Fair Isle: Bringing Your Winter Wardrobe to Life

A fireplace, a cup of hot chocolate and a cozy Fair Isle sweater. For the coming months, more than half of the world will be layered to their neck in warm clothing, enjoying the gift that Fair Isle, the tiny island off the coast of Scotland, gave to the world. These colorful patterned knits have been a way to add color to a somewhat muted season of color. Luckily, the Fair Isle sweaters caught the Prince of Wales’ eyes who went on to popularize these sweaters starting with a tank top form. How’d you like that? A wool tank top.

The sweater is typically made from Shetland wool, which comes from the sheep of the surrounding Shetland isles. For most sweaters, up to five colors are knitted, with strands being intertwined and the unused colors provide the background and main color of the sweater. The term Fair Isle has lost its meaning throughout the years when it was used to describe any patterned knit similar to the traditional Fair Isle sweaters.

The great thing about Fair Isle sweaters are the ease of layering. I prefer to wear them layered with a solid button-up paired with either a pair of raw denim or wool trousers depending on the occasion. A solid colored flannel can work, however, be careful with any patterned shirt. The Fair Isle pattern and flannel pattern will most likely clash, turning your torso into a colorful mess.

Most knits you purchase from a store won’t be a true Fair Isle, but the price tag will make you happy. An authentic Fair Isle sweater will cost at a minimum $150 whereas a sweater from any big box retailer will be ~$80. An easy way to figure if the sweaters are authentic is to look at the material. If they’re made from 100% Shetland wool, you can be sure they are authentic.

Winter is coming. Be prepared. Equip your Fair Isle sweater and bring your winter wardrobe to life.