Before Fair Isle was de rigeur on ski slopes or at holiday sweater parties, it was a cottage industry on one of Scotland’s most secluded islands. Generations of women perfected the multi-stranded weaving technique, creating colorful designs that were prized for their light weight, warmth and durability. Weavers even used them to barter for fresh produce and other goods that were scarce on the island.
The far-flung art form became a world-wide phenomenon. Fair Isle has been beloved part of the American après ski uniform since the 1960s.
In 1900, Brooks Brothers brought the first non-solid sweaters to American shores from Scotland’s Shetland Islands. The designs quickly became associated with holiday dressing, popping up in catalogs and Brooks Brothers Christmas ads. Meanwhile the Duke of Windsor’s fondness for Fair Isle in the 1920s fueled the growing popularity of the print-rich knits, while young American men quickly adopted the style as part of the Ivy League look.
With demand surging, manufacturers turned to machine knitting to replicate the folk art charm of traditional Fair Isle designs. The far-flung art form became a world-wide phenomenon. Fair Isle has been beloved part of the American après ski uniform since the 1960s. In the 1980’s the sweater style was immortalized in The Official Preppy Handbook. Today, the festive sweaters featuring frolicking reindeer, snowflakes and geometrically patterned yokes are as in demand as ever, and the look has become a bonafide of city style. We can’t help but take a little credit for it.