Swellboy on… Fair Isle knitwear

The Duke of Windsor solves a knotty pullover problem

Image: Brijesh Patel

We have all been there. You put on a lovely new cashmere pullover and then, without thinking, slip a tweed sports jacket on top. Result: a couple of hours later the cashmere looks like a power sander has got at it, that beautifully smooth surface gone forever under a covering of pilling.

I find it particularly irksome because, while I love soft cashmere, I also adore hirsute tweed with an almost equal passion. However, I may, just may, have found a solution – well, if not a solution then at least a distraction. And the source is, as usual in such knotty questions of sartorial rectitude, the dear old Duke of Windsor, in particular that famous portrait with a small dog, a large cap and a Fair Isle pullover. It is almost worth learning to play golf just so I can copy the look.


I have been experimenting with Fair Isle knitwear recently. I bought a Fair Isle-style crew neck in New York – whether real Fair Isle or not I couldn’t tell you, but my long experience of clothing (and the fact that the label reads “Made in China”) would lead me to suspect not. Nevertheless, I wore it under one of my old Hunters of Brora 21oz Cheviot-wool jackets while cycling into the West End the other day, and no harm seemed to come to it. Obviously, all the rigours of life on the Shetland Islands (of which Fair Isle is one) make for a hearty and robust wool. My younger son recently got himself a Fair Isle that he wears with no apparent ill effects under a 60-year-old tweed with the handle of wire wool.

I am, of course, anxious to try the real thing, and have ascertained from Michael Hill at Drakes that he sources his Fair Isle knitwear from these remote islands. Given that Drakes is the home of the heavy silk scarf that I wear out and about on two wheels during the winter, I have high hopes for the pullover. Another bonus is the colours. It seems that everything goes, and as such they are perfect for wearing around town on the bike, their eclectic mix of hues giving ample warning to fellow road users.