No sweater can do everything, but a Shetland comes close. The style has been a staple at Brooks Brothers for over a hundred years, but you’d be surprised at how often it crops up in other lines (trad or otherwise). Lemaire has included plain-colored Shetlands in his expressive minimalist collections. Our Legacy and Margaret Howell regularly use them for their basics. Dries Van Noten even made a line of Shetland sweaters last year with archival labels from famous British mills. Shetlands work just as well with oversized topcoats as they do with waxed cotton Barbours, slim tailored trousers or raw denim jeans, experimental outfits or stalwart classics. Aside from gray sweatshirts, few knitwear styles stretch across so many aesthetic spaces.
Designers sometimes charge upwards of $750 for these knits, but their original charm is really in their hard wearing qualities and affordability. Shetland gets its name from the Shetland Islands, which are located 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 then firmly spun into yarn, woven into fabric, and transformed into garments. Today, the term “Shetland sweater” mostly means any knit that’s been made from that hardy, slightly itchy Shetland yarn.
“High quality” Shetlands usually retail for around $150 (my favorites are at O’Connell’s) and upper-echelon knits aren’t that much better. Some may differ in terms of slouchiness and design — designer ones sometimes fit a bit baggier because that’s the aesthetic — but it’s not uncommon to find plain-colored, saddle shouldered, classic fitting Shetland knits in the same qualities you’d see at trad clothiers and Barney’s. Just note that, given the nature of Shetland yarns, you’ll always want to wear these over a long-sleeved shirt of some kind (probably collared). These can be itchy against bare skin.
At the moment, three of my favorite trad clothiers are having end-of-season sales on some of their Shetland sweaters. O’Connell’s are $140; Andover’s are just a little more than $120; Ben Silver’s are about $135. You’ll probably want to contact those shops to get sizing advice (compare their chest measurements to your best-fitting knit).
Some other notables in their sale selection: Aran fisherman sweaters for $156; school boy scarves for $76; chunky shawl collar cardigans for $237; gray Loden cloth topcoat for $637; polo coat for $1120; Schott leather bombers and cafe racers for under $700; and some classic eyewear frames starting around $100.