUTE, I ONLY COUNT 45 STARS. I bet one of the stars left out was the one for my home state. 
-Pete

Maybe overreacting to the controversy about the brand’s made-in-China 2012 Olympic uniforms, Ralph Lauren and co. went all YOU-ESS-AY YOU-ESS-AY YOU-ESS-AY on this year’s models. This shawl collar sweater will be worn for the opening ceremonies (it’s made, indeed, in USA) and is available to non-athletes for $595. WAIT A MINUTE, I ONLY COUNT 45 STARS. I bet one of the stars left out was the one for my home state.

-Pete

Abercrombie Adventures: Christmas, 1959

I recently obtained a stash of Abercrombie & Fitch store catalogs from the 1950s. If you don’t know, A&F wasn’t always a teenybopper retailer famous for hating ugly people. It used to be a high-end sporting goods shop, with outlets in the major cities of the U.S.  I recently obtained some store catalogs from A&F and its Chicago sister store Von Lengerke & Antoine, and I thought I’d share some of the menswear therein.

This week’s catalog is from Christmas of 1959. As you can see, Viyella was a big product for A&F. Viyella was one of the first proprietary “tech” fabrics, a cotton-wool blend created in the 1890s. It’s soft enough to wear against your skin, but nonetheless warm and comfortable in cool weather. The shirts here aren’t cheap - $18.95 is the equivalent of about $150 today.

The more things change, the more they stay the same - one of the featured items is the Shetland sweater, which runs about $125 in today’s dollars. The one pictured above is almost identical to one my wife got me Christmas this year.

The only-in-1959 award could go to the ski mask or tasseled winter cap, both of which are pretty amazing, but I’m going to give it to the “Swiss Alpine,” a sort of combination sportshirt and sweater with “a suede finish.” Just like in the Alps. I guess.

One practical take-home from the photos: the near-universal suitability of a pair of gray flannel trousers. They go with every top, even the strange one, and look sharp in so doing. Still perfect for any man’s wardrobe.

A one-minute short film about a man traveling the length and breadth of Wisconsin, shopping for sweaters at thrift stores. It’s “Sweater Bender.”

Via BoingBoing

Ebbets Field Flannels Sweater Jackets
Ebbets Field Flannels just announced these stunning sweater-jackets. They’re based on a vintage model from the 1930s found in a thrift shop, and they’re totally amazing. Ebbets only made six of each size, and my hometown team (the San Francisco Seals) is already completely sold out. Above is the New York Black Yankees. Find what’s left here.

Ebbets Field Flannels Sweater Jackets

Ebbets Field Flannels just announced these stunning sweater-jackets. They’re based on a vintage model from the 1930s found in a thrift shop, and they’re totally amazing. Ebbets only made six of each size, and my hometown team (the San Francisco Seals) is already completely sold out. Above is the New York Black Yankees. Find what’s left here.

Q & Answer: Can I Stretch A Sweater?
Jason asks: Have you ever heard of purposefully stretching sweaters to make the arms/ torso longer? I usually wear a “tall” size but Brooks Brothers only sells regular sizes. When I talked to a sales person there, he said they have a special machine to stretch sweaters. Have you ever hear of this? Are all knit fabrics stretchable?
I guess it’s possible that Brooks Brothers has a special machine to stretch sweaters, but I’ve certainly never heard of such a thing. That said, it is entirely possible to stretch most knits. To a point.
Here’s how it works: wet the sweater fully in cold water, press a bit of excess water out of it gently, then roll it in a towel like it was the ham in a wrap sandwich. You want it to be wet, but not so much so that it won’t dry after a day or so of sitting out.
Then arrange it on a dry towel in the size and shape you’re looking for. Above is a just-knit sweater which is going through this same process, called “blocking.” As you can see, the knitter has used graph markings on a work surface to make sure the piece is the exact right size. You don’t have to be quite that exact.
Do this, and you can get a couple inches of stretch from most knits. The only catch: wet them again and you’ll have to block them again.

Q & Answer: Can I Stretch A Sweater?

Jason asks: Have you ever heard of purposefully stretching sweaters to make the arms/ torso longer? I usually wear a “tall” size but Brooks Brothers only sells regular sizes. When I talked to a sales person there, he said they have a special machine to stretch sweaters. Have you ever hear of this? Are all knit fabrics stretchable?

I guess it’s possible that Brooks Brothers has a special machine to stretch sweaters, but I’ve certainly never heard of such a thing. That said, it is entirely possible to stretch most knits. To a point.

Here’s how it works: wet the sweater fully in cold water, press a bit of excess water out of it gently, then roll it in a towel like it was the ham in a wrap sandwich. You want it to be wet, but not so much so that it won’t dry after a day or so of sitting out.

Then arrange it on a dry towel in the size and shape you’re looking for. Above is a just-knit sweater which is going through this same process, called “blocking.” As you can see, the knitter has used graph markings on a work surface to make sure the piece is the exact right size. You don’t have to be quite that exact.

Do this, and you can get a couple inches of stretch from most knits. The only catch: wet them again and you’ll have to block them again.

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)

Alternatives to J. Press’ Shaggy Dogs
Pete’s post yesterday reminded me of how much I also regret not buying those Shaggy Dog sweaters when they were “just” $160. On sale, that price occasionally dropped to $108, but fat chance you’ll see them go that low now. At this point, you can expect a sale price of around $172.50 with J. Press’ usual 25%-off discount, which is north of what they used to sell for at full retail just a few years ago. 
There are some alternatives though. The now defunct Ralph Lauren Rugby line used to make brushed Shetlands, and every once in a while, you’ll see them still floating around eBay for between $50 and $110. The sweater isn’t as thick and densely knitted as J. Press’, but it fits slimmer and has smaller armholes (the second of which I really appreciate). It also has sueded elbow patches, but I imagine those can be carefully removed with a seam ripper if they’re not to your liking. 
Howlin’ of Morrison also has a model towards the end of this page. I really like their Shetlands (this particular piece looks fantastic), but find their brushed version a bit thin (from memory, slightly thinner than even Rugby’s). On the upside, they also fit slimmer than Press’, which might be good for some builds. 
Other options include these pieces by Edifice x Present, Present, William Fox & Sons, Drake’s, John Tulloch, and Neighbour. Of those, I’ve only handled Neighbour’s, which are, again, thinner but potentially better fitting. Some of the prices here aren’t that much cheaper than what J. Press is asking, but it’s nice to have options when sale season comes. I also think there’s a potential for the York Street version to go on deeper discount than J. Press’ mainline stuff, but only time will tell. 
Lastly, MKI also used to carry some last year, but they’ve since sold out. Might be worth keeping an eye on their webstore to see if they’ll restock. 

Alternatives to J. Press’ Shaggy Dogs

Pete’s post yesterday reminded me of how much I also regret not buying those Shaggy Dog sweaters when they were “just” $160. On sale, that price occasionally dropped to $108, but fat chance you’ll see them go that low now. At this point, you can expect a sale price of around $172.50 with J. Press’ usual 25%-off discount, which is north of what they used to sell for at full retail just a few years ago. 

There are some alternatives though. The now defunct Ralph Lauren Rugby line used to make brushed Shetlands, and every once in a while, you’ll see them still floating around eBay for between $50 and $110. The sweater isn’t as thick and densely knitted as J. Press’, but it fits slimmer and has smaller armholes (the second of which I really appreciate). It also has sueded elbow patches, but I imagine those can be carefully removed with a seam ripper if they’re not to your liking. 

Howlin’ of Morrison also has a model towards the end of this page. I really like their Shetlands (this particular piece looks fantastic), but find their brushed version a bit thin (from memory, slightly thinner than even Rugby’s). On the upside, they also fit slimmer than Press’, which might be good for some builds. 

Other options include these pieces by Edifice x Present, Present, William Fox & SonsDrake’s, John Tulloch, and Neighbour. Of those, I’ve only handled Neighbour’s, which are, again, thinner but potentially better fitting. Some of the prices here aren’t that much cheaper than what J. Press is asking, but it’s nice to have options when sale season comes. I also think there’s a potential for the York Street version to go on deeper discount than J. Press’ mainline stuff, but only time will tell. 

Lastly, MKI also used to carry some last year, but they’ve since sold out. Might be worth keeping an eye on their webstore to see if they’ll restock. 

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

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%. 

Saving On Heating Bills
I was chatting with my neighbor last weekend, who was lamenting how high her heating bill has gotten this past winter. Just under $200 a month to heat a small three-bedroom apartment (many of us here in the Bay Area have terrible insulation).
I was shocked until I realized I was paying the same two years ago. Lately, however, my heating bill has been around $100 a month. That’s because whenever it gets chilly, I just throw on this thick lambswool cardigan by Ovadia & Sons, which you can see above. I bought it last year on sale from CHCM. The price was $350, which was a lot for me, but I’ve wanted a chunky shawl collar cardigan for some time now, and since I’m unusually skinny, it’s hard to find things in my size. Slightly more fashion-forward brands like Ovadia makes slimmer fitting clothes, which sometimes can work in favor for a guy my size, so I jumped on the sale.
As a result, I’ve been able to use my heater less. Apparently about half as much as my neighbor, who has about the same size apartment as I do. You figure with approximately $200 in savings from December and January’s heating bills, this cardigan will have paid for itself by the end of next winter. 
Obviously, I’m not advising everyone to go out and spend $350 for a cardigan. But I am saying that if you can find some nice warm knitwear, it can be a better expenditure than relying on a heater. This 6-ply lambswool cardigan is so thick that is wears like a jacket. Other knits, which are meant to be worn as layering pieces, aren’t as warm simply because they’re not as thick. If you can find a truly chunky, warm-as-a-down-comforter sweater, it can be worth the investment.
On a budget, however, I recommend Smartwool Long Johns. If you layer their midweight wools underneath a button-up shirt and regular wool or cashmere sweater, you can stay pretty toasty. Campmor always seems to have them on sale for about $50-70. At ~$120 for both the top and bottom garments, these could pay for themselves in one or two months’ time.

Saving On Heating Bills

I was chatting with my neighbor last weekend, who was lamenting how high her heating bill has gotten this past winter. Just under $200 a month to heat a small three-bedroom apartment (many of us here in the Bay Area have terrible insulation).

I was shocked until I realized I was paying the same two years ago. Lately, however, my heating bill has been around $100 a month. That’s because whenever it gets chilly, I just throw on this thick lambswool cardigan by Ovadia & Sons, which you can see above. I bought it last year on sale from CHCM. The price was $350, which was a lot for me, but I’ve wanted a chunky shawl collar cardigan for some time now, and since I’m unusually skinny, it’s hard to find things in my size. Slightly more fashion-forward brands like Ovadia makes slimmer fitting clothes, which sometimes can work in favor for a guy my size, so I jumped on the sale.

As a result, I’ve been able to use my heater less. Apparently about half as much as my neighbor, who has about the same size apartment as I do. You figure with approximately $200 in savings from December and January’s heating bills, this cardigan will have paid for itself by the end of next winter. 

Obviously, I’m not advising everyone to go out and spend $350 for a cardigan. But I am saying that if you can find some nice warm knitwear, it can be a better expenditure than relying on a heater. This 6-ply lambswool cardigan is so thick that is wears like a jacket. Other knits, which are meant to be worn as layering pieces, aren’t as warm simply because they’re not as thick. If you can find a truly chunky, warm-as-a-down-comforter sweater, it can be worth the investment.

On a budget, however, I recommend Smartwool Long Johns. If you layer their midweight wools underneath a button-up shirt and regular wool or cashmere sweater, you can stay pretty toasty. Campmor always seems to have them on sale for about $50-70. At ~$120 for both the top and bottom garments, these could pay for themselves in one or two months’ time.