Shetland Ponies in the Shetlands wearing Shetland knits.
A++. Would view again.
Shetland Ponies in the Shetlands wearing Shetland knits.
A++. Would view again.
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)
It’s On Sale: Unionmade Goods
The San Francisco-based store, Unionmade, started their semi-annual sale today and one of the most notable things are the wide variety of wool sweaters in an array of hues. Check out the selection of sweaters from Harley of Scotland ($90), Howlin’ by Morrison ($109), S.N.S. Herning ($120) and Beams+ ($131). Any of these would go well over a button-down collared shirt and under a cool-weather casual jacket with jeans and boots. As with all end-of-season sales, sizes available are limited.
From the department of the one that got away…
I’m not gonna lie, I’d rock the heck out of some of these.
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.
Over the next five days, Brooks Brothers is having a one-day sale on certain items. Today’s deal is 40% off all sweaters. I’d personally recommend going with their merino wool sweaters, as they make great layering pieces under a sport coat or blazer. I have a few of their merino cardigans ($70.80) and they’ve worked quite nicely. Of course, there are v-neck and crewnecks (both $64.80) as well.
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.
It’s on sale: Shetland crewneck sweaters
It’s not even post-Thanksgiving yet and a swarm of pre-holiday sales has begun. Count J.Press and J.Crew both among them, who each are offering their Shetland wool crewneck sweaters at 25% off right now.
These sweaters are great for casual wearing with a button-down collar shirt underneath and with a wide range of pants, ranging from flannel trousers to cords to denim.
J.Press “shaggy dog” sweaters come to $146.25 with the discount (code PSNOV12) and they’ve been featured during Jesse’s trip to J.Press. Truth be told, the sweaters will likely drop further after the holidays, however, selection of colors and sizes will be dramatically reduced at that point. Sale ends Wednesday, November 21.
The J.Crew Shetland sweaters by Wallace & Barnes differ from the J.Press ones in that they’re not “shaggy” and they also have elbow pads, but they’re also cheaper at $96 with the discount. No code needed and the sale ends Tuesday, November 20.
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.