How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wear

Like anyone who feels guilty about how much they’ve spent on their shoes, I’m fairly good at taking care of my footwear. I apply cream and wax polishes every few weeks, and leather conditioner even more frequently. Before any pair goes out for wearing, it gets brushed down to remove any dust or dirt.

I’ve learned, however, that some shoes look better the less you take care of them. This includes work boots, engineer boots, camp mocs, boat shoes, and almost anything that’s considered extremely casual. These still get treated to leather conditioner, just not that often (maybe once every six months to a year). Things such as cream and wax polishes, however, never get used, and shoe trees never get inserted. If you’ve ever wondered whether these things really make a difference, just try going without them for a year. You’ll see that creases develop more quickly and set on deeper when they do. Scuffs and scars will also show up more without the “cover-up” of polish. 

For certain shoes, however you want this kind of “damage” to appear. It gives them character and makes them more lived-in. This gets back to a very fundamental idea that nothing looks good when it’s too new or too stiff. That doesn’t just go for certain styles of footwear – it goes for things such as tweed jackets, briefcases, and almost all kinds of outerwear. It’s perhaps for this reason why there are stories about how Fred Astaire used to throw his new bespoke suits up against the wall before wearing them, and how Charlie Davidson of The Andover Shop won’t even wear a new jacket until it’s been sitting on a hanger for a year. 

Of course, with dressier shoes, careful polishing, edge dressing, and even the occasional bulling can be great. Those will give your shoes a certain kind of luster that’s in keeping with the style. With everything else, however, all you need really is the occasional treatment of leather conditioner. As you can see in the last photo, as long as you buy shoes of good quality - and keep the leather supple so it doesn’t crack - they can be repaired to good effect. And why would you want to recraft an old pair of boat shoes when new ones can be bought for not much more money? Because the old ones look a lot better.   

(Photos via Andrew Chen of 3sixteen, Mister Freedom, Oak Street Bootmakers, and Rancourt)

It’s On Sale: Select items at The Andover Shop

StyleForum member Crimson Sox just alerted me to a pretty good sale over at The Andover Shop (a pillar in the traditional American clothing community). For the time being, select items - such as ties, jackets, and shirts - are available at 30% off. Since it’s been really cold where I live, I’ve been admiring their sweater selection, which includes plain knit Shetlands, cable knit Shetlands, shawl collar cardigans, and cashmere cable knits.

I don’t have any first hand experience with The Andover Shop’s sweaters, but I’ve heard from reliable sources that their Shetlands are just as good as O’Connell’s, which I’ve found to be some of the best around.  I wear plain knit Shetlands, but in this scene from Scent of a Woman, you can see how good a cabled design can look with a button down collar shirt and a warm winter coat - even when you’re pissing in your pants. 

Note: A reader emailed in to say that people might want to size down, as The Andover Shop’s sweaters fit very full. As I mentioned, I have no experience with their sweaters, so can’t say either way. I’m sure if you call them, however, you can get sizing advice. 

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)

“I’d cuff my boxer shorts if I could.”

Charlie Davidson, when asked if he prefers cuffs.

(via fuckyeahcharliedavidson)

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. 

“Who wants to look like a fucking Polo window?” — Charlie Davidson, The Andover Shop (via voxsart)

(via voxsart-deactivated20120827)

The Trad visits The Andover Shop