December 16, 2012

Inspiration: Novelty Sweater


This time of year means a lot of things, not the least of which is holiday parties. Over the years, novelty sweaters have gotten a bad rap and spawned the ubiquitous ‘ugly sweater’ party. Fashion is cyclical and novelty sweaters have been making a comeback, particularly as designers embrace and reinvent traditional Fair Isle patterns.


The traditional Fair Isle pattern originated in the tiny Scottish island of Fair Isle and is characterized by a limited color palette with no more than two colors in each row and made with a circular knitting technique. The unused colors are run in strands across the reverse of the fabric, leading to the more generic term of stranded knit/colo(u)rwork.


Not all novelty sweaters fall into the ‘ugly’ category, and this crew neck pullover is the perfect example. Inspired by a traditional Fair Isle pattern, it keeps the business of the pattern confined to the chest while balancing the colors and gradient to prevent a dated look.


The pattern shows a clear derivation from that made popular by Edward, Prince of Wales but with a modern twist. The sand color of the body is a light alternative to the usual red, blue, and green that most novelty sweaters are anchored to, but it can be hard to pull off for many skin tones. What I love about this sweater is that the navy at the collar combined with the red chest pattern helps to flatter and draw attention up to the face.


What you want to look for when shopping for a novelty sweater is a traditional pattern (avoid reindeer, skiers, santas, and the like) and color palette (anything more than 4 or 5 colors is usually too busy). The style of the sweater is entirely subjective, but for a Fair Isle sweater I prefer either a crew neck or shawl collar.

Sweater by J Crew; Leather jacket and shirt by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Chinos by PPD; Shoes by Ted Baker; Socks by Corgi

It is important to remember that a novelty sweater is a statement in itself, so you want to let it be the focal point of your outfit. Keep the rest of your pieces simple and complementary because even a really nice Fair Isle can end up looking like a hot mess if you overcomplicate things. Do it right and a well-made novelty sweater can keep you looking stylishly festive for years to come.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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