Seaside Knits

Classic American and Northern European knits have been gaining more and more steam here for the past couple seasons. Next fall and winter won't be any different. I decided I'd share a bit of knowledge on the history of some of the most popular, some of the soon to be popular, and the ones currently in. A ton of these sweaters play off of the popular spring trend of nautical themes which have been in for some time now... With brands such as Rogues Gallery, A.P.C. , Polo Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, RRL, LL Bean, and countless others all in the mix. These sweaters aren't just trendy to any student or follower of menswear, they're timeless and classic and as fashion is a repeated cycle of evolution this is why they are currently playing their part so well. Whether in the Amerian revival or seen through at more forward fashion houses such as Dolce & Gabbanna. One thing is for sure, you can never go wrong with a classic item of clothing.

Wool Turtleneck - Wool turtlenecks were standard for European and American longshoremen in the 1800's, the thick wool knit was considered one of the best shields from from the strong winds and rain that one could have during their day. Traditionally these turtlenecks were knit in off-white, undyed sheep's wool. Undyed wool maintains the sheep's naturally secreted lanolin so when it rains the the water runs off the sweater the same way it would a sheep. While sheep's wool may not be as popular today or for the same usage, the chunky knit wool turtleneck is still a timeless pieces. Just watch "On the Waterfront" with Brando or look at some pictures of Hemingway to catch my drift.

The Fair Isle - The best export from the island of the same name off the northern tip of Scotland. The Fair Isle sweater is knit from wool that has for centuries been dyed with natural dyestuffs like peat or lichen. The patterns are all different due to the knitters having to create complex, small scale patterns with whatever color wool they had for the day. The Fair Isle was first made infamous around the world as a favorite of the timeless style icon The Duke of Windsor.

The Duke of Windsor

The J. Crew version of the Fair Isle sweater.

The Aran - Originating from the three Aran Islands of Meain, Inis Mor, and Inis Oirr at the mouth of Gulway Bay, Ireland. These sweaters are the true Irish art form of cable knitting on a sweater. They typically tell a story with each pattern. I recommend reading the in depth post on All Plaid Out for the best description. Inis Meain has it's own namesake label nowadays which can be found at retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman.

The Cable Knit - Derived from Celtic knot patterns, the different cable styles evolved through the natural skills of knitters and interbred freely so that no one pattern can be attributed to a specific person. It has been a common romantic seafaring myth that the knots were to represent unique records of washed up sailors or fisherman's bodies after they were pecked unrecognizable by seagulls.

Breton - This was originally a a merchant's sweater from the northwest of France, the Breton has three horizontal stripes in two colors (typically blue and white, and sometimes in blue and red) two or three closure buttons on the left shoulder. This is a favorite of fisherman and has a distinct sense of shape and functionality. I've seen brands such as Saint James and A.P.C. doing better versions lately.

Guersney - This fisherman small island in the English Channel are traditionally made from dark-blue-wool, with collars often knitted "on the round" and made to stand up almost two inches. A corruption of "Guernsey" the word gansey is now a catchall term for fisherman's sweaters of this style.

Cowichan - The Cowichan Indian tribes, located on Vancouver Island, have been knitting sweaters since before land was settled by Europeans in the mid 19th century. But "Cowichan sweaters" adapted from Icelandic and Scottish patterns and made in natural shades of white, gray, black and brown, are best know today for their undying association with TV detective Dave Starsky. Patterns run all along the body and arms- eagle and deer are prevalent- and the collars are sewn into a thick folded yoke around the sweater neck.

The Filson Cowichan... I've recognized a lot of Brooklyn hipsters wearing vintage versions lately.

Faeroe - Never bred in white, the sheep on the North Atlantic's remote Faeroe Islands, halfway between Scotland and Iceland, come in colors as varies as gray, black and red brown. Faeroe sweaters are knitted on the round for a seamless body, and the striped patterns are rarely dyed because of the wool's natural color, Fearoe is derived from the Old Norse word, fittingly, for sheep.

Scandanavian - Bold colors are an essential part of Scandinavian knitting, black, white, red, green, and navy- the colors of the environment - are often used in traditional leaf patterning. The black-and-white snowflakes most people associate with Norwegian sweaters come from the very small region of Selbu, but modern Norwegian jerseys owe a debt to older, boxier setesdal sweaters, which come in more varied patterns.