December 2, 2008

Go Old School with last-minute sweaters: Nods to a manlier yesteryear brings relief from this holiday season's crop of sweaters fo

Receiving a sweater as a holiday gift can be a big let down. Really, how many of you have had enough with those light, v-neck pullovers of cashmere or mohair that dress well for work and evening-time play?

Yes, they are comfortable, contemporary and they do look nice underneath a good sports coat but they also lack surface detail, drama and a sense of substance.

Sometimes sweaters like that feel too much like t-shirts. They just don't have enough gravitas and perhaps this holiday there can be nothing worse than another one of its ilk lurking in wait beneath the boughs of a decorated tree.

If you have such woolen trepidation, fear not. The winds of change are a blowing. Cut this article out and let your gift buyers know sweaters are manning-up this season.

Knitwear 2008 is sturdier, chunkier, and, strangely, kind-of paternalistic in a hip kind of way. It draws inspiration from male archetypes such as navy fighter pilots, rugged outdoorsmen, the Amerian G. I.'s that flooded campuses after the Second World War and manly prep-nerds like Clark Kent, aka Superman.

Scott Walhovd owns and operates, with Anthony Castro, the Vancouver boutique and fashion label (212) in Gastown. Walhovd says, "There's a big comeback of the grandfather sweater. It's old style details, leather-covered buttons, elbow patches and interesting cabling. It's geek chic."
Castro adds, "It's Mad Men (a TV show set in an early 1960s ad agency)...and a throwback to Camelot and John F. Kennedy...with an updated, trimmer silhouette and colour story."

This vintage-tinged tendency has been coined "young fogey" or "retirement chic" and, along with bow ties and tweed jackets, sweaters form the backbone of the look.

Christian Chensvold is the editor-in-chief of an authoritative fashion blog, He says, by phone from Los Angeles, the trend recalls, "protestant establishment, elite clothes, the WASP style bequeathed to America with it's frugality."

Some people call it "trad", others call it "preppy." Regardless of what it's called, he points to sweaters found online at and Ralph Lauren's Chensvold says look for "updated varsity and letterman sweaters" with a "1930s to 1950s collegiate look with an emphasis on shawl collars."

Chensvold says the style evokes a previous generation's aversion to ostentation and, though he stresses it is a coincidence, he finds the current nostalgia synchs up nicely with the economic downturn. He says, "We are definitely in a hangover state and keeping your clothes and passing them on and not buying what you don't need is out there."

To make his point, he recounts, "Yesterday, I took out a Fair Isle sweater (a heavily-patterned classic sweater from Scotland) that I had in storage since last winter. I bought it a couple of years ago. I've discovered it has a couple of holes in it. I am very pleased. It's finally, really mine."


To go vintage is one thing. Wrapping up old sweaters in a box and giving them as gifts is another. It's pretty dicey and takes a special shopper who can hit the thrift stores and find a perfect sample with just the right hand-me-down feel.

Most, and it's recommended, will have to buy new to go Old School.
Here are the essential rugged and retro-inspired sweater details to seek out around town and online:

- Elbow patches of brown cotton twill on Brown Sound's cardigans at (212) (454 Cordova Street West) suggest a decade of wear and tear has created a hole on your sleeve. For $165, you can pretend you and your sweater have been around the block more than once.

-Perfectly placed multi-stripe rib knitting can be found on classic cricket or tennis sweaters around the v-neck. Cockpit's navy blue henley sweater goes full-on with Fighting Irish/ Notre Dame-like stripes at the collar, cuffs and bottom ribbing. Score one at Urban Outfitters (830 Granville Street) for $100.

-Correct amount of slouchiness is essential. The Old School rejects the overly neat and tidy and embraces just a little male frump. New York shirt maker Steve Alan is famous for making perfectly wrinkled shirts. Now he applies his talents to Lark and Wolf cardigans available at Urban Outfitters for $110.

-Double-breasted are big this time around. They can be worn with a bow tie and a plaid shirt to hit the right level of geek chic. H&M's chunky version was inspired, according to spokesperson Karen Richter, "by a post-war, 1940s feeling. Like it's passed on from father to son." A great deal at $59.90, it leaves you with enough cash to buy a pipe and smoke it.

-Cowichan-style sweaters are a perfect example of heritage Canadiana. Featuring animal and geometric patterns, heavy wool and button or zipper fronts, these sweaters are usually handmade by First Nation knitters. The Richmond label Granted, run by the brother and sister team of Minoru and Ai Hirano, offer a cheeky update on the Cowichan. Instead of deers and conifers, they serve up with palm trees and camels or flamingoes for $278 at

1 comment:

  1. Hey... where would I buy a new mohair jumper in Vancouver? I used to wear one back in the early Robert Smith days... but haven't seen them for years. Any clues?