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Item of the week: the Fair Isle sweater

By Rachel Douglass


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Woolrich, Superdry and PME Legend. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

What it is:

Geometric patterns are the defining mark of a Fair Isle sweater, a staple knitwear item that has made its way from the coast of 18th century Scotland to the runways of luxury designers. The sweater aptly takes its name from the Fair Isles, where it is believed that a fisherman began experimenting with the look firstly in the form of hats. Now, this piece of former fishing workwear has become a classic, favoured by luxury labels year-after-year for their autumn/winter runways. The knit itself takes its own distinguished shape, an ‘OXO’ pattern that is repeated throughout the garment, while prints that adorn the garment can range from fellow farm animals to winter-themed symbology.

Brora. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

Why you’ll want it:

As mentioned, the Fair Isle sweater has become somewhat of a fashion wardrobe must-have, endorsed by luxury labels and celebrities alike, who have increasingly taken to the piece of knitwear over recent years. As such, while the premise of the design has remained firmly in place, it has seen a series of contemporary updates, namely in the way of colours and pattern, the latter of which can now be found beyond just the neckline and often instead traverses the body of the entire garment. These updates have ensured that the sweater remains steadfast in the relevance of the ever-evolving consumer, the younger of which are favouring these generationally nostalgic items as part of current trends.

Madewell. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

Where we’ve seen it:

There was a slew of Fair Isle sweaters on the autumn/winter 2024 runway, with menswear brands in particular showing a certain affinity for the look. Among those incorporating a more traditional take on the design were the likes of Officine Générale, Sacai and Kolor. The latter two brought in a bold yellow hue for their own patterns, yet still stuck largely to subdued colours elsewhere. This contrasted with the styles of Loewe and White Mountaineering, both of which extended their geometric patterns down the length of their garments, and infused a mix of shades into their intricate designs.

Pieces. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

How to style it:

Looking at styling for transitional periods, the Fair Isle sweater can be incorporated into an academia-inspired look. Pair the piece with a short, pleated skirt or shorts and round it off with loafers, ankle socks and a cap for a simple daily combination. For colder weather, the sweater can be worn with any form of trouser, be it wide-cut jeans, baggy corduroys or tailored office pants with a loose-fit. Each pant style works well with a variety of shoe types, but white sneakers are a simple and effective footwear to finish the outfit off.

Selected Homme. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

While its background and roots may be based deep in the confines of a fisherman’s wardrobe, the Fair Isle sweater has worked its way up to become something of a luxury staple. This has given way to modernised interpretations of the look from high street brands, bringing the sweater to a new, younger audience who are discovering its versatility for the first time.

Na-kd. Credits: FashionUnited Marketplace.

Similar items available for (pre)order can be found in the FashionUnited Marketplace. You can find them by clicking on this link.

Item of the Week