How to Choose a Trad Sweater?

I get a lot of questions about sweaters which is cool, because I love sweaters. The question I get asked most often is what type of sweater to get.

Before I get started I want to let you know that I will not be answering the why Shetland sweaters are trad question, because I don’t actually know. I believe Brooks started selling them in 1905, but I don’t think that is the answer. I am guessing it was a mix of warmth and availability. Here we go.
Shetland sweater with vestFirst and foremost you should look for sweaters that are 100% wool. This is an easy way to sort out inferior products in terms of construction and performance. I am sure there are good poly mixes like the old Bean Norwegians, but this the exception. Stick with 100% wool.

Above I said to stick with wool, but I really do recommend Shetland wool. I like Shetland wool because it is substantial enough that the shirt underneath does not show through. Not in a see through way, but in that it shapes the sweater. Shetland also has enough texture to be interesting. If you want something finer Lambswool can work just pay attention to how it looks over an OCBD.

Always go with the crew neck. Crew necks were one of things I was most drawn to when I started to learn more about trad clothing. It just plain looks cool. It looks especially cool with a button-down collar underneath. Always where a button-down collar underneath. However a long sleeve tee may work on the weekend. If you want to wear a v-neck I suggest pairing it with a tie and sport coat.

My last piece of advice is to get a sweater with saddle sleeves. Essentially this means that there is no shoulder seam. The saddle sleeve looks a little more refined than a set-in sleeve. It is what helps Shetlands work so well in an office environment. It also gives them a nice natural shoulder.

In terms of colors start with the basics. I recommend mid-grey, charcoal, and navy as a foundation. Then add a green or burgundy to the mix. You can wear these sweaters a lot without people noticing that you are wearing the same sweaters.  After you have the basics in place you can go crazy.

When it comes to picking out trad sweaters this is the foundation. Just remember to look for 100% Shetland wool sweaters with crew necks and saddle shoulders.

oxford cloth button down
Jerrod Swanton is a simple man interested in simple, classic, and traditional style.

16 Comments on "How to Choose a Trad Sweater?"

  1. University Stripe says:

    I have many trad sweaters, including a vintage made-in-Scotland Brooks Brothers and a couple Shaggy Dogs.

    However, I live in the South, and wool simply isn’t practical for all but a couple months of the year. Also, being a father means my sweaters need to be washed usually after one or two days of wear.

    I’ve adapted and wear affordable cotton crew necks from JC Penney and Bean in the standard trad colors. Cotton means I can wear them from September – March, and they don’t need to be worried over much.

  2. Brandon says:

    Jerrod, I too am a sweater lover. Shetlands are definitely a great classic choice. I admire your singular devotion to this style. I also enjoy other styles such as Aran/cable crewnecks and even shawl cardigans. Currently I’m tempted by a Brooks Brothers Scottish made cashmere cable crewneck but it seems a bit frivolous at nearly three times the price of an O’connell shetland.

  3. Phil says:

    I guess it’s been a little while now, but in 2006 I grabbed a light-blue shetland (knitted in Scotland) with saddle shoulders from Brooks Brothers. A couple years later I went to purchase another and noticed they were either missing the saddle shoulders or were made in China.

    Is there any specific store you’d recommend? Looks like O’Connell’s has the real deal.

    • Steve L. says:

      Phil might also consider looking at Harley Scottish-made Shetlands; Bahle’s of Suttons Bay has a great selection of colors.

  4. Andy says:

    I recently bought a Salmon coloured Shetland from Leith Clothing and I am delighted with it. Leith are a small UK clothing seller and their sweaters are an authentic high quality product from a maker on the Shetland island off the Scottish coast, I believe this is Jamesons, but don’t hold me too it. They have the essential details of the saddle shoulder and a close fitting crew neckline, the quality and some truly great colours. The £75 and £12.50 international shipping they charge compares very favourably with O’Connells and J Press pricing. I’m not a shill for Leith clothing, honestly, just a very satisfied customer!

  5. Sean says:

    I’m a 50 year old man, but relatively new at Trad dressing. I’m curious what you think about Donegal Tweed sweaters. To me, the mix of color flecks in the Donegal tweed makes the sweaters even a bit more interesting than “normal” Shetlend wool sweaters. I assume that either would function the same way in my wardrobe.

  6. Jon DiBenedetto says:

    For Shetlands I don’t think you can go wrong with the ones O’Connell’s sells. I like the Harley’s also~ their not quite as thick (in my experience) as the one O’Connell’s sells but really nice also. I get the most use out of the medium gray one by far. I also have a navy and a scarlet (think that’s how O’Connell’s terms the color). I wear that a lot during the Christmas season.

  7. Jeremy Michael says:

    Is it just me or does Bean no longer offer their Shetland Crewnecks? I recently checked their website and couldn’t find the old standard Shetlands I’ve worn for years.

  8. Stan says:

    Hi! Thanks so much for your blog and I enjoy the posts. The top pic you use for this article is of a particular color of wool sweater. Do you know the name?

  9. oxford cloth button down says:

    Stan – Thanks! Sadly, I do not know what color that is, but I wish that I did.

  10. oxford cloth button down says:

    Sean – I think Donegal is great. I only suggest solid for newbies as it will be harder to tell when they are wearing the same sweater.

    Phil – Unionmade also stocks Harleys. I recommend them for O’Connells.

    Brandon – I love all types of sweaters especially shawl collars & arans, and have them, but this post was for those looking for their “first” sweater.

  11. Brandon says:

    After reading this post I decided to order my first O’connell’s shetland. I went for the denim color. I already own a couple BB red fleece shetlands in grey and navy which are made in China but this will be my first Scottish made one. Thanks for steering me in the right direction Jerrod!

  12. Paper Clip says:

    My experiences with Shetlands

    I had a couple of the Brooks shetlands from about 10 years ago which are saddle shouldered and made in Scotland. They are OK, but the weaving is more fine than rugged, and they look a bit ragged after a few years. I still have one – green-blue marl – but got rid of the other two as I found I kept choosing other sweaters over them.

    I have one from Andover Shop (blue-green marl) and a Shaggy Dog (claret) from Press via purchase from a forumite – those are both made in Scotland by the same maker (LOKL) and do NOT have saddle shoulders. They are very heavy, shaggy and rough woven and suitable for the coldest weather – or can be used as outerwear in the mid-fall. They are very hot in an office.

    This year I ordered one from O’Connells, and I love it. It is a mid-weight and ruggedly woven. It has saddle shoulders and is made in Scotland. The color is mid-gray which can be dressed up with OCBD, or dressed down with plaid sport shirts. It is not too thick, so it can be worn under a sport coat and looks great with tweed. I just ordered a forest green one to replace a much older sweater from Abercrombie which had stretched out after 20 years of use.

    Interestingly, the Andover, Press and O’Connells sweaters all have a tag inside on the side seam which indicates: “LOKL”, googling brought me to this site:

    “Laurence Odie Knitwear Ltd (LOKL), a knitwear manufacturing business, based in Sandwick in the Shetland Isles”

    After trying all of these others, I will likely be adding O’Connells sweaters going forward. At $165, they’re pretty expensive, but worth it, in my opinion.

  13. Eric says:

    I really like the puffer vest you’ve got on in your picture, it really pairs nicely with the rest of your outfit. What brand is it?

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