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.