Friday, October 24, 2014

Time to wear a poppy


It is a tradition that isn't terribly widespread here in the United States — despite originating on these shores — but for much of the Anglosphere now is the time to wear a poppy in the boutonnière on a jacket's left lapel.

The annual tradition of wearing poppies started as a way to remember the glorious dead of World War I, also known as the Great War. Since then it has evolved to include all of the uniformed men — and women — who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.


This visible symbol of remembrance culminates with a two-minute moment of silence at 11 o'clock in the morning on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, best known as Remembrance Day, Armistice Day or Veterans Day. (In the British Isles, major public ceremonies are held on Remembrance Sunday, which is the Sunday closest to November 11. This year, that's November 9.)

Poppies are available just about everywhere in Britain as well as in Canada, including at many Tim Hortons cafes. The Royal British Legion also has distributors in many major U.S. cities

In search of an authentic Fair Isle

The following was originally published yesterday in The Morning Sun.

Just about anyone who follows fashion will know Fair Isle sweaters have been trending for the last couple of years.
PHOTOS courtesy of The Morning Sun.
As a result, few of the sweaters marketed by retailers as Fair Isle on this side of the Atlantic come from anywhere near the Shetland Islands, let alone are knitted out of genuine Shetland wool. Most of the imitators are mass-produced in an oriental sweatshop with wool — sometimes cashmere, but often wool blended with nylon or acrylic — of unknown provenance.
This inspired me to set off last month in search of an authentic Fair Isle of the very kind worn by the Prince of Wales, the man who later became King Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor.
Once my flight landed at the airport near Lerwick, the main city on the aptly named Mainland of the Shetland Islands, I had hoped to immediately begin my search for the prince’s Fair Isle.
However, I had the unfortunate luck of arriving in the midst of an epic storm. It rained all afternoon, all night and well into the following morning. I ended up missing a flight on the 8-seat turboprop plane that makes a few trips daily to Fair Isle, which is even more remote than the rest of Shetland Islands.
With limited availability on later flights, it looked as if I had come all this way for nothing, or so I thought when the internet suddenly stopped working in my room at Lerwick’s Queens Hotel.
I went down to the front desk to ask the duty clerk if she could reset the wireless router, as I needed to look up some information.
She told me the internet goes out when there is bad weather because of the underwater cables. Fair enough, I suppose. After all, it’s an island. She then proceeded to ask if there was anything she could answer for me.
I explained my plight only to learn from her of a shop called The Spiders Web, located literally right outside the lobby and across the 18th century street.
This caught me by surprise because I didn’t know Fair Isle sweaters come from across the Shetland Islands. In fact, it turns out many of the knitters are older ladies who learned the artisan craft at a very young age. (Some won’t even knit on the Sabbath!)
While younger Shetlanders have taken it up, demographics are a serious problem.
“In 20 years real Fair Isle sweaters may probably be a thing of the past,” Barbara Mitchell, the proprietor of The Spiders Web, told me. 
I asked, “Do you mean, extinct?”
“Yes,” she responded, quite directly.
It doesn’t help that very little money is actually made for the 100 hours it takes for a Fair Isle sweater to be fully hand-knitted, despite a price tag as high as $400. (Machine-made, hand-finished sweaters take half as much time and sell for less.)
I tried on a few of Mitchell’s sweaters, but none fit. She said to come back the following day, as a smaller sweater was just about done. I agreed, but at this point, my search for an authentic Fair Isle wasn’t going too well.
I spent much of the next day touring the mainland, driving down country lanes barely wide enough for a single car let alone two driving in opposite directions. I saw the famous Shetland ponies, came across more sheep than people and took in the impressive sights during a walk across St. Ninian’s Isle and along the seaside cliffs of Eshaness.
I also visited a range of other knitwear shops. Knitwear — and not just Fair Isles — is a major export here, though as with Fair Isles much of what is marketed by famous brands as Shetland abroad isn’t actually made here. I particularly liked Laurence Odie Knitwear (+44 195/043-1215; no website) in the hamlet of Hoswick, which sells lovely Shaggy Dog-style sweaters for a lot less than preppy haberdasher J. Press.
A day later, I was back to see Mitchell, who seemed genuinely surprised by my interest in Fair Isles. She even confessed to never having visited the sweater’s island namesake, which I found to be beyond odd.
She handed me a Prince of Wales patterned Fair Isle, which was just finished the night before by a 90-year-old woman named Barbara Reid.
After trying on the crewneck in the back fitting room, I knew right away it was the one. Sure, it was a tad too long, but the fit of the chest and sleeves was almost perfect.
I had finally found my authentic Fair Isle.
And it was literally mine and only mine because the odds of coming across someone wearing this sweater elsewhere was impossible.
The incredibly high-quality craftsmanship of Reid meant the sweater might even outlast the last of the knitters.
GETTING THERE
Flybe offers daily commercial flights to Sumburgh Airport from Edinburgh and other Scottish airports. Round-trip fares from Edinburgh were as low as $276 through March of next year with flights from Aberdeen averaging $188, according to searches on the airline’s website.
Saginaw to Aberdeen from Thanksgiving through December starts at about $1,200 with connections on Delta and partner KLM, according to searches on Google Flights. For Edinburgh, airfares out of Detroit are about $1,100, also with multiple connections, again according to Google Flights.
If you have extra time on the bookends, consider the overnight Aberdeen-Lerwick (and back) ferry service.
Be sure to rent a car, which is super-easy through Bolts Car Rental. Rentals include insurance and unlimited mileage. Automatic transmission cars are also available.
Getting to Fair Isle can be tricky, especially if the weather doesn’t cooperate. Still, it’s worth the attempt for those making a sweater pilgrimage. Promote Shetland, the local tourism office, is a comprehensive resource for all things Shetland.
WHERE TO STAY
The worst part of the Shetland Islands is the complete lack of quality hotels, which is unusual considering the steady flow of short-term and long-term workers coming to and going from the North Sea oil rigs off the coast.
I stayed at the Queens Hotel. This very old hotel — it dates to the 1860s — should be an upscale, Old World-style boutique hotel, but regretfully it has been neglected over the years. Staff was friendly, but service was so-so. Rooms, however, were very clean. There aren’t many other hotels on the Shetland Islands, so you might consider one of the many bed-and-breakfasts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Even more authentic Fair Isle

During this correspondent's trip to the Shetland Islands last month he acquired several authentic Fair Isle sweaters (see here, too), including the two pictured below.

PHOTOS by PinstripesandTweed.com.


Monday, October 20, 2014

The Look: In the pews


PHOTO by PinstripesandTweed.com.

Yesterday's shirt and necktie for the pews at church.

  • Shirt: Lands' End slim-fit shirt.
  • Necktie: Lands' End made in Italy wool knit necktie.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A closer look at Brooks Brothers' Red Fleece tweed sport jacket

While it is beyond convenient to shop over the internet these days, it is always nice to set foot in a store in major cities where there is likely to be merchandise not typically seen elsewhere.

That was certainly the case for this correspondent the other day at the Brooks Brothers shop in Georgetown, the super-preppy and filthy rich Washington neighborhood.

True, Michigan has both a Brooks Brothers inside the equally upscale Somerset Collection shopping mall in suburban Detroit and a branch of Flatiron near the campus of the University of Michigan. However, the selection is still rather limited when compared with either of the two Washington locations — to say nothing of the Brooks Brothers flagship in New York.

PHOTOS courtesy of Brooks Brothers.

One of the offerings unlikely to hit the shelves in Michigan is a tweed jacket from Red Fleece, a spinoff line from Brooks Brothers marketed toward a J. Crew demographic.

Red Fleece varies greatly from season to season, especially in quality. In past seasons, there seems to have been more made in China labels on Red Fleece merchandise than mainline Brooks Brothers.

That may still be the case this autumn, however, there does seem to be more focus on quality this season with the aforementioned sport jacket having been made in Portugal out of Yorkshire tweed.

 

The sport jackets — featuring soft, as in no padding whatsoever, shoulders, side vents and a classic three-roll-two lapel (a detail hardly offered by Brooks Brothers these days) — come in black or brown herringbone and brown with orange windowpane.

The tweed also has plenty of provenance with it coming from Abraham Moon & Sons, a mill with a history dating all the way back to 1837.

In almost all respects, these Red Fleece sports jackets are comparable with J. Crew’s much-touted Ludlow offerings. Being made in Portugal does, however, give Brooks Brothers an edge in perceived quality, if only because the European Union isn't home to oriental sweatshops and communist state-owned companies.

Just be warned the slightly shorter length of the sport jackets is a bit more trendy and, by extension, casual. Also, the faux surgeon’s cuff stitching surrounding the buttons may be a problem come alteration time if the sleeves are not a precise fit.

The only real negative is a seam that runs from the bottom of the pocket to the hem of the jacket.

Had it not been for the unusual location of the seam this correspondent would have purchased the sport jacket in both brown herringbone and windowpane, as the shoulders were perfect. The price ($498) was also very reasonable, especially with a 15 percent corporate discount card.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Look: Decision


PHOTO by PinstripesandTweed.com.

What to wear? What a decision to make.
  • Necktie (left): Crown motif navy necktie from Swedish royal palace gift shop; made in Italy.
  • Necktie (right) Brooks Brothers silk knit necktie; made in Italy.
  • Shirt: Thresher & Glenny.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What to wear: Corduroy pants from Lands' End

Sometimes it pays to wait. At least if you don't mind rolling the dice.

That is certainly the case with the Lands' End corduroy pants pictured below ($26.97; available here).

PHOTO by PinstripesandTweed.com.

First released last year, the pants are available in what Lands' End calls “garnet” — a perfect color for go-to-hell corduroy pants.

And that’s probably why they didn't sell out. The color may be just a bit too bold for some gents.

However, when outfitted right, the pants are beyond perfect and have endless potential.

For something casual, pair the pants with a classic button-down collar shirt, merino or cashmere sweater, tweed jacket and suede chukka boots. For something a little more dressy, think a navy blazer or tweed jacket, gingham check shirt, wool or cashmere knit necktie and suede loafers.

Styling tip: Spend a little money on a good tailor, who can easily remove the belt loops and use the leftover material from hemming to create side-tab adjusters. Just be sure to order unfinished.