By Kevin Mahoney
No longer just a regrettable Christmas gift from the grandmother, the Fair Isle sweater has made a leap “across the pond” and is invading the US like The Beatles. Born on the Shetland Islands in Scotland, the patterned sweater was made iconic by Edward VIII, who, while he wasn’t abdicating thrones to marry divorcees, donned the sweater on his many golfing exhibitions around the world.
Genuinely authentic Fair Isle sweaters are hand knit by the gray-haired inhabitants of the small island of Fair Isle. And although these lady Scots can take up to 100 hours on a single sweater, lucky for us there have been a plethora of brands that have adopted the style. A Fair Isle sweater is now loosely defined as a brand of knit with horizontal bands of geometric patterns of multiple colors or shades.
Although the Fair Isle may have been pigeonholed as a “Christmas sweater” or even disrespected by its presence at an “ugly sweater” party, the pattern and style has resurfaced on the runway and in thrift stores. The look has become ubiquitous, from Cambridge art history majors to indie rockers, and worn by celebrities both on and off the camera.
A good Fair Isle is made with high-quality lightweight wool, Shetland wool for the authentic, and provides fantastic warmth without being too bulky. Although they are generally tightly knit, they can also be loosely knit for a cozier and more nostalgic feel.
The crew neck sweater is a staple in any fall wardrobe and the Fair Isle can add excitement to dreary fall solids. Fair Isles are perfect for layering in the fall weather, stylish over an oxford button down or under a corduroy blazer.
The Fair Isle is ideal for both the daring and the subtle dressers, some with brightly colored and intricately patterned options and others with more simple, muted styles. There are those with hooded collars, and ones with elbow pads for a touch of class. With the style adapted by high and low-end labels a Fair Isle sweater can be affordable or extravagant, fitting into any budget.
So welcome the fall weather and the upcoming holiday season with a throwback to Downton Abbey days and embrace our transatlantic cousin’s style with a Fair Isle sweater.
Plus, enjoy the added bonus of potentially looking as heroic as Neville Longbottom.
Featured image: A portrait of the Duke of Windsor, later to become Edward the VIII, in his favorite Fair Isle golfing attire.