I do love a Fair Isle sweater

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They’re preppy, obviously, but also kind of tribal, and you can have all sorts of matchy-clashy fun with them, like here.

This one has a really hand-knit feel.

This would be way too busy were it more than one color, but in classic red and white, it works.

The light blue juxtaposed with the brown is so good (and unexpected) here.

A well-priced very classically preppy specimen from L.L. Bean.

Stark black and white takes this one in quite a graphic direction.

I like the zigzag business here.

Here’s a good choice for those who like prints, but like to keep things on the safe side—it’s pleasingly minimal.

This is made of extra-soft ragg wool, and looks super-cozy.

This merino wool number is the most sophisticated of the bunch.

 

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28 Thoughts on I do love a Fair Isle sweater
    dkl
    1 Dec 2020
    4:14pm

    Does anyone else feel like Fair Isle sweaters exaggerate a large bust in a particularly frumpy way? Just me? I always feel ridiculous (and really unfashionable) in them.

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      Beth C.
      2 Dec 2020
      3:03pm

      I had one that I kind of liked when I was in my 20s. It was a cardigan, which I think helped minimize the monoboob frump. Overall, though, I agree, they are not the most flattering for the large of bust.

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    HickfromStyx
    1 Dec 2020
    11:10pm

    Fair Isle sweaters are a tradition from the Shetland Islands.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Isle_(technique)

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shetland

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picts

    So If we want to get technical, there were Iron Age tribes living there at one time.

    Having my own roots in the Hebrides, the Scottish clan system is an extension to this day of a tribal system, with chieftains, etc. They were geographic and political entities, as well as family units.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_clan

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clan#:~:text=In%20different%20cultures%20and%20situations,%2C%20chiefdom%2C%20or%20a%20state.

    The Shetland Islands had a well-known Viking history. Were not Vikings tribal groups?

    You’ll also see this type of sweater in Norway and in Iceland, where it is called the lopapeysa, knit with natural wool from Icelandic sheep.

    In summary, the Iron Age peoples of the Shetlands belonged to tribes. A Scottish clan is a kind of tribe. Vikings were a kind of tribe. Yes, us fair-as-the-driven-snow Scots were tribal people. Some say that we still are.

    Kim is correct.

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    Eloise
    1 Dec 2020
    10:55am

    Of course I’m loving the Tory Burch….sigh. Damn you (in a nice way), Kim!

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    cw
    1 Dec 2020
    11:01am

    (wait! It’s Tuesday! No new podcast?!?!?) I’ve had Fair Isle’s on the mind for awhile now. I’ve been looking at vintage ones, but there are several here that are so lovely. And I’m with Eloise––that Tory Burch is what I need right this second! Dang!

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      Kim France
      1 Dec 2020
      11:26am

      We’ve gone bi-weekly for a while with the podcast, C.W.

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    Kate
    1 Dec 2020
    12:56pm

    I don’t know if the word “tribal” is correct or especially helpful in this context. Sorry to be *that* person — I love the sweaters.

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      Kim France
      1 Dec 2020
      1:52pm

      I was trying for a word less divisive than “ethnic,” which I know sits poorly with some of you. Guess I struck out.

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        AKnyc
        1 Dec 2020
        10:22pm

        Kim, I sincerely appreciate your effort to do better — but I also agree with Kate that using “tribal” isn’t it. Using “ethnic” or “tribal” to describe something (or someone — I’ve been on the receiving end!) only serves to mark it as “other,” reinforcing the dominance of the usually white, western European default. Here’s a good think piece specific to these types of terms as used in fashion: https://www.thedailybeast.com/its-time-for-the-fashion-industry-to-stop-using-ethnic-and-tribal

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          HickfromStyx
          1 Dec 2020
          11:19pm

          I wrote a long-winded explanation about the Shetland Isles, the Iron-age tribes that lived there, the Picts, the Scottish clan system and the Vikings. Yes, tribes! And Scottish chieftains. It is what it is. Various tribal systems brought Scotland from prehistory to today. Please do not erase the tribal history of this beautiful and ancient place that brought us Fair Isle sweaters.

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            AKnyc
            2 Dec 2020
            3:53pm

            Thank you for this history, HickfromStyx – very cool. As the article I linked to notes, it is a positive thing to pay tribute to — and credit — specific cultural traditions. The problem is when people refer to something vaguely, without bothering to put it in its true historical or cultural context. Simply calling something “tribal” or “ethnic” just others it and stops there, and that’s why it’s a problem.

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              HickfromStyx
              4 Dec 2020
              9:59pm

              I ❤️ my tribe.

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    Mamavalveeta03
    1 Dec 2020
    1:30pm

    Fair isles are always so charmingly pretty that I feel like I should run around singing “Scarborough Fair” while wearing one. But I’m feeling like the black ones give off a more sophisticated vibe. What song would I sing in them, though?

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    Karen
    1 Dec 2020
    12:18pm

    The LLBean one is sold out in my size…otherwise it would be on its way to me

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    Hayley
    1 Dec 2020
    12:23pm

    The last one is so David Rose!!!

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      Stephanie
      1 Dec 2020
      4:37pm

      Oh, that’s funny — I thought it was a tip of the hat to RBG!

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        suz
        1 Dec 2020
        7:48pm

        Someone (who can knit) should make an RGB collar sweater. That would be lovely.

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    Phyllis Kosminsky
    1 Dec 2020
    12:11pm

    I love them too! Some great ones here. For a splurgy option check out Brora.com

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    janine
    2 Dec 2020
    9:34am

    I’m actually knitting a Fair Isle sweater right now! Only 1.5 sleeves to go and I’ll be done. 🙂

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      Viajera
      2 Dec 2020
      11:58am

      I wish I were you! Maybe someday.

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    AK
    2 Dec 2020
    8:05am

    Anybody have suggestions for a fisherman sweater?!

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    Mimi A.
    1 Dec 2020
    11:43am

    I do love a fair isle too. Or a dozen. I got dressed this morning and put on a fair isle pullover vest over a plaid flannel shirt. Score one for pattern mixing! Then I turned on my computer and saw this post, full of good choices. I tend to be wary of sweaters with high acrylic content, but I couldn’t resist this one from Mango: https://shop.mango.com/us/women/cardigans-and-sweaters-sweaters/printed-knit-sweater_77009210.html
    It’s cozy and I love the cropped length, long enough to work with mid to high rise pants. I got it on sale for $35, so I’ll have no regrets if the wool blend doesn’t wear well. There’s a vest version too, mostly sold out, but you know how things have a way of being restocked by the shopping fairy who lives to satisfy our desires.

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      Kim France
      1 Dec 2020
      11:59am

      Nice one, Mimi!

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      patricia blaettler
      2 Dec 2020
      8:44am

      I think I owned that sweater vest in 1972.

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    Viajera
    2 Dec 2020
    11:56am

    Wait, now no one is allowed to say “ethnic?” I must have missed that day here. Out in California we are right in the middle of *the* dumbest debate about “ethnic studies.” Which I *thought* I supported … until it turned out that this only means you study certain groups. [I am not kidding – that is really the position. And, it’s doing pretty well here.] I am a proud part Mex-Am, and I stilllll think this is the most nutty thing ever. People are just looooosing it. And no I don’t need a history lecture. Thanks anyways.

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      AKnyc
      2 Dec 2020
      3:58pm

      Viajera, see my comment above to HickfromStyx. It’s the use of these terms without context that’s a problem. (Also, calling something “ethnic” when you’re not actually talking about ethnicity, i.e. a particular grouping of humans, is grammatic nonsense. A sweater quite literally cannot be ethnic.)

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        Viajera
        2 Dec 2020
        9:42pm

        Thanks, I appreciate the clarification. I don’t really agree that we lacked context here, but I do see your point, and I will try to be nice to people! I am getting very sensitive to all this – probably in a bad way – bc of the New Left insanity I witness here almost daily. Shorter me: one really doesn’t want to live in a one-party state. But I shouldn’t be taking it out on folks here.

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Kim France

I was born in Houston, Texas in 1964 and have lived in New York City since 1988. I had a long career in magazines, working at Sassy, Elle, New York, and Spin, and in 2000, I founded Lucky magazine, which I edited for ten years.

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