Fair Isle -The sweater’s journey in men’s fashion has certainly been a rollercoaster. From a quiet birth in the North Sea to adorning royalty and actors to finally becoming an unwilling participant in the hunt for the ugliest Christmas sweater. How did that happen? And is it not possible to wear a Fair Isle sweater outside the Christmas party?
We tell the story of the Fair Isle sweater and show you how to wear it beautifully in three different combinations.
Shetland Islands: home of the Fair Island shirt
The Fair Isle shirt is named after a small island in the North Sea. Fair Isle is located about halfway between the Shetland Islands and the Orkney Islands. Despite its desolate location, it has been inhabited since the Stone Age and was long ruled by Norwegian Vikings.
The origins of the Fair Isle sweater and its distinctive pattern are unclear, but knitting must have arrived in the 16th century. The islands were poor and dependent on trade with the mainland, so wool sweaters were one of the few products they could produce entirely on their own. The most intriguing explanation is that the patterns were used to identify fishermen who were lost at sea, because when they floated ashore, the sweater’s unique pattern might be the only clue to the fisherman’s family. Others point to the influence of the sinking of a Spanish Armada flagship here in 1588, when 300 Spanish sailors spent months on the island. The most likely explanation, however, is that the patterns reflect a common culture among North Sea fishing villages that traded with each other.
Whatever its origin, the sweater came to be associated mainly with fishermen and sheep farmers. The method also spread to other countries in the early 20th century, with relatives such as Lopapeysa in Iceland and Setesdal/Selbu in Norway. In Sweden we have our Bohus Knitting, an initiative to create work for poor stone workers’ wives in the 1930s.
From fisherman’s sweater to lifestyle garment
The fishermen’s favorite garment became an indoor garment overnight when the Prince of Wales was photographed and portrayed in his sweater. The Prince wore it as a classic wool sweater with a shirt and tie on the golf course. His sister Prince Mary also wore Fair Isle sweaters.
In the post-war period, the outdoors became fashionable, and the warm Fair Isle sweater was perfect for the slopes. Paul McCartney, Robert Redford and Truman Capote were other celebrities who adopted the style. Over the years, the Fair Isle sweater has fluctuated between being in and out of fashion, but always made a comeback when it was most needed.
In recent years, Fair Isle has become associated with something other than royalty and celebrities: Ugly Christmas Sweater Day . This tradition builds on a number of famous Christmas scenes in films such as A Pear for Father Christmas and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
The classic Fair Isle sweater
A Fair Isle sweater, or Shetland sweater as it is also called, is a characteristically jacquard patterned wool sweater. It is often knitted in the round, i.e. it has no side seams and is knitted in one piece, using a characteristic technique.
The traditional design has a limited color palette and only two colors are used at a time. The colors come from the natural colors of the wool but there are also elements such as naturally dyed red, orange and blue. The patterns are often simple geometric shapes, such as rafters and “O-X-O” patterns.
There are a few people left on Fair Isle who still knit sweaters, but the lead times are very long because each sweater takes a very long time to knit. A sweater may therefore be made from Fair Isle wool but knitted elsewhere. Many sweaters are also machine knitted to reduce the price.
Fair Island shirts for men: How to wear it
So how do you wear a Fair Island sweater without looking like you’re going to the Christmas party? We’ve selected three styles.
Classic Fair Isle
The classic Fair Isle sweater, as the Prince of Wales once wore it, goes perfectly with tweed. Choose a vest instead of a sweater if you work indoors and don’t want to sweat to death. You can find vests at Ralph Lauren / CareOfCarl, among others.
Casual med chinos
If you want a more casual style, you can combine a Fair Isle sweater with jeans or chinos as well. Don’t choose the traditional camel color but rather either monochrome or with more color, like these Fair Isle sweaters from Barbour.
If you want to look like you’ve just come in from a fishing trip in the North Sea, or made the sweater from the wool of your own sheep, Howlin’, for example, has stylish and authentic Fair Isle-style wool sweaters. Howlin is a brand from Amsterdam, but the sweaters are produced in Scotland from brushed wool. Combine with a beard.