The Fair Isle Sweater(?)

I had an interesting conversation with a stylish buddy of mine the other day.  We were talking about Fair Isle sweaters, and whether there is a place for them in a man’s wardrobe.  I think they look good, but I wonder if it’s an idea vs. execution situation.  What I mean by that is the idea of a Fair Isle sweater is good, but the execution (or actual wearing) of said sweater is poor.

His point was simple: in a professional, even business casual environment, a Fair Isle sweater would be frowned upon.  I’ve never thought about that, but I’ve never considered wearing a Fair Isle sweater to work.  Full disclosure: I don’t own a Fair Isle sweater.  I’ve had a few of the iconic Bean Norwegian sweaters, but I rarely wore those, and have since sold them.  I agree with my friend.  I don’t believe I would ever wear a Fair Isle sweater to work.

My argument is this: there is a place for a Fair Isle sweater in a man’s closet, but the opportunities to wear them (especially in the South) are limited:

  • Late Fall/Winter – they are usually made of wool/cashmere, so they are going to provide a bunch of warmth.
  • Casual environment – look at all the models below.  They are all dressed casually.

So, if you are heading to the mountains for the weekend, picking out a Christmas tree, hanging by the fire with your significant other, or your heat goes out, then bust out the Fair Isle sweater.  A Fair Isle sweater is the adult version of the vintage loud Patagonia fleece snap-Ts that we all clamored over in college.

The second part of the discussion went in the direction of “Tacky Sweater”.  This is touchy.  A Google Image search on Fair Isle sweaters will display some jewels.  There are some really nice ones out there; wearing one gets you a free bowl of soup.  You have to be careful, so stick with Fall and winter hues.  Here are a few that I like:

From Top Left:

1. Polo Ralph Lauren Fair Isle Merino Wool Sweater: The breakfast buffet.  Lots going on here.
2. Bonobos Fair Isle Raglan Sleeve Lambswool Sweater:  Good looking – the two colors keep it muted.
3. Penfield Freeman Fairisle Crew Sweater:  Probably my favorite of the bunch.
4. Several Fair Isle Wool Sweater:  Nice, but maybe a little too Charlie Brown?
5. Brooks Brothers V-Neck Fair Isle Sweater:  If you are really on the fence, go with The Mothership.
6. Brooks Brothers V-Neck Fair Isle Sweater, part deux:  Again, she rarely steers wrong.
7. LL Bean Fair Isle Sweater:  Another two colored option.  Very Grand Cherokee.
8. Marc by Marc Jacobs Fair Isle Sweater:  Frosty the Snowman-esque.
9. O’Connell’s Scottish Shetland Fair Isle Sweater:  Everything from O’Connell’s is cool.  Period.

What do you think about Fair Isle sweaters?  Are you a fan?



  1. Jay
    11/24/2015 / 9:24 AM

    4, 7, and 9.

  2. 11/24/2015 / 9:25 AM

    There is a lovely photo of King Edward VIII wearing a v-neck fair isle sweater similar to the Brooks Brothers selections with a striped oxford, tie, wool dress pants, and a flat cap holding a Westie. It is a casual, outdoorsy look, like he was just out for a brisk walk on the grounds. My fiance will not wear one as they are too colorful and busy for his personal taste. His favorite sweaters are just one color, crew neck or argyle(neutral colors), v-neck so sadly there will not be any fair isle in my man’s wardrobe.

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