The Return Of The Heritage Knit

Maybe you’ve noticed a bit of a chill in the air of late. Perhaps the spectre of frosty winter days looming on the horizon has entered your consciousness, and you’ve put your lighter layers and aloha shirts to bed at the bottom of your wardrobe.

As the cooler weather arrives, your inner sartorial clock tells you it’s time to layer up with something more substantial. It’s knitwear season. The past few years have seen designers take a renewed interest in traditional knitwear, who along with most discerning dressers recognise the practical and aesthetic merits of heritage knits.

In this piece, we present a considered edit of the finest heritage woollens to cosy up with for AW13 and beyond…

The Cable Knit

Easily identifiable by its rope-like weave, the cable knit’s intricate appearance and texture-rich appeal is not purely visual; the knitting technique was devised long before the invention of technical and synthetic fibres, when heat-retention and waterproofing relied primarily on the density of a material.

The cable knitting technique provides one of the most dense and narrowest-gauge weaves, ensuring superb insulation for the wearer. The cable knit also has the added benefits of being robust and durable – its origins lie in the garments of outdoor working men, such as fisherman and farm hands, who required hard-wearing garments to keep them warm and dry in the face of inclement weather.

The coarse, untreated yarn used in cable jumpers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had a certain amount of natural animal oil present in the wool, which provided a form of waterproofing – this was often enhanced by giving finished garments an extra coating of oil or wax. In the twenty-first century, things have evolved; whilst the modern man would see little point in oiling his cable knit, the superb insulation and aesthetic virtues of the jumper are still appreciated.

A wide variety of cable knits can be found this season, in all manner of complex patterns and plush fabrics. Pure wool and alpaca-cashmere blends are a real indulgence and will never date; if cared for properly, a good cable knit will see you through many a winter to come.

Some great go-to labels for cable knits include Urban Outfitters, Chauncey, A.P.C. and New Look.

Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Cable Knit Lookbook Outfit Inspiration

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Key Pieces
  • American Apparel Mens Cable Knit SweaterAmerican Apparel Mens Cable Knit Sweater
  • River Island Cable JumperRiver Island Cable Jumper
  • Suit Philip Cable Knit Sweater In GreenSuit Philip Cable Knit Sweater In Green
  • Topman Grey Marl Cable JumperTopman Grey Marl Cable Jumper
  • He By Mango Cable-knit Cashmere SweaterHe By Mango Cable-knit Cashmere Sweater
  • Edwin Oiler Flecked Cable-knit SweaterEdwin Oiler Flecked Cable-knit Sweater
  • River Island Blue Twist Chunky Cable Knit JumperRiver Island Blue Twist Chunky Cable Knit Jumper
  • Reiss Chesterfield Heavyweight Cable Crew Knit Russian BlueReiss Chesterfield Heavyweight Cable Crew Knit Russian Blue
  • New Look Burnt Orange Cable Knit JumperNew Look Burnt Orange Cable Knit Jumper
  • Hartford Cable Knit Shetland Wool SweaterHartford Cable Knit Shetland Wool Sweater
  • Burton Red Nep Cable Crew Neck JumperBurton Red Nep Cable Crew Neck Jumper
  • A.p.c. Wool-blend Shawl Collar SweaterA.p.c. Wool-blend Shawl Collar Sweater
The Fair Isle Knit

The Fair Isle knit is perfect for gents who want to pep up their winter style regimen with a punch of pattern and colour. Originating from the remote Shetland Island of Fair Isle, this intricate weaving technique is characterised by its ornate and complex patterns, composed of multiple-coloured strands of wool.

Developed by the island’s womenfolk, the technique was woven by hand using double-pointed needles and featured motifs inspired by everyday life on the island.

It’s widely thought to have been brought to the island by Nordic sea traders, whilst other apparel historians believe that the Fair Isle pattern arrived in the Shetland Islands via Spanish Armada sailors wrecked off the island’s coast, owing to its resemblance to traditional Moorish motifs.

Whatever its origins, Fair Isle knits provide exceptional warmth due to a closely-formed weave and also enrich the decorative element of drab, cold-weather closets. You’ll find some great Fair Isle jumpers at John Smedley, Hackett, H&M and River Island this season.

Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Fair Isle Knitwear Lookbook Outfit Inspiration

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Key Pieces
  • Vintage Renewal Fair Isle Knit SweaterVintage Renewal Fair Isle Knit Sweater
  • Jack Wills Jumper With FairisleJack Wills Jumper With Fairisle
  • Blue Harbour Lambswool Rich Crew Neck Fair Isle JumperBlue Harbour Lambswool Rich Crew Neck Fair Isle Jumper
  • Asos Fairisle JumperAsos Fairisle Jumper
  • Norse Projects Men’s Navy Blue Birnir Fair Isle JumperNorse Projects Men’s Navy Blue Birnir Fair Isle Jumper
  • Shore Leave Fair Isle SweaterShore Leave Fair Isle Sweater
  • He By Mango Fair Isle Wool-blend SweaterHe By Mango Fair Isle Wool-blend Sweater
  • River Island Grey Fair Isle Yoke JumperRiver Island Grey Fair Isle Yoke Jumper
  • John Smedley Trojan Fair Isle Wool JumperJohn Smedley Trojan Fair Isle Wool Jumper
  • J.crew Fair Isle Wool SweaterJ.crew Fair Isle Wool Sweater
  • He By Mango Fair Isle Wool SweaterHe By Mango Fair Isle Wool Sweater
  • Gant Ny Lambswool Fair Isle V-neck Jumper MultiGant Ny Lambswool Fair Isle V-neck Jumper Multi
The Nordic Knit

With strong similarities to Fair Isle, Nordic knits originate from the Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Like their Scottish counterpart, these knits feature ornate patterns and colourful threads, depicting key elements of winter life in the frozen north. Reindeer, elk, trees and snowflakes are amongst the most popular motifs.

Also warm and durable, Nordic knits are playful cold-weather statements that are particularly favoured around Christmas, due to their festive cheer. This season, check out Ralph Lauren, ASOS, Topman and John Lewis for some great options.

The Yuletide jumper has never looked so cool.

Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Nordic Knit Lookbook Outfit Inspiration

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Key Pieces
  • Vintage Renewal Reindeer Knit Sweater In RedVintage Renewal Reindeer Knit Sweater In Red
  • Vintage Renewal Winter Knit SweaterVintage Renewal Winter Knit Sweater
  • Asos Christmas JumperAsos Christmas Jumper
  • River Island Navy Bellfield Snow Landscape Knitted JumperRiver Island Navy Bellfield Snow Landscape Knitted Jumper
  • Gant Reindeer SweaterGant Reindeer Sweater
  • Beams Plus Ski Intarsia Wool-blend SweaterBeams Plus Ski Intarsia Wool-blend Sweater
  • Polo Ralph Lauren Nordic SweaterPolo Ralph Lauren Nordic Sweater
  • Original Penguin Christmas Jumper WhiteOriginal Penguin Christmas Jumper White
  • John Lewis Save The Children Christmas Jumper Colbalt BlueJohn Lewis Save The Children Christmas Jumper Colbalt Blue
  • Topman Navy Snowflake JumperTopman Navy Snowflake Jumper
  • Topman Cream Reindeer JumperTopman Cream Reindeer Jumper
  • Topman Green Reindeer JumperTopman Green Reindeer Jumper
The Roll Neck Knit

Polo neck, turtle neck, call it what you will, the roll neck is in the midst of a sartorial revival. With its origins stemming from the fishing communities of northern Europe, the roll neck first became popular with left-wing student communities in the 1930s, and reached a peak in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, when it represented the ultimate rebellion against the conformist shirt and tie.

With the renewed interest in heritage and vintage styling within the current menswear sphere, the past few seasons have seen a marked increase in the popularity of the roll neck. Defined by its turn-down neck and slim-fit shape, it is the perfect way to bring a dash of retro-inspired panache to your cold-weather aesthetic.

As the neck of the garment will make close contact with the skin, it’s best to opt for a merino wool or cotton style, and pair with a thin cotton base layer to prevent irritation. Try teaming a fine gauge roll neck with a sharply-cut blazer for a sleek and modern look.

Wolsey, Lanvin, Jigsaw and Uniqlo are all brands with a great selection of roll necks this season.

Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Roll Neck Lookbook Outfit Inspiration

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Key Pieces
  • American Apparel Tri-blend TurtleneckAmerican Apparel Tri-blend Turtleneck
  • Allsaints Nord Cashmere Roll Neck JumperAllsaints Nord Cashmere Roll Neck Jumper
  • Selected Roll Neck JumperSelected Roll Neck Jumper
  • Uniqlo Men Extra Fine Merino Turtle Neck Sweater AUniqlo Men Extra Fine Merino Turtle Neck Sweater A
  • Topman Navy Merino Roll Neck JumperTopman Navy Merino Roll Neck Jumper
  • Lanvin Wool Roll-neck JumperLanvin Wool Roll-neck Jumper
  • Reiss Note Extra Fine Merino Roll Neck BlackReiss Note Extra Fine Merino Roll Neck Black
  • Reiss Dasher Fleck Print Crew Neck Knit NavyReiss Dasher Fleck Print Crew Neck Knit Navy
  • Topman Burgundy Textured Knit Roll Neck JumperTopman Burgundy Textured Knit Roll Neck Jumper
  • Ami Wool Rollneck SweaterAmi Wool Rollneck Sweater
  • Gucci Ribbed Wool-blend Rollneck SweaterGucci Ribbed Wool-blend Rollneck Sweater
  • Ami Roll-neck Sweater 165854Ami Roll-neck Sweater 165854
The Fisherman Knit

The name is self-explanatory. No style of weaving has influenced knitwear more prominently than the fisherman knit.

Exposed to cold temperatures, unrelenting gales and salt spray, the hard-toiling fishermen of yesteryear required robust, warming garments that were durable and unrestrictive. Often knitted by the fishermen’s wives, each community developed its own signature style that served its menfolk exceptionally well.

The Guernsey knit, originating from the Channel Islands, is typified by its wide, raglan shoulders, dense weave and boat-neckline, whilst the Cornish and Devon fishing communities have their own thick, waffle knit versions.

However, probably the most famed fisherman knit is the Aran jumper, which originates from its namesake island situated off the west coast of Ireland. Cited as cable knitting at its most sophisticated, the Aran knit’s motifs contain deeply-rooted superstitions and charms that all served a symbolic purpose; the cable knit represented strength and safety to protect its wearer, the basket-weave was to encourage a healthy catch, and diamond and honeycomb weaves signified success and the virtues of hard work.

All these intricate weaves locked in air within the yarn fibres, providing an extra-warm layer of insulation for the wearer.

Take a look at American Apparel, YMC, S.N.S. Herning and Oliver Spencer for some superb styles.

Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Fisherman's Knit Lookbook Outfit Inspiration

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Key Pieces
  • Allsaints Makkon Crew JumperAllsaints Makkon Crew Jumper
  • American Apparel Fishermans PulloverAmerican Apparel Fishermans Pullover
  • Indigo & Maine Fisherman Jumper In NavyIndigo & Maine Fisherman Jumper In Navy
  • Jack & Jones Fisherman JumperJack & Jones Fisherman Jumper
  • Bellfield Fisherman JumperBellfield Fisherman Jumper
  • Allsaints Wreck Crew JumperAllsaints Wreck Crew Jumper
  • John Lewis & Co. Fisherman Rib Crew Neck JumperJohn Lewis & Co. Fisherman Rib Crew Neck Jumper
  • New Look Burgundy Twisted Fishman Knit JumperNew Look Burgundy Twisted Fishman Knit Jumper
  • Ymc Storm Knit Crew NavyYmc Storm Knit Crew Navy
  • Reiss Cigar Raglan Sleeve Fisherman Knit Blood OrangeReiss Cigar Raglan Sleeve Fisherman Knit Blood Orange
  • Reiss Pilot Textured Cotton Knit BlackReiss Pilot Textured Cotton Knit Black
  • S.n.s. Herning Fisherman Striped Waffle-knit Wool SweaterS.n.s. Herning Fisherman Striped Waffle-knit Wool Sweater
Final Word

The heritage knits of today represent centuries of culturally-rich sartorial engineering. With the fundamental elements of their design remaining unaltered, heritage knits are not merely a fad – they’ve been serving their purpose for generations, and with their practical and aesthetic appeal will continue to have a place in the modern man’s wardrobe.

Like so many areas of classic design, the old moniker rings true: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.