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If you were to play the word association game with Scotland, you’d probably come up with the following: terrible weather, average football team and excellent knitwear. Scotland’s knits are truly a point of national pride and, of all the Scots’ sweaters, the humble Shetland jumper, with its pleasingly brushed texture and spectral tones, is a firm standout.
Unsurprisingly, the style originated in the Shetland Isles, in the northernmost part of the United Kingdom. Centuries ago, the inhabitants of the Shetlands started to knit sweaters to combat the islands’ harsh climate—fierce winds married with bitingly cold rain. (To clear up some potential confusion: the equally beloved Fair Isle jumper also originated in Shetland, but is defined by geometric patterns whereas Shetlands are solid.)
Shetlands’ unique texture strikes an ideal balance between chunky and thin, making them perfect for layering. “They’re as warm as they are airy, keeping the heat in without weighing you down,” explains John Sudgen, co-owner of Campbell’s of Beauly, one of Scotland’s foremost menswear stores.
Sudgen clarifies that a true Shetland sweater “must be made from wool from Shetland sheep, which are also prevalent on the mainland.” In terms of the design, it has a crewneck and saddle shoulder, which is similar to a raglan. They’re always brushed, too, which creates a softer, fuzzy finish as Shetland wool kept au natural can be quite itchy.
The Shetland sweater’s popularity has hardly waned since being championed by Ivy League students in the post-war years and it’s now a certified wardrobe staple. Case in point: Trunk Clothiers in London and Zurich counts numerous colors of Shetlands as part its permanent collection. Founder Mats Klingberg tells Robb Report that Shetlands appeal because they offer “a great combination of being hardy and easy to look after and, at the same time, a great way to add a bit of texture and color to your outfit.”
Mr Porter’s style director Olie Arnold says, “A bold Shetland knit worn under a soft structured suit or blazer is an unexpected substitute for an oxford shirt.” For a more casual take, he suggests pairing a brightly colored Shetland with jeans, boots and a simple overcoat: “Keep the look dialed-down and the jumper the star.”
All in all, the Shetland jumper should be viewed as not only a winter staple, but a four-season partner. As for all the many colors on the market, we say the more, the merrier. But fair warning: Once you start collecting them, it’s hard to stop. Here are nine of the best to buy now.
Drake’s Brushed Shetland Wool Jumper
This season, Drake’s has an array of Shetlands jumpers on offer and each has been engineered with a seamless construction, which creates a much better fit. This kelly green, though, is our pick of the bunch—it feels distinctly fresh and modern. Follow Drake’s playbook, and pair it with ecru denim.
J.Press x Todd Snyder Shaggy Dog Stripe Cardigan
Todd Snyder hasn’t messed around with his spirited play on the Shetland jumper, teaming up with J. Press, which popularized Shetland stateside with its Shaggy Dog sweaters—a preppy classic. Snyder’s riff sees the delightfully fuzzy texture rendered in sepia-toned stripes and fashioned into a cardigan that’ll make a particularly cozy sport coat substitute.
Trunk Clothiers Berwick Shetland Crew Jumper
While Trunk Clothiers stocks some of the finest names in menswear, its in-house line of garments is equally covetable. Playing with classics, they’ve used a special lambswool that’s a touch cooler and a lot softer than traditional Shetland wool. The end result? The ultimate Shetland, they say.
Anderson & Sheppard Shetland Wool Crewneck Sweater
Anderson & Sheppard can be relied upon for pitch-perfect renditions of British style staples, and this Shetland crewneck is no different. It’s knit in Scotland and constructed with flattering saddle shoulders and available in an impressive 25 different colors. This deep coffee brown stands out as a novel alternative to basic navy or black. Pair it with tan and cream hues for an elegant tonal look.
Aspesi Shetland Wool Sweater
There are four different tones Aspesi has on offer this season, but this vivid yellow is a sartorial espresso shot: it’ll instantly wake up whatever else you’re wearing. We’d suggest pairing it with an unstructured navy suit or simply with a pair of raw denim jeans.
Thom Browne Grey Shetland Wool 4-Bar Crewneck Sweater
Thom Browne provides an interesting take on the Shetland jumper in regards to the proportions and fit (which redeems the fact that it’s made in Italy, not Scotland). Shorter in the body, which is what you want if you wear high-rise trousers, the neckline is lower and the trim of the hem and cuffs have all been extended.
Connolly Shetland Crewneck Sweater
Breaking with tradition in luxurious style, Connolly’s Shetland sweater elevates the staple, fortifying the traditional wool with 20 percent cashmere. Its soft, multidimensional shade of green will bring a bit of spring to wintery navy blues.
Campbell’s of Beauly Shetland Jumper
“When I’m travelling, the Shetland jumper is one of the first things in my suitcase,” says John Sudgen, co-owner of Campbells of Beauly. One of the many reasons why, he says, is that the sweater’s looser weave yields “a jumper that is warm but also light, giving it an ‘all-rounder’ ability.”
Harley of Scotland Shetland Sweater
San Francisco’s Cable Car Clothiers tapped Harley of Scotland, a family-owned company that’s been knitting since 1929, to produce this rich burgundy Shetland. What sets Harley apart from the market are two things: Its seamless technology, which strips a jumper of its bulk, and its use of real teasels (a prickly, thistle-like plant) to brush their sweaters, resulting in a texture with far more character than the man-made approximation.